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Coming Out of the Cold
Into The First of Many D'Artagnans

Lighting the way to the formal dining room of the newly opened D'Artagnan Photo by Harvey Frommer
Lighting the way to the formal dining room of the newly opened D'Artagnan
Photo by Harvey Frommer

People in the little New Hampshire town where we’ve been living for nearly five years now still talk about D’Artagnan, the French restaurant that used to be down on Route 10 named for the brave and reckless fourth musketeer in Alexandre Dumas’ novel The Three Musketeers. It closed before we arrived, but our neighbors tell us if the food critics from France had come to New Hampshire while D’Artagnan was still around, there’d be a three star Michelin in Lyme.

Well we've begun spreading the news: a new D'Artagnan has just opened in midtown Manhattan.

It has nothing to do with its erstwhile northern namesake although it has much to do with its literary one. And the verdict, according to a group of us who tried it on the night a predicted blizzard never materialized and the city was a mess of wet snow and eerily quiet streets, is in: "Vive le nouveau D'Artagnan!"

Outside was dim and damp, but inside D'Artagnan was bright, busy, and bustling. We divested ourselves of our stormy weather paraphernalia before a gleaming display case filled with packaged charcuterie, foie gras, pates, cheeses, meats, and breads which was enough to make us forget the chill and get the digestive juices flowing.  Just beyond stood the restaurant's open kitchen where chefs in their whites were stirring, chopping, sautéing, and attending to beef and poultry turning on a gigantic red rotisserie. People seated at the long wooden bar, its bottles arranged in a large hutch of the sort you’d expect to find in a French country house, were sipping their drinks and nibbling on hors d'oeuvres as they watched the revolving of the rotisserie with hypnotic fascination.

The gleaming display case filled with  D’Artagnan delicacies - Photo by Harvey Frommer - Click to Enlarge
The gleaming display case filled with D’Artagnan delicacies
Photo by Harvey Frommer
Click to Enlarge

A D’Artagnan chef before the rotisserie - Photo by Harvey Frommer - Click to Enlarge
A D’Artagnan chef before the rotisserie
Photo by Harvey Frommer
Click to Enlarge

Ariane Daguin holds court at the D’Artagnan bar - Photo by Harvey Frommer - Click to Enlarge
Ariane Daguin holds court at the D’Artagnan bar
Photo by Harvey Frommer - Click to Enlarge

Our long rustic table was set for six with oversized flatware and sparkling French dinnerware of white with red geometric design. We opted to sit in the bistro at the restaurant's rear. A more formal dining room is up an open stairway that could easily serve as the setting for an Errol Flynn-type duel, and past a brick wall, hung with a gigantic poster advertising The Three Musketeers when a copy of the book cost a mere ten centimes.
The cuisine at D'Artagnan is from Gascony the region in southwest France that was home to The Three Musketeers author Alexandre Dumas pere.  A second literary connection comes from Bergerac where the hapless, long-nosed Cyrano ghostwrote love letters to the beautiful Roxanne. Specialties from this romantic setting are foie gras; cassoulets; garbure -- a soup made of duck-leg confit, cabbage, potatoes, and onions; duck of varied preparations; and ample use of mushrooms and truffles. 

A poster of The Three Musketeers when the book cost a mere centimes - Photo by Harvey Frommer - Click to Enlarge
A poster of The Three Musketeers when the book cost a mere centimes
Photo by Harvey Frommer - Click to Enlarge

But D'Artagnan has a second specialty: combining this authentically French style of cooking with an American attitude that stresses healthful preparation -- hence the rotisserie for duck breast, leg of lamb, organic chicken, and the like.

Coming in from the cold on such a dismal night, several of our group longed for hot soup and swiftly ordered the thick and hearty soupe du jour made with black beans. Another of us chose the crisp mesclun salad served with warm goat cheese. But still another determined to try the specialty of the region. "L'assiette des 3 Foie Gras" is a platter with three versions of this sublime delicacy: a terrine of duck foie gras, what they call "Gascon sushi" -- that is foie gras rolled in duck prosciutto, and what they call "French kiss" -- a prune marinated in a strong liqueur and stuffed with mousse of  foie gras. The bliss brought on by this trio of taste sensations is something she has not stopped talking about.

 Although the cassoulet (the typical Gascon stew of beans, garlic, duck sausage and confit) promised just the kind of comfort a cold and wet night demands, we were intrigued by the "La Rotisserie du Jour" selections. The chicken was pungent and juicy; the duck breast was cooked to absolute perfection, not dry, not rare. What a rare delight to enjoy delectable food and suffer neither guilt nor clogged arteries.  All the bad cholesterol was left behind in the dripping pan.

Poised to partake of D’Artagnan’s fine fare - Photo by Harvey Frommer - Click to Enlarge
Poised to partake of D’Artagnan’s fine fare
Photo by Harvey Frommer - Click to Enlarge

D'Artagnan's reasonably priced wine list centers on vintages from Gascony and nearby Bordeaux.  The wine connoisseur among us suggested a bottle from Cahors, a smooth, dry 1995 Chateau Haute Serre "Gerone Dadine" which cost $45. "The wine should complement the food," he said. "It should not stand up and say 'Here I am. Notice me.'" And indeed, his choice proved a most pleasing accompaniment.

Before dessert, we were treated to Gascony's fire water Armagnac served in little liqueur glasses whose curved bottoms make them impossible to put down while any liquid remains. The cheese platter included goat cheese, Roquefort and also a delicious sheep's milk cheese from the Pyrenees that was new to us. To conclude this memorable meal, we indulged in creme Catalane, the smooth Spanish-style creme brulee we developed a great fondness for during a recent visit to Spain, and an assortment of homemade ice creams.

Dinner at D'Artagnan runs about $50 per person, exclusive of wine, tax, and tip; lunch of appetizer and entree is $20 -- excellent value, we think, for such sophisticated preparation, quality ingredients, and, it must be added, warm and attentive service.

Lise Winicki from Lyon, one third of the D’Artagnan ownership trioin the formal dining room - Photo by Harvey Frommer - Click to Enlarge
Lise Winicki from Lyon, one third of the D’Artagnan ownership trio
in the formal dining room - Photo by Harvey Frommer - Click to Enlarge

Perhaps the best thing we can say about D'Artagnan is it is about to multiply. We learned this from the young and lovely Lyon-born and raised, Lise Winicki who is one of D'Artagnan's three managing partners.  In 1999, Lise was a stock portfolio manager living in Paris and visiting the United States when friends introduced her to Ariane Daguin who had came to New York from the Gascon city Auch  to study at Columbia's School of Journalism. To support herself, Ariane got a job with a company that sold French specialty foods. There she met Georges Faison, an American from Texas.

Fifteen years ago, Ariane and Georges went out on their own, forming D'Artagnan, a wholesale supplier of quality French products to upscale restaurants. They also have a wholesale outlet in Newark, New Jersey.

"When Ariane and I met, she told me she and Georges wanted to open a French restaurant. She asked me to join them," Lise said. "I told her a restaurant didn’t interest me but a chain of restaurants did.

 "The D'Artagnan concept sprang from that conversation. We decided the know-how would be from France; the products, for the present, would be mostly from the United States because they are the best quality. The stress would be on healthy foods and fresh ingredients. My experience in the financial world would be put to use in setting up a chain of restaurants."

 This chain of events seems natural to Lise. "Food has always been my passion. My parents are crazy about food. When I was growing up, every weekend we would visit two and three star Michelin restaurants. My mother’s parents came from Provence; they brought with them the love of Provencal-style food. My father's parents were Jews who came to France from Poland to escape the Nazis; from them I got my love of food like chopped liver and gefilte fish."

With this, the first of what promises to be many D'Artagnans off to a spectacular start, Lise, Ariane, and Georges foresee their foie gras (from upper New York State), their rotisseried certified organic chickens, their cassoulets, their garbures , their array of duck dishes, and all the rest delighting diners in major cities, suburban areas, even at airports. 

With any luck, we'll even convince them to open a D’Artagnan in Lyme, New Hampshire.

D’Artagnan: The Rotisserie
152 East 46 Street (between Lexington and Third Avenues)
New York, NY

Phone: 212-687-0300

  • D’Artagnan serves breakfast, lunch and dinner

  • Hours: 7:30am—11pm

  • Free Delivery minimum $15 order

Photos by Harvey Frommer

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About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Web: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~frommer/travel.htm.

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

 

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