UPPER EAST SIDE — Mathias Peter could not find a tarte flambée anywhere in the city as good as the ones he ate growing up in the Alsace region of France.
So, after five years of searching, he decided to make his own.
He opened his own restaurant specializing in the pizza-like dish made of thin dough and topped with crème fraiche and fromage blanc. Peter had a soft opening on Saturday for La Tarte Flambée, a cozy 25-seat spot amid the subway construction on Second Avenue, near East 91st Street.
"It’s something new, and I know in New York everyone wants to try food from everywhere," Peter, 29, said. "You can come with six or eight people and enjoy a bottle of wine and share a tarte flambee, fighting over the last piece. It’s for conviviality."
Tarte flambée was traditionally a farmer’s dish made with leftovers: old bread stretched out thin, topped with remains of milk (the fromage blanc) and bacon. It became more popular in France about 50 years ago when urbanites would visit the countryside, Peter said.
"I was missing the taste," Peter said.
He is serving the dish topped with caramelized onions and bacon and also has versions with cheese, salmon or chicken. He’s also serving sweet tartes, topped with apples and cinnamon, for instance.
One customer said to Peter, "If a pizza and a crepe had a baby, it would be a tarte flambee.”
For his brunch menu, he is planning an eggs benedict-like dish on potato pancakes instead of English muffins, and will offer salads, hamburgers and Alsatian hotdogs.
Peter signed a 10-year lease for 1750 Second Ave. in January, hiring the staff of the previous occupant, Nina’s Argentinean Pizza.
Peter, who lives in Gramercy and had a self-imposed deadline of celebrating his 30th birthday this month in his own restaurant, initially looked for space in the East Village and Lower East Side. Lawyers warned him of the difficulty of getting a liquor license there, so he turned his attention to the Upper East Side and found a good deal because of the construction, he said.
"I was looking for a big place but then I realized it’s my first business," Peter said, about starting small.
"Because of the construction, everybody is so nice," he added. "People around here are happy there’s something new. The other businesses, the falafal guy next door and the Chinese restaurant, everybody is so helpful because they don’t want an empty store."
"Just the idea that a new person will come into the area under construction, it gives the neighborhood a lift," said Popper, who is president of her tenant association at Knickerbocker Plaza.
"It’s encouraging that people have enough faith to want to invest here. Without these small stores, we don’t have a neighborhood."