Walk in and you're immediately “un ami” de Jean Claude, just as Jackie O, Harry Connick Jr. and opera diva Jesse Norman are or have been. In fact this is where Harry Connick Jr. got his start, at the handsome, shiny, black grand in the center of the narrow dining room.
Every night a different piano man/woman takes up residence at the keyboard, entertaining the pre-theatre, mid evening and after theatre patrons, who never know who'll cozy up to the piano to pick up the mike.
The night we were there, Nicole Rochelle, co-star of the Bill Cosby Show, had just flown in from Paris, where she'd been starring in, of all productions, “Looking for Josephine.” Naturally she had to do a number from the show, a la Ms. Baker. How a propos!
Surrounded by paintings and posters of Josephine Baker, hearing Ms. Rochelle's vocal emulation of “ La Baker” eerily transported us back to 1920's Paris. Jean Claude, who performed with his adoptive mom the last several years of her life and managed her career, modeled his Broadway establishment on Chez Josephine's, the club she ran in Montmartre in the '20s. The new Chez Josephine is a former massage parlor.
It's red velvet walls with Venetian brass and wood chandeliers and art deco palm trees evokes the period Jean Claude recalls in the biography he penned several years ago, “Josephine.” He'll gladly autograph a copy should you request one, as well as whet your appetite with a few, choice anecdotes. Speaking of whetting one's appetite, the food at Chez Josephine is as scrumptious as the setting, though not inexpensive.
Entrees range from twenty to thirty four dollars. However you won't find duplicates of Chef Richard Pims' creations anywhere else. His Black Tiger Shrimp, served atop a bed of English pea and mint risotto ($29.00) is a delight: five large shrimp sauteed in lemon, garlic, shallots, white wine and butter, cooked to perfection and presented on a bed of al dente risotto and peas with the consistency of peanuts rather than the usual variety that are easily mashed with a fork. For the more carnivorous patron: the Rosemary Basted Hanger Steak, served sliced between two crisp fried buttermilk and cornmeal onion rings ($29.00)
This “sandwich” is surrounded by organic heirloom tomatoes and dabs of Roquefort cheese and the chef's own yellow pepper ketchup. For those not quite as hungry: perhaps the Chinese Ravioli stuffed with fresh goat cheese, dill and roasted pine nuts ($10.00). It's served in a broth of ginger-infused veal reduction with brandy and chives: a velvety consistency and enveloping flavor.
While Jean Claude may not be the wine connoisseur, his waiters are, and theres a superb selection from which to choose. Desserts, and there's a large variety, are all eight dollars and all homemade, including the Apple Rhubarb Crepe Cake, composed of fourteen paper thin crepes intermingled with an apple and rhubarb compote, Richard's variation on the Tart Tatin but less sweet.
Jean Claude's favorite is the Frozen Cappuccino Parfait, a cappuccino frozen custard, created in a mold to make it look like a souffle overflowing an espresso cup, served with espresso beans and candied flower petals flown in from France. Try finding that anywhere else in America!
Chez Josephine is only open for dinner, Tuesday through Saturday from five to midnight, but on Sunday they also serve brunch from noon to three. Selections include thick cut Brioche French Toast with berries ($14.00), Maine Lobster and Soft Scrambled Eggs ($20.00) and the Classic Eggs Benedict ($14.00). All brunch entrees are served with salad and fries.
If the chef tells you that after a year on the job he can't wait until Monday, first thing in the morning, to see what's fresh and new at the market, and your host informs you he views his establishment as a perfectly blended cocktail of human beings, what can you expect but a joyous experience?
414 W. 42nd St.
New York 10036