Submitted By Simon Hardy Butler, May 10, 2017-1:12 am
No one should think that Belgian cuisine consists solely of mussels and chocolate. At Petite Abeille’s location on 17th Street in Manhattan, there’s a lot more to the menu than that. But then again, this is a restaurant that cares about its food and its customers’ experiences, so one would expect that the eats would be varied and intriguing.
For the most part, it is. First, however, you must walk down the narrow corridor past the bar (check out the Tintin comics!); once you migrate toward the back, you’ll find a charming, dimly lit environment replete with curious wall art, wood and high ceilings, as well as mirrors that bring an amusingly voyeuristic character to the place. Sit at your table, and you’ll discover small candles with faux wicks; this ain’t an overly elegant spot. It is lively, though, and often filled with young folks out for a beer and chatter.
They know something. You know what that is? Beer is good here. We must listen to our future.
Listening to your consciences also is a must … and in many cases, your inner cricket will vouch for the Belgian bottles on the brewski list—including this malty, sweet St. Bernard; its fruitlike body sits with you well, and it prepares you for what’s to come. Cocktails are also snappy; the Negroni-esque “Italian Diplomat” and orangey Old Fashioned are especially smart. Then there’s the fare. Order the cheese croquettes, for example, and you’ll find it’s an appetizer that goes nicely with the adult beverages; a crispy crust envelops the melted gruyere and Parmigiano-Reggiano fromages inside, though the flavors are a tiny bit fugitive here. If you head forward to the chicken stew, you’ll dig into a creamy-sauced poultry topped with a perhaps unnecessary chunk of pastry and served with fries that are a tad too thick, though they are judiciously salted. Yeah, the fowl might not be the most exotic thing, but who’s complaining? You’ve got better things to do.
Like munch on the steak au poivre, a peppery cut of meat that might be un peu chewy but maintains a robust flavor. Meanwhile, mussels “grand-mere” present the shellfish with tidbits of bacon in a beer sauce; you can taste the celery through it all, and it’s likeable, although the mussels are somewhat muted. Serious about dessert? The chocolate and salty caramel souffle may be your Waterloo; it may not be the saltiest thing you’ve had for a finale, and yet the deep cacao sensibility permeates the dish. Belgian waffles are also possibilities, and the “sucre” variant is light and crunchy, augmented with powdered sugar and a pleasant strawberry sauce.
Service: amiable. Prices: welcome … mains are mostly in the 20-buck range, while apps approach the low-teens. Overall: a swell place to imbibe a brew and indulge in some hearty provisions—maybe akin to the ones grand-mere used to make.
That’s a boon anywhere, and one can’t be dismayed that Petite Abeille offers such amenities. Further proof in the pudding that Belgian cuisine has got legs.
I’m certainly an advocate. And I know I’m not alone.
Photos by April Mae Mutuc