Restaurant Reviews: Mirabelle Restaurant St. James, NY

Written by restaurants  |  07. March 2008

BY RICHARD JAY SCHOLEM As seen in Long Island Pulse Magazine, syndicated with Publisher's Permission. This year, Mirabelle, the ultimate Long Island French restaurant, joins a very select club--that handful of eating places that are twenty-five years old. No small accomplishment in the volatile, competitive Nassau-Suffolk market. A lot of culinary water has gone under the restaurant world's bridge in that quarter of a century but Guy and Maria Reuge have weathered it all and succeeded. During that span, the often elaborately sauced dishes of haute cuisine French cooking gave way to so-called healthy eating, lower calorie and cholesterol preparations. But Mirabelle persevered and prospered. Then there was the emotional anti-French outbreak that sprang up when France had its doubts about the wisdom of the US attack on Iraq. A sentiment that resulted in the silliness of renaming French fries "freedom fries." There were economic ups and downs including a recession or two over the two and a half decades of the restaurant's existence but Mirabelle persevered and prospered. All of this proud restaurant's history raced through my mind on a rainy Saturday night in February. It was not yet 7pm, but the parking lot was packed and so was the dining room. Why has Mirabelle retained its popularity and clientele when many or most restaurants that opened during this turbulent period failed? Simple as it sounds: Because Guy Ruege is a great, not good, chef and because he and his wife Maria know how to run a restaurant. They have put their emphasis not in the walls but into great ingredients and expert cooking. Their dining room is not glittering or flashy. Rather its low-key look is discrete and tasteful, but neutral--a platform for the food, not a distraction from it. After a complimentary rich, rewarding foie gras mousse surrounded by toasted French bread chips. What followed was refined food, smooth down-to-earth service and meticulous attention to detail. The flowers on the tables are real. The husky, porous chunks of crusty bread are accompanied by slabs of ready-to-spread butter, not the often-encountered brick-hard squares. Order the tasty ragout of snails with its subtle, mild red bell pepper custard and there will be two small, symbolic snail shells on the plate. The kitchen displays its wide range of turning out exquisitely contrasting dishes like a vegetarian, float-off-the-plate version of herb gnocchi and a rich, peasant-like rendition of cassoulet with hearty chunks of pork, sausage and duck confit (both from the three course and a glass of wine bargain silver toque menu). Thoughtfully assembled and selected platemates accompany each dish. Sweet, seared sea scallops are escorted by endive and coconut fondue, tarragon and pear grapefruit marmalade. A plump soft Colorado lamb chop is served with tender braised lamb shoulder, sweet potato shepherds pie and a timbale of young spinach and garlic. Mirabelle's menu covers the waterfront from traditional coq au vin to raw Hawaiian hamachi, from bistro favorites to mainstay, upscale preparations with French, Italian and Asian spins. There are a few dissenters who claim to be unimpressed by Mirabelle's fare. I am not among them. This is one of the Island's few, great restaurants. Mirabelle Restaurant 404 North Country Road Saint James, NY 11780 631-584-5999 ----------

As seen in Long Island Pulse Magazine, syndicated with Publisher's Permission.

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