Haute Dining: 10 Questions for Gerard Donato of La Mangeoire

Gerard Donato, owner of La Mangeoire

French bistro food in a cozy, romantic setting…what could be more appealing? And when you enter La Mangeoire, truly one of the best French restaurants in the city, and charming owner Gerard Donato leads you to your table it’ll be hard not to feel like you’ve been whisked away from midtown to the South of France. And the food! Oysters, mussels, escargots, duo of braised short ribs, duck confit, coq au vin…it’s easy to enjoy the classic dishes elevated by Christian Delouvrier, an award-winning chef from France who’s worked in some of the best kitchens in Paris and New York City.

Here, we speak with owner Gerard Donato who grew up in Provence and now lives in Westchester County.

Photo: The cozy dining room at La Mangeoire

Haute Living: What’s new at La Mangeoire?
Gerard Donato: We have lots of new and exciting things happening at La Mangeoire right now. We recently underwent a major interior and decor renovation and along with that we have completely revamped our menu. Our chef Christian Delouvrier and I made the decision to expand our restaurant concept beyond its previous Provencal stance to an overall feeling of “French Country Cooking”. To coincide with that, the interior and menu needed some big changes so we enlisted Karen Gorman of Village and City Interiors to help transform our space so that you feel as if you are dining in the French countryside and Christian altered the menu to be all encompassing of French Country cuisine.

HL: What are some of your favorite dishes at your restaurant?
GD: There are definitely several dishes that I look forward to eating on a regular basis from our new menu, specifically:

Escargots: this is one of our appetizer choices prepared with shallots, tomato and almond butter.
Baby Calamari: another appetizer that is becoming a favorite. Baby calamari grilled à la plancha with tomato and a basil and pine nut puree.
Baked Maine Cod Fish – an entrée option served with Serrano ham, and potato and onion “boulangère”
Coq au Vin: A classic dish executed to perfection. Dark meat chicken with red wine, mushroom and bacon sauce and mashed potatoes.
Roasted Chicken: This is one of Christian’s signature dishes and many say he makes the best roasted chicken in the city. It is served simply with natural jus, French country fries and Boston lettuce.

HL: Where do you like to dine when you’re not working?
GD: I live in Westchester County and there are several good Japanese restaurants that I frequent up there; it is nice to have a change in cuisine after eating mostly French dishes at the restaurant. I also enjoy Italian restaurants here in Manhattan, specifically Peasant and Crispo,which serves a great bone marrow dish. Finally, I really enjoy Aldea, which serves Portuguese food in the Flatiron neighborhood.

HL:  What’s your ideal meal?
GD: Risotto. Whether lobster or mushroom, I love a well cooked risotto.

HL: Where do you like to dine on a special occasion?
GD: Blue Hill at Stone Barns near where I live in Westchester County. We actually held our daughter’s wedding there!

HL: What’s your favorite NYC neighborhood and why?
GD: The West Village. There is a lot of character, trees, and houses…it has a European feeling, which I like very much.

HL: What do you like to do in the city on your days off?
GD: On Sundays we often do dinner with friends and family, sometimes at Peasant or at Crispo, which I mentioned before, or at other casual Italian places. Sunday is a great day to relax and enjoy a meal with family and friends.

HL: What’s your favorite vacation destination?
GD: I have two spots that I love to visit. One is the South of France, of course, because it is my home and I love going back to visit. The second is Corsica; the rugged terrain and coastline has a nice old world feel, which I appreciate.

HL: What’s your most memorable meal?
GD: Thirty years ago in the South of France at a restaurant called Chanteclaire. It has now closed but I think it was the first great meal I ever had, so that’s why I remember it. Sort of like a first girlfriend or love, you always remember it. The entire overall experience was amazing. I remember my wife had a vegetarian dinner, which was outstanding but other than that the details have blurred. I only remember the exceptional overall experience.

HL: What are your five favorite ingredients?
GD: Oysters, uni (sea urchin eggs), potatoes, saffron, bone marrow

La Mangeoire is located at 1008 2nd Avenue at 53rd St; (212) 759-7086.

Visit food + travel writer + Haute Dining columnist Tracey Ceurvels’ blog, The Busy Hedonist, for more ideas for dinner.