I don’t know if you’ve happened to notice, but every Sunday in The Journal News’ Sunday Life section, there’s a column called “Restaurants We Love.” Each week, the features staff writes about a great restaurant in the Lower Hudson Valley. This is one of my favorite features in the paper — and since you’re a food lover, too, I’m betting it’s going to be one of yours. So, this weekend look for Restaurants We Love in Sunday’s paper. Want a taste of the column? This story about Alain Bistro in Nyack, written by Peter Kramer, ran last week.
The photos you’ll see here are by Journal News photographer Mark Vergari.
Restaurants We Love: Alain’s Bistro, Nyack
By Peter D. Kramer
It’s possible that if you’ve spent any time on Route 59 in Central Nyack over the past six months, you’ve zipped right past a charming slice of France.
Alain’s Bistro isn’t in an ideal location — in a rather nondescript strip mall across from Palisades Volkswagen — but chef Alain Eigenmann’s menu of northern French cuisine is reason enough to pull off 59, step into the cozy storefront and feel the warm embrace of a welcoming neighborhood spot.
For years at Piermont’s Sidewalk Cafe, Eigenmann built a reputation as a chef who aims to please.
Now, as the owner of Alain’s, he is free to do what he does best: interact with customers (“Hello, messieurs, dames!”), suggest a wine from the impressive list (“’05 was a great year for Bordeaux,”), inspire executive chef Manuel Cuautle and keep things convivial.
On a recent Tuesday night, down to one waitress, Eigenmann picked up a pad and waited tables, chatting breezily with guests who were treated like one of the family. The service was efficient, the mood relaxed.
All of that good feeling would be for naught, though, if the food were only so-so. No worries on that score, as chef Cuautle’s kitchen renders dish after spectacular dish into the wainscotted dining room decorated with black-and-white photos set against butter-colored walls.
What makes this a destination is that every detail is seen to, by a kitchen staff Eigenmann has known for more than a decade.
When in Alain’s, do what the Alsatians would do: Order from a wide array of classic dishes from the province that forms France’s northeast border with Germany.
An amuse bouche might arrive at your table, perhaps a rosette of house-cured coppa (a mild salami) on a salad of creamy celery root.
The Mussels Mariniere appetizer is laced with sliced onion in a cream broth. Eigenmann will volunteer that — rather than pulling all of the delicate mussels into the broth and then digging in — one should start eating before the mussels cool. And the remaining broth welcomes a piece of crusty bread (from The 9W Market in Palisades) for dunking.
A pan-seared slice of Hudson Valley foie gras — on a plate decorated playfully with slivered grapes — pairs perfectly with a sweeter-than-sweet sauterne.
A trip to Alain’s would be incomplete without sampling the Frisee Aux Lardons, a vinegary salad of curly frisee greens topped with croutons, chunky bits of bacon and a poached egg. Break the egg and the warm yolk oozes over the salad in a wonderful mix of textures, heat, cool and chewiness that makes it a must. A bacon-and-egg salad? Yes, please.
The culinary trip to Alsace continues with a rich melt-in-your-mouth roasted rabbit on a bed of crispy spaetzle, wafer-thin dumplings that get a turn in brown butter. It is, Eigenmann says, one of his most popular dishes, a plate so far from the everyday that it practically begs to be ordered.
For dessert, keep with the flavor of the room and consider the chef’s take on a classic French cookie, a calisson.
At Alain’s, a Calisson de Provence starts with a football-shaped cookie that is layered with almond paste, spongy genoise cake and whipped cream with honey, topped with a confit of melon and orange.
What you won’t see anywhere near the main dining room is a computer. The wait staff doesn’t repair to a corner to punch selections into a screen. It’s a small point, but it’s worth making and it gives Alain’s an Old World sort of charm, whether you’re sitting at a banquette or at a large table for six.
Yes, a meal at Alain’s comes at a price — entrees are in the $19 to $28 range — but just consider what Air France is charging for a flight and this culinary journey is a bargain.
And Eigenmann is much more welcoming than any flight attendant.