Classic Tables:La Grenouille

New York's last great French restaurant

Spending a night dining beneath the towering flower arrangements at La Grenouille remains one of the city's most transcendent experiences.

At 47 years old, the restaurant has aged gracefully–more so, we might add, than many of its surgically enhanced clientele. Its dapper waiters, silky sauces and classic French preparations–most notably the famous Dover sole, filleted tableside–are vestiges of another gilded era.

The three-course dinner menu ($95) is an excellent main act for a special evening out. But for those on a budget, there's the lesser-known ardoise (chalkboard) menu, a three-course lunch ($29) offered Tuesday through Friday in the carriage house's airy upstairs room.

There, chef Matt Tropeano uses the menu to showcase seasonal ingredients: A recent lunch included heirloom tomatoes with fresh mozzarella, chicken breasts with fava beans and pistachio cake with local strawberries.

If Columbia River salmon filets are destined for the main dining room, Tropeano will turn the belly into tartare for the ardoise; when there are duck breasts for dinner, confit leg may appear at lunch.

You might forfeit the delight of prime-time people watching and the sublime joy of finishing a meal with one of La Grenouille's ethereal soufflés. But there's a solution for that: After having lunch upstairs, head down to the bar and order one ($17) for a second dessert.

La Grenouille, 3 E. 52nd St. (between Madison and Fifth aves.); 212-752-1495 or la-grenouille.com