Ah, Versailles. So distant. So unreachable. So . . . French.
Well, that’s how our group felt after canceling /rescheduling our planned trip to this well-established Greenwich eatery THREE separate times. As it turns out, each date was snowier, icier and slushier than the one before. It took three snow storms, three snow days and nearly a month, but we finally made it.
The new location (a few doors down from the original on Greenwich Ave.) is lovely and trimly elegant. We arrived early for lunch … and it’s a good thing we did. The dining room was full to capacity -- with a line out the door -- by 12:20. We first stepped through the bright patisserie, with cases of gorgeous cakes, pastries and breads, into a cozy bistro with warm red walls, bold artwork, white tablecloths and dark wood floors. We particularly enjoyed the sliding “Ratatouille” doors (remember the movie?) which opened automatically, revealing a gleaming steel kitchen and bustling staff.
Though all tables were fully occupied (with a mix of “ladies who lunch” as well as a smattering of business types), conversation was still possible. There is a full bar – though a very limited selection of wine by the glass.
The lunch dishes we sampled were competently prepared, prettily presented, traditional French fare. Our group particularly enjoyed the Duck fried egg in a crispy leaf with confit de canard, a clever combination of egg and savory duck confit encased in crisp pastry.
We also enjoyed the fresh Goat cheese tart with figs (top), roasted pine nuts and lemon rind (though too sweet for some of our tasters). It was like a “cheesy, jammy Fig Newton,” enhanced by toasty pine nuts and fig reduction.
Another favorite was the fresh Nicoise salad with albacore tuna, artichoke and olive. The salad had a well-seasoned vinaigrette, perfectly blanched green beans, large chunks of tuna, hard boiled egg, sliced radish and pristine grape tomato. Simple but well executed.
The pate was rich and flavorful, though we were surprised to see it served with a side salad instead of the traditional accompaniments. Those toast points, cornichons and mustard were sorely missed. But the side salad itself was fresh and colorful.
The Cocktail of lobster with ginger, avocado salad and salmon caviar was a bit ordinary (and overly mayonnaisey) for our tastes. But we appreciated the good-quality lobster meat and subtle ginger flavor, as well as the tiny jewels of salmon caviar.
One of the most eagerly anticipated dishes was the Buckwheat crepe with asparagus, spinach, mushrooms, artichoke, sundried tomatoes, cheddar and swiss. But we had a hard time identifying it when it arrived tableside. By process of elimination, we decided it was the dark lumpen mound draped in cheddar cheese. It had neither the classic shape nor delicate consistency we expected. But we easily finished it off, enjoying the rustic taste and texture of the buckwheat and the harvest of sautéed vegetables inside.
The “Dom Perignon” Croque Monsieur had all the requisite components – thick squares of toasted brioche bread with brie and ham. (We have no idea where the “Dom Perignon” was.) Though it was prepared with good ingredients, we would have preferred a crisper exterior on the bread and we were missing the Bechemel in this version.
Fortunately, we did not end our meal here. Lured by Versailles’ extensive dessert menu, we stayed for cappuccino and pastry. Voila! The mood changed. Energy surged. The skies brightened. The crowd seemed more attractive. These desserts were inspired.
A favorite was the Pont Neuf, a small “bridge” of tartatin-style granny smith apples on puff pastry with caramelized mousseline cream. The tart apples contrasted beautifully with the sweet – but not too sweet – caramelized cream, atop delicate, flaky pastry.
We dove into the classic Napoleon, mille feuille puff pastry layered with vanilla bean cream. The pastry was flaky, the cream was airy and the combination was divine – rich yet light, sweet but not cloying.
The Orange carrot cake was another winner – a moist, flourless carrot cake with cream cheese mousse and orange vanilla bean glaze. It combined classic carrot cake/cream cheese deliciousness with a citrus-y, orange-y, marmalade-y finish.
It would be a crime to leave a patisserie without something chocolate. Cue the Chocolate mousse cake -- rich bittersweet chocolate mousse covered in chocolate ganache. ‘Nuf said.
We were also treated to a bonus – a Strawberry crème brulee tart. Not to mix dessert metaphors, but this was the icing on the cake. Sweet pastry dough filled with custard topped with a crackling vanilla bean sugar crust, crowned with ripe, red strawberries.
This was decadence, of course. But even those who shun froufrou desserts as “too sweet” could appreciate the work of this talented pastry chef.
Since moving to the new location, versatile Versailles now serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily (closed for dinner Sunday). Barring any more snow days, it’d be worth checking out the tempting-looking breakfast menu or – after an extended juice fast – more of their exquisite desserts.
Versailles, 339 Greenwich Avenue, Greenwich, (203) 661-6634.