2006-05-10 / Restaurant of the Week

Savor The Grand Old Times Of France At Bon Vieux Temps

Bon Vieux Temps, which means "grand old times", opened just two months ago, but it won't be long before everyone knows about this chic French restaurant tucked away on a quiet corner of Ditmars Boulevard and 46th Street. Petite in size, but big on authentic French flavors and portions, Bon Vieux Temps is a real gem with a neat, sophisticated interior, a menu to match with an emphasis on fresh fish and seafood, and fine service.

Congenial owner Mounir Tazarki, who has 15 years' experience in some of Manhattan's finest establishments, designed and built the elegant, comfortable dining room and bar himself. For all its lovely atmosphere and fine French cuisine, Bon Vieux Temps is totally approachable and very affordable. Tazarki set out to dispel certain myths about French cuisine by serving generous portions of light, fresh food, unencumbered by heavy sauces, at reasonable prices. Attention was paid to every detail, including his choice of pristine china and elegant silverware.

Tazarki recommended a wine to start off, along with fresh bread and butter medallions. The menu is short and simple, something that I appreciate very much, given the tempting choices. Appetizers include moules amandines, fresh mussels served on the half shell with braised leeks in a light, fragrant tarragon sauce and sprinkled with toasted, slivered almonds for a pleasant crunch ($8.95). The mussels could not have been fresher and the platter was beautifully presented. The pan fried golden crab cake, sweet, lump crabmeat mixed with a pinch of breadcrumbs, is served atop slender haricot verts (French green beans) and olives ($9.95). Tender and savory grilled calamari is served with purple potatoes and a delicate sauce ($7.95). Grilled shrimp are served atop Mediterranean salad with a yogurt, horseradish and mint dressing. Bon Vieux Temps' goat cheese salad contains four rounds of pan-fried goat cheese under a mlange of arugula and tender endive with a raspberry vinaigrette dressing. Classic French onion soup gratinee is rendered expertly. All the appetizers are ample for sharing.

There are less than a dozen main dishes on the menu, along with a couple of nightly specials, a fact to be viewed positively. Chef Miguel Flores, who also has many years of experience in French cuisine, executes each dish with meticulous attention to detail. Flores prepared delicious delicately seasoned grilled sea bass served with chardonnay sauce and ratatouille, a French vegetable stew of eggplant, zucchini, tomato and onion ($17.95). Classic moules mariniere, fresh mussels steamed in white wine and herbs, are served with crispy fried potatoes (12.95).

I loved Bon Vieux Temps' take on this traditional dish. Pan seared salmon is accompanied by a puree of potatoes, crisp bok choy and champagne shrimp sauce for a light and flavorful meal. Meat entrees include tender, grilled lamb chops with a reduced wine sauce and potatoes au gratin. A thick cut pork chop, grilled to perfection, is served with fingerling potatoes and beets in wine sauce. Another French classic entre, steak au poivre, is prepared with black and green peppercorns and a light brandy sauce. The wonderfully tender steak is cooked to order and served with watercress salad and frites. Another excellent choice is chicken breast stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes, thyme and fontina cheese with a sculptured mound of garlic mashed potatoes that tastes as good as it looks ($14.50). Service is professional and efficient, giving diners enough time for each course to fully enjoy the overall experience. This is not a meal to be rushed through.

When you're ready, you owe it to yourself to sample some of their classic French desserts. Crme brulee, a creamy vanilla custard is just divine, as is the warm chocolate cake. Apple tart presents razor-thin slices of apples in a light, flaky crust. Profiteroles, light cream puffs, are filled with clouds of fluffy cream. Enjoy a cup of robust espresso or cappuccino and an after dinner cordial to complete your meal.

Bon Vieux Temps is ideal for intimate dining six nights a week. Dinner is served from 5 to 10:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays (closed Mondays). Orders can be prepared to take home as well. Happy Hour cocktails are half price from 5 to 6:30 p.m. There's still time to reserve your table for the Mother's Day prix fixe menu, where a four-course meal is just $32.

With delicious, elegant food, a chic interior and comfortable surroundings, at Bon Vieux Temps every meal is a special occasion. Create your own memories at Bon Vieux Temps.

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