February 2008 – Provence (Stuyvesant Plaza) (dt)
6.88 - 7.25, 7.25, 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 5.5

             A suffusion of comfort.
             Maybe it was the interior’s warmth we felt as we entered the main dining room. An offshoot lobby entryway softened what could have been a strip mall entrance look. The bar area flames with polished wood, with a flat panel TV catching the eye. The front section sat empty but promised noise if it were full. However, the main area exudes smooth warmth, a rectangular room surprisingly more spacious than first perceived, edged entirely with a banquette facing single tables, with a center space large enough for our table of three on the sides and Ken and Tim on the ends.
             The ceiling is an impressive collection of thick beams and plaster, highlighted by the center chandelier. French décor is illustrated with paintings, prints, lamps, patterned wall, which was regularly broken with a vertical stripe motif. (We are reminded of the Mountain View Brasserie in Greenville, although Provence has a notch or two on the ambience scale.) The bare-top tables, wooden with the worn polish look, exemplified an ironic rusticity.
              Or maybe it was the menu that one assays, replete with an array of salads and hors d’oeurves, entrees, and specials, a promise of delectable decisions. Accompanying descriptions in English should dispel fears of infamous, however accurate or not, French snobbery.
             Menus were promptly placed on the tables upon our arrival, distracting us momentarily, as two wire baskets of wheat-ish bread soon appeared – to be torn apart, and dipped in the olive-herb ramekins.
             DP8’s wine-person (thanks again, Tim) ordered two bottles of 2004 Domaine de la Vieille Julienne Côtes du Rhone red for the five of us (again, a quite satisfactory area wine); glasses of pinot grigio, champagne, and diet soda filled the order. Engraved “P” wine glasses felt classy, and the expansive wine list should please most wine enthusiasts.
             We sampled the range of the salad and hors d’oeuvres menu. (I’ll spare you the French names.) A Caesar salad with Parmesan crisp (shared, with ample portions for both); a prosciutto, melon, spinach salad; stuffed eggplant on greens and tomato sauce (shared); the roasted beet and endive salad, with pears and pistachios; the ‘special’ salad – a smoked salmon, blueberry, goat cheese on baby green; and the butternut squash purée pleased all, prepared as the menu description promised.
            A wide range of entrée choices again typified Provence. Still, most of us ordered close to our usual choices (well, Chay stretched a bit). (The minor annoyance was the plat du jour special of the evening, announced unavailable ten minutes after it had been ordered.) The selections consisted of Coquille Saint Jacques, with tomato gratin, vegetable fondue, sautéed spinach and bacon lardons (Deb T, of course, with eye-pleasing searing, excellent); steak au poivre – a peppercorn-crusted Black Angus strip steak with brandy peppercorn sauce, garlic mashed potatoes and string beans; (Kriss, well done; Ken, medium-well; both cooked as ordered and delicious in the Roquefort sauce); cheese-potato-crusted, grilled sea bass with chopped tomatoes and artichoke hearts (good but not excellent for Judy); the fruits de mer, leeks, tomatoes, roasted red peppers, spinach and basil over linguini (Chay, bland); two of the homard á la Portugaise – a lobster, shrimp, and chorizo sausage dish in charred tomato and roasted fennel cream sauce on spinach linguini (Deb K deemed it excellent, and Don very good – a visual treat of a half-lobster in shell); and the bacon-wrapped pork chop with spaetzle and bacon-cabbage side that Tim, and others, judged excellent. Several of us shared a taste and enjoyed them all. The white plates and dishes, wide-rimmed in a soft French blue, were another classy touch.
            Although half of us moaned about how full our stomachs felt, dessert beckoned. The “boys” enjoyed the usual Sambuca and Frangelica while the real dessert people tried: crème brûlée (Deb T, excellent, generous portion); the banana fritters with rum ice cream (Judy, good, although the fritters prepared differently than expected); molten chocolate cakes with doche del leche gelato (Kriss, Deb K liked very much, as did the others who sampled); and the special of chocolate fudge, truffle, and liqueur cake layers (Don liked very much).
             And, so, the food quality and range were exemplary. The same could not be said about service although it was adequate. Although orders were taken and food delivered, “Cheri,” although good for some, felt too casual for others, a tad slow (but not to the point of being in the way), and not very personable, nor with the presence expected of a French restaurant. Several spillages of water were downright clumsy. The pacing during the two hour, thirty minute meal was reasonable but a couple times felt long, especially waiting for the salads. And, the sudden room temperature ranges of fifteen degrees, apparently caused by an open door somewhere in the back, on a cold night could not help but be noticed.
            The utilization of three or four wait staff for different duties was noticed and generally efficient. Water glasses were filled frequently, and Ken’s coffee cup was filled mostly to Ken’s liking. The coatroom service was so willing to please that most of us, for the first time, took advantage.
            The bill, including tax and tip, came to $120 per couple, a bit less than expected but in our high-average range. Still, we walked out to the plaza’s parking lot having enjoyed our culinary experience.

             Earlier, the evening had started at the Adamses, a bit earlier than usual because of a Sunday night choice necessitated by a busy February schedule. Tim and Judy enticed us with nuts, cheese and crackers, tasty cantaloupe cubes, and taco wrap slices, while Buddy lounged on Don’s lap or in anybody’s arms. We complained about the cold front starting to move in (which became more arctic as the night ensued).
            We caught up on news, both here and at the restaurant, about ....