Hudson’s Le Perche offers its own variation on French food traditions.
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 Eater.com 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.
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.
A selection of croissants and pastries at Le Perche restaurant.