When last I dined at this Bay Ridge bistro, it was called Provence en Boîte. Although owners Jean-Jacques and Leslie Bernat have since packed up and relocated their Provençal "box" to Boerum Hill, this space retained its Gallic flavor when Jerome Vidy reopened it as Saint Germain in August, 2004. (The name, incidentally, comes from the Left Bank district in Paris around the quartier latin, or Latin quarter—an historic area known for its literary and artistic life.) I've wanted to try the Third Avenue namesake of Saint-Germain-des-Prés for some time, but have always considered the prices un peu cher. This spring's Dine-In Brooklyn, however, afforded me an affordable occasion to sample their cuisine.
Being seated at my favorite table brought back memories of this bistro's previous incarnation. Little has changed in the dining room since my last visit: guests must still pass the enticing dessert showcase upon entering; the bar still stands along the wall beyond the confections; and the banquette still lines the opposite wall. Though the cooking has remained French, the service has not. (I miss the Bernat's lovely niece, a delightful French serveuse.)
The special prix-fixe menu (please see below) comprised four starters, four main courses, and seemingly countless desserts. It offered a well-chosen selection, mostly from the regular menu. The unaccustomed generosity of the promotional portions came as quite a pleasant (and satisfying) surprise.
My Kir Royale apéritif set the tone for the first course. Its rosy effervescence made a delightful partner to the smoked salmon platter. The sparkling wine, combined with the sweet influences of the cassis, complemented the rich smokiness of the fish as well as the piquancy of the caper garnish. Generously portioned and served with toast and lettuce, this was a marvelous starter. Interestingly, the salmon platter does not appear on the regular menu, though it probably should.
I should have ordered wine for my second round. Instead, I succumbed to the seductive appeal of the Brigitte Bardot cocktail. The mixture of lemon vodka, triple sec, and sparkling French pink lemonade sounded better than it tasted. What was I thinking? (I wonder whether I'll fall victim to Wild Love or a Screaming Orgasm next time.)
Onward to the main course. Since I had a hankering for meat, I chose the Flank Steak au Poivre with pommes frites. Popular in French kitchens, this cut comes from a part of the cow that normally receives considerable exercise. While quite lean, the flank can be somewhat tough and stringy. Thus, it requires rapid cooking on high heat. As for my steak, it was slightly tough (predictably), but very flavorful, and cooked almost perfectly. I say almost because it was not quite so rare as I'd requested—a minor point, overall. The peppercorn sauce (made with green peppercorns, brandy, and cream) was consistent with my expectations: not great, but not bad, either. It could have benefited from additional brandy. The crisp pommes frites were authentic and very good, indeed. Why can't all french fries be made from real potatoes? Again, the ample portion's scale was more American than it was French.
Though sated after the main course, I still faced the prospect of selecting a dessert from the large display case. With so many délices from which to choose, I picked the one that seemed to be exhorting me to consume it: the apricot amandine. My initial bite, however, revealed the real reason behind the tart's entreaties: fear of being the last to be chosen. Apparently, this dessert had been deserted awhile. I found myself doing battle with the crust—it was far too rigid. Age may have also played a role in helping the almond paste overpower the retreating flavor forces of the sliced apricots. I prefer my steaks aged, but not so my desserts. (Perhaps I should have ordered the Porcupine confection instead.)
Among my Dine-In Brooklyn meals so far, this one has represented the best value. Considering that the regular dinner menu lists steak au poivre at $21.95 and desserts at $6 apiece, the $23 fixed price for my three courses was a bargain. Overall, my dinner was quite satisfactory despite the disappointing apricot amandine. While the bistro fare at Saint Germain is unlikely to win awards for creativity, it is fairly reliable and tasty.
8303 Third Avenue (near 83rd St), Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
By train: R to 86th Street
By bus: B37