For me, the test of any restaurant is how good the food and service are on a Tuesday. Many restaurants are closed on Mondays (or the chef and other key personnel take off that day), so I expect everything from ingredients to attitudes to be fresh on Tuesdays. This year my birthday fell on a Tuesday, so I decided to try a new place that really should take every definition of fresh to a new height: Tiny Lou’s inside the much-anticipated renovation of the landmark Clermont Motor Hotel.
The biggest challenge for reclaiming a landmark like the Clermont is to find a way to integrate history in a way that is balanced. To my delight (and relief), the designers have struck all the right chords. The 70’s wicker peacock chairs in the almost, but not quite, tiki-feel lobby, instantly transport you to a different time. The restaurant is located down a set of wide stairs, a nod to the way out to the hotel’s world-famous Clermont Lounge, and is a blend of the upstairs vibe and similar era French brasserie—the only thing missing is a cloud of cigarette smoke to make the ambiance complete. The menus are encased in embossed, soft leather. The steak knives are by Laguiole. The plates are stamped with an image of Tiny Lou. The tea cups have pithy sayings inside. All of this would be nothing more than kitsch, if the bar and the kitchen weren’t good. So far, however, Tiny Lou’s is living up to the hype.
The cocktails weren’t as inventive as I expected, but they were humorously named. I tried the Not My Hula Hoop (a mix of Old Fourth Ward gin, lime cordial, St. Germain, and hopped grapefruit bitters), which is take on the elderflower craze you are finding everywhere. If you aren’t a cocktails person, there are plenty of other choices, including “zero proof” mocktails. The wine list is exclusively French. The selections are good and the range of prices were reasonable for most budgets. Beer drinkers will find a good selection, too.
The menu is not large, but it has a nice variety of choices in different sized portions. The use of locally sourced ingredients was excellent. For a starter we shared the Fromage Brülée, which are waiter said they aren’t allowed to call “cheese dip.” That’s good advice because it wouldn’t do justice to this dish, a fluffy, spreadable, delicate balance of two cheeses served with grilled sourdough bread.
My dining partner (aka, the husband) shocked me by not ordering the steak frites, so I did. Any restaurant in the brasserie tradition has to be able to do this dish well. The steak was perfectly cooked and topped with sauce du Clermont, which tasted like an au poivre meets bordelaise sauce. Fries were thin and crisp, and their sauces were on the side, which allows you to decide if you even need them. In my opinion, you don’t. Hubby chose one of the large portion hors d’oeuvres, the Maine Diver Scallops, and paired that with one of the vegetarian mains, the Local Farm Egg Omelet. While the scallops are in a rich chicken jus alongside a potato mousseline topped with broccolini, none of that fights with the dish, leaving the tender scallops to feature prominently. The omelet was good, featuring local legumes, grana padano, greens, and a béarnaise, but definitely was my least favorite of the dishes we tried. I think I would have liked it more as a brunch selection.
The biggest delight of the evening was the patisserie selections. I’m not a big dessert person (because I’m allergic to cocoa), but I was easily enticed to try the Crêpe Suzette Cake, a tour de force of 32 layers of crêpes with orange cream and warm beurre suzette sauce topped with candied citrus and edible flowers. I would stand in line for another taste of this masterpiece dessert!
After our meal, we visited the whimsical rooftop bar to enjoy the sunset and views of midtown. I did my best to talk the staff into letting me buy one of their motor hotel t-shirts, and even though they demurred, I still think Tiny Lou’s a gem.
For reservations and more information visit tinylous.com.
Our regular dining critic Megan Volpert will offer her take on Tiny Lou’s in our October print issue. Be sure to watch for it.