Provence en Boite 263 Smith St, 718-797-0707 Price Range: $30-40 Rating: 3 L's
If you’d asked me two months ago what kind of restaurant I hoped would open on the corner of Smith and DeGraw, I might have answered barbecue or Vietnamese, but I definitely would not have said French bistro. After a lovely three-hour dinner at Provence en Boite — French from the patisserie sign outside to the lace-curtained windows to the bottles of wine lined up on shelves all over the room — much to my surprise, I was completely won over.
Provence en Boite is, strictly speaking, not a new restaurant. Until last year, chef Jean-Jacques Bernat and his wife Leslie were happily ensconced in Bay Ridge; their restaurant (of the same name) was dubbed “Payard-over-the-bridge.” I’ve never been to Upper East Side posh pastry joint Payard, but I’d be shocked if their pastries are superior to Bernat’s delectable confections, available in a window case at the entrance of the restaurant for window shoppers and impulse diners alike. Pear and pistachio tart? Cream-filled Napoleon? Delice — a layered chocolate cookie and hazelnut mousse concoction? Say yes to all three ($6.50 each); these grown-up sweets — nuanced flavors with magical textures — shouldn’t be missed.
If you manage to resist the pastry case and sit down for dinner, you’ll be pleased you did. Much of the menu is standard fare — French Onion Soup ($6.50), Steak Frites ($17), and the requisite Cheese Plate ($9.50). But with its generous portions of Brie, goat cheese, Rocquefort, and Camembert, not to mention fruit and bread, this cheese plate — enough for three people — is a steal. The portabella mushroom in Salade Cosi ($8) suffered from too much balsamic vinegar, but such a small misstep could easily be corrected. The whole table was impressed with the unusual anise taste of the Seafood Boullaibaise ($17), but I preferred the delicate taste of the Wild Salmon ($16.50), prepared with a white-wine soy scallion sauce.
Provence en Boite is still training its young waitstaff and smoothing out some kinks (the night we went, the credit card machine was down). I can only see two lasting drawbacks to the place. First, it’s more expensive than neighborhood favorite Patois, its competition up the street. Second (and this is scarcely a drawback), with pastries this stunning, who wants to eat dinner? Happily, the room and the staff smile upon lingering diners, an attitude perfect for a leisurely dinner with a bottle of wine from the small but carefully curated list, followed by an even more leisurely dessert.