Gal­lic nods:

Hud­son’s Le Perche of­fers its own vari­a­tion on French food tra­di­tions.

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - UNWIND - By Susie David­son Pow­ell — —

There are a good many places to go for cof­fee and pas­tries in Hud­son. Few, though, have the crisp-shelled, plouffy, sweet crois­sants and glazed kouign-amann cakes of Le Perche on War­ren Street. I know no other sell­ing wood-roasted Speck­led Ax cof­fee whose small-batch Bird Dog blend may be the pla­tonic ideal of a com­plex morn­ing brew. No one else boasts a 17-ton wood-burn­ing oven im­ported from the name­sake Perche re­gion of France and re­assem­bled brick by brick in a car­riage house off a leafy pa­tio from which beau­ti­ful, dark-crusted loaves with springy mid­dles emerge as the swoony peas­ant breads, fer­mented pain lev­ains, bri­oche and bloomers of Euro­pean travel.

Of course, credit for that deep-pock­eted im­port goes to the orig­i­nal in­vest­ment-banker owner of Café Le Perche, a 6-year-old boulan­gerie-bar-patis­serie on War­ren Street. Now in the hands of Nina and Jeff Gim­mel, the own­ers of Swoon Kitchen­bar, the stylish, light­filled War­ren Street eatery beloved for its cap­ti­vat­ing wine list and farm-driven menu, Le Perche has been re­vamped and ex­panded from bak­ery-bar to an in­no­va­tive neo-bistro with chef-part­ner John Carr. Carr’s early start at Swoon blos­somed into ex­ec­u­tive chef roles at Sfoglia and Eli Zabar’s wine bar-res­tau­rants in Man­hat­tan and a sta­giaire place­ment

an un­paid po­si­tion of­ten taken by stil­l­learn­ing young cooks at Frenchie, in Paris, un­der Gre­gory Marc­hand.

Ex­cis­ing the for­mer wooden boulan­gerie shelves, and with them some of the rus­tic French charm, Le Perche has been bright­ened with the Gim­mels’ sig­na­ture vin­tage-goes-mod­ern styling so that white shelves, green mar­ble coun­ters and a shiny back bar glide from day­time cof­fee stop to mod­ish bistro bar by night. You may catch a peek of the tiny re­habbed kitchen en route to the rear din­ing room, where mid­cen­tury mod­ern orb lights pop against a black tin ceil­ing and min­i­mally whitened walls.

We’re struck by the hos­pi­tal­ity, first in a host whose ma­tri­ar­chal wel­come con­tin­ues with vis­its to tightly packed ta­bles (ours so wedged in that my tall male guest moved to sit at one free end), and a clutch of ami­able staff who are re­fresh­ingly hu­man: ca­sual when de­posit­ing a clus­ter of plates, apolo­getic af­ter pour­ing the wrong wine and re­spon­sive in comp­ing cock­tails fol­low­ing a thirst-in­duc­ing de­lay. When they ar­rive, they are de­li­cious, both bal­anced and dif­fer­ent, no­tably a hi­bis­cus-in­fused tequila Chanteuse and the bour­bon and sweet ver­mouth Bou­quet mixed with a straw­berry house shrub.

The menu is Carr’s, and call­ing the fare his “in­ter­pre­ta­tion of French clas­sics” af­fords all the lat­i­tude he needs. Thus some nights you can find de­cid­edly un-french crab-and-leek dumplings in seaweed broth, flamed shishito pep­pers, or a spec­tac­u­larly brined roast pork steak, as large as a plate, with charred fatty edges and an im­broglio of blis­tered wax beans, hazel­nuts and Korean pep­per rid­ing on top. An ex­otic-mush­room soup em­bel­lished with sauteed hen of the woods is mag­i­cal and thick, a har­bin­ger of au­tumn, and the quick sea­sonal shift, us­ing lo­cally for­aged finds brought daily to their door.

Since Le Perche re­opened in June, mack­erel has con­sis­tently ap­peared. Mine is fault­less — shim­mer­ing sil­ver skin crisp, sup­ple flesh sweet and an olive vinai­grette adding lit­tle more than the umami salti­ness that soy gives sushi. Dishes may ben­e­fit from Carr’s French tech­nique, but it’s clear he feels no obli­ga­tion to Es­coffier’s play­book.

Some plates play straight French like bar steak with maitre d’but­ter and triple-cooked skinny frites wrapped in pa­per so they won’t fall limp in a cop­per cup. You’ll find hari­cot verts and beurre blanc, tartines (for lunch) and fresh-picked tar­ragon. Other dishes get quirky: Bur­gundy es­car­got hid­den be­neath nas­tur­tium leaves are spooned over a pud­dled sweet corn po­lenta fum­ing with fer­mented ramp but­ter and feisty chile. Rata­touille is the fa­mil­iar toma­toey stew served with cherry toms halved but in­tact.

It is at Carr’s in­sis­tence that the Paris-brest, the bi­cy­cle-in­spired pas­try, stays as a com­posed dessert — right on-trend now, when and Food & Wine have de­clared the hazel­nut mous­se­line-filled clas­sic the dessert of 2018. Where oth­ers may be reimag­in­ing it with fruit or even foie gras, Carr’s is an im­pec­ca­ble clas­sic, nutty, off-sweet and col­laps­ing un­der fork with eclair-like ooze and give.

Early on I won­dered if the Gim­mels’ takeover of Le Perche might be a wine bar-ta­pas hy­brid with sliced jam­bon,

cheese and small plates fu­el­ing their de­light­fully af­ford­able list of bio­dy­namic or­ange, sparkling and even big Bur­gundy nat­u­ral wines. Then I dis­cov­ered the Tech­ni­color pa­rade of In­sta­gram plates: runny Cop­erth­waite cheese with purslane and pick­led zuc­chini, chilled bok choy with cu­cum­ber juice, pur­ple basil and chile paste. I im­plored my guests to look; it only fo­mented our an­tic­i­pa­tion.

Per­haps that’s why, at din­ner, our plate pre­sen­ta­tions are un­der­whelm­ing, each a shade off ex­pec­ta­tions. The Kinder­hook Farm steak tartare “with tra­di­tional gar­nishes” ar­rives pre­mixed and fork-mashed across a red-pat­terned plate that does it no fa­vor. The ex­cep­tion­ally soft, ten­der filet is blasted with ex­cess mus­tard and served with nei­ther egg nor cros­tini. I’m not sure if we miss the act of stir­ring in yolk or if we’re un­done by the smooshed, cat-food pre­sen­ta­tion. It is pi­quant and de­li­cious; it isn’t cute.

Sub­tle mis­fires ap­pear in a Di­jon-sauced rab­bit au moutarde sim­ply served with Savoy cab­bage, new po­ta­toes and fresh tar­ragon hap­pily con­jur­ing bun­nies in rus­tic scenes un­til my guest dis­turbs a hid­den stock­pile of neat Di­jon more pow­er­ful than an un­det­o­nated World War II bomb and no match for tiny lapin bones. And though we’re ex­cited for the cop­pery fin­ish of newly in-sea­son Maine Belons — flat, saucer-shaped oys­ters — these are sur­pris­ingly mild (per­haps too early af­ter all), with some not cleanly cut from their shell. We can’t mask dis­ap­point­ment that “seaweed but­ter” served with the pain lev­ain is a top­ping of dry seaweed, not mixed into some big f la­vored, umami-jacked but­tery com­pound.

No mat­ter. We wrap up with mouth­fuls of bit­ter­sweet choco­late mousse and plum­topped pis­ta­chio tarte with salty pas­try and roasted apri­cot ice cream, while staff spritz ta­bles and bang about clean­ing up and break­ing down, never mind that it’s only 9 o’clock on a Satur­day night. We’re among the last ones there, and ser­vice is over. So any grum­blings about the up­scale shift in decor and bistro for­mat can just stop. Plates and ser­vice are ef­fort­lessly ca­sual, the space ef­fort­lessly chic. Le Perche holds true to its bak­ery-bar sta­tus, but nat­u­ral wines and French clas­sics with a twist de­liver its neo-bistro name.

Din­ner of ap­pe­tiz­ers, mains and cock­tails for two comes to $115 be­fore tip. Break­fast and lunch sand­wiches and plates are $10 to $16. For as­sorted pas­tries, prices vary.

▶ Susie David­son Pow­ell is a Bri­tish free­lance food writer in up­state New York. Fol­low her on Twit­ter, @Susiedp. To com­ment on this re­view, visit the Ta­ble Hop­ping blog, blog.time­sunion. com/table­hop­ping.

Pho­tos by John Carl D’an­ni­bale / Times Union

Oc­to­pus salad, top, roasted chicken and shak­shuka, right, at Le Perche restau­rant.

Maine Belon oys­ters with sour­dough rye and seaweed but­ter at Le Perche restau­rant.

John Carl D’an­ni­bale / Times Union

A se­lec­tion of crois­sants and pas­tries at Le Perche restau­rant.

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