photo credit: Aya Kishimoto
Tasting menus can be cumbersome. Sometimes, you sit for a few hours, drop a bunch of cash, and eat a parade of dishes that look a lot better than they taste. The whole experience can make you feel like you’re in an exhausting meeting about Q3 earnings that’s only halfway over. You won't feel that way at L’Abeille.
This Tribeca restaurant has an elegant space with standout service that’s attentive, but never overbearing. But the innovative Japanese-influenced French food is the main reason why you should come here. L'Abeille has an à la carte menu, but we recommend surrendering yourself to the $185 tasting menu—each of the six courses gives you a dog-eats-peanut-butter-for-the-first-time feeling of discovery. By the time the last dish arrives, you won’t want your meal to end.
By combining different temperatures and textures in most dishes, it seem like the chef took the ingenious concept of dipping hot fries in a shake and ran with it—albeit in a more highbrow way. A foie gras crème brûlée is brilliantly paired with onion ice cream, and the scallop crudo comes with a beet sorbet and a flaky piece of pastry that’s like the outside of a turnover. The miso-glazed roasted squab would be successful even without the crispy bits of charred, salted quinoa—but their addition makes the dish even better.
The food alone warrants an immediate visit, but the atmosphere will make you want to stay for hours. There are green velvet banquettes and brass accents, and the sheer white curtain-covered windows make the well-spaced dining room feel intimate. Although the staff wears jackets and ties, the service doesn’t feel stuffy. The person checking in on you every few minutes is more likely to ask about your plans this weekend than start a question with “sir” or “madam.”
L’Abeille proves tasting menu places aren’t always just about pomp. Does this place serve tweezer food? Yeah, it definitely does, but the dishes are imaginative and satisfying (a rare combination), and the portions aren’t minuscule. If you’ve been avoiding tasting menus due to a string of disappointing experiences, this spot will restore your faith in the format. A meal here might even encourage you to start checking out new tasting menus around the city, but you’ll naturally weigh each one against L’Abeille’s, and few will measure up.
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Note: Dishes change seasonally, and items often switch places between the tasting and à la carte menus.
Foie Gras Crème Brûlée, Glace À l’Oignon
The tasting menu starts with this dish, which is a layer of foie gras with a caramelized brittle crust on top and a little scoop of onion-flavored ice cream. It comes in a white Humpty Dumpty-shaped ceramic bowl, and once you take your first bite, you’ll know nothing’s going to be boring about the rest of your meal. We want more onion ice cream in our lives, and we keep thinking of things (beef tartare, for example) that could use it.
St-Jacque Carpaccio, Betterave Gaspacho Sorbet, Huile De Combava
The kitchen could just serve a plate of raw scallop with makrut lime oil, and it would be a pretty good bite of food. But they take things a few steps further here. The scallops are surrounded by a pool of crème fraîche for creaminess, some caviar for saltiness, and a quenelle of savory red beet and gazpacho sorbet. A piece of flaky pastry is thrown on top that makes this luxurious dish feel comforting as well (by making you think of a pot pie).
Pigeon Rôti Et Laqué Au Miso, Sauce Au Bourbon
This dish comes with a squab leg and breast with skin that’s a little crispy and sweet from a miso glaze. A thick, concentrated bourbon sauce comes on the side with a green vegetable that’s in season (broccolini in our case). Charred quinoa, reminiscent of Rice Krispies, is sprinkled on top for some texture. You’ll want to gnaw on the bones to get every bit of meat, which might seem unbecoming, but we say get in there and do it.
Homard De Maine, Morille Farcie Au Madère, Petit Pois, Crème De Morille
You might think about the week’s worth of groceries or all the decent bottles of single malt scotch you could grab instead of ordering this $75 item, which is available on the à la carte menu. We recommend suppressing your practical side for just one night. The plump portions of lobster come warm and perfectly poached with morels and a green pea purée. This dish will ruin all future bites of lobster for you.
Chocolat Blanc Et Fleur D’Oranger, Glace Au Miel
You won’t find profiteroles, mille-feuille, or baba au rhum here. That would be too dull. This different-in-a-good-way dessert is a fitting end to a meal filled with so many dishes that veer from the expected. Small dollops of bright and tart orange sauce balance out the sweetness from the white chocolate marshmallows, burnt honey ice cream, and pieces of honeycomb-shaped cookie. (The honey theme isn’t random, as l’abeille translates to “the bee.”)