By Jim Ayres
But what about the food?
I’ll tell you about it. In a bit.
I must tell you first, however — my lord, Emmaline’s a beauty. Open and serene, the restaurant is one of the most stunning in the city. Light fills the dining room, giving the rattan café chairs, and barstools and banquettes of cognac leatherette, a French countryside glow.
The main room gives way to a more casual sunroom, and then to a covered dog-friendly patio. Servers in blue chambray are as much a part of the décor as they are, well, excellent servers.
There’s a pastry station with breads and sweets, and what appears to be a red Lacanche enameled range. The bar shines with chrome fittings and juicers. Even the service plates are a study in toile. This is a space I want to bask in daily.
Perhaps a few too many chambray-shirted servers welcomed me as I came in for Sunday brunch. Then again, it was 10:30 a.m. and they must have been bolstering for a later, busier crowd. Mimosas and Bloody Marys were easy to come by (and quite the tonic after a vibrant Saturday night, ahem).
Emmaline’s cocktail list features clever twists on the classics. The Pretty Little Liar, their version of a Bellini, adds lemon and ginger to the traditional peachy drink. They’ve got a margarita, too, named after Teala’s, the former occupant. (If you need a reminder that this used to be a Tex- Mex joint, just go to the restroom. The Spanish tile hasn’t been replaced.)
Aside from that, if you walk into Emmaline and feel transported to a French bistro, that feeling will continue with the food. We all have romantic notions of sidewalk cafes in Paris, but the truth is that bistro cuisine is simple, hearty stuff. Workmanlike recipes deliver the basics of a dish without fanfare.
My Butcher’s Cut Steak and Eggs was a prime example. Excellent quality fire-charred (gas, not wood and, yes, you can taste the difference) hanger steak with oregano pesto and frittes was tender and medium rare, and it satisfied. Mind blowing? No. But competently executed.
A house salad, cutely named Our House is Yours, was a salade in true French tradition. Greens with the merest spritz of a mild vinaigrette had very little flavor and weren’t meant to. Oh, there were a few grape tomatoes and an olive or two, but a bistro salad is supposed to clean the palate, not nourish.
Other popular brunch choices included a Mascarpone Pancake Stack with berry and quince compote (gorgeous presentation) and the House Benedict prepared in muffin cups. The Chef’s Morning Pizza — eggs and a charcuterie on flatbread — intrigued me.
Will you enjoy Emmaline? I did, but it’s hard for me to answer for anyone else. That you’ll love the atmosphere is a given, but at these prices ($12 for the salad; $28 for the steak), can you accept simple, high quality food that’s solidly prepared? Or do you crave drama with your mimosa?