By Hugh Spencer
The Upper East Side finally gets the French Brasserie it deserves. No, Keith McNally is not going uptown yet, but no fear, Brittany-born veteran Philippe Roussel is at the helm and is doing it right. Café D’Alsace on the corner of 88th and Second is a refreshing breath of accessible fine dining in an otherwise gastronomic void.
Entering the restaurant or sitting at the outdoor café, you initially feel that Alsace is just another simple French bistro like any other but once you have a chance to enjoy the coziness and unique décor, you begin to realize there is much more to this place. A traditional pewter bar, tiled floor, the classic posters of where else but, Alsace, and an unbelievable collection of antique seltzer bottles and beer steins define dining experience before your first bite.
Speaking of beer steins, Café D’Alsace’s beer sommelier, that’s right “beer sommelier” offers 118 varieties to fill your cup. Don’t laugh, this guy is good but if you are overwhelmed by the choices of beer, beware of the wine list.
Meat, foul, and fish canvas the menu as the cuisine at Café D’Alsace crosses the border with an equally strong distribution between France, Germany and Switzerland. Expect “earthy” compliments like cabbage, truffles, onions and potatoes to classic European dishes.
Start out with the langoustines with leeks, a traditional goat cheese tatin with caramelized onions or a warm potato salad with Alsatian muenster cheese and won’t go wrong but make sure to save room for the likes of the “housemade” grilled sausages with sauerkraut or the seafood sausage (this dish really stood out).
The daily entrees are labeled “Specialties D’Alsace” for a reason. Each day there is a list of recognizable dishes but is altered to take advantage of the seasonal meats, fish and produce. For a light touch, check out the pike mousse with a Sylvaner wine sauce but if you are attempting to get through the 118 choice beer list, line your belly with the braised lamb shank with basil spaetzle or the Baeckeofe, the traditional Alsatian casserole of lamb, oxtail, bacon and potatoes braised in pinot gris with onions and thyme. There were traditional dishes that are well prepared like steak frites too but with so many wonderful more creative options I question why someone would take that route.
If you live outside the area, make the trip uptown but don’t get too loaded with beer and savory bites to miss the exceptional desserts like the apple tart or traditional crème brulee.
1695 Second Ave. (88th Street); (212) 722-5133; cafedalsace.com.
PRICE RANGE: Brunch and lunch salads, sandwiches and entrees, $6.75 to $24.75. Dinner appetizers, $6.75 to $15.75. Entrees, $16.75 to $29.95. Desserts, $6 to $10.
HOURS: Dinner, 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, to midnight Friday and Saturday and to 10:30 p.m. Sunday. Lunch or brunch, 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
RESERVATIONS: Call at least one week in advance.