June 9, 2008 | Insatiable Critic

No Country for Old Provence


Hundred Acres’s steamed clams with green garlic and garlic bread. Photo: Steven Richter

        There is no mule tethered to a lamppost in front of Hundred Acres. Beyond that, Marc Meyer and Vicki Freeman (Cookshop, Five Points) have gone all out to evoke their signature farm fresh image here, obliterating the poetically romantic charm of their failed effort to restore creaky old Provence. There’s a new, less awkward entrance and long communal tables, as well as pavement-side two tops and fours. Only the handsome dark grooved wood paneling remains from Michel and Patricia Jean’s bustling bistro where we fought for tables in the late 80s.


 Doors thrown wide on Hundred Acres new country look. Photo: Steven Richter

        White subway tiles give the front room an old butcher shop feel. And the lush Tennessee Williams stageset backyard Freeman lavished with climbing vines that I so loved has been stripped down to a farmhouse vibe with low-rent potted plants. But nevermind.  In just one week the kitchen already hits the mark with luscious barely-cooked sea scallop-and-turnip kabobs and splendid fried chicken (alas, the waiter who promised us all dark meat, the gourmandlich choice, did not do his homework. I should have known it was too good to be true). Remarkably fresh greens pop up everywhere, including a couple of langorous leaves on the edge of a bowl of chilled pea soup, a gift from the kitchen. A nicely spicy pork and wild nettle sausage comes with fava and cannelloni bean ragu in its own black iron skillet.

       

 Scallops with turnips and market greens.  Photo: Steven Richter
The persnickety burger mavens at our table give thumbs up to this one, pasture-raised beef with fancy cheddar, and shoestring fries to dip in Vidalia onion mayo.  Our sixsome debates ordering an encore of the marvelous soft-shell crab sandwich with first-rate slaw. Some so-called chefs carelessly obliterate the delicacy of this fragile seasonal creature in an armor of crumbs, but not Meyer and his chef de cuisine, Joel Hough, rotating in and out of Cookshop.  In a rare reversal of the usual, entrees, all $22 or less, are mostly better than the slightly more aggressively-priced starters (three of them are $12 tonight, but being linked to the market, the menu can change daily).  “This is our neighborhood. We liked Provence, too,” Freeman tells me, “But we wanted the place to be more accessible so that the neighbors could come two or three times a week…When we go out with our kids, we’re always looking for a place we’ll all like that doesn’t cost $200.”  (Barbuto and Bar Pitti are family hangouts, she

 

Fried chicken on the back porch. Photo: Steven Richter
confides.)

        Avoid totally misguided tongue (too thinly sliced, disintegrating on the plate) and over-gussied up macaroni-and-goat-cheese. Not that I find peas and morels sacrilegious in a dish that is virtually my religion. I just want more pasta then cheese and a crust that crunches. But I love the fried asparagus and steamed littlenecks (salty as they are) with garlic bread. In fact, all the bread here from Grandaisy Bakery is first rate.  Good rhubarb tart with whipped cream and blueberry pie with cream cheese ice cream remind me this is a worthy work-in-progress. And if the glass skylight becomes retractable as planned, all eyes will be looking up.

 38 MacDougal Street, near Prince. 212 475 7500

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