Subway Construction Over, New York’s Little Frog Bistro Gets A Fresh Start

Food & Drink

Dust and noise gone on Second Avenue, Little Frog is finally getting attention.

Little Frog

         Little Frog opened two years ago as the construction of the Second Avenue subway dragged on and the excavation’s noise and dust kept a lot of people away from the restaurant.  Now that that boondoggle is finally over, Little Frog is thriving in a Yorkville neighborhood once crowded with French bistros with names like Bis, Pascal, Le Boeuf à la Mode, Café du Soir, Fleur de Lis, Le Jacques Coeur and Le Réfuge, all now gone.

         So the neighborhood was certainly in need of a good, honest bistro, and François Latapie provided it, with Gallic whimsy, real comfort and solid bourgeois cooking, via chef Xaviar Monge. Now that the weather is turning warmer, there are tables outside—with only the sound of passing cars and taxis to disturb the peace.

        

Little Frog’s owner, Francois Latapie, is a veteran of New York’s French restaurant scene.

Little Frog

Latapie is a veteran of New York’s French restaurants, including a stint as maître d’ at Le Cirque and as a partner in La Goulue. He knows his guests well and they depend on him and his fleet-footed staff to recommend what’s special each night, which currently includes the season’s first, fattest soft-shell crabs.

         Little Frog is a long room and bar with 75 seats, done with white brick walls, green tufted banquettes, bentwood chairs and charming artwork.  You can happily carry on a conversation with your friends, and Latapie has gotten rid of the canned music.

      

Little Frog’s interior is very comfortable and congenial, nicely lighted and decorated with a modern mural.

Little Frog

   The one-page wine list is very much geared to the style of the food, with ten selections starred as “Recommended” by Latapie, and plenty of bottles under $60.

         Do order the Provencal rosemary-flecked whole-wheat fugasse bread ($20), and you’ll probably order another. It’s delicious.  There is also a small section of tapas (all $10), which include slick, hot, spicy shishito peppers to pop in your mouth, and thinly sliced pink Iberico ham comes on a crunchy garlic-swabbed baguette. Best of all are the plump fritters enclosing oozing Comté cheese.

        

Little Frog makes a classic bouillabaisse with abundant Mediterranean seafood, garlic and Pastis.

Little Frog

Frogs’ legs—once a staple of French restaurants—make a welcome re-appearance at Little Frog, nicely garlicky, sprinkled with parsley and served with spring’s ramps and asparagus ($17). The duck parfait is as rich and creamy as ever, given sweet-sour inflections from brandied cherries, served on a baguette with cornichons.  Little Frog’s onion soup gratinée is still one of the best in town, with a deep, dark mahogany broth and plenty of bubbling, browned Gruyère on top. 

         The specialty of the house, which I did not try this time, is worth knowing about: a whole Normandy duck seasoned with Asian spices with a bourbon-orange sauce that is flambéed, and a side of spinach and kumquats ($79 for two).

         

As a staple of French bistros’, steak frites is always a favorite choice at Little Frog.

Little Frog

   The onglet cut of steak has been replaced with a 10-ounce New York strip, with an abundance of French fries in a paper canister, at a very reasonable $35. The beef has a pleasing chewiness to it, as it should. For two bucks more, you can have it with a sauce au poivre.

         Currently there is a whole grilled dorade with Provencal tomato and olives ($29), and they always have mussels with frites($26).

        

For dessert the light-as-air floating island makes for a fine ending of a meal at Little Frog.

Little Frog

For dessert my favorite is the big bowl of oeufs à la neige, or île flottante (floating island), as light as spun sugar with a rich crème anglaise. Last time I ordered the apple tart, it was undercooked and the pastry mushy; this time it was overcooked and the pastry needed a sharp knife to get through. Practice has not yet yielded perfect results on this item.

         Aside from that, Little Frog has hit its buoyant stride, and Latapie is eagerly waiting for a tall condo to open across the street to bring in a new crowd of what will inevitably become regulars. I hope he saves some place for us old regulars who don’t live in the neighborhood and those who have yet to find it.  Little Frog is worth searching out.

Open for dinner nightly, for brunch Sat. & Sun. There is a three-course, fixed price dinner with wine for $29 from 5 to 6 p.m. nightly. 

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