Le Charlot brings a very welcome taste of France to the heart of Southampton.
Moules à la Thai with ginger, lemongrass, and cilantro at Le Charlot.
Let’s talk plinths, shall we? For the low platform upon which a classical sculpture, vase, or column typically rests is a key ingredient at Le Charlot, the new Southampton branch of the Upper East Side très français (and très fun) bistro. The dishes that Le Charlot Southampton puts on a plinth, I would put on a pedestal.
The hearts of palm and avocado salad is itself a plinth, with chunks of each ingredient leopard-spotting the shallow cylinder, held together with a mortar of avocado and set off by endive spears at two, four, eight, and 10 o’clock. It’s as if guacamole went to architecture school.
There’s a generous rectangle of tuna tartare, creamy and with just a hint of wasabi, reposing on a plinth of avocado as if it were at some decadent Roman repast. The low cliff of cod fish sits on a round plinth of lemon mashed potatoes, moated with a nicely inflected chorizo sauce. And the Cajun mahi-mahi, dashed in a grapefruit-lime sauce, rests on that most plinthable of ingredients, couscous.
Le Charlot is a welcome frisson of Gallic joie di vivre on buttoned-up Main Street. The awning is royal blue, and there are six bistro tables and chairs out front. About the only other thing the restaurant could do to emphasize the French connection would be to hand out espadrilles at the door (or perhaps the bread, baguettes from Eli’s that hew delectably to the classic French tradition of crispy crust and yielding center).
Cold poached salmon with green mayo n naise, tabouleh, and mesclun.
What’s funny is that Le Charlot Southampton is an accident. Thierry Gelormini, who with his brother Bruno owns the Upper East Side Le Charlot, happened to be on Main Street last winter and saw the vacant space. “It’s the French way,” he says. “I knew what I wanted; I could visualize it.” It took three months to come to terms on the former Barrister space, and then, of course, there was construction.
“I saw it white with red banquettes,” Gelormini says, and et voilà. The banquettes run along the wall opposite the bar, which is made of vintage Corsican chestnut, once the floor of a house. (As it happens, Gelormini is also from Corsica.) You’d expect a zinc bar top, but here it is Grecian marble. The only other decorative touch is two Andy Warhol silk screens of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a close-up, vividly recolored. Warhol cropped it from Johann Henrich Wilhelm Tischbein’s iconic 1786 painting of the great German poet-philosopher reclining on, well, a plinth, in the countryside outside Rome. (The two have been lent by a Le Charlot regular.)
Le Charlot Southampton is a fraternal twin of the one in Manhattan. There is the great moules, but only two versions (marinère and à la Thai). There is the organic mesclun salad and the frisèe aux lardons, but Southampton offers a traditional onion soup, which may disappear by summer. Organic roasted chicken, steak tartare—oui, oui—but here Gelormini is also offering magret de canard à l’orange and baked Brie in puff pastry. The latter made me wonder if Gallic enthusiasm hadn’t outrun bikini-ready-body anxiety. We’ll see—but two and a half cheers for culinary daredevilry.
Hearts of palm and avocado salad.
The restaurant was a work in progress when I dined. Two French chefs, one from Brittany, the other from the Luberon, were due to arrive any minute (visa red tape had held up Luberon’s debut). There were a number of sure-to-be-popular dishes waiting in the wings, among them cold poached salmon salad (“the ladies who lunch love it,” says Gelormini), crab cakes, and lobster roll. So, too, was the back garden, which will have sofas, low tables, and a tapas menu—aprés plage, non?
There’s a moment at every restaurant when something minor strikes you as being something key. At Le Charlot, it’s the ceiling. My eye was repeatedly seduced by the pooling ceiling lights. They formed runways down the room and relaxed the eye, small moons haloed as on a humid Hamptons night.
It’s the product of the high-gloss paint that Gelormini insisted on for the ceiling. His contractor tried strenuously to dissuade him, saying, “It will show all the defects.” To which Gelormini said something like, “Vive la imperfection.” And yes, the ceiling does ripple like a calm sea, but that paint massages the light into eye Prozac. Drink it in. 36 Main St., Southampton, 353-3222