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March 4, 2013
Review: Laverne of Great Neck
By Janene Mascarella
Ah, I was thinking the same thing: "What on earth is Japanese French Fusion and Thai?" I was baffled too by the description but after dining at Laverne recently I reached some (much needed!) culinary enlightenment. The space is simple. There's a casual and quaint feel to the room, that's modestly decorated. The sushi bar is set up in the back of the dining room and there's nothing pretentious or showy- a single candle flickered on every table.
At first, the menu is overwhelming. The exotic cuisine sweeps continents and our server was happy to fully explain the restaurant's concept and offer us suggestions based on our food preferences. After a little Sake (they also serve beer and wine) we seemed to feel less dizzied by our dish options and decided to just go with the flowâ€¦ What struck me instantly was that the prices were modest. For instance, appetizers range from about $5 (like pan-fried pork dumpling) to $14 (glazed duck breast), the sushi bar starters are $8-15, sushi or sashimi $2-3, Thai cooking dishes range from $10-15, and chef's specialties start at $15 and peak at $28.
You understand the French influence almost immediately. Stylized plates (traditional Japanese presentation is simple), creative sauce reductions (like the use of truffle oil) innovative flavor blends, interesting colors and textures, and dishes that were not so much "cooked" but rather "carefully crafted". There's the concept, now let's talk food.
The Papaya Salad ($7.50) was zesty and refreshing. Another striking starter was the Big Tuna Sandwich. It's an exotic and crunchy sandwich made of spicy tuna, avocado and caviar in soy bean seaweed, served with sweet crunchy yams. (I couldn't get enough of those crunchy yams!)
Everything I tried seemed to challenge my extremely conservative palette and comfort zone. I tested my limits and explored many of Laverne's creations. I absolutely adored the Shrimp Tempura Roll ($6.50) and would have ordered another one had we not too many other exciting dishes to try. Everything on the table was delicious and undeniably fresh.
While the menu is indeed a fusion, the common thread I feel, was creativity. Hand-written items on a chalkboard were the day's specials or since it's French fusion, I'll call them the Plat du Jour's. We sampled two of them: The Beef Sashimi (seared beef on a bed of mixed greens, $12) and the bold and zesty Taradito ($11) which is tuna with truffle oil in a special chef sauce with pink Himalayan salt. The Dragon Great Neck (eel, cucumber, sliced with thick avocado, eel sauce and red tobiko, $12) instantly ignited smiles and was slayed rather quickly. It was fresh, flavorful and full of personality.
Beyond amazing were two dishes from the "Thai Cooking" section of the menu: Gaeng Panang Curry with chicken (basil, coriander, peppers and coconut milk, $12) and the Spicy Stir-Fried String Beans with beef (basil, chili paste and lime leaves, $13). Curry fans, these two creations will leave you in your glory. The sauce was a bit thinner than I expected but it was loaded with exotic flavor. "A Chef Specialty" we selected was the Crispy Tilapia Laverne. For an added treat, we tried it two ways. The classic as served on the menu and a new chef creation poised to make its debut on the menu- it was drenched in a savory green sauce. Thumps up to this new dish contender.
I was ready to hand them a failing grade for the desserts, but that was before we even tried it. They stressed (again and again) that they did not specialize in desserts and our server almost talked me out of it. Lucky for me, I firmly insisted. Ok, so they were fried Oreos (typical) but not so typical, in fact, extraordinary was the strawberry filling inside and the high-end ultra-creamy ice cream served on the side. If you have room for dessert, you must get them. The fried ice cream was not so hot so skip that, for sure.
If you're up for something new, mark Laverne as a must-try on your radar. Great food, friends and atmosphere are the making of a perfect night out. We walked out feeling good (extremely full!) and eager to share a finding of a hidden gem. Laverne is simply a delight: gracious service paired with flavorful, far-flung dishes presented with a clever French flair.
Laverne of Great Neck
9 Cutter Mill Road
Great Neck, NY 11021
Janene Mascarella is a freelance lifestyle writer whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, CNN Money, AARP, American Way, Self, Glamour, Health, Cooking Light, Women's Health, Woman's Day, Weight Watchers, Parenting, Parents, Family Circle, Babytalk, American Baby, Arthritis Today, Working Mother, Bella, CBS News, AOL Travel, Mint.com, iVillage.com, and many others. Follow her on Twitter: @MrsWrite.
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