I used to live in Turtle Bay (48th at 2nd) in Manhattan and depsite comprehensive restaurant choices, there was this little place that I and friends always used to frequent. Le Bateau Ivre (the drunken boat) is a dimly lit classic French wine bar on 51st b/w 2nd and 3rd. It has all of the atmosphere you would expect from a restaurant of it's ilk.
In the summer, people spill out onto the pavement to gather round tables and drink wine by the glass, adding to the murmur and conversational din of 51st street. In the winter, it's a cosy bistro serving traditional French classics like French onion soup, escargots with parsley butter, moules, caviar and raw plates, excellent foie gras, an ever popular assiette de charcuterie, grilled lobster, ridiculously good duck confit, and wondeful sides like gratin Dauphinois and haricots vert.
Following Christmas Eve tradition, my girl Serena, Lisa, Mike and I went to the Beekman Tower (1st Ave at 49th) to enjoy their rooftop bar where the pianist plays James Bond theme tunes upon request (much to Mike's delight) and our man from Afghanistan mixes up some excellent martinis. After drinking champagne and hazelnut, apple, and a JB style martinis, we were more than a bit pissed, and we braved the 2 blocks that separated us from hidden treasure.
I barely had time to light up and we were sat in our favourite seats by the window, drinking antique Bordeaux and enjoying the sounds of a raucous 'French Joyeaux Noel'. Our boy Garcon came over, all smiles and Brylcreem, and he took our order. Always wanting to re-test and re-acquaint, we ordered the foie gras, snails, French onion soup, and I think somebody got the country pate. I can only speak briefly of the splendour of my companion's dishes. The snails, cooked with aplomb, buttered liberally, sprinkled with fresh parsley, were delicious as always. The soup was a fabulous golden brown, richly flavoured with onion, and topped with toasted fresh baguette overcome with Gruyere cheese. My own dish, the foie gras (which I can rarely resist) came in 2 thick slabs, thinly veined and rimmed with silky goose fat. It was served with a Sauternes jelly and toast. I had to close my eyes and put my fingers in my ears for the first bite, I didn't want anything to detract from this mouthful. My tongue initially tasted the large flakes of Maldon sea salt, then came the foie gras, melting through the salt to envelope my tongue with earthy richness, then the crunch and body of the bread, followed by the palate cleansing jelly, which didn't last long but just long enough to add a little acidic sweetness to cut through some of the rich goose fat I was enjoying. A mouthful from Heaven. Zeus didn't eat this well I thought.
Next up was an achingly good rendition of duck confit (you can see I was seized by a poultry passion on this Christmas Eve) with LBI's sauteed potatoes. The duck was beautifully tender with a slight crispiness in the skin adding to the textural equation. A scant broth surrounded my potatoes (perfectly crisp golden brown mirepoix cubes of potato) and I ate like a famished man. My notable companions ate cote d'agnueau, a classic steak au poivre, and a highly calorific but butterly delicious gratin Dauphinois.
Dessert was out of the question. It's a good job we were on a bit of a mission to drink, because LBI does THE best wine by the glass menu in NYC. I think (in press articles) they say they have about 250 wines, I think the figure is maybe closer to 200. They had neglected to stock up on popular items and we needed some second choice action. Nonetheless, we tasted, ate and drank until the wee hours amidst some excellent service, savouring, slurping, and revelling until we were forced to retire to our homes to do it all over again the day after, at slightly less expense I should add.