La Sirene

What’s more diddy than P-Diddy? Didier:

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I guess I should say WHO is more diddy than P-Diddy. Okay you’re probably confused…

Didier is the owner, chef and manager of three excellent NYC French restaurants. I’ve written a rave review of Le Village from a previous press meal, and now I’m writing one for La Sirene, the popular classical French joint on Broome Street, just east of Varick at the lower edge of Soho.

Anyway, Didier is an intense, animated guy who is really passionate about his food. Everything he serves is of superior quality and taste, and made right there in-house. After eating at two of his restaurants, I can safely say that there is nothing that the man can’t execute with flawless precision. Every app, entree and dessert I’ve tasted has ranged from far above average to excellent, with one or two “best I’ve ever had” things in there as well.

Didier focuses his energy on classic French dishes, made from family recipes that he has been honing for upwards of 30 years. Some of these dishes are so labor intensive that you wonder how the hell he could be cranking them out seven days a week. Even some of the sauces take days to prepare, all from scratch – from roasted bone stock, reduced with wine, and distilled into just a few ounces of absolute heaven in a bowl.

Other French places I have been to will have something like coq au vin or cassoulet on the menu, yet every time you go in and ask for it, they are somehow not able to make it for you. They’re “out” of cassoulet. And other French joints only serve those crazy, impossible dishes one day a week. “Monday Dinner Special: Coq au Vin.” Not served any other day of the week. This is not the case at La Sirene. Didier cranks these fucks out like a machine, and they are all amazing, and available every damn day for hundreds of diners. That is quite impressive, to say the least.

So let’s get right down to business, shall we?

La Sirene recently acquired a liquor license (it used to be solely BYOB), so we started with some Spanish wine: Temperanillo (red) and Airen (white). Both were smooth, but I tend to gravitate toward red in general.

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The table bread is all made in-house, and is a rustic farmhouse style with a crusty outside and a soft, fluffy, absorbent inside that’s excellent for dipping into the sauces that come with the mussels.

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While I got to taste a little bit of everything that each of the five press diners ate, I will try to just focus on the items that my wife and I ordered – really because I ate more of those items than the others.

First was the sauteed baby octopus. This was simply tossed with garlic, parsley, tomato, olive oil and mushrooms, and served warm on a bed of mixed greens. The ‘pus was perfectly cooked. Nice and tender, with great flavors. Although one doesn’t exactly associate this sort of dish with classic French cuisine (it sounds more Mediterranean / Greek-Italian), it was a definite crowd pleaser. Everyone liked it.

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My wife had the Creole mussels, which were served in a creamy tomato and chorizo broth with herbs. We liked this a whole lot better than the other mussel dish we tried, which was “Rochelaises” style, with curry and apples. The chorizo just goes so well with shellfish, and I was sopping up that amazing sauce with bread for a while after the mussels were fully devoured.

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When in France, do as the French do: Eat snails. These little shits were so damned tasty. Buttery, garlicky, herby and tender. I could easily put down three dozen of these like nothing. Didier’s escargot is a must-try, and the best version of the dish that I’ve ever had.

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The entrees were spectacular. Until this meal, I had never tried cassoulet. I think I might have just spoiled myself with this first. My expectations and standards on future cassoulet meals are now way too high, thanks to Didier. It’s like having a rib eye at Del Frisco’s for the first steak of your life. While I have nothing to which to compare Didier’s cassoulet, I can safely say that it is amazing. Behold, my new favorite French dish:

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It was so hearty and packed with flavor. So many different types of meat were happily co-mingling in this rustic dish. It was like a dream-come-true. Inside was a delicious potpourri of cannellini beans, carrots, tomatoes, garlic, duck confit, slab bacon and pork sausage, all braised with duck fat, white wine stock and foie gras jus. Come on… And on top was an array of homemade bread crumbs that were broiled to crispy perfection, so that every bite of this dish had texture versatility as well as flavor variety.

It was difficult to pull myself away from that cassolet. It was my wife’s dish. I, of course, had steak. At first I was conflicted: should I order the hanger steak, one of Didier’s signature items, or the “Tournedos Rossini,” a signature filet mignon item? BOTH STEAK and BOTH SIGNATURE DISHES! It was like Sophie’s Choice for me, except, unlike Sophie, (SPOILER ALERT) I didn’t have to hand one of my children over to the Nazis to save mine and my other child’s lives.

Okay, so after much back-and-forth, I quietly resolved that I would just come back again soon for the hanger steak. I ordered the “Tournedos Rossini,” which is filet mignon, topped with fois gras, truffles and a shallot/port wine reduction sauce.

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This was nothing short of decadent. The fois gras added that much needed fat element back into the cut of tenderloin. So good. And it was expertly cooked to medium rare as well.

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I was thoroughly impressed. For a non-steakhouse, this place does an excellent job with the world’s most prized and sought-after beef cut. Bravo!

Our entrees were served with a nice side plate of veggies. Celery with breadcrumbs and garlic (my favorite of the four), butternut squash, green beans (really fucking delicious, by the way – how on earth does one make green beans so damned good), and carrot puree. This plate comes with each entree, but sometimes Didier will mix up the contents depending on what’s fresh and in season.

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Dessert is such a treat when you’re at a place that really knows what the fuck they’re doing in the kitchen. La Sirene is one of those places. We tried five different desserts, and I made damn sure to take nice photos of each and every one, because they were all stellar.

I’ll start with the chantilly here. Essentially this was a cream puff item: puff pastry filled with vanilla whipped cream. Simple, elegant, light – and a cool, refreshing way to end a meal.

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The steakhouse man in me will always look for a creme brulee of some kind. The one offered here is a banana brulee. Custard with banana and cookie in it. Really delicious and perfectly executed, with generous chunks of very ripe and sweet bananas inside.

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This strawberry tart was actually my favorite dessert of the five. The tart crust itself was flakey, buttery and light. It was sweet, yet slightly savory, to counter-balance against the sweet strawberries, whipped cream and custard that was on top. A real winner for me. I wish I was able to eat more of this.

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My order was the profiteroles. These were essentially the same as the chantilly cream puffs, except filled with vanilla ice cream and draped in melty chocolate. Fucking awesome. And the whipped cream added that lightness that I wanted at dessert time, in addition to the sweetness.

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My wife ordered the chocolate lava cake. This was a sight to see. It comes served on a long plate consisting of three items: whipped cream, the cake itself and vanilla ice cream. See below:

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But when you cut into this baby, that ooey-gooey melty chocolate lava just oozes out of the center.

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I’m usually not a big chocolate-on-top-of-chocolate fan at dessert time, but this was a really great dish with a stunning presentation.

I think that about wraps it up. I look forward to coming back to try the other signature beef dish, the hanger steak, and I eventually plan to try out Didier’s third dining establishment, the fondue joint next door called Taureau. So far Didier is two for two with La Sirene and Le Village. Essentially he has taken victories at the Derby and Preakness, and I am interested to see if he will score the Triple Crown at Belmont. See what I did there? That’s a horse racing metaphor, because the Belmont Stakes are just a few weeks away, and we have a potential Triple Crown winner on our hands this year.

LA SIRENE
558 Broome St.
New York, NY 10013

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