Goodbye, French country; hello, regional American.
Tue Jul 22 2008
Photograph: Jeff Gurwin
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5
Last year Marc Meyer and Vicki Freeman (Five Points, Cookshop) took over Soho icon Provence, an old-guard French restaurant that turned off its gas after hosting 20 years of graduation dinners and romantic milestone moments (Freeman and Meyer got engaged there). In an oddball move, they kept the original name and facade, while spiffing up the interior and adding a modern menu that, incongruously, maintained only a tangential connection to Provence—the region and the restaurant. The experiment was a flop.
If at first you don’t succeed, scrap your concept and start over from scratch. At least that’s how Meyer and Freeman have dealt with their rocky third restaurant. Provence, rest its soul, is gone for good. Hundred Acres, the new spot unveiled in its place—orange and yellow walls have given way to a palette of off-white and deep forest green—operates on the same culinary and aesthetic wavelength as its seasonal American forebears in the Meyer-Freeman collection.
A sure thing for these recessionary times, the restaurant offers crowd-pleasing, affordable food, but not much that’s memorable, challenging or thrilling—it’s Blue Ribbon without the Continental flourishes, an ideal stop for a quick burger before an Angelika flick.
I tackled that burger at lunch in the eclectic front room, a bastard design child of Keith McNally and Martha Stewart (subway tiles on one wall, potted wheat in the window, old-time iced tea in mason jars on the marble-topped bar). The finely constructed sandwich featured an assertive grass-fed patty, sharp cheddar of impeccable provenance (Amish-made Goot Essa), a pliant brioche bun and greaseless skin-on fries with homemade Vidalia-laced mayo. Judging from the tables around me, it may be the restaurant’s most popular item.
Other dishes, sampled during lunch and dinner in the clapboard alcove behind the bar, were self-consciously wholesome, pretty as a picture and mostly boring as heck. There were crusts of bread slathered with tasty but forgettable homestyle spreads—chunky chicken-liver pâté, mild rabbit rillettes and salty smoked fish. More notable were briny clams served in a shallow personal pan, fragrant with the classic triumvirate of white wine, garlic and hot pepper flakes. The buttery garlic toast served alongside helped transform the dish into the only one I’d make a special trip for.
Which is much more than I can say for lukewarm grilled scallops in an underworked entrée, served by an attentive but jittery waitress, with a puddle of savory yogurt, baby bok choy salad, and a flavorless toss of cubed zucchini and squash. Scrawny fried chicken, while far more successful—its flesh plenty juicy, its peppery crust perfectly crisp—was dwarfed on the plate by a gargantuan wedge of lettuce in buttermilk dressing (as if a heap of greens could somehow make fried chicken healthy).
The restaurant’s nostalgic Norman Rockwell desserts are, meanwhile, laid out on a large wooden table near the door to the glass-enclosed garden—a still life so pristine, it ought to be shellacked—featuring an uncut chocolate cake and an old-fashioned lattice pie, along with an unblemished loaf of crusty bread, bottles of wine, fruit in a bowl and a hunk of cheese.
The actual slices of cake and pie come up from the kitchen. Those desserts—the chocolate layer cake with an overkill scoop of chocolate ice cream reminded me too much of Pillsbury, while the tart blueberry pie featured a brittle crust—turned out to be more exciting to look at than they were to consume. Despite its best intentions, Hundred Acres is more contrived than it is homey.