1669 Northern Blvd., Manhasset
SERVICE: Very good
AMBIENCE: Before the revolution
ESSENTIALS: Open every day for dinner. Monday to Thursday 5 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5 to 11 p.m., Sunday 4 to 10 p.m. Reservations recommended on weekends, suggested on weekdays. Major credit cards accepted.
La Coquille, where the staff is in black tie and the escargots in garlic and herb butter, advises that it is “rebranding.”
For a restaurant that opened the same year that Charles DeGaulle resigned, the word’s initial impact is sharper than a guillotine blade’s.
But after recent visits, veteran diners will be comforted to know that despite changes, updates, trendlets and advent of the haute-casual, the kitchen’s allegiance remains primarily to the tricolor. And the results stay very good, often better.
La Coquille has undergone minor revolutions since 1969, with continental and Italianate incursions on the French menu. Now, there’s also an addition to the main restaurant called Nuvoqi, with food that’s inspired by tapas.
This happens in a period when formal French restaurants in Nassau and Suffolk have either been eclipsed by spins on the bistro and brasserie theme, veered New American, ventured farm-to-table, or vanished below the wave of extra-virgin olive oil. You may count the survivors on a fleur de lis.
It does make the time-capsule qualities of La Coquille more welcome than ever. Maybe it’s the Old World feel, from the elegantly coffered ceiling to the post-Impressionist earnestness of the kitschy paintings, the steady murmur of the contented to the occasional sound of Piaf regretting nothing. Even the slim column in mid-room festooned with faux ads for Lillet and Dubonnet.
Or just the central-casting maître d’ igniting duck a l’orange or crepes Suzette as he has done hundreds of times before.
But before you follow his lead, order those baked snails, full of flavor, served in the dimpled plate. Try the assertive pork-and-beef country pate, with pickled shallots and cornichons. Savor the poached artichoke gratin, fanned out and finished with mustard dressing and Parmesan cheese. Onion soup gratinee is satisfying, but it’s the very mild variety. Blue Point oysters mignonette: preferable to the baked ones buried by saffron cream.
If you’re intent on an Italian side trip, the “creamy truffle” fettuccine with mushrooms, braised fennel and truffle butter is suitably rich and good.
Then, of course, select the half duck a l’orange, crisp-skinned and tender; or the juicy strip steak frites, dabbed with a spoonful of peppercorn sauce, flanked by onions and fries. Lush, sauteed calf’s liver, under a mantle of braised onions and bacon, also stands out. Likewise, the lemony escalope of veal, with buttery whipped potatoes, sautéed spinach and artichoke hearts.
Dover sole a la Grenobloise, with brown butter and capers, however, is a bit overdone. So is a special of brook trout amandine. An alternative for the vive-la-difference heretics: spice-rubbed yellowfin tuna with baby bok choy and coconut rice.
Enjoy the delicate crepes Suzette, amply oranged with fruit, Grand Marnier and Cointreau. Souffles show some fissures, but they taste fine. The floating island, about the size of Madagascar and not exactly fragile, boasts a delicious custard sauce. La Coquille’s napoleon skips the many layers of pastry in favor of overdoing the crème Chantilly. Chocolate mousse, creamy and light, avoids the bittersweet.
La Coquille does, too.