The tony Upper East Side gets a bad rap for a dining scene that can be as stuffy as an un-renovated townhouse, but things have been changing in the past few years and a new guard is taking over. Enter Maison Hugo, the neighborhood's newest French entry, run by a young husband and wife team with a passion for fine dining. Provence-born chef, Florian Hugo, honed his culinary skills in Alain Ducasse restaurants from Paris to Monaco. Wife Michelle runs a neighborhood-friendly front of house. Together, they form a team that pays homage the neighborhood's haute cuisine history while also appealing to younger diners looking for something a little more out of the ordinary.
The restaurant, which opened in October 2015, is a labor of love for the couple, who personally designed every detail of the restaurant, right down to the upholstery. The main dining room is a vibrant space boasting bright red banquettes, brass railings and colorful artwork. The more minimalist private dining room is cast in a softer hue with natural wood furnishings, the better to set the mood under the moonlight pouring in from the ceiling skylight.
Chef Hugo, most recently of Brasserie Cognac and Brasserie East, shows an easy comfort with Gallic classics. For starters, his tartare de boeuf ($16/$26) is a thing of beauty. The buttery cubes of tender beef just about melt into their creamy mustard dressing, which packs addictively sweet and spicy heat. The simple poulet rôti ($30) is another winner, pairing moist quarters of herb-rubbed chicken with an elegantly simple, albeit under seasoned, tarragon sauce. But aiming to stand out from the pack, the menu is also dotted with a few avant-garde selections that, while interesting, don't quite deliver. The tarte de thon ($16/$22), sounds like an enticing take on tarte flambée, substituting silky tuna carpaccio and horseradish cream for the usual bacon and crème fraîche, but an unnecessarily enthusiastic scatter of pickled ginger throws the dish off balance. Le magret de canard au poivre vert ($34) shows a little more promise. The verdant sweetness of the green peppercorn sauce is a brilliant match with spicy medallions of roasted daikon, but served at the chef's recommended medium, the duck is overcooked, robbing the flesh of its gamy richness. The shatteringly crisp shell surrounding the duck fat roasted potatoes gives a hint of how exceptional the sauce might have been draped across duck crackling and perfectly pink flesh.
Dessert, however, is blameless. The classic profiteroles ($10) will drive Nutella fanatics mad with its richly adult combination of hazelnut ice cream and bitter chocolate sauce. The wine list is equally solid, drawing from both pedigreed French vineyards and New World terroirs that should appeal to both traditional connoisseurs and more ambitious oenophiles.
BY TIME OUT COMMUNITY REVIEWER: OMAR TUNGEKAR
|Venue name:||Maison Hugo||Contact:|
132 E 61st St between Lex & Park
|Cross street:||between Park and Lexington Aves|
|Opening hours:||Mon-Thu, Sun 10am-midnight; Fri, Sat 10am-1am|
|Transport:||Subway: N, Q, R to Lexington Ave–59th St|
|Price:||Average main course: $25. AmEx, Disc, MC, V|
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