Le Madeleine may be gone, but fortunately Bea forges on. Such a satisfying conclusion for the year!
403 W 43rd St @ 9th Ave
Short Order: Exquisite cocktails and great food at sound prices make Bea the place to be.
Peter’s Picks: chicken livers; macaroni and cheese; kale salad; salumi/cheese platter
Peter’s Pans: The loss of Le Madeleine
Prices: Appetizers: $7-$12; Entrees: $14-$20; Alcohol: wine, beer, full bar, specialty cocktails
How fondly I think upon candlelit dinners and careless, sunlit brunches spent in the atrium at Le Madeleine. Perhaps I’m waxing Proustian, but those are times past that I do quite remember. Now that Bea has taken over, my sense of despair has been readily remedied. The space has been updated and brushed over with a fresh coat of whitewash covering the exposed brick, on which, incidentally, muted classic movies play, such as A Streetcar Named Desire serving as moving wallpaper. The feel of an old bistro may be somewhat lost but there is much else to be found at the lovely Bea (pronounced Be-a, named after owner Sotir Zonea’s grandmother). It’s a small-ish menu, but still manages to cover a range of cuisines from Asian-inspired pork dumplings, Indian-influenced lamb meatballs to Italian-flavored pizzas and pastas as well as good old American macaroni and cheese.
The cocktails were devastatingly good. The Boulevardier was like a negroni but with Old Forester bourbon instead, along with Campari and distinguished Noilly Prat sweet vermouth. A curl of orange was tucked in, with fragrant, faint sprays of its oils glittering on the surface. A wonderful Smoked Side Car steered by Lapsang Souchong tea-infused brandy with a scoche of Cointreau and lemon juice had the nose of a recently fired pistol. A mix up at the bar turned into quite a happy accident with this cocktail—instead of a sugar rim, we were given a smoky salted rim, which resulted in something akin to a smoky tequila that we much preferred! We also thought of the Thyme & Tonic, with thyme-infused Oxley gin, the Classic Mai Tai and the Bitter Duchess with Scorpion Silver Mezcal but we further thought it was better just to leave things well alone.
Chicken liver tartine was appropriately iron-rich, simple and unfussy, with caramelized onions, a hint of balsamic vinegar and a flutter of chives on thick slices of toast. A Caesar comprised of a lovely pile of ruffled kale with lively vinegar and Parmesan was peppery and perfect. The warm asparagus salad was more subdued, topped with a poached egg and a fistful of pistachios, amply dressed with a subtle miso vinaigrette.
While not overly exciting, we still ate the gooey, chewy, ripe taleggio cheesy pizza with a stiff crust, gently roasted maitake mushrooms and caramelized shallots. An excellent bowl of softened buttery macaroni and rich, fully-flavored cheeses with a crisp topping followed. But we weren’t done with our glut of cheese yet! The next round involved a platter with puffs of pillowy fried bread that were merely decent but the accompanying cheeses, meats and other assortments knocked us out. Sumptuous, spicy, briny olives tickled braised pickles and fennel amid wedges of dainty bleu cheese, an absolutely transporting ricotta salata froth and smoked gouda that tangoed with plump blackberries. A fabulous salumi combo of nutty mortadella, fragrant as a forest, carefully cured prosciutto and handsome ham rounded out the considerable presentation.
Against our careful judgment, we tossed consideration thoroughly into the wind and ordered the dark chocolate mousse with whipped cream to finish up. We sidled up to another cocktail and lingered, delighted to be at Bea.
First published in part in Next magazine.