Bacchus Bistro and Wine Bar-A Bistro Without a Code

Bacchus Bistro and Wine Bar

411 Atlantic Avenue

Brooklyn, New York 11217


I can’t rely on my memories.

Rachel, Bladerunner

On my way to the opening of Bladerunner 2049 at BAM, I stop at Bacchus for dinner.

Bacchus is located in the Boerum neighborhood in Brooklyn. Boerum is in the northwestern portion of Brooklyn. Boerum Hill was named for the colonial farm of the Boerum family, which occupied most of the area during early Dutch settlement. Originally it was a working class area, then became a high crime zone and then became gentrified.

Bacchus is on the same block as the Iglesia De Dios Pentecostal Church and the Templo Cristiano De Brooklyn (Brooklyn Christian Temple Inc.). There are trendy businesses such as Ruchkida Nozhki Nail Lounge, Farrow and Bali (paint and paper), Opalia (flowers) and Arco (a Luxury Salon Boutique). Nearby is the Atelier Cologne (The Cologne Absolue-True Innovation). They are trying very hard to be distinctive and sophisticated but seem rather silly instead. They are models of gentrification.  I wonder what the Pentecostals think when they walk by on their way to church. Perhaps they do not see them at all.

Bacchus is roughhewn and unfinished.  The walls are old and distressed by time. Scraped paint provides the color.  The tables are beat up and the chairs are straw wicker. On one wall is a mysterious tin plate with blocks of old brown wood nailed to the plate for no apparent purpose. I could find no sign of a traditional bistro. No photographs of Paris, no Metro signs, no Thonet chairs, no white lace curtains in the window. This is a bistro without a code as Roland Barthes might say.

Service is French-casual.  It works well enough.The menu is limited but has most of the standards. Bacchus is the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, ritual madness, fertility, theatre and religious ecstasy in ancient myth. Correspondingly, there is a good selection of organic wines which is unusual for a modest bistro such as this. This is the bistro’s strength.

I ordered the French onion soup and the salmon with vegetables. The bread arrived: stale and tasteless. I am sure when it was fresh it was equally tasteless. No reason to eat the stuff. I think that bistros should serve nothing at all rather than embarrassing themselves and the French tradition by putting this pathetic attempt at bread making on the table in traditional zinc buckets.

The onion soup was surprisingly good after the slow start with the bread. The broth was black and it was not over cheesed or full of soppy bread that it typical. Flavors were subtle and nicely balanced.

The music began with a large jazz combo; pleasant and right for a bistro. It then swerved into a fusion version of In A  Gadda Da Vida. A very tired 1968 psychedelic rock classic. (In a gadda da vida, honey/ Don’t you know that I’m lovin’ you/ In a gadda da vida, baby/ Don’t you know that I’ll always be true). I hoped to never  hear that again after high school nor to be tortured by the extended drum solo. This song dredged up old memories that I would rather forget.

The crowd was local. Moms with children, a couple on a date, a bewildered older couple, a single guy drinking wine at the bar talking up the uninterested waitress.

Bacchus has a backyard with a tree and party lights strung from its branches to the building. Metal chairs and tables are scattered around and bottles are set up on an old table that is leaning on the uneven patio.  A wedding party flows in from the street. A hyper-kinetic bride screeches and hugs. Large white teeth are displayed. The groom stands on the edge: lost, uncertain, superfluous.

The salmon and vegetables (squash and broccoli) were acceptable but boring.  The vegetables were not overcooked and the salmon was pink and flavorful. You will not find creativity here nor will you find charm. But you will find food that is good enough, excellent natural wine, and a casual neighborhood vibe.


Staff-5 (Casual and vaguely efficient)

Archetype-1 (A bistro without a code. Not signifiers of the Archetype. )

Food-6 (Good, limited and uncreative; the bread failed. The wine was good and reasonably priced. )

Energy-5 (Casual, comfortable, local)


Roland Barthes


Match 65-Between the Dog and the Wolf

Match 65

29 East 65th Street (Between Madison and Park)

New York, New York 10065


Joel Meyerowitz: Between the Dog and the Wolf

It is opening night for Joel Meyerowitz at Howard Greenberg Gallery. He showed two collections of images: “Between the Dog and the Wolf” in the main gallery and “Morandi, Cezanne and Me” in a side gallery.

The opening was jammed and it was good to see Meyerowitz in good health wearing all black with a matching black Leica casually flung over one shoulder.

Between the Dog and the Wolf is a translation of a common French expression which refers to twilight. In his artists statement Meyerowitz said:  “It seemed to me that the French liken the twilight to the notion of the tame and the savage, the known and the unknown, where that special moment of the fading of the light offers us an entrance into the place where our senses might fail us slightly, making us vulnerable to the vagaries of our imagination.”

In the second series, Morandi, Cézanne and Me, Meyerowitz was granted permission to photograph the studios of both Morandi and Cezanne.  Meyerowitz was entranced by the grey walls in Cézanne’s studio, and he photographed just about every object there – from vases, pitchers, and carafes to a skull and Cézanne’s hat. In Morandi’s studio Meyerowitz was allowed access to all of the objects that Morand used to create his perfect still life paintings. He was allowed to sit at Morandi’s table where he photographed  shells, pigment-filled bottles, funnels, and watering cans against the same paper that Morandi had left on the wall. The paper is now yellow with age and created a rich backdrop for the photographs.

Match 65 Bistro

Beneath the red awning and string lights on 65th street are bistro chairs full of diners enjoying the perfect fall evening. It is a joy and a sweet sadness, fall in New York, because everyone who lives in the city knows that is coming. The cold and the grey and the wet and the slush and the dark. So we enjoy the preciousness of every moment.

The bar is to the right when you enter and is staffed by a charming young French woman. You can dine in tables in the bar area but I opted for table in the dining room in the back. There are large mirrors that reflect an infinity of diners and soft light globes in an infinite regression. Old black and white photos line the walls. In the back is a large sign with red type that announces Match 65-brasserie, cafe, comptoir-vins du pays, apertifs, bieres de luxe, plats du jour and digestifs.

Service was quick and efficient but hurried due to the large number of diners but small staff. The cafe was comfortably full-not so crowded as to be unpleasant but full enough to suggest popularity and success.

Most of the bistro classics are on the menu:  moules frites mariniers, pan roasted salmon, tuna provencal, steak frites, and branzino.  There is also an offering of enticing salads, hors d’ oeuvres, and garnitures.

I was surprised by the price points. The roasted salmon was $35 (Odeon is $31), the steak frites was $43 (Odeon is $40),the macaroni and cheese was $22 (Odeon is $13), the French onion soup was $15 (Odeon is $14), and pommes frites were $12 (Odeon is $11).

My experience at Match 65 was good but it is no Odeon.

I ordered the chicken paillard (with cherry tomatoes, baby cucumber, asparagus baby beets, mesclun greens, and feta cheese). I also had the pommes frites to give them a try.

The chicken was very thin but the temperature of the chicken could have been warmer and its consistency and flavor reminded me a bit of cardboard. The salad was excellent: fresh and well balanced. The pommes frites and the bread were average.

Paris Match

Paris Match is a French weekly news magazine. A judge has banned Paris Match from re-publishing graphic CCTV images of the Bastille Day attack in Nice in 2016. Paris Match was planning to publish images showing the moment when a truck plunged into crowds of people celebrating France’s national holiday, killing 86 and injuring hundreds. In an article defending the decision, Paris Match’s managing editor wrote that the magazine “wanted to pay tribute to the victims… in a duty of memory, so that society does not forget.”

Paris Match has faced legal action and censure several times before over the publication of private and sensitive images and interviews, including what it claimed was the last interview with Princess Diana before she was killed in a 1997 car crash in the French capital.

I inquired about the unusual name of the bisto and I was told that they originally named it “Paris Match” after the magazine. However, the magazine protested (trademark infringement I suspect) and so they changed the name to Match 65.


Service: 8. Professional but hurried. Good timing. Authentically French staff from the host to the servers.

Archetype: 8. All of the signifiers of the Archetype are represented.

Food: 5. Average bistro food. High price points. Interesting specials of the day which would be worth trying.

Energy: 7. Good bar and sidewalk scene. Busy but not obnoxious. Authentic bistro decor and vibe.


Paris Match Magazine

Howard Greenberg Gallery

Joel Meyerowitz

Bar Tabac-The Parisien Tobacco Shop

Bar Tabac

128 Smith Street at Dean Street

Brooklyn, NY, 11201

(718) 923-0918

The French Tabac

A tabac is a shop licensed to sell tobacco products in France. Tabacs are identified by a red diamond-shaped sign. They sell newspapers, telephone cards, lottery ticket and postage stamps. The tabac may also be the tobacco counter in some bars. You see tabacs in many old Godard and French New Wave movies.

The Brooklyn Bar Tabac

Bar Tabac is on Smith Street in the Cobble Hill neighborhood in Brooklyn. Smith Street has many shops and restaurants that are small, local and creative.

Bar Tabac has many signifiers of the bistro. The French flag, the red awning, the small wood tables and red wicker chairs on the sidewalk, the chalk board with the “plat du jour”, the soft globe lights and regulars sitting on Thonet bar stools at the old wooden bar, sipping wine and discussing the events of the day.    

And there are the signs on the walls: “Journaux”, “Rue Jean B. Therre” and “Le Petit Parisien.”

Bar Tabac has live jazz four times a week. It was happening when I was there and I found it to be real jazz rather than easy listening faux jazz which one often hears in cafes.

The menu has most of the bistro standards: moules frites, steak tartare and grilled hanger steak. The appetizers are onion soup, pate, snails, and tuna tartar.

The mains are nicoise salad, roasted half-chicken, rtruite amandine, duck leg confit,and steak frites. A variety of sides (mashed potatoes, french fries,string beans, asparagus, etc.) may be added.

Dinner is followed by classic deserts such as creme brulee, chocolat coulant (a small chocolate cake), profiteroles or sorbets.


Staff: 6 (Authentically French, casual and well-informed about the food)

Archetype: 7 (There are many signifiers of the Archetype and they felt organic rather than designed)

Food: 6 (Good solid traditional bistro food; no creative offerings)

Energy: 7 (Noise low, friendly neighborhood crowd, pleasant atmosphere,  surprisingly good jazz)


The Tabac


The Odeon and Stephen Shore: Uncommon Places

Stephen Shore, Collected Works 1973-1981. Book signing and lecture at Aperture,  June 7, 2017. I eat at Odeon before the lecture.

The Odeon

145 West Broadway

New York, New York 10013


Five things about Stephen Shore and The Odeon:

Stephen Shore

1. Mystery

Why did he take this photograph?

A cheap hotel room. Rust brown shag carpet. Umber brown fake leather chair. Gold brown bedspread flowers.

A bleak brown apartment building behind empty pavement. Cars parked. Empty blue sky.

A car at an intersection. Telephone poles and wires. Storefronts and signs.

Unseen. The mystery of intention. What does he see that I do not see?

2. Signs

Buying and selling: advertisements, information, injunctions, commands, questions, invitations, notices and names.

3. Composition

Form. Light and dark. Edges. Leading lines. Color. Rhythm. Stillness. Pattern. Flatness. Volume. Space compressed. Space distant. Vertical and horizontal. Beauty and ugliness.

4. Story

Paul Graham: “There are a thousand novels in these images.

Perception and wonder.” It is mute. It is multitude. Beauty and coarseness. I feel stillness.

5. Still Life

Dirty dishes on a table: two smoked cigarettes, three pickles, two crumpled napkins on dirty plates, 1/2 a cup of tea with a lemon slice floating, dirty utensils, 1/2 and 1/2 plastic creme cups….

The Odeon

A neon-lit promise of excitement on Tribeca’s then dark streets, the Odeon was the restaurant that defined New York’s 80s: a retro haven for the likes of Warhol and Basquiat, De Niro and Belushi, with a cocaine-fueled scene captured in Bright Lights, Big City.

Frank Digiacomo

1. We are at Area

It is 1983. Keith Haring painted the walls. Club kids are in the swimming pool naked. Unisex bathrooms. Art films running on monitors. Artists, writers, Euro-trash, Wall Street masters of the universe, fashionistas, and beautiful people. Look! There is Boy George, David Byrne, Jean Michel Basquiat, Sting, and Ann Magnuson! We dance to Kraftwerk, Berlin, Eurythmics, Tom Tom Club, Flock of Seagulls, Human League, New Order and Soft Cell. It  is 4:00 a.m. We need food, we need drink and it is too late to go to bed.

We walk from Area. Tribeca is dark, deserted, decayed and dangerous. Abandoned iron buildings and empty cobblestone streets. In the shadows are fear and excitement. But we are high from the energy of the club, we are high from the music and the dance and the life, and we are high from the drugs. We are at Odeon.  The end and the beginning of the night.

2. The Odeon Sign

Lena Dunham: And because I’m an officially deranged daughter of TriBeCa, the Odeon neon sign now lives on my ass for life.

The Odeon sign has progressed (or regressed) from the front cover of McInerney’s “Bright Lights, Big City” in 1984 to Lena Dunham’s ass  in 2017. How many restaurants have been culturally relevant (or even in business) for that long? Imagine the distance from Jay McInerney to Lena Dunham.

3. Bauhaus

Primary colors, thick straight lines across white space. The trilogy of circle, triangle and square. Man reading a paper and drinking a coffee in black and red.

Old wood long bar with the huge mirror overhead made for conversation. The neon clock in the corner glows green and pink soft. It marks the time and is timeless. 1980 to 2017.

4.  Odeon. Cafeteria. Cafe. Brasserie.

The soft globe lights make everyone beautiful. The old polished wood, bistro chairs and tables, the ceiling fans, white tablecloths and burgundy banquettes are familiar. The Art deco accents, the red awnings and red-orange neon lights. It is an expression of the Bistro Archetype.

Vanity Fair says:

“They hit the Zeitgeist with the architecture,” says Joe Helman, an art dealer who was instrumental in making the Odeon a popular place to fête an artist in the 80s. “The Odeon was kind of retro, without being kitsch. It was one of the places that really defined the moment.” Self-conscious without being pretentious—which couldn’t always be said of its customers—the Odeon’s design, its flattering lighting and aesthetically pleasing staff appealed to a younger, more cosmopolitan generation’s love of the cinematic, and its preoccupation with looking good.

5. Food

The best French onion soup and chocolate ice cream in town. The food is consistent and sometimes inspired. Favorites on the menu: brook trout, roasted half chicken, Faroe Islands salmon, and the steak frites. From the brasserie, the tuna burger, moules frites, and croque monsieur. New York and Paris standards.

It’s easy to see why The Odeon has been a part of the fabric of TriBeCa life for so long. Like watching a re-run of Seinfeld, it is reassuringly familiar, classically New York and, even when you know what’s coming next, still eminently satisfying.

New York Times


A great history of Odeon written on its 25th year anniversary by Vanity Fair

Stephen Shore


The definitive book on Area:

Eric Goode, Area: 1983-1987 (Harry N. Abrams 2013)

Le Veau d’Or (The Golden Calf): Timeless Magic

Le Veau d’Or (The Golden Calf)

129 E. 60th St.

New York, New York 10065


The essence of a bistro is that it conforms to its Archetype. This is its soul and this is why they are so popular. Comfort, tradition, familiarity, small towns. Fresh food from the market, cooked by mom and served in a casual dining room. Lingering over the newspaper having a glass of wine at the bar before moving to the dining room. Because this results in a uniformity of design, atmosphere, service and cuisine, it is difficult to evaluate bistros against the Archetype.

Most bistros fall in the midpoint in a distribution curve; a few are extraordinary and a few are poor. Most are within a narrow range of acceptability. You may expect competent food and service and comfortable warm feelings. You generally do not expect creative, brilliant or exciting food.

But some bistros have a magical quality that distinguishes them from the crowd. It may be the food, it may be the staff, it may be the energy. Sometimes all of the elements magically converge to create quality. 

Le Veau d’Or has that magical quality.

“Monsieur, retirez votre chapeau.” The imperious and elegant madam of the bistro commanded me after she graciously welcomed and seated me in her bistro. She fluidly alternates between French and English. Discrete signs forbid cell phones and cameras. There are no hipsters intently staring into their Apple Air laptops and iPhones projecting creativity and importance. There is no website. There is no social media. There is no one under fifty. 

Chanson music plays in the background. Jacques Brel.Edith Piaf.  Charles Trenet (Did I hear La Mer?). Chanson music makes me feel melancholy but satisfied with my past victories.

You walk along the Seine in Paris as the sun sets and it grows cold and the water turns from a brownish viridian to an oily black with the lights rippling and reflecting as it flows underneath the bridge and the ornate light posts. You see the red awning and golden lights and you pop in for a glass of wine and dinner and warmth. You feel stylish, you elegant, you feel like you live in the Belle Epoque, you want to dance up the steps from the water level to the sidewalk where the booksellers are closing the metal lids to put their books, maps and post cards to bed for the night. You want to watch old French black and white movies: Breathless, Hiroshima, Mon Amour or Jules and Jim. You want to write something important- Hemingway in the cafe.  You relish the familiar and take delight in it.

“If you want to know something about nothing talk to me!”

Catherine Treboux stops by my table for a chat. She recommends the fixed price special of lentil soup and monk fish. I accept her recommendation. She tells me the history of the bistro. We chat about Sibelius, Mahler and Carnegie Hall. I am going to hear the Sibelius Seventh Symphony and some Mahler songs.

Gentlemen in suits enter, sit by the bar and are served their usual cocktail or glass of wine. They invite each other to parties. You have the impression they have been coming here for a long time; everyone speaks French and everyone knows everyone. Catherine brings me a glass of the house Bordeaux. 

On the walls hang black-and-white photos of the historical Les Halles market in Paris (not the grotesque and soulless underground shopping mall), black and white Parisian street scenes, and some watercolors. There are red banquettes along the wall, wood chairs, and pink tablecloths with white linen pressed coverings. Flowers and candles are on the tables. 

“Voila!” Dinner arrives. It is very light and delicate. The pommes frites are warm and crisp and served with hollandaise sauce as they should be. The monk fish is served in medallions but suffers from a bland whiteness. Same for the creamed spinach. Chocolate mousse is home made and brilliant. It is served on a plate with a dash of whipped cream. The espresso is perfect. The dishes are  simple and traditional.  There is no innovation or frills.

The pace is leisurely; one should enjoy dinner and wine without a rush. How can one enjoy the finer things in life while  plugged into an iPhone while Facebook scrolls by pushing video ads in your face?

Le Veau d’Or was opened in the 1937 and Orson Welles, Marlene Dietrich, Ernest Hemingway, Grace Kelly, Helmet Newton,  and Oleg Cassini dined here from the 1940s through the 1960s. In the window is a large stack of books that mention Le Veau d’Or.

Mr. Treboux bought Le Veau d’Or in 1985 which capped a long and distinguished culinary career in New York. The New York Times describes the atmosphere:

By the time Mr. Treboux took it over, it had settled into a dignified old age, supported by a fiercely loyal, older clientele who loved its unbending traditionalism and adored Mr. Treboux for refusing to change its menu, its décor or its highly personal style of management.

Mr. Treboux passed away in 2012 and the restaurant has been managed by his daughter Catherine ever since. She told me she knows of five generations of people who dine in her restaurant. It is popular among writers, publishers and theatrical people. Apparently, the menu has changed little over the decades. You will not find kale on the menu.

“Après moi, le déluge.” he is known to have said  (“After me the deluge.”) They like their business the way it is-serving their regular customers and friends- and see no reason to change!

When you are there you feel like you are a member of a private club. You are participating in New York bistro history. The menu, decor and management and atmosphere has changed very little over time. And that is the way everyone connected to Le Veau d’Or likes it.

Happy, I leave Le Veau d’Or and I hope that it stays just the way it is for a very long time.


New York Magazine Review

New Yorker Review

Eater Review

New York Times Article on Robert Treboux

Chowhound Review

Boston Globe Review

Rimbaud’s Drunken Boat and Mahler’s First at the Met-May 31, 2017

Thenceforward, fused in the poem, milk of stars,

Of the sea, I coiled through deeps of cloudless green,

Where, dimly, they come swaying down,
Rapt and sad, singly, the drowned;

Where, under the sky’s hemorrhage, slowly tossing

In thuds of fever, arch-alcohol of song,
Pumping over the blues in sudden stains,
The bitter rednesses of love ferment.

Arthur Rimbaud, Le Bateau Ivre

Le Bateau Ivre

230 East 51 Street

New York, New York 10022


It is a curious synchronicity that I have been working on a photography project based upon Rimbaud’s Drunken Boat and I find myself in a bistro of the same name after seeing the Irving Penn Centennial at the Met. It was a show of 200 photographs which the Penn Estate had bequeathed to the museum. I was impressed by Penn’s range and the perfection of his images from a compositional and tonal point of view. The Vogue fashion images are iconic, of course, but I did not know that he photographed still life compositions, cigarettes, flowers and images of urban trade workers. The first display in the show was Penn’s camera in a glass case. It was a Rolleiflex-the same model that my father used throughout his life and that I heartlessly and regretfully sold thinking that I would never shoot film. As a photographer witnessing the brilliance and perfection of Penn made me want to cry.

For several years I have been photographing dead boats in the canals of Amsterdam. These are boats that are abandoned, decayed, lost, useless, lying dead in the canals. They collect trash and debris thrown from the sidewalks above. Rope lines curled and tangled, reflections of clouds in the oily water, weeds growing in the algae pools collected in the bottom of the boats. These boats are unseen. It is a project to defeat the tyranny of the banal images of red brick and white trimmed canal houses, bridges, bikes, trams and tulips. Rimbaud’s Le Bateau Ivre (The Drunken Boat) is a source of inspiration for the images. As is Godard’s film Socialisme.

After the Penn show my plan was to attend a performance of Mahler’s First Symphony at Carnegie Hall. I decided to dine at Le Bateau Ivre which was more or less between the Met and Carnegie Hall.

Rather than a traditional bistro, Le Bateau Ivre is a  French wine bar. A bistro a vins. It  opened in January 1999. It offers more than 250 varieties of the French wines. Unlike Parisian wine bars that typically only offer light snacks, Le Bateau Ivre has a traditional bistro menu.

The appetizers are old favorites such as asparagus with hollandaise sauce, burgundy snails, french onion soup and a sushi grade tuna. There is a selection of familiar salads. There are oysters, shrimp, clams and lobsters. The mains are lamb chops, steak frites, salmon, skate and mussels. The seafood is reasonably priced but the meat offerings are expensive: lamb chops are $33.50 and steak frites are $35.00. The deserts are traditional: a cheese selection, creme brulee, chocolate mousse, and a tarte tatin. 

The wine list is huge and the servers are very knowledgeable. They offer a wine tasting every day at 6:00.

The space is small and inviting. There is a red awning over the sidewalk tables, and the walls are lined with wine bottles in wooden racks. A light after work crowd began to arrive ordering the first glass of wine and then the second talking and enjoying the end of another work day with the long evening ahead. For some it may be a potentiality, who awaits, and for others a predictability, like falling asleep in front of the ball game on TV.

The high point of Le Bateau Ivre was the staff. They were charming, friendly and literate about the wine list, even though the list was extensive. Even though they were very casual their timing was excellent. I asked my server for a wine recommendation and she suggested the Chateau de Bouchassy Lirac Rouge. It is a Rhone wine and was excellent.  It is a GSM wine which means that it is a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre.  It is a specialty of the southern Rhone Valley.

Curiously, even though the bistro is named after a famous poem by Rimbaud there was no reference to it in the bistro. It would be interesting to have a card with the poem placed on the tables. Considering the radical imagery of the poem, it would be  an excellent conversation piece.

My starter was the Salade D’Endives (with apples, walnuts, and roquefort cheese). My main was the skatefish with asparagus and potatoes with the grilled Brussels sprouts on the side. For dessert I had the chocolate mousse and an espresso. (This was my first chocolate mousse since I started my Crossfit training in January to prepare for my mountain climbing expedition to Mera Peak in Nepal. We successfully summited the 22,000 foot peak last month. )

The dinner was without distinction; however, it was uplifted by the bistro’s positive energy, the staff, the wine and the excellent mousse!

After dinner, I walked to Carnegie Hall. In the words of the program notes: “Mahler’s First offers  both a bold continuation of the symphonic tradition pioneered by Beethoven and a poetic evocation of the landscape of Central Europe, albeit with a vein of nostalgia.” I found the performance by the Met Symphony to be magnificent.


Staff-9 (Friendly, casual and knowledgeable about wine; good timing)

Archetype-8 (The red awning, the wooden tables and chairs, and the menu reflect the Archetype )

Food-6 (Good but not creative; the bread failed. The wine was excellent)

Energy-7 (Comfortable space, windows open to the street; red banquets, bookcases of wine bottles, and large wood bar)


Are Parisian Bistros Finished or Just Getting Started? (Good history of neo-bistros)

The Best New Paris Bistros

Where To Experience the New Wave of French Food

The Cave a Manger

Samuel Becket’s Translation of Rimbaud’s Le Bateau Ivre (analysis of the poem)

Irving Penn Centennial

The Met Orchestra-Carnegie Hall-Mahler Cycle

Harlem’s French Renaissance

A small Francophile community, lured by Harlem’s sense of community and storied history, has sprung up, and along with it have come French restaurants.

A New York Times article on French Bistros in Harlem was published in April. It is an excellent history of French culture in Harlem.

There are four new bistros to explore: Chez Lucienne; Barawine Harlem; Cheri Maison; and Harlem.

Reviews soon to come!


New York Times Article

Barawine Harlem

Chez Lucienne


Maison Harlem




Eleven Madison Park-The World’s Best Restaurant 2017

Chef Daniel Humm on the four fundamentals of a great dish:

What I value in a dish has evolved as well. I’m no longer looking for what I can add to a dish, but instead how I can find ways to remove something from the plate—the less-is-more approach. All of our dishes must now contain our four fundamentals, a language we developed to help guide our cuisine, which are: beautiful, creative, intentional, and delicious.

Every dish must contain the four fundamental elements I mentioned earlier, and that applies to the plating as well as the flavor. Sketching has definitely been a big part of my creative process. I’ve been doing it for decades now and have dozens of notebooks from early on in my career through today with sketches of dishes.



Chez Josephine: Sunday in the Park with George

Chez Josephine

​414 West 42nd Street

New York, NY 10036


Chez Josephine is an adventure close to my heart, one that brings together  the legend of Josephine Baker and the love for people we shared. Listen closely and you will hear the joie-de-vivre of a timeless and passionate era.

Jean-Claude Baker,  opening night of Chez Josephine, October 2,1986

Surely the day will come when color means nothing more than the skin tone, when religion is seen uniquely as a way to speak one’s soul; when birth places have the weight of a throw of the dice and all men are born free, when understanding breeds love and brotherhood.

Josephine Baker


Service:  Busy and impersonal.

Atmosphere: A cabaret. A red velvet museum to Josephine Baker. Chandeliers. Red banquets. Posters from the Belle Epoque and the Folies Bergere. Feathers, masks and mirrors. A great place to experience theater before your theater.  

Food: Tired. We had the pork chop, amish chicken, char and salmon. The bread was particularly bad-a stale dinner roll. Why? Who cares, life is a cabaret and its the theater!

Energy: High, theatrical and noisy. Piano bar in a bordello. Air kisses and assignations in the corners.

Forget the food. Enjoy the history, the energy and the piano player before you go to the theater. The closest you will come to dining in French cabaret hall (or maybe a bordello) in New York. Enjoy the Belle Epoque posters and artifacts. Appreciate the amazing life of Josephine Baker.


In the 1960s and 1970s, West 42nd street was infested with pimps, pushers, prostitutes and places like the Body Rub Institute and the French Palace Massage Parlor. The French Palace offered massages for $10 and promised “complete satisfaction.”

In 1986, Jeane-Claude Baker decided to open his restaurant. He took over the space previously occupied by the French Palace Massage . The block was grim, dark and dangerous.

The restaurant’s theme would be based on the life of Josephine Baker. It would be called Chez Josephine. Fortunately, Jeane-Claude’s restaurant was located next to the Playwright’s Horizon. André Bishop,  the artistic director of the theater at the time recalled:

A theme restaurant based on Josephine Baker?  Mon dieu! And the décor looked like a bordello.

But  the cafe was an immediate success driven by the opening of  “Driving Miss Daisy” at the Playwright’s Horizon. (Playright’s also staged Sunday in the Park with George in 1984. We were seeing a revival of the play.) This marked the beginning of the transformation of the Off Broadway theater district.

Notes on the history of Chez Josephine:

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who was a pre-theater  regular, would always go to the powder room before leaving.  Jean-Claude would make sure the men’s room was empty  and stand guard while Mrs. Onassis was in it.

October 2, 1989: Chez Josephine celebrates its third anniversary with a dinner honoring 82-year-old Evelyn Anderson, one of the last two surviving chorus girls of “La Revue  Nègre” the American export that made  Josephine Baker an immediate sensation when it opened in Paris in 1925.

Celebrities, of which there were many, could be either extremely gracious or very demanding. Angela  Lansbury is of the former; Lauren Bacall, was of the latter. When the lights would go  from dim to bright, then dim, then brighten and dim  yet again, the waiters knew Ms. Bacall was on site. This was not so that she could make an entrance.  It was so that she could read the menu.

April 2009: Chez Josephine hosts a birthday party for  105-year-old Doris Eaton Travis, the last surviving  Ziegfeld Girl. President Woodrow Wilson waved at her.  Babe Ruth autographed a baseball for her. George Gershwin played her family’s piano. Charles Lindbergh  dropped by for tea. 

Famous people who’ve played Chez Josephine: One New Year’s Eve, Billy Joel, heartbroken  after his breakup with Christie Brinkley;  17-year-old Harry Connick, Jr., playing two nights a week for $50; Chris Curtis, who would go on to write the  Broadway musical “Chaplin.”

October 1995: When Pope John Paul II went whizzing by Chez Josephine in his  Popemobile, customers and waiters waved white cloth napkins which the Pontiff blessed. They wanted to keep them as souvenirs.  Jean-Claude then petitioned His Holiness for  special prayers that God would send business his way. “Surely, as the One who created the  miracle of the loaves and the fishes, He knows  how tough the restaurant business is.”

Fall 1998: Woody Allen invites Jean-Claude to play Guy, a maître d’, in his new film, “Sweet and Lowdown.” He has two lines about the jazz legend Django Reinhardt  and somehow manages to stretch that out into three minutes of screen time. Jean-Claude readies his Oscar speech; “Guy” ends up on the cutting room floor.

The Story of Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker was born on June 3, 1906, in St. Louis, Missouri.

Her mother, Carrie McDonald, was a washerwoman and her father, Eddie Carson, was a vaudeville drummer. Eddie abandoned Carrie and Josephine shortly after her birth.

Josephine spent her youth in poverty before learning to dance.  She swept steps, scrubbed floors and stole coal to help support her family, and went to the theater every chance she got. She moved to New York City and performed in The Chocolate Dandies (a Broadway musical) and at the Plantation Club where she quickly became popular.

In 1925, at the peak of France’s obsession with American jazz and exoticism,Josephine went to Paris.  She performed in La Revue Nègre at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. The following year, at the Folies Bergère,  her career exploded. This was described by Vogue:

It was the summer of 1926 at the Folies Bergère in Paris. Hordes of white Parisians flocked to the famed theater to see La Revue Nègre, a musical show that emerged from France due to the country’s fascination with jazz culture. And there, wearing little more than strings of pearls, wrist cuffs, and a skirt made of 16 rubber bananas, Josephine Baker descended from a palm tree onstage, and began to dance. This dance—the danse sauvage—is what established her as the biggest black female star in the world.


The show was wildly popular and Josephine was soon among the most popular and highest-paid performers in Europe. She was admired by Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway.  She was known as “Black Venus” and “Black Pearl.” She is said to have received more than 1,000 marriage proposals. Josephine rivaled Gloria Swanson and Mary Pickford as the most photographed woman in the world.

Josephine sang professionally for the first time in 1930 and landed roles as a singer in Zou-Zou and Princesse Tam-Tam. In 1936, Josephine returned to the United States to perform in the Ziegfield Follies. She was hoping to establish herself as a performer in her home country. However, she was met with a hostile and racist reaction (The New York Times called her a “Negro wench”) and she quickly returned to France. She was heartbroken.

She worked for the French Resistance during World War II. At the end of the war, Josephine was awarded  the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honour with the rosette of the Resistance, two of France’s highest military honors. During the 1950s and 1960s she devoted herself to fighting segregation and racism in the United States.

After decades of rejection by her countrymen and a lifetime spent facing racism,  Josephine performed at Carnegie Hall in 1973 and was given a standing ovation before the concert began. She was so touched that she wept openly before her audience.

In April 1975, Josephine performed at the Bobino Theater in Paris, in the first of a series of performances celebrating the 50th anniversary of her Parisian debut. Numerous celebrities attended, including Sophia Loren and Princess Grace of Monaco.  A few days later, on April 12, 1975,  Josephine died in her sleep. She was 69.

On the day of her funeral, more than 20,000 people lined the streets, and the French government honored her with a 21-gun salute. This made her the first American woman in history to be buried in France with military honors. Her gravesite is in Monaco.

Jean Claude Baker

Mr. Baker was born Jean-Claude Julien Leon Tronville in Dijon, France, on April 18, 1943. He met Josephine in 1958 at the Hotel Scribe in Paris, where she was living at the time. He was a teenage bellhop and living on his own. His parents were not married. His father was a gambler and lived in a hotel for prostitutes. Jean-Claude wrote:

Josephine listened to all this,” he wrote of their first encounter, “and then she said, ‘Don’t be worried, my little one; you have no father, but from today on, you will have two mothers.

Josephine began calling Jean-Claude the thirteenth of her adopted Baker’s dozen—her famed Rainbow Tribe. She unofficially adopted him when he was fourteen.  He helped her arrange her international tours and she let him sing a song or two between her acts. 

A few years later Mr. Baker moved to West Berlin, where he was a singer and opened a nightclub called the Pimm’s Club. It drew a mix of gay, straight and glittering crowd such as Mick Jagger, Leonard Bernstein, Rudolf Nureyev, Margot Fonteyn and Orson Welles. Pimm’s was called the Studio 54 of that era.

In 1973, Jean-Claude moved to America and settled in New York. He became a nightclub singer and then the producer-host of “TeleFrance-USA,” the first French cable television program for an American audience.

In the early 1970s, Jean-Claude took Josephine’s last name. Before her death in 1975, Mr. Baker served as her manager, companion and assistant.

Jean-Claude wrote a biography about Josephine called “The Hungry Heart” which was published in 1994. He wrote the book because “I loved her, hated her, and wanted desperately to understand her.”

According to the New York Times:

Those emotions drove his book, and they drove him to do vast amounts of valuable research. The result is mesmerizing: a battle of wills with Josephine as the mastermind, concocting fables about her life, and Jean-Claude as the detective, breaking them down into facts.

Jean-Claude Baker died on January 15, 2015 at his home in East Hampton, New York. He was 71. Mr. Baker’s body was discovered in his car. The cause was suicide.


Josephine Baker

Jean Claude Baker

The Revival of West 42nd Street

Sunday In the Park with George

Marseille and the AIPAD Photo Show


630 9th Ave.

New York, NY

(212) 333 2323

When good Americans die, they go to Paris.

Oscar Wilde

The day was cold and windy and gray. I needed  a long walk to recover from a very tough week at CrossFit. I only have two weeks before I depart for Nepal to climb Mera Peak. Mera Peak will be a tough 23,000 foot climb. My resolve: If Vernon Tejas is at the summit, I will be at the summit. I will summit strong and will always feed the courage wolf.

We decided to walk to the AIPAD Photography Show at Pier 94 from our apartment in Tribeca. We decided to stop for lunch before the show; we knew it would be visually overwhelming. We saw Marseille across the street. It looked warm and inviting and we  decided to give it a try.

It was very busy. We were at the top of Saturday brunch but we were quickly given a table. The lighting is art deco, the floors are brown mosaic tiles, the mirrors are old and silvered and reflect large bouquets of pink flowers. A large pedestal anchors the center of the room. Lists of “Les Champagnes” and “Les Bieres Pression” are engraved in the glass. There are curved banquettes around the pedestal in the center of the room. The room is all curves and arches and windows and creamy color and soft light. The bar is in a separate room and is large and comfortable. It has well-worn Thonet bar stools. There are large windows that open to 9th Avenue.  The space suggests Casablanca or perhaps Woody Allen’s Play It Again Sam. It is a beautiful space; we were impressed and felt fortunate to have discovered it.

The staff was formal and efficient and wore traditional black and white; I noticed our waiter replaced my knife from a silver tray.

The chef of Marseille is Andy D’Amico. He is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and has a strong resume that spans two decades. He is a member of the Tour de France restaurant group. He oversees the kitchens at Nice Matin, Marseille, Nizza and 5 Napkin Burger. His central aesthetic is Southern French and Northern Italian cuisine. His cooking borrows from French, Italian, Greek and Northern African cuisines.

The dinner menu has most of the bistro classics. Unusual dishes include fava bean hummus, chicken tagine, vegetable couscous, and pomegranate glazed salmon. (Bouillabaisse is featured but we would be reluctant to try it after the disastrous onion soup discussed below.)

We ordered the French onion soup, charred avocado toast (roasted tomatoes, pickled mushrooms and chervil) and healthy frittata (egg whites, roasted peppers, spinach, leeks and pesto).

The bread came. It was strange: petit ginger muffins and sliced sandwich bread. The muffins were good, the sandwich bread stale and lifeless. Tell me why a bistro would ever serve insipid sandwich bread? Why not a baguette?

The soup was dreadful.The broth was thin and tasteless, the cheese was a solid mass of mysterious inorganic matter, and was over stuffed with lifeless soggy bread. It disintegrated into an unattractive brown mass. Drain water. I set it aside even though it was cold outside and soup was very much needed.

In the resources, I have included two excellent recipes for French onion soup. Perhaps Marseille could try one of them? It is not a national secret.

All French bistros should serve excellent bread, pommes frites and French onion soup. Why should the basics not be mastered? It should never be otherwise.

The avocado toast and the frittata rescued the meal. The toast came with a pile of fresh greens, the mushrooms were earthy and delicious and the avocados were fresh. My wife reported that the frittata was delicious.

Fortified, we continued our walk through Hell’s Kitchen to Pier 94. The Photography Show was delightful. There were several Japanese publishers of photo books. I restrained myself impressively and only purchased two books: signed versions of Daido Moriyama’s Record.

We would like to return for dinner. Have a glass of wine at the bar first and then explore the menu.


Service: 8 Busy, mannered and efficient.

Archetype: 5  Marseille is too big to be a bistro but is inspired by bistro culture. It is a beautiful space. The bar is particularly inviting.

Food: 6  Average to disastrous. No excuse for inedible French onion soup and tasteless sandwich bread.

Energy: 8.  Even though Marseille is a large space and was busy with Saturday morning brunch, the noise level was not bad nor did it feel frenetic. We liked the large open windows, the mosaic tiles, and the overall design.



French Onion Soup Recipes

AIPAD Photography Show

Boucherie-Winter and Absinthe


99 7th Avenue South

New York, New York 10014

None of which equals the poison welling up in your eyes that show me my poor soul reversed, my dreams throng to drink at those green distorting pools.


It was the evening of the day after a wet and windy blizzard  in New York. Black snow lined the streets and lakes of treacherous brown slush filled the crosswalks. Cold, dark, windy and wet, we welcomed the light and warmth of a bistro.

Boucherie is located in the old Circle Repertory Theater on 7th Avenue just south of the Christopher Street subway stop. I passed by it several times on my way to the co-op space where I have been working.  Boucherie is a large space with  320 tables. It was deserted when we arrived due to the  winter storm.

The zinc bar is enormous with Thonet bar stools and a large wood-framed mirror over the bar. According to the website, the bar is absinthe-inspired. I wonder what this means? In the 1900s, absinthe was known as the “Green Fairy” and was the muse for many poets and artists. The original Bohemians viewed absinthe as a spiritual guide to transformation. Shamanic. Regarding absinthe:

It must also be remembered that in the many French cafes and restaurants which have recently sprung up in London, Absinthe is always to be obtained at its customary low price — French habits, French fashions, French books, French pictures, are particularly favored by the English, and who can predict that French drug-taking shall not also become a la mode in Britain?

Marie Corelli (“Wormwood: A Drama of Paris”)

Flowers of Evil, so says Baudelaire.

Round marble-top tables with Thonet chairs are in the center of the room. The flooring is white mosaic tiles.  A large community table anchors the main dining hall. There are two open kitchens areas: the butcher counter and the main kitchen. There is a mezzanine level that allows diners to dine above the action below. The designers made good use of old wood floors and white tile to separate the dining areas.

Boucherie is well designed although it feels somewhat like a movie set: perhaps it is too perfectly designed?  “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Says the Queen in Hamlet.

The staff was uncertain and overeager in the way that you see in new restaurants. We had four waiting on our table. Sometimes they felt like the Keystone Cops but were well intentioned. They were traditionally dressed with black vests, black ties and white aprons.

The bread came with slices of prosciutto. This was a surprise; rarely have we seen this in the bistro world.  The bread was a quality baguette.

Boucherie means “butcher shop.” Accordingly, the menu is long on meat dishes. Like the size of the restaurant, the menu is enormous. There are French versions of a New York strip, veal porterhouse, rack of venison, rib eye and filet mignon. There is a “Butcher Block” offering which is a “large format” house selection of three meat dishes. It is $175. I wonder how many carnivores  this would serve?

Boucherie offers a charcuterie which includes duck breast, duck salami, prosciutto, pheasant and chicken liver mousse. It offers all of the standard hors d’oeuvres. One offering is a  “boudin noir” (blood sausage, potato puree and caramelized apples).

And then there are the daily specials: lobster grille, duck cassoulet, coq au vin, bouillabaisse, sole, boeuf bourguignon, and a choucroute. The deserts are the standards: creme brulee, profiteroles, mousse au chocolate, crepes suzette and ice cream.

My main was the Cabillaud Roti (seared cod, roasted parsnips, haricot vert and carrot puree). My friend had the Boucherie Burger ( dry-aged Pat LaFrieda blend, caramelized onions, aged gruyere and french fries). The serving was  large but my friend reported that it was excellent. The fries were perfectly cooked as was the burger-so says the friend (noted: I do not eat beef).

My dish was as a food tower. However, it suffered from poorly designed architecture. Because all of the ingredients were stacked, the flavors and textures were confused. The intention of the chef behind each individual element was lost. When I removed the top floor-the cod-from the tower the experience improved.

The food was competent but not remarkable. It did not sparkle and it tasted tired.  I suggest greater emphasis on clarity of texture, freshness flavor and presentation.

Jerome Dihui and The Group-NYC

The Executive Chief of Boucherie is  Jerome Dihui. He attended culinary school in Côte d’Ivoire and studied traditional French cooking. He worked at Pastis for 10 years and became its Chef de Cuisine.

Boucherie is a member of a collective of restaurants called The Group-NYC. Boucherie’s sister restaurants are Akashi, Dominique Bistro, and Olio E Piu and they are located in the West Village.

In Boucherie, we have a grand cafe that is modeled after a bistro. It is impressive in its size and its design. There are several dining areas. One can dine at the bar, in the middle on the round tops, at the butcher counter in the back or on the mezzanine level. The food was competent but not exciting.

To be fair, fish is not Boucherie’s strength.  Go, try  Boucherie, order meat if that is your thing. We think you will be satisfied. We will be back. We want to explore more dishes and feel the energy of the cafe when it is not deserted.


Service: 5.  Helpful but uncertain and clumsy.

Archetype: 5.  Most of the indicia of the bistro archetype were checked but there is an intangible element called “soul”  which it lacks. (To understand what this feels like go to Odeon. ) The archetypal bistro is small and family-owned. The design elements are personal and quirky. They accumulate organically. Boucherie feels designed. Even so, it is beautiful, and I liked the open windows and light.

Food: 6  Average. Unremarkable. Demolish the food tower. The meat offerings are an open question. I would bet on high quality offerings.

Energy: 5. It was dead because of the weather. In fairness, we will return and re-evaluate.


Press notices and reviews

Parisian Boucheries


The Group-NYC

Circle Repertory Company

On Your Last Day: Yo Yo Ma, Joyce and Cafe Luxembourg

What is your perfect day? What if it was the last day in the ordinary life that you know? Perhaps mine would look like yesterday:

1. Looking and working on my photographic vision quest.

2. Worked on one of my photography books: The Drunken Boat. Remixes of my Amsterdam dead boat series, Rimbaud’s poem “The Drunken Boat” and Godard’s “Socialisme.”

3. On a clear, sunny, snow bright day I made many images in Bryant Park and 5th Avenue.

4. Lunch at Maison Kayser.

5. Crossfit Games 17.4 (55 dead lifts, 55 wall balls, 55 row calories and 55 pushups.) Intense. Hard. Fast and Good.

6. At night before the concert at Lincoln Center I made images of the fountain with the Opera building in the background and prussian blue skies as the sun falls.

7.  New York Philharmonic concert: John Adams: The Chairman Dances. Esa-Pekka Salonen: Cello Concerto (YoYo Ma). Hector Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique.

8. Cafe Luxembourg: A late dinner of a glass of wine and the tuna. The cafe was quiet. Food and service excellent as always. 

9.  At Cafe Luxembourg read the Telemachus Chapter of Joyce’s Ulysses over wine and then espresso. 

French Louie: Oshima X Godard: BAM:Two or Three Things I Know About Her

French Louie
320 Atlantic Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11201
Phone 718- 935-1200

Better to describe 2 or 3 Things as a machine that morphs the colliding meanings of words and objects with dazzling speed, and generates an astonishing array of metaphors, paradoxes, digressions, and, above all, dialectical relationships, between idea and action, word and image, sound and picture, interior and exterior, microcosm and macrocosm. The swirling surface of a cup of coffee is transformed into the primordial ooze and also the infinite universe.

Amy Taupin

BAM is running a mini-film series devoted to Jean Luc Godard and Nagisa Oshima.  Oshima is known as the J”apanese Godard.” Of course Oshima has said that he views Godard as the French Oshima! These film makers were leaders of the “New Wave” in France and Japan in the 1960s and 1970s. They created radical films and their own visual language. The festival compares these filmmakers side by side. It is intensely interesting.

Before the showing of “Two or Three Things I Know About Her” I had dinner at French Louie, which is about a 15 minute walk from BAM in Atlantic Avenue.

Where is the beginning? But what beginning? God created heaven and earth. But one should be able to put it better. To say the limits of language, of my language…are those of the world, my world…and in speaking I limit the world, I end it. And when the mysterious and logical death abolishes those limits…there will be, no question, no answer, just vagueness. But if things come into focus again…this can be through the rebirth of conscience. Everything follows from this.

Jean Luc Godard

Louis “French Louie” Seymour (1832-1915)

Mule driver. Lumberjack. Fisherman. Trapper. Happy hermit. Born in French Canada, young Louie Seymour ran away to America with the circus. He spent the rest of his long life in the Adirondacks, living off the abundance of the forest. Twice a year, Louie would emerge from the woods to eat and drink and paint the town red. He’d announce his arrival with animal hoots and howls, bringing all the children running. When the party was over, he’d settle his bar tabs with lake trout and beaver pelts. Widely beloved for his independent spirit and good cheer, he was known by all as “French Louie.”

French Louie is owned by Doug Crowell and  Ryan Angulo. Doug is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. Ryan has worked at prestigious restaurants including Michael Mina in San Francisco and Al Forno in Providence. They are the owners of Buttermilk Channel which is one of Brooklyn’s most popular and acclaimed restaurants.

French Louie is their new restaurant.   And it is a great one.  After eating at over twenty bistros in New York in the course of working on this blog, this is one of my favorite bistros.

The menu has a few bistro standards but must offerings are in the school of “neo-bistro” but with a twist.  There are American accents to a French neo-bistro menu. For example, snails “marchand de vin” are served with house cured bacon, oysters, stone ground grits and mushrooms. The chicory rubbed quail is served with pickled okra, and the roasted beets are served with pecans and mustard greens.

The steelhead trout (with smoked parsnips, black garlic, mushrooms, apple salad and sorrel jus) and the pan roasted cod (with squash confit, cauliflower, potato croquette and huckleberry) were tempting.

The menu includes three meat offerings (lamb leg, bavette steak and a dry-aged steak). The menu is somewhat limited but I prefer a few number of dishes that are prepared with detail and quality than a broad menu of mediocrity.

Interesting starters include roasted beets (with Asian pears, horseradish creme fraiche, toasted pecans and mustard greens) and the chicory-rubbed quail. 

Deserts are classics but with American inspiration.  Two standouts: the s’mores profiteroles (with smoked mushrooms, pine ice cream and caramelized chocolate sauce) and the apple tarte tatin ( with cheddar crust, oat crumble and maple ice cream).

I had the potato leek soup (with smoked trout, mustard creme fraiche and caraway).

My main was the pan-roasted cod (with kim chi, potato gratin and hollandaise sauce).

Since I do not eat meat (previously conceded this limits the depths of my reviews but I  rely upon friends), I tend to order a fish or chicken dish. Frankly, the taste sensations of white fish are limited and range from bland to subtle. It is rare that a white fish dish (no matter the cut or the fish) is creative, unexpected, and stimulating.

How can a chef prepare a white fish dish that is exciting and creative?

How can a chef prepare a white fish that moves past the cliche of fish and vegetables?

French Louie pulled this remarkable feat off by serving the cod with kimchi. The cod was perfectly cooked: it was seared on the outside and flakey on the inside. The kimchi provided a complex interplay of sweet, sour, salt and chile flavors to the fish. The cabbage provided texture. It was excellent.

With the fish was a very light hollandaise sauce. This almost made me avoid the dish because this sauce is often dense, gummy and heavy. Not at French Louie. The sauce was delicate and supported the fish rather than overwhelming it.

The potato leek soup was extraordinary. It was presented in a layer of herbs, then caraway seeds, then mustard creme fraiche, then trout and then the soup. The trout brought salt, texture and smokiness against the white background of the potato leek foundation. The caraway seeds provided texture and accents. The soup could have been a little warmer but the temperature may have been intentional.

The only false note was the bread. It was dull and insipid. There was no reason to eat it so I did not. The waiter said their source was a local bakery; they should evaluate the quality of the bread.

The restaurant was designed by Joseph Foglia. The space has dark wood floors, Thonet chairs at the bar and in front room, modern brass lights, banquets and mirrors along one wall. There is a folksy  black-and-white line drawing of trees and a cabin on one wall, created by illustrator Owen Brozman.  It reminded me of a Dudley Do-Right cartoon. There is a small bar when you enter; locals paused after work. Thonet bar stools noted.  The space is minimal, warm and inviting.

There is an outdoor backyard space that has long community tables and cheerful hanging light strands. It would be fun in the summer.

The music was jazz sounds from the 1960s. The light fixtures have a vaguely futuristic 1960s feel as well.

Apparently, both dishes I had were new additions to the menu. The maitre’d and several waiters dropped by to see how I liked the dishes. Not in a perfunctory way but they were genuinely interested in my experience.  The took time to chat. The staff has heart and they cared.

Both the food and the staff were extraordinary.

French Louie was excellent and I recommend it highly!


Staff-9 (Professional, casual and caring.)

Archetype-4 (No references to the Archetype but that is not their intention. This is a neo-bistro in concept and design; from that point of view an 8. The patio looks great in the good weather.)

Food-9 (Creative; well executed; exciting. The bread failed)

Energy-9 (Positive; interactive. Good light and sight lines from the back patio. Noise level is low.)



Kim Chi

Two or Three Things I Know About Her

Joseph Foglia Designs

Julia Childs Hollandaise Sauce Recipe

La Defense Bistro Oshima X Godard: BAM Tout Va Bien

La Defense Bistro
2 Metrotech Center
Brooklyn, New York 11201
(718) 855-4200

If direction is a look, montage is a heartbeat…what one seeks to foresee in space, the other seeks in time….Cutting on a look is…to bring out the soul under the spirit, the passion behind the intrigue, to make the heart prevail over the intelligence by destroying the notion of space in favor of that of time.

Jean Luc Godard

Beingless beings. Stop! Throb always without you and the throb always within. Your heart you sing of. I between them. Where? Between two roaring worlds where they swirl, I. Shatter them, one and both. But stun myself too in the blow. Shatter me you who can.

James Joyce, Ulysses

Over the last six months I have pursued a deep dive into the films of
Jean Luc Godard. After watching a series of Hitchcock films I read Hitchcock/Truffaut. This book was produced by Truffaut and was based upon a film made in 1962 where the two directors sat in a conference room and discussed movies.

Truffaut connects to Godard through the French New Wave but I found Godard much more interesting. I began watching Godard movies and then doing extensive research into the meaning of the movie. I read much critical analysis of Godard. I discovered Richard Brody’s masterpiece on Godard: “Everything Is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard.”

I am interested in the way that Godard has deconstructed cinema. He created a new visual language by deconstructing film in much the same way that Joyce created a new literary form by deconstructing language. Who but Godard could film Ulysses?

I have watched fourteen Godard films so far. They are brilliant, challenging, multi-dimensional, maddening, and strange. They are absolutely worth the time that I spend in understanding them. Few can equal Godard as an image maker. His contributions to sound design are profound.

BAM is running a series exploring Godard and Nagisa Oshima. Oshima is a new wave Japanese filmmaker and is known as the “Japanese Godard.” The concept of the series is to compare these radical filmmakers side by side.

On my way to see Tout Va Bien, I had dinner at La Defense Bistro. It is located in the Jay Street-MetroTech neighborhood in downtown Brooklyn. It is the nation’s largest urban academic-industrial research park. The bistro is located at the street level of 2 MetroTech Center and is on the Myrtle Promenade.

La Defense is a huge business district just west of Paris. Most of it was built in the 1960s and 1970s but expansion has continued. It is the largest business district in Europe. It was named after the iconic statue La Défense de Paris by Louis-Ernest Barrias. It was erected in 1883 to commemorate the soldiers who defended Paris during the Franco-Prussian War.

Perhaps the owners of the bistro chose La Defense as their name because it is located in the MetroTech business center in New York?

The dining room is to the left when you enter. To the right is a bakery that offers breakfast and lunch but it closed in the evening. On the way to the dining room you pass a horseshoe bar area. It was beginning to fill with the after-work happy hour crowd from MetroTech. The dining room has a large community table in the center and one wall is decorated with 1970’s album covers and photographs. Some of the tables have Thonet chairs; others have metal folding chairs or white plastic chairs.

Three walls are glass and open to the Promenade. The space feels airy and light. Even though the weather was cold and gloomy, like Paris in the winter, the inside of the cafe felt warm and cheerful.

Music was 1970’s soul played at a listening level. Otis Redding, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, and Al Green.

The staff was young, casual and French. It felt like they were the children of the owners of the bistro. The service was surprisingly professional for all of its apparent looseness.

Since I was there early for the Godard movie, I took advantage of the happy hour prices. I paid $7.00 for a pleasant Bordeaux. I had another.

The menu is traditional bistro offerings, with such standards as Waldorf salad, goat cheese toast, and roasted pears and prosciutto for appetizers. The mains feature oysters, mussels and French fries, pistachio crusted salmon, hanger steak, and beef bourguignon with sautéed mushrooms. Deserts include apple tart and vanilla ice cream, creme brulee and chocolate cake.

La Defense offers a monthly special where it showcases a traditional French menu and wine paring. February, for example, is: frisee salad (with bacon, croutons, poached egg and mustard dressing), traditional coq au vin, and a crepe suzette served with flambe. All this for $28 and $43 with a wine paring.

The bread came in a brown paper bag (recycled) but, unfortunately, there was no reason to eat the bread. Flavorless and dull.

The French onion soup was good. It was baked in the traditional brown crockery bowl; it was presented on an attractive blue slate stone. The broth was dark as it should be, the onions were firm and flavorful as they should be, and the croutons were firm and not soggy. The cheese was Gruyere and Swiss.

It was not as good as the gold standard Odeon but it was better than most.

What distinguishes an excellent onion soup from a mediocre one? Experts say it is the onions and the broth, and many do not feel that a dark broth is the signature of the best onion soup. Dark broth can turn heavy and bitter. The onions must be perfectly caramelized to create that sweet flavor to counter the broth. Many bistros cook the onions to long and they lose their sweetness. See the articles below for discussion of the nuances of French onion soup.

The cod arrived served on top of a criss-cross of asparagus and green beans. On top of the cod were tangerine slices and herbs. The vegetables were crunchy and retained their structure and flavor. The fish was cooked properly; the tangerine slices provide an aesthetic and culinary counterpoint. Well done.


Staff-7 (Friendly and casual; good timing.)

Archetype-6 (The community table, the Thonet chairs and the menu reflect the Archetype. But lighting, location and vibe were modern cafe. )

Food-7 (Good but not creative; the bread failed)

Energy-8 (Large windows open to Promenade; community table and pleasant feel. Soul music was unusual but enjoyable. Bar is popular but noise level was low.)


Oshima X Godard: BAM

Tout Va Bien Reviews

Tout Va Bien (1973)

MetroTech Center

Best French Onion Soup in New York

Julia Child’s French Onion Soup Recipe

French Onion Soup Recipe

La Defense

OCabanon (Cave a manger)

OCabanon (Cave a manger)
245 W 29th Street (Between 7th and 8th Avenue)
New York, New York 10001

“What is a “cabanon”? It’s a French word to define a little hut in a garden. In the South of France it is more than that; it’s a small place where you can cook, eat, talk, and have a little nap. For us, it is a small kitchen where grandmothers used to cook their specialty dishes and where there was always something to eat and drink. The door was always open and everybody could come to think, laugh, talk, eat, drink, etc.”

It was a gloomy night, rainy, windy and cold. Malevolent taxis and traffic spewed aggression and danger in the forlorn and abandoned landscape West 29th Street. My spirits were dark and low. I was filled with dread and malaise. I was locked in post-election despair when I realized that the national nightmare was real. And it would last four years.

I was headed to the Anti-Inaugural Concert and Ball at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. I thought that being with like-minded people listening to modern classical music would lift my spirits. International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) was playing; I am a huge fan and hoped they would shine a light on my soul darkness.

OCabanon is located on West 29th Street. The area is an industrial wasteland-charmless, forbidding and desolate. On a dark block underneath scaffolding, you will see a French Flag and then laser light dots on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. It feels like a small dance club that is lost. I was greeted warmly and seated in the dining area just past the bar in front of the restaurant.

OCabanon is run by three brothers in law: Armel Joly (wine); Alexandre Mur (chef) and Michael Faure (manager). They are from Lyon, France.

The decor is fun and quirky. There are posters of obscure French cartoons on the walls, a popcorn machine, oscillating red and green and blue lights on the ceiling and a Booz Barometer next to the waiter’s station.

The basic idea behind the Booz Barometer is that, for 5 cents, you try to drag a screwdriver over a curved metal tube without touching the tube. If you touch, the screwdriver sparks and a bell rings. You may find that you are embalmed, pickled, plastered, smashed, skunk drunk, or sober as a judge. The promotional flyer reads:

“The sobriety test of champions.”
“A great gimmick for entertaining your patrons.”
“A real money-maker for the reasonable price.”
“Customers cant resist playing again and again!”

OCabanon is a caves a manger. In Paris, this is a wine bar that has a strong selection of biodynamic or natural wines and small plate food of very high quality. These are one of the hottest dining trends in Paris. They are the result of a local licensing requirement that lets restaurants sell wine if customers get something to eat as well.

The table tops are zinc, the color scheme is grey, and candles are on the tables. The kitchen is open and is at the back of the restaurant. The upper level of the restaurant is cozy with wood tables and chocolate brown leather sitting chairs. The music is house (strangely but there are laser light dots on the sidewalk, after all) but just above the audible threshold. The service was efficient but not personal.

After I arrived happy hour at the bar began to bubble as a crowd of twenty-somethings from the neighborhood energetically talked and drank and pursued their after work rituals. The noise level never reached the point of being annoying.

Confessing my skepticism about the food quality based upon the unusual decor and the fowl nature of my post-electorial mood, I did not expect much. Mostly, I wanted to eat and run. I was wrong; very wrong.

I started with the broccoli soup. It was excellent. The essence of broccoli-ness. In the middle of the soup was a circle of olive  oil and inside the circle was a thin slice of a baguette and herbal sprigs were placed across the bread. Broccoli soup can be dense, heavy and oppressive, but this was just the opposite. One of the better expressions of this soup that I have seen in a long time.

Unfortunately, the bread was a failure. Insipid. No reason to eat it. Why bistros provide bad bread I will never understand.

My main was the demi poulet roti ( organic half chicken, marinated and roasted with vegetables, mashed potatoes, and lemon sauce).

Creating an interesting dish from roast chicken is difficult. It is like making a great photograph of the Brooklyn Bridge or the Empire State Building. The images always end up as cliches. This standard dish was very well done. The vegetables were carrots and cauliflower. They were roasted, firm, crispy and flavorful. The orange notes of the carrot added greatly to the aesthetics of the dish both from a visual and a culinary point of view. The chicken was perfectly roasted. Firm and moist. The sauce added an acidic element which cleansed the chicken and mashed potatoes from the palate. Impressive.

The menu covers all of the bistro basics. I want to return to explore the menu more fully.

The wine list emphasizes natural wines. Armel Joly has been quoted as saying:“The wines are made by wine-makers who use their hands- people who remember how to make wine.” I had an excellent glass of grenache and then another! Perhaps drinking a lot of fine wine from France is a rational response to Trumpism.


Service: 6 (Generally efficient but not warm and personal. Modest understanding of the food and wine)

Archetype: 7 ( The menu follows the Archetype; the decor is neo-bistro in feeling. Slightly silly, witty and fun.)

Food: 8 (Very well executed bistro classics. Wines by the glass were outstanding.)

Energy: 4-8 (You decide. If you like quirky, upbeat and new, go with the 8. If you like more traditional bistro Archetypal energy, go with the 4)


Le Corbusier’s Cabanon

Baryshnikov Arts Center

International Contemporary Ensemble
Booz Barometer
Cave a Manger
Grenache Wine

L’Aile Ou La Cuisse (AOC)

L’Aile Ou La Cuisse (AOC)
314 Bleecker St. (corner of Grove)
New York, New York 10014
(212) 675-9463

This bistro located in the West Village was named after a 1976 French comedy called “L’Aile Ou La Cuisse” or “The Wing or the Thigh.” Some translations are “The Breast or the Leg” which is more appetizing. The plot concerns an editor of a famous restaurant guide (much like the Michelin Guide) who trains his son to run the family business. It turns out the son is more interested in the circus than haute cuisine. On the scene arrives a company that sells mass-produced foot. The father and son strive to ruin the food company any way they can. From the trailers, the movie looks like a silly slapstick.  The movie may be seen as an allegory about the conflict between traditional French cuisine and American fast food. Apparently, it received mixed reviews.

The bistro is charming with white table cloths, bright open windows looking out on Bleecker and Grove, and a comfortable bar. The lighting is soft and warm. A rather mysterious red bicycle is suspended in one of the main windows in front of the bistro. The music was rhythm and blues played softly.

It was a cold winter day and we ordered some bistro classics. The bread arrived in a zinc bucket. The bread was flavorful and better than what many bistros serve. Our server said it was made in house. The butter  was hard as a rock; fortunately, it was not necessary to enjoy the bread.

The French onion soup was excellent. It compares with Odeon’s onion soup which we view to be the gold standard. The broth was almost black, and very rich. The ratio between onion and bread was good. It was topped with a mixture of several high quality cheeses. Other starters included standards such as snails, fois gras, oysters and steak tartare.

We had the wild mushroom risotto (with baby vegetables, balsamic glaze and Parmesan cheese) and the demi poulet (with aux jus and French fries).

Both were excellent. The risotto was perfectly cooked with firmness and flavor. It was not gummy or pasty which we see more often than not. The mushrooms were earthy and suggested black soil in an ancient forrest. The chicken was cooked properly; flavorful, firm but not dry. The skin was salted. Unfortunately, the French fries were excellent-crispy, salty and dry- so we ate them all!

The menu is very broad and features a large variety of classics such as duck leg confit, hanger steak, coq au vin, cotes de boef, a seafood croustillant and PEI mussels. Cheese and charcuterie platters are also offered.

The service and food was good, conformity to the Bistro Archetype was high and the energy positive. There was no suggestion of American fast food culture here! We liked AOC and recommend it highly.


Service: 7  (Friendly, professional but casual.)

Archetype: 7 (The bicycle in the window remains a mystery)

Food: 8 (Bistro standards; well-prepared. No American fast food here. )

Energy: 7 (Beautiful West Village location; great light through front windows, soft light and inviting bar)


L’Aile Ou La Cuisse


The Story of Michael Thonet

Never was a better and more elegant design and a more precisely crafted and practical item created than the Thonet No. 14 chair.

Le Corbusier

The Story of Michael Thonet

Michael Thonet was born on the July 2,1796 in Boppard, Germany. He was the son of a carpenter. He took over his father’s workshop in 1819 and created a successful business. He was a innovative and entrepreneurial artist and businessman.

In 1841, he showed his furniture at a trade exhibition in Koblenz. Prince Metternich saw the show and was so impressed that he invited Thonet to his Johannisburg Palace. When Thonet visited the Palace, the Prince advised him to start a new life in Vienna. The Prince was reported to have said that: “In Boppard you’ll remain a poor man.”

Thonet invented a process for making furniture out of bent wooden-veneer slats boiled in glue. He attempted to patent the process in 1840 but was successful. He also tried to apply for foreign patents but these too came to nothing. Therefore in the spring of 1842, he accepted the Prince’s offer to come to the Vienna court. During his absence, his eldest son Franz looked after the businesses in Boppard.

After his visit to the court, Thonet presented his glue-layer process to the Austrian trade association for patenting. In 1842 he received a patent “to bend any type of wood, even the most brittle, into the desired forms and curves by chemical and mechanical means.”

In 1849, Thonet opened his own workshop in Gumpendorf near Vienna. He made parquet flooring as well as furniture. At about the same time Thonet developed the prototype for Chair No.4 which he provided to Café Daum in Vienna in 1851. With Chair No.4 he began to expand his customer base.

In the same year he opened his first shop in Vienna. He later relocated his workshop to Mollardmühle. He needed to expand his workshop due to the large number of orders he had received. He employed 42 workers in total including nine carpenters, a wood turner, eight veneer cutters, two gluers, eight raspers, two wood stainers, ten polishers and two workers who screwed the furniture components together.

Thonet began to use a horse-powered steam machine to power saws and turning lathes. His workshop was a mixture of a hand crafted business and a factory. On November 1, 1853 the company Gebrüder Thonet was founded. Michael Thonet transferred the business to his five sons but reserved for himself the role of overall management.

In the following years the new company showed its products in Munich and at an exhibition in Paris. Thonet began to receive the first orders from abroad. However, when the chairs were exposed to humidity in tropical climates, the glue lost its adhesive strength and the chairs came apart at the seams. Thonet needed to invent a process to bend solid wood.

Thonet began to experiment and, in 1856, his attempt to bend solid wood was successful. His invention was to place long pieces of beech in a steam oven where they were exposed tosteam for several hours to make them pliable. A tin strip was placed on the external side of the bentwood to keep the wood from splitting. The wood was then stretched and bent in iron moulds. Thonet obtained a patent for this ingenious yet simple procedure in the same year. It led to an industrial breakthrough.

Thonet used a highly organized manufacturing process. Wood was cut in the saw mills and it was sent to bending stations and then to assembly and packaging. Men carried out the heavy work, lighter tasks were carried out by young assistants and women.

Here is a description of the process:

The starting point for each chair component is a squared timber, free of knots and cut in the direction of growth. On the turning lathe it is either turned to produce a uniform thickness or using light compressions to produce round timber. Then it is placed in the steam oven and it is exposed to the hot steam for one to two hours depending on the thickness. A strip of tin is placed on the future external surface of the piece, to prevent splitting. Finally the wood is bent in a cast-iron mould.

On May 1, 1851 the first World Exhibition was opened at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London. The exhibition showed products of contemporary industrial production and went down in history as the first and most important forum for innovation in design and technology. More than six million people visited the Exhibition.

Thonet’s products attracted the attention of the public and were widely praised by the critics. Thonet was awarded a bronze medal by the Exhibition committee which was the highest award for manufactured products. Thonet subsequently showed his chairs at the 1867 Paris World’s Fair and was awarded a gold medal.

After receiving his patent to make furniture out of bentwood, Thonet opened a new factory to expand his prodution. In the Moravian town of Koryčany, he found abundant beech forests, a pool of workers and a train station was only a few kilometres away. The factory was finished in 1857 and production was moved there from Vienna.

Three years later the new factory could not satisfy the growing demand. Even the supply of wood, which Thonet thought was inexhaustible, dwindled, so the company had to enter into wood supply contracts. To avoid transport costs, Thonet set up another factory in Bystřice, which was 50 kilometres away. The annual production of both factories increased enormously in the following years and Thonet opened several new factories to satisfy demand.

At the same time Thonet opened international sales offices. At the time of Michael Thonet’s death, there were offices in Amsterdam, Berlin, Brno, Brussels, Buda, Geneva, Hamburg, Hoek, Linz, London, Paris, Pest and Rotterdam. In 1873 the company opened stores in New York and Chicago.

In 1860 the first sales poster for the Thonet company was printed. It showed a total of 26 pictures of bentwood models: 14 different chairs, five armchairs and just as many benches and ables.

Michael Thonet died on March 3, 1871. His sons and grandsons continued to lead the business successfully. In the following years, three new factories were opened as well as many new stores.

In 1928 Thonet began producing models made of bent tubular steel.These were designed by Bauhaus architects Mart Stam, Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer. The cantilever tubular steel chairs became a classic for a new era. They embodied functionality, transparency and lightness. They put into practice the principles of the avant-garde.

The Thonet Chair No. 14

In 1859, Michael Thonet created chair No. 14. Chair No. 14 is known as the “bistro chair” and the “chair of chairs.” Starting in 1830, Michael Thonet began to experiment with shaping laminated wood. He boiled wood strips in glue and bent them into prepared iron molds. Thonet made the chairs using a patented process of bending wood by using steam. He called the process “bentwood.” In response to a demand for cafe-style chairs, Thonet designed the chair with seats made of woven cane or palm. The idea was that they could easily drain spilt liquids.

Chair No. 14 became one of the best-selling mass-produced chairs ever made. It sold 50 million chairs between 1859 and 1930, and millions more have been sold since 1930. Chair No. 14 was affordable and simple. It assembles and dissembles easily and uses only six pieces of wood, two nuts, and ten screws. Because the chair was assembled with screws, it was possible to ship the chairs in their individual parts for final assembly at their destination. The parts for 36 No. 14 chairs could be packed into a crate with a volume of only one cubic meter. Since the screw connections could be retightened when necessary, the chair has a very long the lifespan.

Brahms sat on a No. 14 chair to play his piano and Lenin did while writing his political essays. Picasso and Einstein where also known to have used these chairs. Millions of us have sat comfortably on No. 14 chairs in cafés. It’s safe to say that this chair has cradled more bums than any other chair.

What Makes the Thonet No. 14 Chair So Special?

There are many things that makes the Thonet No. 14 chair special.

First, it fulfills its function as a bistro chair perfectly.  It is elegant but utilitarian. It is not fussy or pretentious. The look and feel of the chair evokes the archetypal French bistro.

Second, it is beautiful and elegant. The chair becomes softer and more comfortable as it ages. Furniture designer Konstantin Grcic said: “And it has exactly the right weight. When you pick it up, it feels perfect. That’s an important aspect of chair design that’s often overlooked.”

Third, the chair was innovative when it was created. Thonet created a new process of bending wood into strong smooth curves and patented the process. The chair has only six parts, is simple to build, and enables unskilled workers to make them in high volumes. It was designed for mass production. It took advantage of the shift from craft production to mass production and distribution. It leveraged the invention of railroads, and the rise of the leisure class who were able to spend time in cafes and restaurants.

Fourth, the chair is timeless. It seems to reflect every era in an authentic way. The broad range of bistros, cafes and restaurants that use the chair supports this fact. “It has the freshness of a new product, because it has never been bettered,” observed the British designer Jasper Morrison.

Fifth, manufacture of the chair was based on sustainable practices. It was ahead of its time. To quote from Alice Rawsthorn:

The early models were made in a factory in the village of Koritschan in what is now the Czech Republic from beech wood grown in nearby forests. Even when demand rose and extra supplies of wood had to be shipped in from further afield, Thonet limited its carbon footprint by making its own tools and machinery.

Thonet developed a successful, international company by inventing new furniture designs, a mass manufacturing process and developing an international distribution network.


Museum Boppard (A comprehensive resource on Thonet)

Vitra Design Museum


Alice Rawsthorn, No. 14: The chair that has seated millions (Harold Tribune, November 7, 2008) (



I embrace my rival, but only to strangle him.

The face of tyranny is always mild at first.

My only hope lies in my despair.

Jean Racine

(Racine’s-Night of an America Tragedy)

Racines NY (Restaurant and Natural Wine Bar)

94 Chambers Street

New York, NY 10007

(212) 227-3400

Jean Racine

Jean Racine was one of the great playwrights of 17th century France. His contempories were Moliere and Corneille. Racine was knows for his tragedies. A tragic play explores human suffering. It usually uses the downfall of a main character from prosperity to disaster as its dramatic vehicle. Robert Lowell, the American poet, described his writing as “diamond edged” and with the “glory of its hard, electric rage.”

Racines NY

Racines is the sister restaurant of two wine bars in Paris. They are located on Rue de l’Arbre-Sec and Passage des Panoramas if you happen to be visiting the City of Light. The restaurant’s name does not refer to Jean Racine but to winemaker Claude Courtois’s signature “Racines” blend.

Most reviews of Racines mention that David Lille, the owner of Chambers Street Wines, is also a partner in the restaurant. This is not mentioned on the website so I do not know if this remains true.

Chef  Frederic Duca

Chef Duca is from Marseille and was voted Best Chef of the Year in 2013 by Gilles Pudlowski, and was also awarded a Michelin Star at L’Instant d’Or in Paris. He has worked at such high end restaurants as Le Martinez in Cannes and Hélène Darroze in Paris. His influences are Mediterranean. He is known for his inventiveness and the integrity of his food.

Owner and Sommelier Arnaud Tronche

Arnaud Tronche is from a small town near Avignon, France. He is an engineer by trade but began a second career as a sommelier when he moved to Chicago. He strength is the wines of the Rhone and Corsica. The website says that he focuses on small estates that practice organic and biodynamic farming and natural vinifications.

The Staff

Our reservation on Open Table vanished but the hostess handled the matter professionally and seated us at a nice table. The staff was friendly, knowledgable about the menu, and displayedgood timing throughout the meal. Chef Duca visted our table and we greatly enjoyed meeting him. This is one of the special touches that shows a restaurant cares about the experience of its diners. This is important to me. If the restaurant does not care about me, why should I care about it? There is always another restaurant to try in New York City.

The Food

I have a confession and an apology to make to Racines. We had dinner with some close friends just a few days after the election. We were devastated by the result and quickly became involved in a passionate discussion about the causes of the disaster and the prospects for the future of the progressive movement.  We did not pay as much attention to the food as we otherwise would!

Jean Racine was known for this tragic plays. Given the tragedy of the election, it seemed appropriate that we were eating at Racines! We were in  a state of despari and none of us saw much hope for America in the future. Racine captured our mood 400 years ago. He said: “My only hope lies in my despair.”

The menu is limited but this allows the chef to concentrate his attention on just few dishes and bring them to perfection. The appetizers are in the $15-$24 dollar range. There are some basic offerings such as an arugula salad (with honey, lime basil and pecorino) and escargots (with garlic, pancetta and lentils). Thc Chef displays his creativity in other dishes such as prawn tartare (with corn, spaghetti squash and peanuts) and the cauliflower mushroom tart (with confit of onions and lardons.

The mains featured on the Website include a cod, red snapper, short ribs, sweetbreads and a Scottish wood pigeon tourte.  However, the menu changes frequently and the daily menu is quite different.

Our starters of the day featured an arugula salad (with honey, pecorino, and lemon vinaigrette), a maitake mushroom tarte and a tuna cruda (with creme fraiche, citrus, mint and beets). The mains were a uni (squid ink spaghetti and spiced carrot foam), a black sea bass ( with spinach, “Racine’s vegetables, and sauce bourride) and scallops (with hazlenut crust and roasted sunchoke).

We ordered the arugula salad, the tuna cruda, the uni and the black sea bass. Our dinner started with a small cup of mushroom soup as an amuse bouche. It was earthy and rich; it was if the essence of mushroom had been condensed into the bowls.

The arugula salad was large, fresh, and was perfectly accented with the honey and lemon flavors. The pecorino (a hard, Italian white cheese made from sheep milk) added notes of butter and nuts. The salad was clear and bright.

The tuna cruda was light and delicate. It was artfully presented on the plate; the colors and textures were like an exquisite still life. It was almost Japanese in its sensibility.

The black sea bass was well-prepared. It came with a sauce bourride. This is a Provencal version of a bouillabaisse fish stew. It known as a workingman’s dish. According to Daniel Bouloud:

In the old days, a husband would come home in late morning with his catch, which his wife would transform into a delicious lunch with the addition of a few potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, and leeks.

Daniel mentioned that the dish is usually made with monkfish in France but he prefers sea bass in America because it is easier to find. All of the flavors of the sea bass were clear and distinct, and the vegetables were a textural counterpoint to the fish. This dish was carefully prepared, original and delightful.

The uni was delicate and refined. The spiced carrot  foam was an inspired element. On the plate the foam looked like bubbles from a wave, and the flavors  were just as evanescent.

Like all of the food we had at Racine’s, it was elegant and creative with unexpected elements.  Frankly, considering the rather pedestrian decor of the restaurant this very high level of