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

212-233-0507

https://www.theodeonrestaurant.com/

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

Resources

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

http://www.vanityfair.com/style/2005/11/odeon200511

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/27/dining/the-odeon-review.html

Stephen Shore

http://stephenshore.net/

https://newrepublic.com/article/115243/stephen-shore-photography-american-surfaces-uncommon-places

http://aperture.org/shop/stephen-shore-selected-works-1973-1981/

Area

The definitive book on Area:

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

http://dangerousminds.net/comments/the_art_of_parties_new_yorks_legendary_80s_nightclub_area

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

212-838-8133

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.

Resources

New York Magazine Review

http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/le-veau-dor/

New Yorker Review

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/12/14/tables-for-two-le-veau-dor

Eater Review

https://ny.eater.com/2009/1/30/6775673/who-goes-there-le-veau-d-or

New York Times Article on Robert Treboux

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/24/dining/robert-treboux-owner-of-le-veau-dor-restaurant-dies-at-87.html

Chowhound Review

https://www.chowhound.com/post/le-veau-dor-explain-822099

Boston Globe Review

https://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/food-dining/2015/02/03/escoffier-reigns-tiny-new-york-french-bistro/BbWgWobygWuQ6fUc6lvs4O/story.html

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

212-583-0579

http://www.lebateauivrenyc.com/

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.

Ratings:

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)

Resources

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

https://www.eater.com/2016/4/21/11475276/french-bistro-paris-history

The Best New Paris Bistros

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-best-new-paris-bistros-1431624971

Where To Experience the New Wave of French Food

https://www.eater.com/2016/10/19/13311212/paris-bistro-brasserie-dilia-dersou-beast

The Cave a Manger

http://www.gourmettraveller.com.au/travel/travel-guides/2010/6/paris-cave-a-manger/

https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2015/sep/02/top-10-caves-a-manger-paris-france

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

http://newprairiepress.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1549&context=sttcl

Irving Penn Centennial

http://metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2017/irving-penn-centennial

The Met Orchestra-Carnegie Hall-Mahler Cycle

https://www.carnegiehall.org/Calendar/2017/5/31/0800/PM/The-Met-Orchestra/

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!

Resources

New York Times Article

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/11/travel/harlem-french-renaissance-new-york-city-restaurants-food.html

Barawine Harlem

http://barawine.com/

Chez Lucienne

http://chezlucienne.com/

Cheri

http://www.cheriharlem.com/

Maison Harlem

https://www.maisonharlem.com/

 

 

 

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.

Surface

Resources

http://www.surfacemag.com/articles/travel-eleven-madison-park-best-of-menu-exclusive/

http://www.theworlds50best.com/

Chez Josephine: Sunday in the Park with George

Chez Josephine

​414 West 42nd Street

New York, NY 10036

​212-594-1925

http://www.chezjosephine.com

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

Review

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.

History

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.

Vogue

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.

Resources

Josephine Baker

http://www.cmgww.com/stars/baker/about/biography.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephine_Baker

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNSEnQNfk9k

http://www.vogue.com/article/josephine-baker-90th-anniversary-banana-skirt

Jean Claude Baker

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/16/nyregion/jean-claude-baker-a-restaurateur-dies-at-71.html

http://www.broadwayworld.com/article/Jean-Claude-Baker-Owner-of-Theatre-District-Restaurant-Chez-Josephine-Dies-at-71-20150116

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/22/style/jean-claude-baker-son-of-josephine-baker-is-remembered.html

http://www.nytimes.com/1994/02/02/books/books-of-the-times-taking-paris-by-storm-with-bananas-flying.html

https://www.amazon.com/Jean-Claude-Baker/e/B001K8O3LI/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_book_1

The Revival of West 42nd Street

http://www.nydailynews.com/archives/nydn-features/theater-row-mounts-major-revival-article-1.823357

Sunday In the Park with George

http://www.nytimes.com/1984/05/03/theater/stage-sunday-in-the-park-with-george.html?pagewanted=all

Marseille and the AIPAD Photo Show

Marseille

630 9th Ave.

New York, NY

(212) 333 2323

http://www.marseillenyc.com/menu.aspx

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.

Ratings

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.

Resources

Reviews

https://www.zagat.com/r/marseille-new-york

http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/marseille/

https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052970204369404577209230137763776

French Onion Soup Recipes

http://juliachildsrecipes.com/soup/julia-childs-french-onion-soup/

http://www.seriouseats.com/2015/01/how-to-make-the-best-french-onion-soup-caramelization.html

AIPAD Photography Show

https://aipadshow.com/

Boucherie-Winter and Absinthe

Boucherie

99 7th Avenue South

New York, New York 10014

http://boucherie.nyc/

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.

Baudelaire

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.

Ratings

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.

Resources

Press notices and reviews

http://ny.eater.com/2016/12/9/13898672/boucherie-nyc-opens

http://boucherie.nyc/press/

http://gothamist.com/2016/12/14/boucherie_west_village.php#photo-1

http://www.johnnyprimesteaks.com/boucherie/

Parisian Boucheries

http://blog.velib.paris.fr/blog/2013/02/14/top-10-des-boucheries-parisiennes/

http://chocolateandzucchini.com/paris/shops-markets/paris-butcher-shop-how-to-tips/

Absinthe

http://www.absinthefever.com/green-fairy

http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20140109-absinthe-a-literary-muse

The Group-NYC

http://thegroup.nyc/

Circle Repertory Company

http://archives.nypl.org/the/21737

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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

http://frenchlouienyc.com/index.html

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!

Ratings:

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.)

Resources

Reviews

http://www.villagevoice.com/restaurants/buttermilk-channel-team-opens-french-louie-in-boerum-hill-6548767

http://nypost.com/2014/05/29/atlantic-avenues-new-bistro-makes-a-french-connection/

http://www.dailycandy.com/new-york/article/168534/French-Louie-Restaurant

http://brooklynbased.com/blog/2014/03/10/first-bites-bacon-snails-and-lumberjack-lore-at-french-louie/

Kim Chi

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kimchi

Two or Three Things I Know About Her

https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/1198-2-or-3-things-i-know-about-her-the-whole-and-its-parts

https://celluloidwickerman.com/2016/01/25/libidinal-circuits-in-2-or-3-things-i-know-about-her-1967-jean-luc-godard/

Joseph Foglia Designs

http://josephfogliadesigns.com/French-Louie

Julia Childs Hollandaise Sauce Recipe

http://www.food.com/recipe/julia-childs-hollandaise-sauce-251332

La Defense Bistro Oshima X Godard: BAM Tout Va Bien

La Defense Bistro
2 Metrotech Center
Brooklyn, New York 11201
(718) 855-4200
https://ladefensenyc.com/

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.

Ratings:

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.)

Resources

Oshima X Godard: BAM

http://www.bam.org/film/2017/oshima-godard

Tout Va Bien Reviews

Tout Va Bien (1973)

MetroTech Center

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MetroTech_Center

Best French Onion Soup in New York

http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/eats/best-new-york-french-onion-soup-article-1.1236856

Julia Child’s French Onion Soup Recipe

http://juliachildsrecipes.com/soup/julia-childs-french-onion-soup/

French Onion Soup Recipe

http://www.seriouseats.com/2015/01/how-to-make-the-best-french-onion-soup-caramelization.html

La Defense

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_D%C3%A9fense

OCabanon (Cave a manger)

OCabanon (Cave a manger)
245 W 29th Street (Between 7th and 8th Avenue)
New York, New York 10001
646-669-7879
http://www.ocabanon.com

“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.

Ratings

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)

Resources

Reviews

http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/409358-ocabanon-new-yorks-first-cave-a-manger-opens/

http://www.pinkpignyc.com/at_the_sign_of_the_pink_p/2014/12/quick-bites-ocabanon.html
Le Corbusier’s Cabanon

https://capmoderne.com/en/lieu/le-cabanon/

Baryshnikov Arts Center

http://bacnyc.org/

International Contemporary Ensemble

https://iceorg.org
Booz Barometer

http://www.pinrepair.com/arcade/boozbar.htm

http://www.arcade-museum.com/game_detail.php?game_id=1129
Cave a Manger
https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2015/sep/02/top-10-caves-a-manger-paris-france
Grenache Wine

http://www.winemag.com/varietals/grenache/

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

http://aocnyc.com/

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.

Ratings

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)

Resources

L’Aile Ou La Cuisse

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wing_or_the_Thigh

Reviews

https://www.zagat.com/r/aoc-new-york

http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/ail-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.

Resources

Museum Boppard (A comprehensive resource on Thonet)

http://museum-boppard.de/explore/thonet/

Vitra Design Museum

http://www.design-museum.de/en/collection/100-masterpieces/detailseiten/sessel-soehne.html

Thonet

http://www.thonet.com.au/history/

Alice Rawsthorn, No. 14: The chair that has seated millions (Harold Tribune, November 7, 2008) (https://web.archive.org/web/20081113134340/http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/11/10/style/design10.php)

                                                                                                                                               

Racines

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

http://racinesnewyork.azurewebsites.net/

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 food was a surprise 

The deserts are simple. There is a panna cotta, apple tatin and a chocolate and caramel tart. We passed on desert which was probably a bad decision. We were exhausted by the election and our debates.

The Wines

Racine was picked by Imbibe Magazine as its top wine bar for 2015.

Racines offers natural wines. Natural wines do not use pesticides or herbicides. The winemakers cultivate and harvest their grapes by hand. They use natural yeasts and use little to no sulfur in the bottling process. There are no additives and little to no filtration. The idea behind natural wines is to minimize the intervention by chemicals and technology in the wine making process.

The wine list has been selected with great care by Mr. Tronche and is quite extensive. He highlights wines from the Loire Valley, Languedoc-Roussillon and Corsica. In addition to most of the regions of France, Ricines offers wines from Italy, Spain, Switzerland, USA, Germany, Austria, South Africa, Greece, Chile and Canada. There is also a fine selection of Champagne and other bubbles.

The Atmosphere

Racines is located in Tribeca. It is on Chambers between Broadway and Church. The block is run down and unattractive. There are cheap Indian and Cuban take-out joints, a Lot-Less variety store, a Dunkin-Donuts, and a barber shop. On the other hand Tribeca is a prestigious neighborhood with many high end restaurants. Bouley, for example, is just a few blocks away.

The space is standard Tribecan eclectic designless design. There are brick walls, wood floors and exposed duct work. The tables are simple brown wood. To Racine’s credit, the chairs are Thonet No.2. These chairs are timeless and perfect and they remind me of Paris (even though they were designed by an Austrian!). The lighting is Tesla-inspired open bulbs with large glowing filaments. Industrial, high tech chic. The light is soft and makes everyone look good.

The work on the walls has no discernable or coherent sensibility; it looked like it was appropriated from sidewalks and flea markets. However, these nothing like Rauschenbergian combines. There are photos along one wall that vaguely suggest street scenes, along another wall is a silk-screen image of Bacchus-the Roman God of wine and revelry. There are some posters near the door that suggest New Yorker magazine covers.

The bar runs the length of the space on the right, almost to the kitchen. It is wood and simple and comfortable. It is utilitarian without adornment. The kitchen is at the back of the restaurant. It opens to the restaurant.

Racines is attractive with good energy even with the rather odd images on the walls. Even though it was quite busy when we were there, we did not experience any problems with noise.

Racines: The Second Visit

Racines has a happy hour special during which they offer wines from 5:00 until 7:00 for $7.00 per glass. This is a stunning offer, and we decided to take advantage of it. They were offering two white wines, two reds and a sparkling. He are some of the wines:

2014 Domaine Barou Syrah: Beautiful organic Syrah from the hills above Saint-Joseph.

2015 La Ferme Saint-Martin “Les Romanins:” Lush, complex natural Rhone wine.

2014 Eric Laguerre “Le Ciste” Blanc: From mountain vines in the Roussillon on granite, superb! (Maccabeo, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Rolle).

2014 Domaine des Amphores Saint-Joseph Blanc: Back to Saint-Joseph for this outstanding blend of Marsanne and Roussanne.

We had one of each and they were delightful. The bartender was conversational, the crowd was local and the atmosphere was comfortable.

Racines has become one of our favorite restaurants in New York. We will be back for many more happy hours and dinner.

Ratings

Service: 8  (Friendly, professional and knowledgeable.)

Archetype: 5 ( Racines is not a bistro so I did not evaluate it against the bistro archetype. However, it does have Thonet #2 chairs so they get points for that. Although the Parisian  bistro-a-vin  has no archetypal design like the bistro, Racines space is average. )

Food: 8 (Creative, elegant and well-prepared. Outstanding and unique organic wines.)

Energy: 8 (Racines is one of those restaurants where you feel that the owner, the chef and the staff all believe in the vision of the restaurant. They are happy to be working there and they enjoy sharing it with their customers.)

Resources

Reviews

New York Times

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/23/dining/restaurant-review-racines-ny-in-tribeca.html

The New Yorker

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/05/11/tables-for-two-racines-ny

Wall Street Journal

http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304518704579521800561913072

Restaurant Girl

http://www.restaurantgirl.com/racines-review.html

Racines Paris and Raines Pairs (2)

http://www.racinesparis.com/

Huffington Post

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-mariani/paris-offshoot-racines-takes-delectable-root-in-new-york_b_6838866.html

Blog Post by Giles Pudlowski about Chef Duca (in French)

http://www.gillespudlowski.com/106111/restaurants/new-york-frederic-duca-le-retour

Jean Racine

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Racine#Fundamental_nature_of_tragedy

Thonet Chairs

http://www.newyorkbistros.net/uncategorized/thonet-no-14-chairs-perfection-and-genius/

Bourride Fish Stew (By Daniel Boulud)

http://www.elledecor.com/life-culture/food-drink/a5918/bourride-fish-stew-1/

In Paris, Finding the True Bistro a’Vin

http://www.nytimes.com/1998/09/13/magazine/in-paris-finding-the-true-bistro-a-vin.html

On Natural Wines-Alice Feiring

http://www.alicefeiring.com/blog/

Brasserie Cognac de Monsieur Ballon

Brasserie Cognac de Monsieur Ballon

1740 Broadway (at 55th Street)

New York, New York 10019

212-757-3600

(Steve Reich, the Hindenburg Disaster and Brasserie Cognac)

It’s burst into flames! Get this, Charlie; get this, Charlie! It’s fire… and it’s crashing! It’s crashing terrible! Oh, my! Get out of the way, please! It’s burning and bursting into flames and the… and it’s falling on the mooring mast. And all the folks agree that this is terrible; this is the worst of the worst catastrophes in the world.

Herbert Morrison, WLS Radio broadcast, describing the Hindenburg disaster

The Three Tales

It is a beautiful Tuesday night during Indian summer in November and I am going to Carnegie Hall to celebrate Steven Reich’s 80th birthday.  The International Classical Ensemble (one of my favorite groups in New York) is performing Reich’s Three Tales.

In the Three Tales Reich explores technology in the 20th century. The music was supported by Beryl Korot’s video production. The Three Tales are the Hindenburg, the atomic bomb test at Bikini Atoll and Dolly the cloned sheep.

Reich selected the Hindenburg because it was the first failed technology to be captured on film. The Bikini test was the first technology that was powerful enough to destroy all life on earth.  Bio-tech, genetic cloning and robotics point to what our life may look like in the future.

Brasserie Cognac is just around the corner from Carnegie Hall so I decide to give it a try before the concert. Little did I know that it would be a prophetic choice to accompany a concert about disasters.

Restaurant

The restaurant is large and busy, and I was hit with a blast of noise when I entered. I did not have a reservation but I was promptly greeted by the hostess and given a table in the front room.

Brasserie Cognac is an attractive restaurant. Apparently, the owners had some of it made in Paris and shipped to New York. It has three seating areas. Behind the hostess station, is a wooden clock structure that holds shelves of sliced bread. There is a back room which is more formal and than the front room. It has a colorful mural of a dining scene from Brasserie Cognac. There are classic photographs on the walls and glass shelves holding bottles of liquors. It has gold script on antique and distressed mirrors. The lighting is soft and golden and there is an antique mirror on one wall.

The front room, unfortunately, is  hard and glassy and there is lots of reflected noise. There is a zinc bar off the front room. The bar area is small and crowded.

From the front room, there is a nice view down Broadway but it is unfortunately blocked by a TV that no one was watching.

Along the window to my right, I could hear a pretentious bore who never stopped talking about his politics and social media. His date in a black dress sat motionless as if frozen in the river of words. I wished they would bring his food quickly so that he would eat and not talk. I think she wished for the same thing. There was a table of Asian tourists on my left. On my right was a friendly group from North Carolina that was going to the theater.

Service

The service was very busy and impersonal. It was disorganized. To their credit, the waiter did notice that my water glass was dirty and replaced it. However, another waiter who I had never seen came up and dropped a hamburger and fries on my table without asking if it was mine. I sent it away but the smell of grease and burned meat lingered over my table.

The bread was bad. It was sliced wheat bread and white rolls cut in half.  It was stale, without flavor or texture. It was insipid. It had nothing to do with French bread. There was no reason to eat it. Why would a French restaurant serve inedible bread?

I am sure that this bread was parbaked.  Professor Kaplan, an international authority on bread defines parbaking as:  “It’s the baking of dough that’s been rapidly frozen. And that is not artisanal baking, which excludes freezing, which [in turn] impedes the flow of fermentation from reaching its apogee.” The result is tasteless bread.

I ordered a glass of Merlot. I was informed they were out of Merlot. I ordered a glass of Cab. They had a Cab but it was a long time in coming.

After they served my dinner, the staff did not check in to see how I was doing.

Food

I had the Cognac Rotisserie Chicken (with mashed potatoes, haricot verts, and tarragon jus).  The chicken was boring and flavorless. The mashed potatoes tasted like they were made from a mix and the beans were over cooked to a tasteless green mass. It was like a dinner you would get in a hospital cafeteria.

I considered trying a dessert to round out my review but I could not get a waiter’s attention and needed to get to Carnegie Hall.

According to Brasserie Cognac, it is trying to do three things; provide high quality ingredients, please guests with professional service, and offer reasonable prices. Brasserie Cognac has succeed in one of its goals: it is the cheapest bistro that I have reviewed.

Overall, it was one of this dinners where you just want to get it over with as soon as possible. You just want to survive until the last act so you can leave the theater. I cannot recommend this bistro but if you are desperate it will do in a pinch.

Ratings

Service: 5.  The service was inefficient and impersonal. The staff had no timing and showed little concern about the quality of my experience.

Atmosphere:  5. The front room is hard and noisy. It is touristy and busy. Book a table in the back room if you can. It has a better atmosphere and is quieter.

Food: 4. Boring and average. No excuse for the bread.

Archetype: 7. More brasserie than bistro. Attractive baguette tower at hostess station, attractive zinc bar and beautiful back room. Book a table in the back room and enjoy the mural and antique mirrors.

Resources

Brasserie Cognac

http://cognacrestaurant.com/

Professor Steve Kaplan

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/23/AR2005082300291.html

Steve Reich

http://www.stevereich.com/

http://www.stevereich.com/threetales_info.html

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/mar/01/steve-reich-schoenberg-coltrane-radiohead

The Hindenburg Disaster

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_Morrison_(announcer)

http://www.airships.net/hindenburg/disaster

Carnegie Hall

https://www.carnegiehall.org/

Rebelle

Rebelle (Fashion Update on the Bowery)

You had something to hide

Should have hidden it, shouldn’t you

Now you’re not satisfied

With what you’re being put through

It’s just time to pay the price

For not listening to advice

And deciding in your youth

On the policy of truth

Depeche Mode, Policy of Truth

What infinite use Dante would have made of the Bowery!

Theodore Roosevelt

Rebelle

218 Bowery (between Prince and Spring)

New York, New York 10012

http://rebellenyc.com/

Atmosphere and Design

From the bar at Rebelle I look out onto the Bowery. I see The New Museum and its boat suspended high in front of the building across the street. The new museum of the International Center of Photography  is up the block at 250 Bowery. I thought of the many shows I saw at CBGB and OMFUG  which was across the street at 315 Bowery. Time flows reflecting the universal principle of impermanence.

The bar is bright and attractive and glassy; a scene was developing around 7:30. I sighted hipsters, post-modern hipsters and affluent twenty-somethings.  Thankfully, there were no lumbersexuals.

The design of Rebelle is clean, sleek and minimal. The textures are  brushed grey metal, marble and dark wood. There are abstract black and white paintings on the walls that reminded me of early Gerhard Richter. The globe lights that run down the center of the restaurant and on the side walls suggest traditional bistro design. It is not theatrical; it is quiet and subdued.  It is an unusual combination of opulence, minimalism and comfort without being pretentious and cold.

Rebelle is a larger restaurant that it appears from the street.  There is a second dining room and a chef’s table area in the back of the restaurant. Even when the space filled up as the evening progressed, it never felt crowded or frantic, and we had no problems with noise.

The Music

During dinner we heard “You Spin Me Round and Round” by Dead or Alive, “China Girl” by David Bowie, “Policy of Truth” by Depeche Mode, and  “Psycho Killer” by Talking Heads.

It makes me wonder if the playing of 1970s and 1980s music that was popular during the Bowery’s CBGB era in a restaurant with $4000 bottles of wine an expression of irony?  Was the play list random? Was it intentional? It seemed incongruous at best but hipsterish at its worse.

Staff and Menu

The staff was efficient and knowledgeable and the pacing of the dinner was spot on. The staff was robotic and scripted at first but we managed to bring out some human responses after some questioning and conversation.

The staff was aggressively pushing appetizers on us. First, our waiter explained the menu. I find this annoying. I can read quite well and did not find the menu so ambiguous or opaque that it needed explaining. I would rather ask a question if I have one, rather than having to sit though a not-very-well-disguised sales pitch. I do not like upselling in restaurants. It is not truthful.

We were advised that most people buy separate appetizers to support the main dishes because the mains are not very large.  When the waiter came back to take our order, we were encouraged twice more to buy appetizers. It was starting to feel like a high-pressure sales pitch. It felt like being trapped by a life insurance salesman.

The mains are in the $22 to $32 range and the appetizers are in the $15 to $18 range. The appetizers seemed too substantial to be appetizers but too slight to be mains. Examples of this are the seared scallop (with summer squash and basil) and cured fluke (with brown butter, caper and lemon).

However, if  you buy an appetizer to support a main dish you are quickly in the $45 range. This is a very high price point for a restaurant like Rebelle. I would rather a restaurant increase the price of the main to make the profit it needs to make, rather than play the small plate game.

Food and Wine

We steeled  ourselves out of principle and did not succumb to the pressure to buy appetizers. We did opt for two dishes “For The Table.” This category is distinct from appetizers but some of the dishes cost more than the appetizers.  We ordered the smoked olives (with guindilla peppers) and anchovies (with olive, oil and orange zest). For our main we had the roast chicken for two (with confit potato and lemon preserve).

The smoked olives were some of the best olives I have ever had in my life. This is a strong statement because I  love olives and eat them all over the world! Chef Eddy managed to create something new and exciting from something as basic as a dish of olives. They were smoked with wood and had subtle flavors. 

The anchovies were also excellent. We noted a dominant sweet flavor rather than salt. This also was innovative and surprising.

The chicken was good but not memorable. The flavor was delicate and the skin had the right crispy texture but the potatoes were overdone and were overwhelmed by the lemon preserves. The chicken was a letdown from the excellence of the appetizers. Perhaps we should have taken the advice from the waiter and built a dinner out of the appetizers and avoided the mains?  We think this was just an unfortunate inconsistency from the kitchen.

For dessert we had the chocolate torte (with caramelia ganache and yogurt sorbet). The chocolate was deep and rich and the sorbet was a perfect counterpoint.

The evening we ate at Rebelle it was about 90 degrees and 90 percent humidity. We opted for beer rather than wine. We apologize for the disservice we did to Rebelle because it is well known for its creative and formidable wine list.

The wine list is a 95 page PDF on the Website. Prices range from $50 for humble wines to over $2000 for lofty French Pinots. There are wines priced over $4000. There is a large variety of  French wines and a limited selection of American wines. There is strength in the sparkling wine category.

The Owners, the Chef and the Wine Director

The management team at Rebelle is young, deep and experienced.

Brandon McGill is the manager and an owner of Rebelle. He has worked at The Modern with Danny Meyer, and with Jean-Georges, Benoit, The Mark Hotel,  The Hotel Williamsburg, and The Red Rooster. He has also worked at several prestigious restaurants in Chicago including Alinea and Blackbird. In 2012, he opened Pearl and Ash which is next door to Rebelle at 220 Bowery. 

Daniel Eddy is the chef at Rebelle.  Daniel began his career in 2004  at  Onera which was Michael Psilakis’ first restaurant. Over the next four years, he helped open Dona, Anthos, and Mia Dona. Daniel then moved to Paris and worked with Daniel Rose at Spring. Spring is one of the leading neo-bistros in Paris.

Patrick Cappiello is the Wine Director of both Pearl & Ash and Rebelle restaurants.  He was the Chief Sommelier for Daniel Johnnes “La Paulée” and Wine Columnist for Playboy Magazine. 

Patrick created the Renegade Wine Dinner. This is a monthly dinner and wine series at Pearl and Ash restaurant. The dinners are five courses with wine pairings for $135.  There have been some intriguing dinners with names like Abruzzo, Sierra Foothills, Kermit Lynch and Germany vs. France.

Rebelle also offers a “Winemaker Series.” These are four course dinners and wine pairings that feature wines by a select vineyard. There are presentations by  the winemakers.

Rebelle, Bistros and Bistronomy

Rebelle is not a bistro. It does not reflect bistro design elements, the culture or the history. Its menu does not feature any of the bistro standards. It is subtly influenced by bistro food and culture but is not a bistro.

Bistronomy is a new trend in Paris. It seems many younger chefs are no longer interested in working themselves up the Michelin ladder and becoming a head chef in a formal “crystal, ceremony and chandeliers” restaurant. François Simon was a leading food critic for Le Figaro. He has said that bistronomy have become “the principle axis of gastronomy” in France:

It’s between brasserie and restaurant with very technical chefs who know very well how to do classic dishes with a dash of originality and above all at much more affordable prices. Chefs now ask themselves: Do I shoot for the stars which is totally absurd and leads to a nervous breakdown? Do I want keep my wife and friends, or end up with a false blonde in 20 years?

New chefs would rather pursue a personal, creative vision and offer seasonal and local ingredients in an informal setting. Spring, where Chef Eddy worked, is a highly regarded example of bistronomy. In some of his interviews that I have read, he embraces the bistronomy aesthetic. We can see it in the small dishes and the creative use of fresh and limited ingredients with a clarity and intensity of flavor.

The Bowery Historic District

Revelle and Pearl and Ash are part of a new wave of restaurants, bars, shops, galleries, hotels, condos and museums that are transforming the Bowery. This is not a screed against gentrification. As a Buddhist, I practice the principle of impermanence. I accept the universal principle of change, and there is very rapid change in the Bowery.

I am writing about the Bowery because I am interested in situating bistros in their neighborhoods in New York City.

The Bowery was originally a footpath used by Native Americans before the Dutch arrived and began farming. When the Dutch settled Manhattan in the late 17th century, they named the trail Bouwerij road. “Bouwerij” is an old Dutch word for “farm.”

By the end of the 18th century, the Bowery became New York’s most elegant street. It had  grand theaters, banks, mansions and fashionable shops.  During the Civil War, they gave way to pawn shops, beer halls, flop houses and brothels. Tenements were built and gangs emerged. In 1878 the Third Avenue Elevated Train was constructed which darkened the streets below and contributed to the crime and seedy nature of the area.

From the 1940s until the 1990s, the Bowery was known as “Skid Row.”

“Skid row” comes from a logging term. In the old days, loggers would transport their logs to rivers by sliding them down roads made from greased skids. Loggers would wait for transportation to take them back up the hill to their logging camps. Skid row began to be used for places where people with no money and nothing to do gathered. It  became a generic term for a depressed street in a city. Downtown Los Angeles has a neighborhood officially known as “Skid Row.”

The Bowery Historic District was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. Luc Sante, who wrote about the Bowery in his book “Low Life” said: “It may not seem as though there is much left of the Bowery at this point. But once you start really looking, there is quite a bit left: the Bowery Mission, the former YMCA  across the street, where William Burroughs once lived, the extraordinary Fortress of Solitude at the corner of Spring Street, the ex-Bowery Savings Bank at Grand Street, and many humbler but still solid edifices that once contained flophouses and saloons and employment agencies, many of which are inhabited by artists who restored them back when such things were affordable to common humans.”

As I walk through the Bowery today, I see the area under huge real estate development pressure. Rental signs are everywhere and high-rise condos are being developed. Trendy boutiques, coffee shops and hipster bars have arrived. I accept all of this but my personal hope is that the Bowery retains some of its historical  grittiness, creativity and vice, and does not de-evolve into an outdoor mall like Soho.

***

Update

I recently had another dinner at Rebelle. It had the same 1980’s music. The staff was more personal and there was less upselling. I had the smoked olives once again and the Pan Roasted Hake (with mussels and sauce bouillabaisse).

The olives were as good as I remembered. The hake was properly cooked but was not as hot as it should be. The sauce had a earthy component which supported the lightness and delicacy of the fish.  It was  a good dish but not transcendental.

Ratings

Service: 6.  The service was efficient and timing was good. The staff seemed scripted but may become human if you made a conscious effort to break through. We disliked  the upselling, the menu structure and the pricing. My son is a professional twenty-something (who are the target market) and he thought it was too expensive for what you got.

Atmosphere:  7. The music was uncool but we liked the space, the concept and the food. We liked the idea behind the Winemaker Dinner and the obvious commitment by the owners to creativity.

Food: 7.  Rebelle is capable of serving an excellent dinner. We ate a limited meal and, on a Tuesday night, do not think the kitchen was performing at its absolute best. The appetizers were great but we were not overly excited by the single main that we had. 

We will try Rebelle again and sample some other dishes. We like what the Rebelle team is doing and support the restaurant.

Archetype: 8.  Revelle is not a bistro but there are a few subtle references to the bistro Archetype. Since it is a neo-bistro its design supports that aesthetic.

Resources

Reviews

http://www.grubstreet.com/bestofnewyork/best-wine-bar-restaurants-nyc.html

https://www.viamichelin.com/web/Restaurant/New_York-10012-Rebelle-474825-41102

http://eye-swoon.com/rebelle-exploration-through-food/

https://www.zagat.com/r/rebelle-new-york

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-12-08/best-new-york-city-restaurants-2015

http://homestudios.nyc/

http://www.restaurantgirl.com/q-a-with-rebelle-chef-daniel-eddy.html

Bistronomy

http://en.parisinfo.com/where-to-eat-in-paris/info/guides/the-new-trends-in-gastronomy/neo-bistros-gastronomy-reinvented/neo-bistros-gastronomy-reinvented

The Bowery

Luc Sante, Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003)

http://ny.curbed.com/2014/8/28/10054834/a-survey-of-the-bowerys-changing-landscape-in-20-photos

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/18/nyregion/on-the-bowery-vestiges-of-a-seedy-past-seep-through.html?_r=0

Dominique Bistro

When good Americans die, they go to Paris.

Oscar Wilde

(Paris in the West Village)

Dominique Bistro

14 Christopher Street

New York, New York 10014

646-756-4145

http://www.dominiquebistro.nyc

Dominique Bistro is located at Christopher and Gay Street in the West Village. It is a charming area with lots of boutiques and cafes nearby. The Jefferson Market Garden is just down the block. It was a cold and rainy night when we arrived at Dominique Bistro. Our group was my wife, our daughter and her friend from Berlin.

We were greeting promptly and cheerfully by the hostess when we entered.

The Atmosphere

The Website says that Dominique Bistro is a touch of Paris in the West Village. The restaurant is quite small and was crowded. Because of the very high ceilings, the noise level was not too bothersome but it was too many bodies squeezed into too small of a space. It has large windows that look out onto Christopher Street. It is very attractive from the street.

In the back of the restaurant is a large Warhol-like artwork of a female face; vaguely suggestive of Marilyn Monroe. There is an attractive wooden bar running along the side wall. The wood feels more Danish modern than either West Village of Paris. There are large mirrors hung on the side wall and they reflect the windows and the street scenes and the diners. The textures of the restaurant are dark wood, glass and weathered brick. It is small and charming and could be romantic depending upon the crowd. It does not seem very Parisian to me except for the menu.

Service

There appeared to be only one waitress serving the whole restaurant.

However, she managed to take care of our table competently. She was so busy that we did not have much interaction with her except for the transactional aspects of the dining experience.

Food

The menu has an interesting section called French Market. It has standard dishes such as Steak tartare, mussels, octopus, escargots, foie gras, and baked camembert.

The mains are standards such as branzino papillote, halibut provencal, coq au vin, steak au poivre, and cote de boeuf. They offer boards of charcuterie, cheese and “Le Grand Mixe.”  The desserts are basic offerings such as chocolate souffle and mousse, and creme brulee.

We ordered the branzino (with zucchini, eggplant, heirloom tomatoes), the halibut provencal (with tomatoes, olives, garlic, fennel, capers and tomato broth) and  the coq au vin ( with roasted organic chicken, carrots, onions, mushrooms, lardons and red wine demi).

Lardons are small matchstick-like slices of bacon or salt pork.

The food is presented on attractive vintage French country dinner plates. All of the dishes were competent and enjoyable. However, none of them stood out as being extraordinary or memorable.

I have been to Dominique Bistro for lunch and it was more enjoyable. Their were fewer people, the energy was less frantic and the staff more relaxed. I had a Croque Monsieur  (gruyere cheese) which was served with mixed greens.It was excellent. It was a warm day and the windows were open. I lingered over the meal, read my book, wrote in my journal and pretended I was in Paris.

Ratings

Service: 6  (Very busy and impersonal but professional)

Archetype: 6 ( Dominique Bistro does not follow the bistro Archetype. It is more like a neo-bistro in design but a traditional bistro in menu.)

Food: 7 (The food was competent but not exciting or creative. I would rate it higher for lunch. )

Energy: 6 (Busy and crowded. It would be better to come early or for lunch. )

Resources

https://www.timeout.com/newyork/restaurants/dominique-bistro

http://www.lasplash.com/publish/FoodAndBeverage/cat_index_new_york_food/bistro-dominique-review.php

http://www.biteofthebest.com/dominique-bistros-brunch-west-village-nyc/

http://nyctalon.com/best-for-brunch-dominique-bistro-in-the-west-village/

Buvette

Sometimes I think of Paris not as a city but as a home. Enclosed, curtained, sheltered, intimate. The sound of rain outside the window, the spirit and the body turned towards intimacy, to friendships and loves. One more enclosed and intimate day of friendship and love, an alcove. Paris intimate like a room. Everything designed for intimacy. Five to seven was the magic hour of the lovers’ rendezvous. Here it is the cocktail hour.

Anais Nin

Buvette Gastrotheque

42 Grove Street (Bleecker Street)

West Village, New York City

212-255-3590

http://newyork.ilovebuvette.com/

Buvette

28 Rue Henry Monnier

South Pigalle, Paris

01-44-63-41-71

http://paris.ilovebuvette.com/

I Love Buvette

I fell in love last week. I feel in love with Buvette. It all started as we walked down Grove Street as the sun began to set and we stood in front of the bicycle with the basket full of wine corks and the setting sun set sunsparkles across the plate glass window and you could not tell them from the tiny white lights strung across the glass like diamonds. It all started when we were seated at the tiny table with the tiny chairs and we handed the menu booklets with the sweet design and helpful stories. It all started when I looked down the stairs and could see baskets of onions and lemons and a wall of wine bottles and the shaft of sunlight a yellow diagonal down the stairs. It all started when I saw the still life of sunflowers and old milk pitchers on top of the bar and I wanted to take out my oils and start painting it right then and there. It all started when I saw the map of France on a chalkboard with the wines of the day located in the regions of France. It all started when I discovered that Buvette has a sister restaurant located in the Pigalle and I had visions of Anais Nin as she wrote about Paris in her first diary in 1931.

The Menu

The menu presents a limited selection of basic dishes on small plates. Buvette does not offer traditional main courses. Rather, it is up to you to select complementary dishes. The categories are tartinettes (small sandwiches), legumes (vegetables), poissons (fishes) and viandes (meats).  Standouts include salted butter and anchovies, artichokes (chevre, tomatoes and thyme), mussels (herbs and bread crumbs), and a classic coq au vin (chicken with red wine and mushrooms). The tartinettes are $10.00, the legumes are $12.00, the poissons are $17.00, and the viandes are $18.00.

There is a selection of charcuterie including chicken liver mousse, cured pork sausage, and rabbit and duck confit. All of these dishes are $10.00.

There is an interesting collection of cheeses from New England and France.

The Food

We had the Poulpes aux Olives (octopus salad with celery and olives), the Pistou de Noix (walnut pesto with parmesan and thyme), and the Brandade de Moure (house salt cod, with olive oil, milk and garlic).   Our waiter mentioned they had just finished making their special melon with sage and prosciutto, so we ordered that too! Our wines were by the glass-Gigondas, St. Emilion and Brandade. We finished with espresso and the mousse.

My cod was served in a small mason jar with three pieces of toasted bread. It was presented as bread and spread. It was rich, salty and delicious. The octopus was crisp and each flavor stood out distinctly and clearly. The walnut pesto was a disappointment because the flavors were too earthy and heavy; it was like a low-key painting in all black and brown.

The mousse was a dark cake with a mountain of fresh whipped cream on top. It was not too sugary or sweet. It was good but did not lead to ecstasy.

The Service

There was a leisurely wait before our waiter arrived. We admired the restaurant. There is a lot to look at but it does not feel overstuffed or kitschy.

The service was Gallic, slightly gruff, casual. Our waiter was very knowledgeable about the food, its ingredients and its preparation. We were given sound advice about the wines.

Buvette has the feeling of a neighborhood snack bar. It does not have the formality and ritual of a bistro.

After we ordered, the food came very fast.

Every beloved has imperfections. Sometimes a small blemish on a beautiful face makes it that much more beautiful.  After we finished our dinner, our plates were not cleared so there was no room on the table for dessert. We had to ask. Even so, this did not annoy us and the service worked with the overall concept of the restaurant.

The Space

Buvette is small. The tables, chairs and plates are small. But there are large windows that look out onto Greenwich Village life, the light is good and there is a still life composition everywhere you look. The ceiling has old stamped tin tiles, the floors are old wood. There was a lively scene at the bar; it would be delightful to sit and eat at the bar; the small plates lend themselves to bar dining. The music was New Orleans Dixieland jazz with some be bop in the mix.

There is a sister restaurant in Paris in the Pigalle which we will try the next time we are there.

Service: 7  (A few flaws but friendly, charming and knowledgeable.)

Archetype: 6 ( Buvette’s menu does not follow the bistro Archetype but it does have many of the elements such as the chalkboard, the bar, and the atmosphere. )

Food: 8 (Creative and well-prepared small plates with a few misses. Wines by the glass (the Gigondas!) were outstanding. )

Energy: 9 (I love Buvette.)

Resources

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/11/21/buvette

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/04/dining/reviews/04dinbriefs.html?_r=0

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/07/t-magazine/jody-williams-rita-sodi-via-carota-buvette-i-sodi.html

De Marchelier

De Marchelier

50 East 86th Street

New York, New York 10028

demarchelierrestaurant.com

Demarchelier opened in 1978 and its intention is to “expresses the soul of authentic French bistro.” The Website discloses that is a family owned and run restaurant. It views itself as a warm neighborhood restaurant. It offers a traditional French menu and a good selection of French wines. They say it is ideal for a quick bite to eat, a romantic rendez-vous or a meal with your family.

It is attractive from the street. It has a red awing and the name is painted in large white letters. There are white lace curtains in the windows and the daily specials are on a chalkboard on the sidewalk. You can see globe lights hanging over the bar from the street.

Edvard Munch

I had just seen the Munch and Expressionism show at the Neue Gallery which is located on 5th Avenue and 86th Street.  It is very convenient to eat at De Marchelier after visiting one of the museums on 5th Avenue.

On my first trip to Europe post college I went to Norway to visit the Munch Museum. I was shattered by the images and have been a Munch fan ever since. According to the Neue Gallery:

Edvard Munch was highly regarded for his exploration of dark themes, including alienation, sin, and human vulnerability.  The German artists included in the exhibition are Max Beckmann, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Gabriele Münter, and Emile Nolde, and the Austrians included are Richard Gerstl, Oskar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele. The curator will compare all of these artists’ approaches to key themes such as adolescence, urban anxiety, and self-portraiture, and to innovative developments in printmaking during this time.

The show was tremendous. I needed some time to sit alone and process the anxiety, alienation and dispair that I felt as I immersed myself in the paintings.  Fortunately, I discovered Demarchelier right around the corner.

Atmosphere

It is a very attractive restaurant and reflects the bistro Archetype. There are red leather banquettes along a wall, blond wood floors, and simple wood chairs. There are dry point etching on the walls. The walls are a textured honey yellow so the space feels airy and light. There are large globe lights. Opaline.

It has three rooms. The front room has the bar and a few small tables with views of the sidewalk. The bar is inviting. It has large mirrors on the walls and the street looks quaint through the lace curtains. There is a middle room which seems to be the main dining room and a smaller room in back.

There is a magazine rack which reminds me of Euopean cafes. Now if we can only get to communal tables we will be there!

There was no music and the room with quiet wit

h hushed conversations and much rustling and reading of newspapers.

Apparently, the owner, Eric Demarchelier, is an artist. Many of his paintings are on the walls. They are copies of Picasso but painted in a bright and cheerful palette. They are copies of Dora Maar and Marie Therese I think.

This is an Upper East Side Crowd. It is older ladies who wear Hermes scarves, adventuresome hats and who lunch professionally. The men read the WSJ solemly.

The clear their throats, lay down their heavy black glasses and contemplate their positions in the market. It is very civilized and there were no downtown types in evidence.

Food

The dinner menu is Archetypal bistro. Nicoise salads. Onion soup gratinee. Escargots with garlic butter. Filet mignon and hanger steak. Coq au vin, duck confit. Moules mariniere (pommes frites) and grilled salmon. You can get sides such as spinach a la creme, French string beans and legume du jour.

The lunch menu is summer but there are a few burgers and sandwiches added to the menu. They have a veggie burger and a quinoa, sweet potato and kale burger.

They also have a smoked salmon and avocado tartine and a Mergue sandwich which looked enticing. A Merguez sandwich is a North-African lamb sausage which is served with a spicy pepper harissa spread.

I walked by the restuaurant recently after seeing Divine Pleasures: Paintings From India’s Rajput Courts. This is a smashingly beautiful show of small, highly detailed and perfectly composed minature paintings.  The illustras the story of Krishna and Radha and scenes from the Ramayana. It is brilliant. See it before it leaves.

On the chalk menu they offered crab soup, cold sweet peas soup, soft shell crab meuniere with spinach and fussili with chicken and pesto. The express menus is $19.50 for lunch and there is a $32 prix fixe menu for dinner.

I wanted something simple and light because I was runing that afternoon. I ordered the veggie burger with pomes frites on the side. (One must always try the pomees frites in a bistro!)

Service

I really wanted to like this restaurant but the trouble started with the staff. Even though the restaurant was not very busy, it took a long time for someone to notice me and then the waitress was very rushed and busy and short. The bread was bland and stale and not edible. Insipid. Bistros must serve good bread.

The busboy filled up my water glass. I always thank the busboys for filling water glasses and bread baskets because they are human beings just like myself and I am sure they are rarely appreciated. But my thank you was not acknowledged and the guy rushed off.

A different waiter served my lunch. He was Gallic and a bit more personable. The veggie burger was like every other veggie burger you have had anywhere. The pommes frites order was forgotten so I had to ask. They brought it after I finished the veggie burger. The pommes frites were too soft and greasy. The salt was acceptable, so I give it an average score. They seemed mass manufactured. They were not home made. Not bad and not good.

Vaguely unsatisfied and dispirited, I opted to try the chocolate mousse. This always lightens my mood. I wanted to give the restaurant a last chance for redemption.

But no one came to clear my lunch plates. I put them at the end of the table and still no one came to clear my lumch plates. My mousee arrive from the busboy and I asked someone to clear my lunch plates. Finally, someone came by with an “Are you done?” and cleared my lunch plates.

The mousse was like every other chocolate mousse you have had anywhere. But it was not too sweet, and it had faint notes of flowers.

In Sum

In Demarchelier we have a gorgeous bistro. It is very close to the Archetype and is a pleasant, positive and lovely space to have a meal. It invites reading, reflection and conversation. It is civilized and sophisticated in an Upper East Side sort of way. But the food, at lunch time, was average. The staff was below average. I do not think it is wise to use busboys as waiters nor is it wise to send them out to the floor untrained. Learning to give a smile or a thank you (or even a dip of the head), serving all of the order at once, clearing the table promptly and spending an extra 30 seconds with the customers are simple skills that would go a long way.

I will return to Demarchelier and give them another chance. I would like to try their dinner menu. I encourage you to give them a chance as well. There is something of quality here; you may just have to be lucky enough to experience it.

My Articles

Resources

Eric Demarchelier

http://www.ericdemarchelierart.com/

The Neue Galerie

http://www.neuegalerie.org/content/munch-and-expressionism-0

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Divine Pleasures from India)

http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2016/divine-pleasures

French Roast Coffee Shop

French Roast Coffee Shop

78 West 11th Street, New York, New York

212-533-2233

http://frenchroastny.com/downtown/home.aspx

Before we moved to New York, we stayed in our friend’s apartment on 7th Avenue and 13th Street. The French Open was on and we got in the habit of going to French Roast late at night for chocolate mousse, espresso and tennis. We sat at the bar and enjoyed talking with the staff and the locals. It had an authentic neighborhood bistro vibe that we really liked. It could be our local hangout if we lived in the area. We had a taste of what life could be like as real New Yorkers.

Two years later we moved to Tribeca and we love living in New York. I happened to be in the neighborhood and stopped at French Roast for lunch.

I was given a friendly greeting by the hostess and a window table. French Roast is an archtypal bistro in many ways. It has simple wood tables and chairs. It has historic French posters on the walls. Metal signs like Potasse d’Alsace Crane, Maison du Cafe Depot, Dubo Dubon Dubonnet.

I was intrigued by the Dubo Dubon Dubonnet sign.  Dubonnet is a  sweet, aromatised wine–based aperitif. It is a blend of fortified wine, herbs, and spices. It contains a small amount of quinine.  It is produced in France by Pernod Ricard. Dubonnet was first sold in 1846 by Joseph Dubonnet, in response to a competition run by the French Government to find a way of persuading French Foreign Legionnaires in North Africa to drink quinine. Quinine combats malaria but is very bitter. Dubonnet is also widely known by the advertisement slogan of the French graphic designer Cassandre.  “Dubo, Dubon, Dubonnet” is a play on words that means: ”It’s nice; it’s good; it’s Dubonnet”). Apparently, it is the favorite drink of the Queen Mother of England. The Dubonnet posters were among the earliest designed specifically to be seen from fast-moving cars, and they introduced the idea of the serial poster-a group of posters to be seen in rapid succession to convey a complete idea.

Menu specials are written on an antique mirror mounted on one of the walls. There is a red banquette along one of the walls and an inviting bar on the other. Locals chat and read the paper over a cup of coffee or a small glass of red wine.They sit on Thonet bar stools.The floors are black and white tile and  the ceiling is tin.  The music reminds me of  the Ricky Ricardo Orchestra from I Love Lucy. In fact, I sense echoes of the Tropicana Club at the French Roast.

French Coffee is a 24 hour cafe which is unusual. It  would be interesting to see how the customers change during a 24 hour period.

French Coffee is owned by the Tour de France restaurant group. They also own L’Express, Cafe Dalsace, Le Monde, Marseille, and Nice Matin. There is another French Coffee located on Broadway and 85th Street.

The waiters wear black and white and are friendly and open. One noticed I was writing (actually this review) and showed me a website that had the history of the building where French Coffee is located.

French Roast has an extensive menu. For lunch there are many breakfast offerings as well as sandwhiches and burgers. There are some bistro standards such as Moules Frites Provencal, Steak Frites and Steak Au Poivre, and Herb Roasted Chicken. They have many side vegetables and you can get a cheese selection for desert.

Apparently it does a huge breakfast and brunch business. I was there in the middle of the afternoon for lunch.

I ordered the tuna sandwich (cooked medium) and French fries. The tuna was cold and cooked rare and the french fries were very greasy and stringy. They were not edible, so I did not. There was a lady sitting next to me on the end of the banquette. She was of the sort that you would expect to complain frequently, loudly and with great particularity. She sent her bacon back because it was too greasy. Indeed it was. It was a mound of soggy greasy bacon fat.

What to make of this? A woman reads a book and sips her coffee and stares reflectively out of the window at the people walking down 6th Avenue. A panhandler shuffles down the sidewalk  mute cup hand outstretched.

I feel like a jilted lover. Betrayed. My fond memories broken. Perhaps the manager was in the Hamptons for the weekend. Or the chef was a trainee. Or it was only lunch. Or.

Here we have a very charming bistro. Quintessence. And memory. Can the bistro experience be more important than the food?

Does the atmosphere and memory make up the difference? How hard can it be, especially when you are only serving standards. Restaurants must be consistent. The quality of the food must be appropriate to the price.  Prices at French Coffee are below most of New York bistros. But even at this price point, the quality of the food was below where it should be.

I will go back to French Coffee. It has given me enough quality experiences, and fond memories and well-prepared food that I will not let one bad experience end our relationship. So I will recommend that you try French Coffee. But just not for lunch!

Ratings:

Service: 7 (Prompt, efficient and friendly)

Atmosphere: 9 (Very close to bistro archetype; you feel good to be here. Low noise, not crowded)

Food: 3 (Barely edible if you are starved. They are capable of cooking to a 6-7 level.)

Energy: 8 (I Love Lucy and French Coffee. A great place to catch upon your Henry Miller and Anais Nin)

Resources

Reviews

http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/french-roast02/

A.M. Casssandre

http://www.stedelijk.nl/en/artwork/8856-dubo-dubon-dubonnet

http://collections.lacma.org/node/205480

Le Parisien Bistrot

Le Parisien Bistrot

163 East 33rd St

New York, NY 10016-4644

(212) 889-5489

http://www.leparisiennyc.com/

One thought can produce millions of vibrations

and they all go back to God … everything does.

Thank you God.

Have no fear … believe … thank you God.

The universe has many wonders. God is all. His way … it is so wonderful.

Thoughts – deeds – vibrations, etc.

They all go back to God and He cleanses all.

He is gracious and merciful…thank you God.

Glory to God … God is so alive.

God is.

God loves.

John Coltrane, A Love Supreme

My love of John Coltrane’s music has been lifelong. I first heard The Gentle Side of John Coltrane in Encinitas, California. We listened to it over and over again all night long as the waves foamed and crashed on the cliffs at Moonlight Beach and we entered the dream and did not come out again until the sun rose and the beach sand glittered and the heat came and we were not the same for days afterward. It was only later that I discovered the spiritual side of life and sacred music and understood that it can help us experience unity with the divine that I found A Love Supreme.

Ravi Coltrane is the son of John and Alice Coltrane. In 1970 Alice Coltrane met Sri Swami Satchidananda who became her guru. Swamiji established the Integral Yoga Institute in New York. If you go to Alice Coltrane’s website you can see a beautiful picture of her with Swami Satchidananda. Her fourth solo album is called Journey Into Satchidananda and was inspired by her relationship with Swamiji.

The Integral Yoga Institute of New York is still thriving and is located on West 13th Street. I practice yoga there and also sit on the Board of Directors of the Integral Yoga Institute in San Francisco. Synchronicity is everywhere.

When I discovered that Ravi Coltrane was playing at The Jazz Standard, I reserved a ticket for late show. Le Parisien Bistrot is in the same neighborhood and I had dinner before the show.

According to its website:

Le Parisien is the go-to neighborhood bistrot for Murray Hill, offering classic French food like steak frites, escargots and moules marinieres, paired with a well-edited list of french wines. Chef Johnathan Masse brings his expert knowledge of comfort food, having most recently served as sous chef at the Waverly Inn, and also for Chef Jonathan Waxman of Barbuto. Along with owner Christian Merand, formerly of Jean-Claude in Soho, they have created a restaurant that focuses on serving consistently great traditional food with a lively and unmistakably French atmosphere.

Le Parisien Bistrot is small and comfortable. It is a single room. There is a large chalkboard with the wines of the day and a hostess area with shelves of wine bottles and an espresso machine. There is no bar where you can have a glass of wine. A collection of old French posters cover the walls. Air France, Presse, Suze Bitters and Martini. Most are unframed and tacked to the walls.  Beneath the posters written in white chalk is: “Liberte, Egalite, Bien Manger!” (Liberty, Equality and Eat Well!)

There is a large American flag draped over the mirror in the back of the room and you can see into the kitchen past the mirror.

As I entered, I was immediately greeted by the hostess who smiled and said: “And you must be Gary!” She is both the hostess and the waitress and she directs the flow of the diners, the staff and the kitchen with effortless French grace and charm.

The chairs and tables are made of old wood. Brown butcher block paper covers the tables. The chairs are Thonet inspired. On the tables are knife and fork, a candle, glasses, a paper napkin with a single red rose.

The dinner menu is limited but is full of bistro classics. The appetizers are such offerings as Roasted Beet Salad (with goat cheese and apple walnut vinaigrette), French Onion Soup, Escargots (with herbs and garlic butter), Endive Salad (with roasted pears, roquefort cheese, walnuts and port vinaigrette) and Duck County Pate.

Le Parisien offers PEI (Prince Edward Island) mussels and pommes frites made in four different ways: Marinieres (with garlic and white wine), Thai (with coconut milk, lemon grass and kaffir lime leaf), Parisienne (with saffron and mustard cream) and Espagnole (with chorizo and tomato confit). Large black pots of steaming, aromatic mussels were brought to several tables of diners to much excitement and delight.

The mains are Pan Roasted Pork Piccata (with garlic spinach and lemon rosemary sauce), Grilled Atlantic Salmon (with fresh herb quinoa and cucumber mint dressing), Sauteed Calf’s Liver (with caramelized onions and sherry thyme jus), Bistrot Steak Frites (with red wine thyme sauce and glazzed shallots), Duck Confit (with crispy potatoes, wild mushrooms and frisee salad) and Le Parisien Steak Tartare.

The wine menu is limited but well chosen. I had two glasses of

Bordeaux, Chateau Le Bergey 2013.  There were notes of black cherry and cassis and dry minerals. It was good for only $10 per glass. The most expensive bottle of red was the Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Guigal, 2009 at $81. The whites featured a Chablis, a Bordeaux Blanc, a Pouilly Fuisse and a Vouvray. The Chassagne-Montrachet 2012 was tempting at $61.

The bread comes from the Grandaisy which is located in Tribeca.

The bread tasted faintly of nuts, had good chewy texture but overall was without distinction. The hostess did not know the source of the bread.  It was somewhat enjoyable but still nothing very exciting. It is better than Amy’s Bread which I find in many bistros in New York.

My starter was the soup du jour-potato soup with garlic and chive oil. It came in a large bowl, very hot and paste-white with foam at the edges of the bowl. The chive oil made little globules of green islands in the paste white background of the potato soup. The oil brought intense flavors of onions and herbs. The garlic in the soup combined with the chive oil made a deep and rich and lovely combination of color and flavor. This is not your bland potato soup that plagues so many restaurants.

My main was char on a bed of Brussel sprouts and parsley root puree. The fish was lightly breaded. It was not greasy or heavy nor did it obscure the flavor of the fish. The fish was placed on top of the Brussel sprouts which placed on top of the puree. Around the perimeter of the plate was a circle of purple balsamic vinegar and the nuts.

Here we have the dreaded food tower. Food towers are a pointless exercise; a culinary throwback. The aesthetics are dubious, the diner must deconstruct the tower to get at the food, and the colors and flavors of the ingredients end up in demolition zone. It would be better if the three components of the dish had been tastefully arranged on the plate, so their flavors could be experienced individually, rather than as a mash-up. Even so, it was a high quality and enjoyable main.

I had the creme brulee for dessert. It was the standard version of the dish. The creme did not have any flavorings such as citrus, liquors, or lavender. The caramelized sugar did not have any liquors added.

It was like every other creme brulee  I have ever had. They all creme seem to fall within a narrow range of quality. Perhaps all the creme brulee’s in the world are made in a single factory and restaurants buy them from a single source?

What is the history of the creme brulee? There is a dispute between the French and the British as to who invented the dish. The British say that the dish was created at Trinity College in Cambridge. Apparently, the crest of the school was burnt into the sugar on top of the custard. It was known as “Trinity Burnt Cream.” The French, on the other hand, point to the year 1691 which is the first record of the dish. However, Trinity College was established in 1546 so the British may have a more credible claim.

Ratings:

Service: 8.  Casual, friendly and efficient.

Archetype: 7. A mom and pop bistro squarely in the tradition. Middle class French living room decor.

Food: 7 Good overall with a few misses.

Energy: 7. It is small and crowded. The noise level was not bad. Charming and eclectic.

Resources

Ravi Coltrane

http://www.ravicoltrane.com/

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/06/arts/music/ravi-coltrane-and-company-perform-at-jazz-standard.html?_r=0

John Coltrane

http://genius.com/albums/John-coltrane/A-love-supreme

Alice Coltrane

http://www.alicecoltrane.org/divinity.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/15/arts/music/15colt.html

The Jazz Standard

http://www.jazzstandard.com/

Integral Yoga Institute

https://iyiny.org/

Bread

http://www.grandaisybakery.com/

Infused Oils

http://www.nytimes.com/1989/08/16/garden/new-tool-for-chefs-oils-with-extras.html?pagewanted=all

Food Towers

http://www.fastcodesign.com/3033912/food-week/the-rise-and-fall-of-the-american-food-tower

Creme Brulee

http://gourmet.lovetoknow.com/Creme_Brulee_History

http://www.essentialingredient.com.au/featured/the-history-of-creme-brulee/

Lafayette Grand Cafe and Bakery

Lafayette Grand Cafe and Bakery

380 Lafayette Street (at Great Jones Street)

New York, NY 10003

(212) 533 3000

http://lafayetteny.com/

The Design

Lafayette Grand Cafe and Bakery is located at the corner of Lafayette Street and Great Jones Street in Soho. The cafe is located in a landmark building that was designed by William Hardenbergh who was the architect of such famous buildings as the Plaza Hotel, the Dakota and the Waldorf Astoria.

The Lafayette Cafe was designed by Roman and Williams. Roman and Williams is a prestigious design firm that has won recognition for its work on hotels, restaurants, and retail spaces.  They designed The Dutch, the Standard Grill, and The Ace Hotel New York.

According to its Website, the firm strives “to create projects which consistently find the tension between spontaneity and rigor, refinement and rebellion, and past and future.”

The central idea behind the design of the cafe is that  it would be urbane and earthy, romantic and comfortable, and serve food from early in the morning until late at night.

This is a beautiful restaurant. You are struck by the design of the restaurant when you enter. It feels natural and organic in the sense that it evolved in an authentic way. It does not feel as if it is a simulacra of a French bistro.

The feel of the Lafayette is light, open and airy. It is a large cafe but here are many different dining spaces that are defined by changes in elevation, lights, or seating arrangements. Large tile columns also help organize the different sections of the restaurant. This makes the cafe feel smaller and more intimate. The noise level is low because of the high ceilings, large space and low density of diners.

The cafe has dark blue banquettes (rather than the traditional red banquettes). There are Thonet chairs at the tables.  This ties the cafe into the bistro tradition.

The cafe has large arched windows that are outlined with small lights and have open sight lines to Lafayette and Great Jones streets. The lighting design is sophisticated with globe lights and art deco sconces. There are fresh flowers to suggest that the produce is bought fresh from local markets brought to the cafe.

The bar is made of zinc in the great bistro tradition. Behind the bar is amber glass that produces a soft light glow that illuminate the bottles of liquors. Above the bar is a replica of the famous clock in the Musee D’Orsay.

Next to the bar is a rotisserie and meat counter. The rotisserie is electric blue with brass detailing under a large zinc hood.

According to Roman and Williams: “the restaurant itself is both cinematic and down to earth.”

The Bakery

The Lafayette Cafe has an in-house bakery. This  is rare among New York bistros; most source their bread from one or two popular bakeries in Manhattan.  You enter from the street in to the bakery. The bakery has a white marble island, marble counters and classic glass and zinc shelving. The color palette is blue and white and custom-patterned tiles define the space. There is a charming chalk board over the bakery with the daily bread specials. The bakery has a beautiful and tempting selection of fresh breads, macaroons, and petits gateaux. Seating on classic Thonet bar stools is available in the bakery for those who want a quick coffee and a pastry.

The Chef-Andrew Carmellini

Lafayette Cafe is a member of the NoHo Hospitality group. Its restaurants include Locanda Verde, The Dutch, The Library at The Public, Bar Primi and Little Park.

Andrew Carmellini is the head chef at Lafayette. He is a successful New York chef and is also the head chef at the Dutch and Locanda Verde. He is a very successful chef in New York and was trained by working at Cafe Boulud, Le Cirque and Lespinasse. He has also written two cookbooks. In a comprehensive article on his career, the New York Times summarized his approach to cooking:

As research for Lafayette, he spent months in France, cooking and eating in villages like Saint-Paul-de-Vence. An entire day last fall turned into a quest to sample nearly every good croissant in New York. He approaches the realm of deliciousness with the methodical patience of an archaeologist.

More information on Mr. Carmellini is in the Resources section.

The Staff

The staff wear traditional bistro uniforms. White shirts, black pants or skirts, aprons and suspenders. The hostess was friendly and we were promptly seated at a good table. She was also happy to answer my questions about the cafe. Our service was professional and personal with a good sense of timing.

The Food

Our group shared appetizers and entrees.

The bread was some of the best that I have had at any bistro in New York. The crust was dark and flavorful, and tasted and felt “baked” rather than manufactured. The crumb was chewy and had notes of hazelnut and honey. Considering the importance of quality bread in French dining culture, I have no idea why many bistros in New York serve insipid bland Wonder bread.

Charge me more, spend the time to  find a good source but don’t serve me dead bread. Cafe Lafayette gets it right.

Our appetizers were the Brussels sprouts (bacon and pickled mustard seeds) and the pommes frites.

The pommes frites were light and crispy with very little grease. The salting was correct. They could have been hotter.

The Brussels sprouts were dull and stale and also could have been hotter.

Our first entree was the wood-grilled local trout (with lentils and Vadouvan curry.)

Vadouvan curry is an Indian curry that originated in the Pondicherry region of India. Pondicherry was settled by the French East India Company in 1674. You can still see the French influence in Pondicherry today. The streets signs are in French and it is possible to get a good cup of French chicory coffee! Vadouvan curry made by blending curry with such spices as onion, garlic, cumin seeds and mustard seeds.

The dish was excellent. The trout had a smokey flavor and was very fresh, as if it had just been caught in a clear mountain stream and cooked over a campfire. The vegetables were crisp, firm and had clarity of taste.

Our second entree was the rotisserie chicken (with country potatoes and sherry vinegar). It was competent but not inspirational.

The desert was the vacherin tropique (with

coconut sorbet, passion fruit and pralines roses).

A Vacherin is a meringue-based cake filled with ice cream or sorbet and covered with Chantilly cream. Most Vacherin recipes use strawberries, raspberries.

This Vacherin was brilliant. It was innovative with its use of tropical sorbets and rose, it was beautiful on the plate, and the taste sensations were deep and complex, yet light and airy at the same time. It wins the award for Best Dessert in all of the bistros I have eaten in to date!

Wine List

The Lafayette Cafe has a much larger wine list than most bistros. It also has a much larger selection of champagne and whites than is typical.

It covers most of the main wine producing regions in France: Alsace, Loire, Bordeaux, Provence, Bourgogne, Rhone, Languedoc-Roussilon and Beaujolais.

We had two wines: the Gamay Bonnet Rouge Beaujolais (2013) and the Syrah Domaine Pierre Gaillard Saint-Joseph (2013). Our waitress gave us the opportunity to taste the wines before she poured the glasses. This is a nice touch and I rarely see it.

The Gamay had a ruby color. It tasted of strawberries and dark cherry. The minerals were limestone and there were notes of cinnamon and other spices. It had acidity and was young and lively. It was a very good glass of $13 wine

The Syrah suggested violets, red fruits, berries and spice. It had good tannin structure. The minerals were stones and earth. At $16 it was also an enjoyable wine.

Ratings

Staff: 7 (Efficient and busy)

Archetype: 6 (Very well designed but too upscale and large to meet the Archetype. Bakeries and meat counters are not in traditional bistros)

Food: 7 (Hits and misses but good overall. Good bread.)

Energy: 8 (A very large restaurant; beautiful, spacious and airy. No problems with noise)

Resources

The Lafayette Cafe

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/06/24/lafayette

http://gotham-magazine.com/lafayette-redefines-the-brasserie

http://www.grubstreet.com/2013/05/platt-on-lafayette.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/26/dining/reviews/restaurant-review-lafayette-in-noho.html

Andrew Carmellini

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/13/dining/andrew-carmellinis-food-does-the-talking.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1

http://www.interviewmagazine.com/culture/chef-andrew-carmellini-lafayette-restaurant#_

http://www.amazon.com/American-Flavor-Andrew-Carmellini/dp/0061963291/

http://www.amazon.com/Urban-Italian-Simple-Recipes-Stories/dp/159691470X/

Vadouvan Curry

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vadouvan

Roman and Williams

http://www.romanandwilliams.com

http://www.romanandwilliams.com/projects-restaurants#/lafayette/

Musee de Orsay Clock

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mus%C3%A9e_d%27Orsay

Cafe Luxembourg

Earnest, earthless, equal, attuneable

vaulty, voluminous stupendous.

Evening strains to be time’s vast womb of all,

home of all, hearse of all night.

Her fond yellow hornlight wound to the west

her wild hollow hoarlight hung to the height.

Waste; her earliest stars, earl stars, stars principal, overbend us,

Fine featuring heaven.

Sibyl’s Leaves, Herald Manley Hopkins

Babbitt: Two Sonnets

Photography in our time leaves us with a grave responsibility. While we are playing in our studios with broken flowerpots, oranges, nude studies and still lifes, one day we know that we will be brought to account: life is passing before our eyes without our ever having seen a thing.

Brassai

Cafe Luxembourg

200 West 70th St. (between Amsterdam and West End)

New York, New York 10023

(212) 873-7411

http://cafeluxembourg.com/

Milton Babbitt

Milton Babbitt joined the Juilliard School faculty in 1973. He died in 2011. He was a member of both the mathematics and music faculties at Princeton. Some of his famous students are the composer Stephen Sondheim and the jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan. Later in his career he became interested in electronic music, and wrote compositions for both both electronic and conventional music.

Juilliard presented its 32nd Focus Festival-Milton Babbitt’s World: A Centennial Celebration. I attended the program that included compositions by Babbitt, Irving Berlin, Stephen Sondheim and Elliott Carter. Babbitt composed a series of sonnets that were based on poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

It is two blocks to Cafe Luxembourg from the subway stop at 72nd street and Broadway. I walked carefully in the dark to avoid the pools of brown water and slush at the base of the crosswalks. The snow was piled in drifts along the sidewalks. The rush hour crowd navigated around the snowdrifts and spilled into the streets and weaved through stream of yellow cabs driving down the street. The traditional red awning- “Cafe Restaurant Bar”- reflected red shimmers on the snow banks along 70th street. Twinkle lights on the trees. It is an easy walk from Cafe Luxembourg to Juilliard and Lincoln Center. This is a great place to have dinner before you attend your performance at Lincoln Center.

A Brief History

In 1983 Cafe Luxembourg opened its doors “to become the quintessential neighborhood bistro of the Upper West Side.”

Cafe Luxembourg was opened by Keith and Lynn Wagenknecht McNally who were the original owners of Odeon. They opened Odeon in 1980 and it quickly became a smashing success in the downtown scene. In 1983, they decided to expand and opened Cafe Luxembourg,  and Nell’s (West Village). In 1989 they opened Lucky Strike (Soho). Their vision was that Cafe Luxembourg would “become the quintessential neighborhood bistro of the Upper West Side.”

However, the couple divorced and Lynn bought our Keith’s stake in the Odeon, Cafe Luxembourg and Nell’s. Keith went on to open Balthazar, Cherche Midi, Lucky Strike, Morandi, Minetta Tavern Restaurant, and Schiller’s Liquor Bar among others. Cafe Luxembourg’s sister restaurants are Cafe Cluny in the West Village and Odeon in Tribeca.

The Experience

I was greeted warmly and graciously by the host and given my choice of seats in the restaurant. I chose a table with a view of the street. I watched people walking carefully through snow and ice.

The bistro has red benches and Parisian cane chairs.  It has Jean Perzel fixtures and antique mirrors on the walls. There are vases of flowers in the corners of the restaurant. There are candles on the white table cloths. It seats about 90 people and is smaller than Odeon.

Sinatra was playing just above the hearing threshold. The patrons were older and quieter and more reserved than the crowd at Odeon. They are the sort of people were the men wear suits to dinner and the women wear fancy hats. They have always gone to Lincoln Center and have never heard of Area. The pace was relaxed and unhurried. In the true bistro tradition, I could read the New York Times and write without feeling out of place or rushed.

The staff were professional and courteous. They wore traditional black and white uniforms with long white bistro aprons. They were human. I like this. When I inquired about the wine, the waiter brought me a tasting, and the hostess served my bisque and stopped by later to inquire how I liked it.

The wine list is small but well chosen. They have red wines from Bourgogne Burgundy, and a Côtes du Rhône. Whites include wines from Austria, France, California and Germany. The Sancerre Paul Vattan, Domaine de St. Romble, Loire, France 2013 was intriguing.

I chose the Chateau Poitevin, Médoc, 2010. The wine was round and polished with a ripe blackberry flavor and plum with hint of mint and wood. It had a dense color and firm tannins. Robert Parker said that the 2010 from Poitevin “is a straightforward, easygoing wine that displays good fruit, some herbaceousness, and hints of tobacco smoke and roasted herbs.” For my second glass, I tried the Château de Landiras Graves, Bordeaux, France 2011. I tasted cherry and earth. It was balanced and had good structure. Both wines were very enjoyable.

The waiter said they sourced their bread from Amy’s Bread. Amy’s Bread has been baking since 1992.  They aren nationally known, and Amy has been recognized as one of the 10 Best Bread Bakers in America by Dessert Professional Magazine. However, as I have said in other reviews, the bread is almost tasteless, the crust is soft and the crumb lacks structure. Professor Kaplan was not impressed by Amy’s Bread either so I am in good company.

My starter was the lobster bisque. The bisque was a dark orange brown with mustard creme and green chive oil. The creme was so light that it made small bubbles on my spoon. The combination of the mustard, chive and lobster was complex but each flavor was distinct and supported the others. This is one of the best lobster bisques that I have had in a long time.

What is a bisque? The name comes from Biscay, but the crustaceans are “bis cuits” (twice cooked). They are first sautéed lightly in their shells, and then simmered in wine and aromatic ingredients. Last, they are strained and cream is added.

It is a way of extracting flavor from crustaceans not good enough to send to market. It is usually made from lobster, crab, shrimp or crawfish. In an authentic bisque, the shells are ground to a fine paste and added to thicken the soup. Julia Child says: “Do not wash anything off until the soup is done because you will be using the same utensils repeatedly and you don’t want any marvelous tidbits of flavor losing themselves down the drain.”

Unlike stews and chowders, a bisque’s flavor comes from the shells of the crustacean, not the meat. A classic lobster bisque recipe requires you to first sauté and then simmer the shells to extract every morsel of flavor (i.e., twice cooked).

My entree was the grilled mackerel (with beet apple salad râpée, potatoes, horseradish, and caper cream).

The mackerel was lightly grilled and the skin was seared black and crispy. It was served on top of potatoes and the caper cream. The beet apple salad was on top of the fish. The deep red of the beets complimented the black of the skin. It is an attractive dish. Its many textures and flavors that worked well together.

Other interesting entrees included roasted faroe island salmon (with Fregola [a type of pasta from Sardinia], cilantro, butternut squash, green olives, paprika vinaigrette, preserved lemons and mustard greens pistou) and a heirloom bean stew. Standards such as roasted chicken, steak tartare, steak frites and moules frites are on the menu.

The menu has a long list of gluten-free dinner options. These options include roasted winter vegetables, grilled octopus, three egg omelette, pork lion, and all natural steak. I have not seen this in a bistro before. The waiter also asked if I wanted bread on the table and if I had any allergies. The restaurant is taking care to recognize the many personal preferences that diners have these days.

Jean Perzel

The menu mentions that the restaurant has Jean Perzel fixtures. Its sister restaurants, Odeon and Cafe Cluny, seem to have the same lighting.

Jean Perzel was born in Bruck, Germany, in1892. When he was 16, he learned the glassworker’s painting job in Munich. In 1910 he arrived in Paris and a master glazier sent him to execute important works in Algiers. He returned to Paris in 1914. During the war,  he made a commitment to the Foreign Legion. He became a naturalized French citizen.

From 1920 to 1939, Art Deco revolutionized 20th century architecture and design. This period gave birth to the Jean Perzel Company, which made its mark in the world of lighting and design.

Jean Perzel’s light fixtures and furniture in both glass and bronze and are installed in some of the world’s most prestigious addresses. He has created lighting designs for the King of Morocco, Bangkok’s King of Siam in Bangkok, the Maharaja of Indore, General De Gaulle and Georges Pompidou. He has created lighting for the Palace of the League of Nations in Geneva, the Luxembourg Cathedral, and the Canadian Embassy.

Jean Perzel  has been recognized by the French government for its history and traditional techniques. In 2008, the French ministry of culture awarded Jean Perzel with the label of “Company of Living Heritage”.

Brassai-Three Naked Ladies

You may be wondering why Cafe Luxembourg uses an image of three naked ladies in high heels standing at the bar as its brand? You can see this image on its website, on its postcards and on its branded merchandise.

This image was inspired by the cover of Brassai’s “The Secret Paris of the 30’s”. Brassai was as street photographer in Paris. In the early 1930s he decided to photograph Paris at night. He photographed the streets, the cafes, the river, the night life. There are images of dance cafes, prostitutes, pimps, madams, transvestites, passionate couples and street cleaners. His book became one of the most famous photography books of all time.

Ratings

Service

Atmosphere

Food

Archetype

Resources

Reviews of Cafe Luxembourg

http://cafeluxembourg.com/

http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/cafe-luxembourg/

http://nyjournal.squarespace.com/journal/2011/6/21/cafe-luxembourg.html

http://nypost.com/2014/10/01/keith-mcnallys-28-year-old-daughter-sophie-joins-the-family-restaurant-business/

http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/people/features/2417/

Amy’s Bread

http://www.amysbread.com/

Jean Perzel

http://www.perzel.fr/en/

Milton Babbitt

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milton_Babbitt

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milton_Babbitt

Brassai

http://www.atgetphotography.com/The-Photographers/BRASSAI.html

Cafe Cluny

Cafe Cluny

284 West 12th Street

New York, NY 10014

https://www.cafecluny.com

Phone: (212) 255-6900

Email: info@cafecluny.com

O God, by whose grace thy servants the Holy Abbots of Cluny, Enkindled with the fire of thy love, became burning and shining lights in thy Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and may ever walk before thee as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, liveth and reigneth, one God, now and for ever.

Prayer of the Abbots of Cluny, Year 909

Whence comes the name Cafe Cluny?

In 909 a monastery was founded in Cluny, France by an Abbot Berno. The monastery was an order of Benedictine monks and followed the Benedictine Rule but with extreme strictness. The Benedictine Rule is  silence, simplicity of diet, and strict observance of chastity. During the first 250 years of its existence, the monastery was governed by a series of remarkable abbots who left their mark upon the history of Western Europe.  The ninth abbot, Peter the Venerable, ruled from 1122 to 1156. During his reign, Cluny reached the zenith of its influence and prosperity.  It was second only to Rome as a centre of the Christian world and four of its members ultimately became popes. After the twelfth century the power and influence of Cluny began to decline

The church of Cluny was the largest church in Christendom until the building of St. Peter’s at Rome. It was regarded as one of the wonders of the Middle Ages.

The Cluny library was one of the richest and most important in France for many centuries and the storehouse of a vast number of valuable manuscripts The “Hotel de Cluny” in Paris, dating from 1334, was formerly the town house of the abbots. It is built on the remnants of the third century Gallo-Roman baths. In 1833 it was made into a public museum, but apart from the name, it has little to do with the Cluny Abbey.

The “Musee De Cluny” houses a variety of medieval artifacts and its tapestry collection is especially important. The Lady and the Unicorn is a famous tapestry housed in the museum. The structure is perhaps the most outstanding example of architecture in medieval Paris.

Cafe Cluny

Cafe Cluny is at the corner of West 12th Street and West 4th Street in the West Village. The sun began to set as we arrived and the long lines of light shining down the streets and the brownstones and the trees became bright and golden and the colors deepened and the shadows turned from indigo to black as the sun fell behind the buildings. An artist sitting in a folding chair on the corner drew pen and ink drawings and propped them against the wall across the street for sale and people examined the drawings and considered carefully as they stopped while walking their dogs. Couples walked down the street looking for their first bar for Saturday night.

Cafe Cluny is small and yellow and quiet from the street. Although its sister restaurants are Odeon and Cafe Luxembourg, it does not share their same red awnings so we almost missed the restaurant.

We were greeted quickly, personally and professionally by the hostess. She immediately acknowledged our reservations and showed us to an excellent table in the front room overlooking the street. Behind the table was a wall of plaster of Paris castings of white birds. In the middle of our dinner, a young girl came up and asked to take pictures of the birds because she likes doves. We discussed whether they were doves or pigeons, but finally agreed that they were doves to make her happy. There is a second dining room in the back of the restaurant.

There are flowers on the bar and candles on the tables. On the walls are  pencil drawings of portraits, and prints of ferns and plants and fish and butterflies. The color palate of the restaurant is golden blonde.  The chairs are Parisian rattan and there is a chalkboard featuring the drink menu over the bar. Otherwise there are few elements of the bistro Archetype. The chef is Philip Kirschen-Clark who used to cook at Vandaag in the East Village.

Music was trip hop played very low. I heard Shikasta by Afterlife as we sat down.  I have never heard trip hop played in a bistro before, and it is a curious choice for a bistro. As a lover of electronic music, I  enjoyed it. The overall noise level was low.

The waitress came promptly. She was professional, efficient and knew the menu. When we inquired about the wines by the glass, she asked us if we wanted to sample them before we chose. This is a personal touch that we appreciated.

All of the waitresses and busboys wore shirts with blue striped breton shirts. The breton shirt was created in 1858 by an Act of France that introduced the navy and white striped knitted shirt as the uniform for all French navy seaman in Brittany. The original design featured 21 stripes. Each strip represented one of Napoleon’s victories.  Coco Chanel introduced the design to the fashion world through her nautical collection in 1917. The shirt was made popular by Marilyn Monroe, Pablo Picasso, Brigitte Bardot, Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Audrey Hepburn, and James Dean. The design is synonymous with chic Parisian style. The Breton top was first worn in Hollywood in The Wild One which starred Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin.The shirts were cool but sometimes we felt we were in France; other times we felt we were in Venice waiting for our gondolier.

We had the $35 prix fixe menu. My wife opted for a side of Brussel sprouts rather than a desert. Cafe Cluny was happy to make the substitution. I chose the Black Forest Chocolate Torte.

For our starters we had the winter citrus salad (with Belgian endive, toasted pine nuts, shaved fennel & artichoke) and  the seared  Bay scallops (with Kabocha squash puree, wild arugula, and blood orange puffed rice).

Kaboucha squash is an Asian variety of winter squash. It is sometimes known as Japanese pumpkin. A blood orange is a variety of orange which has a crimson flesh and a unique raspberry flavor. Blood oranges originated in either China or the Mediterranean, where they have been grown since the 18th century. They are now the primary orange grown in Italy.

The squash puree was too heavy and dense and it overpowered the delicacy of the scallops. The scallops were modest and had little flavor. The arugula was fresh and crisp. This dish would have been unremarkable except the blood orange puffed rice added a note of texture, flavor and creativity. It transformed a rather plain dish into an extraordinary one.

The winter citrus salad was crisp, tart and well-prepared. The toasted pine nuts elevated the dish to a hight not normally seen in a citrus salad. It was attractive on the plate with pastel colors of orange, lime-green and purple.

Our mains were the Hamphire Pork Loin (with sautéed asparagus, baby turnips, dull, honey mustard jus) and the Cod L’Orange (with radicchio, sunchoke Puree, L’Orange jus, and Szechuan pepper).

I paused before I ordered the Cod L’Orange because I was remembered Gordon Ramsay’s famous pronouncement on duck a l’orange. On his show Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares he said it is: ”The culinary equivalent of flared trousers.”

I took a chance; the cod was excellent. It was perfectly cooked, with good texture and flavor. I was impressed by the puree that accompanied the cod. It was putty colored and was made from sunflowers. The orange was a very light brushing on the surface of the fish. The color and spicy brashness of the radishes were a nice complement to the earthiness of the puree and the orange sweetness of the fish. The dish showed an artful sensitivity to color and arrangement of forms on the plate. This was true of everything that we ordered.

The pork was well-cooked and its flavor was supported  by the mustard a jus. The asparagus were crispy and intense in flavor. The elements were artfully arranged with the two bundles of asparagus dividing the three pieces of pork. The Brussels sprouts were illuminated by the lemon  and olive oil.

Black Forest Chocolate Torte

In a dinner with many peaks, the high point was the dessert. Cafe Cluny’s Black Forest Chocolate Torte is the most exciting dessert that I have had in reviewing over ten bistros. The chocolate is almost black, the cherries and the sauce are a deep red, almost purple-black in color, and they are offset by the whiteness of the vanilla ricotta. The romantic origins of German Black Forest cake suggest darkness, mystery and forest loneliness. Cafe Cluny created a desert with a perfect marriage of colors, flavors, texture and intensity.

The Cafe Cluny torte may produce the same transcendental experience of unity with the divine that the monks of Cluny spent years to achieve through their deep meditational practices.

Black Forest Cake is the English name for the German dessert Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. Black Forest Cake consists of several layers of chocolate sponge cake sandwiched with whipped cream and cherries. It is decorated with additional whipped cream, maraschino cherries, and chocolate shavings. Sometimes sour cherries are used both between the layers and for decorating the top. In the  German tradition, kirschwasser, which is a clear spirit made from sour cherries, is added to the cake. In Austria, they may use rum. However, German law requires that the cake must use kirschwasser for it to be labelled a Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte. Authentic cakes are decorated with black cherries.

The cake originated in the late 16th century in the Black Forest Region located in the state of Baden-Württemberg, Germany. This region is known for its sour cherries and Kirschwasser. The name, Schwarzwald, suggests darkness and mystery coming from the  romantic concept of Waldeinsamkeit or forest-loneliness. During this era, chocolate was first integrated into cakes and cookies. It was then combined with sour cherries.

Wine

The wine list is basic and limited. The whites included the standard riesling, pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc and chardonnay. The reds: a pinot noir, a cabernet sauvignon and a malbec. We were tempted by the Graves, Chateau de Landiras 2012, and the Echezeaux Grand Cru, Domaine J. Cacheux & Fils 2013.

We chose the Côtes du Rhône, Domaine Les Grands Bois, Rhone 2014. It was purple red and tasted of blackcurrants and cherries. The finish was licorice and pepper. It was round and with a long finish. It is a nice wine for $12.00 a glass. We did not know when we ordered this wine that it would be a perfect compliment to the Black Forest torte!

The Bread

For such an accomplished restaurant, we wonder why they failed at the bread. The bread was a stale dinner roll. It was mechanically made and tasteless. It failed by every measure of quality bread. How can the same restaurant who gave us the Black Forrest Torte and a very good dinner overall, serve such miserable bread? Better not to serve it at all. 

The Ending

At the end of our dinner at Cafe Cluny we were give two pieces of unsweetened chocolate which we enjoyed with our coffee the next morning. Sometimes it is the small things that make a restaurant excellent. An offer to taste the wines by the glass, a sensitivity to color and form and aesthetics on the plate, a table by the window, and ending with chocolate. Small things matter greatly in restaurants and Cafe Cluny did them well.

Ratings:

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

Archetype-3 (There are not trying to embody the Archetype; a subtle use of a few bistro influences. The Breton shirts were cool but not part of the Archetype.)

Food-8 (Well done with some innovations. Outstanding Black Forrest Cake. The bread was an embarrassing  failure.)

Energy-8 (A very pleasant West Village cafe with a neighborhood crowd. Atmosphere is golden, light and summery. The sort of place you feel good to be there. Low noise. Unusual but good music, not intrusive. )

Resources

Reviews on Cafe Cluny

http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/Cafe-Cluny/

http://www.cafecluny.com/

http://www.villagevoice.com/restaurants/caf-cluny-chooses-a-surprising-new-chef-6438137

http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/Cafe-Cluny/

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/13/dining/reviews/13rest.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

https://www.zagat.com/r/cafe-cluny-new-york

http://bitcheswhobrunch.com/cafe-cluny-brunch/

Cluny Monestery

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04073a.htm

http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bio/151.html

http://www.musee-moyenage.fr/

Breton Stripes

http://www.bretonshirt.co.uk/

http://wikifashion.com/wiki/Breton_stripes

Black Forest Cake

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Forest_gateau

http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/Cakes/BlackForestCake.htm

Lucien

I approached New York like a fake anthropologist-treating New Yorkers like Zulus.

William Klein

What is Art, monsieur, but Nature concentrated?

Honoré de Balzac

Lucien French Bistro

14 1st Avenue (At 1st Street)

New York, NY 10009

(212) 260-6481

http://www.luciennyc.com/

Lucien is a small and charming bistro in the East Village. It is located at First Avenue and 1st Street just off the corner of First Avenue and Houston. On the block are bars and barber shops, and small ethnic restaurants: Irish, Vietnamese, Tibetan and Italian. You can also worship Krishna, buy appliances, get a tattoo and get buried at the R. G. Oritz Funeral Home, Inc.

Lucian serves expensive and traditional bistro food. The space fits the block but the price point seems wildly out of place. Even though Lucien is expensive it does not deter the East Village locals who frequent this restaurant. Earlier this week, I had dinner at Cafe Luxembourg on the Upper West Side. I was headed to the Milton Babbitt Centennial at Juilliard. At Cafe Luxembourg the patrons are older. They wear blue blazers and suits. A quiet dinner after a long day at the corporation. Sophisticated, moneyed, intellectual and artistically fluent. At Cafe Luxembourg the conversation is quiet and reserved and Frank plays softly in the background.

Tonight I am going to the Stone to hear Craig Taborn and Val Jeanty on keyboards and electronics.

The Stone

The Stone is a non-profit performance space dedicated to the experimental and avant-garde. It was founded in 2005. The Stone is situated on the Northwest corner of Avenue C and 2nd Street, in a building which used to be the Golden Dragon Chinese restaurant. It can be very hard to find. The only sign is The Stone in small gold lettering painted on the door. The door is only visible when the security gate is rolled up a few hours before each performance.  The Stone does not provide any refreshments or sell any commercial products. All of the revenues go to the musicians. The space’s walls are white, and the floor is painted black. The audience sits on black folding chairs that match the floor. It is very minimal to create a focus on the music. John Zorn is the artistic director. Zorn  is a composer, producer and saxophonist with hundreds of album credits across a variety of genres such as jazz, rock, hardcore, classical, surf, metal, klezmer, soundtrack, and ambient music.

Lucian is a few blocks away from the Stone so I decided to give it a try.

The tables are very close together and you must hope that the conversations of your fellow diners are interesting. Fortunately, on my left, there was talk of art openings, writing projects and an interview at the Village Voice. Unfortunately, on my right, a woman talked endlessly about Facebook and children and office politics.

There were black clothes, black fingernails and tattoos. The table on my left went outside several times to smoke cigarettes. They drank lots of wine, intensely focused on their iPhones, and seemed indifferent to the food. Wait! A hipster with long black hair and black beard enters the bistro wearing an old black leather jacket with the American flag on the black. Earnest artistic types talk of their Work. Wait! A couple enters: she has stylish pink hair and a leopard coat. Her escort is wearing a black top hat and black cape. There is much hugging all around.

I watch the action and I feel like William Klein. Now, if I could only make images on his level!

Everyone seemed to know everyone else at Lucien. People play musical chairs at the tables and every new entrance brings more excitement, hugs and greetings. Everyone seemed to know the hostess who dispensed openness, warm and grace.

I am immediately greeted upon my arrival and escorted to my table next to the window. I am way too close to the other tables but that is the Lucien way. Menus, bread, butter and a bottle of water appear. I order a glass of Chateau La Couronne 2011. It was full bodied and notes of blackberry and herbs.

Atmosphere

You enter through heavy red drapes. There are old mirrors on the walls with faded gold lettering. “Specialities Provincales.” “Coquillages.” “Bouillabaisse.” “Tarte Tatin.” And on another mirror:  “Apertifs,” “Digestifs,” and “Cigars.” The walls are covered with black and white photographs of street scenes, art and people of note. The chairs are woven rattan bistro chairs.  There is a large vase of flowers on the bar which is in the middle of the restaurant.

On the wall across from the bar is a vintage poster by Gitanes. I know they are stylish and sexy and make me think of Goddard’s Breathless. But what does it mean?

“Gitane” means “gypsy girl” and is a brand of French cigarette.The first Gitane posters were designed in the 1940s and were based on art deco design of a gypsy dancer. All of the posters have stylized images of girls.

The space is long and narrow and the bar is in the middle. There is a second dining room past the bar.

The music was indy rock at a very low level. Noise was low. The tables are very close together so your experience may depend upon your neighbors and the overall busyness of the restaurant.

Staff and Service

The owners of the restaurant are Lucien and Phyllis Bahaj. I thought perhaps the name was a reference to Lucien Chardon from Balzac’s Lost Illusions.

The service is very informal and friendly. You are made to feel as if you are part of the family. The pacing was good, the waiters were conversational and professional. The hostess was particularly warm and I received a hug on the way out! Some may view this as too personal but it works at Lucien. Lucen is more than a neighborhood restaurant; it is a family restaurant in the true expression of the bistro Archetype.

Food

The bread was insipid. The crust had little texture, it was weak, it was soft. It had no taste. The crumb was white, tasteless and weak structure. I inquire and am advised that, once again, it is Amy’s bread. Why has Amy’s captured the New York bistro market? I recently had lunch at Maison Kayser next to Bryant Park. Here the bread was excellent. Why not source your bread from Maison  Kayser?

The menu is divided into “sea,” “land,” and “air.” This is unusual in the bistro world but I like it. Lucien has some of the highest bistro prices that I have seen. Chilean sea bass is $46, the bouillabaisse is $42, the free range chicken is $36 and the rack of lamb is $44. But the East Village scene does not blink. Nor do I!

Starters include a broad range of soups, salads and snails. The onion soup and the cauliflower soup were both $14, the asparagus salad was $16, and the Lucien salad was $22.

My starter was the cauliflower soup. It was topped with white truffle oil. It was light and flavorful; and the truffle oil transported the soup to sublime. It was an elegant and simple soup, but I wished it had more color. It would have been helped by a sprig of a fresh herb such as a rosemary.

My entree was the grilled salmon (with a Port wine and balsamic reduction over seasonal vegetables). The salmon was very lightly grilled and was pale pink in color; almost translucent. The port wine was a rich and sharp contrast to the delicate fish. Beneath the fish were several slices of carrots and squash. The orange, yellow and green of the vegetables made this an attractive dish. The vegetables were perfectly cooked: firm and crunchy.  They retained their flavor. How often have you had grilled salmon that you remember the next day or the next week? It is as memorable as a slice of Wonder bread. It has been a couple of weeks since my dinner at Lucien and I can still recall the textures, flavors and color of the dish. There is art in this dish! This is an exceedingly difficult thing with salmon but Lucien pulled it off.

The deserts were chocolate cake, creme brulee and a tarte tatin. I passed but vowed to sample the deserts when I return. I closed with an excellent espresso. It had that dusty, chocolate flavor without any bitterness. There was no need for sugar; excellent.

Ratings

Service: 8 (Informal and friendly and it works)

Archetype: 8 (High scores for owners, bar, warmth, decor and food)

Food: 9 (Excellent all the way around but unusually expensive given the neighborhood)

Energy: 7 (Small space, energetic, go early to avoid noise and crowding; hostess brings warmth positive energy to Lucien)

Resources

Reviews

http://newyork.seriouseats.com/2014/01/lucien-french-restaurant-bistro.html

http://www.nytimes.com/1998/12/30/dining/25-and-under-just-like-home-if-home-happens-to-be-in-france.html

Woven Rattan Bistro Chairs

http://www.maison-gatti.com/en/

The Stone

http://thestonenyc.com/

Gitanes

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gitanes

Cherche Midi

You know, I sometimes think, how is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city. You can’t. Because you look around and every street, every boulevard, is its own special art form and when you think that in the cold, violent, meaningless universe that Paris exists, these lights. I mean come on, there’s nothing happening on Jupiter or Neptune, but from way out in space you can see these lights, the cafés, people drinking and singing. For all we know, Paris is the hottest spot in the universe.

Owen Wilson as Gil in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris

Cherche Midi

282 Bowery (and Houston)

New York City 10012

(212) 226-3055

http://www.cherchemidiny.com/

It was a trumpet solo over bass and drums and piano. Is that a  Cole Porter tune? The white honeycomb tiled floors reflect the soft yellow glow of the globe lights and the soft yellow walls. The pressed tin ceiling. Rows of glows hang from the pressed tin grey ceiling. Arches and white tile are like the columns and the walls of the Brooklyn Bridge subway entrance. Red banquettes and brown wood bistro chairs scratched, faded and worn pushed against the soft pink table cloths.

Frosted glass dividers and bistro towels at the bottom of wine cabinets around the sides of the bistro.

Glass bottles reflect the blond wood light of the bar.

Gold light yellow light soft light.

Artists at cafe tables writing.

A Moveable Feast.

The Cherche-Midi Military Prison

Cherche-Midi was a military prison in Paris in use between 1851-1957. It had 200 solitary confinement cells. The prisoners were military prisoners, draft dodgers, deserters and political prisoners. It was located on the Rue du Cherche-Midi. It is on the Left Blank next to the  Saint Sulpice Metro stop.

When I went to Paris to search for the Lost Generation, I stayed at a very cheap hotel across from the Saint Sulpice church and walked down this street many times. Keith McNally, one of the owners of Cherche Midi, used to live on the Rue de Cherche-Midi and liked the association of Cherche Midi with the prison and the street.

Cherche Midi is owned by Keith McNally, Shane McBride and Daniel Parilla. Daniel and Shane are co-Executive chefs at Cherche Midi. Shane is also an Executive chef at Balthazar. Cherche Midi’s sister restaurants are Balthazar, Lucky Strike, Morandi, Minetta Tavern, Schiller’s Liquor Bar, and Pastis.

The Cherche Midi Bistro

Cherche Midi is located at the corner of Houston and Bowery. Trucks, traffic, noise, construction, ugliness and vulgarity.  Walking through the doors of Cherche Midi was like being transported back in time and space to Paris. The time machine was not a 1920’s Peugeot as in Midnight in Paris, and we did not see Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso, or Stein, but we did feel dislocated from Houston and Bowery in 2016. 

We were promptly and cheerfully greeted by the host and shown our table in the corner. We had a lovely view of the restaurant. The staff was pleasant and professional. They were attentive but not cloying or overly friendly. The pacing of the meal was spot on.

The table cloth was pink over a white drape. Our server brings a basket baked bread from Balthazar and small cups of salt and butter. Next to the bread is a brown pottery water pitcher. Behind us in a white wood cabinet is an old blue pottery vase holding white lilies. Although Cherche Midi is a new restaurant, it felt authentic and organic; it did not feel designed.

We have not had good bread at most bistros in New York based upon the criteria established by Professor Steve Kaplan. Most bistros source their bread from various bakeries around the Manhattan area. Most of the bread has been without distinction or character and would be challenged by Wonder bread in a baking contest.

Here are Kaplan’s notes on Balthazar’s bread:

The “very seductive” Parisian look of the Balthazar baguette elicited pangs of nostalgia in the professor for Paris, and, with its “golden-orange top” and “browner orange sides,” ended up in a first-place tie with Almondine in the appearance category. Taste was another story: “It’s insipid. It lacks sapidity. The taste is flat, disappointing, starchy.”

I will not question the Professor’s expertise. However, the bread at Cherche Midi was one of the best. The crust was attractive. It was dark and crispy and suggested caramel and nuts. The crumb was flavorful and properly springy. It had good alveolar structure. There were subtle sour notes. The flavor lingered in the mouth. All of these are signs of quality.

Cherche-Midi means “searching for midday.” We came for lunch and had the three course prix fixe menu. Our first course was butternut squash soup. Although this soup is as common as Warhol’s Campbell Soup, it was rich and flavorful. It had toasted pumpkin seeds and a hint of sage.

Our second course was the grilled chicken paillard (with arugula and tomato salad, balsamic and aged Gouda cheese). The word “paillard” refers to a piece of meat pounded thin and cooked on the grill.

The chicken was thinly sliced and lightly and perfectly grilled as a paillard should be. The arugula, cheese and tomatoes provided a perfect compliment to the chicken. The chef brought our entrees and personally ground our fresh pepper. This personal detail made us happy; it separates memorable restaurant experiences from the quotidian.

Tarte Tatin

Our desert was the apple tarte tatin. Julia Child describes a tarte tatin as:

It is caramelized sliced apples, oven-baked in a skillet with the pastry on top; when done, it is turned upside-down so the crust is on the bottom and the apple slices – wonderfully brown, buttery, and glazed with caramel – remain in a design on top.

The Tarte Tatin Society of France has many resources for lovers of the tarte tatin. The tarte tatin has a long history:

It was born around 1880 in the small town of Lamotte-Beuvron in Central France, about 100 miles South of Paris, an area thick with wetlands and waterfowl, long popular with hunters.  The story has it that, Stéphanie Tatin, who ran the family hostel with her sister Caroline, once accidentally dropped an apple tarte while rushing about the kitchen.  With hungry patrons calling, she promptly picked it up and rearranged it as best as she could, which happened to be upside down, and stuck it in the oven.  Once baked, she flipped it back up on a dish, and discovered to her surprise the rich caramelized texture that is the tarte’s hallmark.

Naturally, there is controversy about the origins of this famous dish. Some scholars say that upside-down tartes have long been a speciality of the Sologne region. There are old drawings of apple cobblers in the region which may have been a predecessor or the tarte tatin.

The tarte tatin is a simple dish. Apples, sugar and butter are the filling and flour, butter and water are the dough. In the original recipe of the Tatin sisters, the apples are not peeled, the dough is flaky (and does not contain sugar), and there is no cinnamon, vinegar, whipped cream or puff pastry. The tart is served warmed by itself.

How does the Cherche Midi tarte compare to the classic dish? It failed in two ways: there was ice cream on top and the crust was a puff pastry rather than flaky dough. The crust was rather soggy. However, the apples were rich, buttery and flavorful but too sweet. Julia Childs says that the apples should by crisp and brown. Ours were soft. I separated the ice cream from the tarte and enjoyed it with the caramel tracing on the plate.

We closed with espresso made well. It had good balance, body and flavor. I could detect a subtle citrus note. It was not too acidic which is often the case.

Cherche Midi delivered an excellent bistro experience. The atmosphere, service and food were all well done and enjoyable. There were no weaknesses except the tarte tatin. We have already made our reservations for dinner!

Ratings:

Service: 9 (Professional and knowledgeable. Good timing. Personal touches from the chef and the host.)

Archetype: 7 (Feels like an organically grown bistro (although it is not). The tiles and arches are not consistent with the Archetype but it still creates that bistro “feeling.”)

Food: 8 (Very good food overall. The tarte tatin was enjoyable but not considered a “good” tarte tatin in the classical sense.)

Energy: 9 (Soft, elegant, relaxed and right. Low noise, good music. You can write your next novella here in comfort.)

Resources

Reviews of Cherche Midi

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/01/dining/restaurant-review-keith-mcnallys-cherche-midi.html?_r=0

http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/cherche-midi/

http://www.gq.com/story/cherche-midi

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-11-17/review-keith-mcnally-s-cherche-midi-is-a-meaty-time-machine

http://www.restaurantgirl.com/cherche-midi-reviewed.html

http://www.villagevoice.com/restaurants/hello-its-midi-keith-mcnally-nycs-king-of-biz-casual-french-has-done-it-again-6561902

http://ny.eater.com/2014/6/11/6208635/11-crucial-facts-about-keith-mcnallys-cherche-midi

The Cherche-Midi Military Prison

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherche-Midi_prison

http://paris1900.lartnouveau.com/paris00/rues/rue_du_cherche_midi_1900.htm

Tarte Tatin

http://www.tartetatin.org/home/history-of-the-tarte-tatin

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2011/oct/20/how-to-cook-perfect-tarte-tatin

http://www.nytimes.com/2000/11/22/dining/en-route-sologne-the-tart-that-turned-france-upside-down.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

http://www.nytimes.com/1985/03/24/travel/fare-of-the-country-as-french-as-tarte-tatin.html

http://labellecuisine.com/archives/pie/Julia%20Child’s%20Tarte%20Tatin.htm

http://nymag.com/restaurants/features/22781/index1.html

Professor Kaplan New York Bread Reviews

http://nymag.com/restaurants/features/22781/index1.html

Jules Bistro

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry

dynamo in the machinery of night,

who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural

darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz…

Allen Ginsberg, Howl

Jules Bistro

65 Saint Marks Place

New York City, New York 10003

212-477-5560

http://www.julesbistro.com/

Bar Jules is owned by Georges Forgeois. Forgeois owns a collection of bistros in New York: Cercle Rouge and Cafe Noir in Tribeca (both now closed), Le Singe in Chelsea and Bar Tabac in Brooklyn. These restaurants are his creation of the bistros that he grew up with in France. His believes that bistros should provide comfort, contentment, excitement and warmth.

From the Website:

Having resided in Harlem for many years upon his move to New York, owner Georges Forgeois was inspired to bring the energy of the many jazz venues he frequented down to the Rock ‘n Roll East Village. With Jules, Georges revived the long overlooked jazz era and introduced it to a whole new generation alongside heaping piles of moules frites, bubbling bowls of onion soup gratinée and tender onglet de boeuf. Whether you’re stopping by for a glass of red, settling in for a romantic meal or enjoying the music, Jules Bistro delivers a memorable experience with the reassurance “We’ll always have Paris.”

After our recent experience at Jules Bistro, we can say that he has succeeded in his goal!

Bar Jules is located on St. Mark’s Place. St.Mark’s Place is an important neighborhood in New York. It was the home of the Beats in the 1950’s, the hippies in the 1960’s, the punks and the rockers in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the anarchists in the 1980’s, and the skate-punks in the 1990’s.

There were jazz clubs, and poets and painters and musicians and cheap bars and used clothes stores. It was many scenes all mixed together into one loud, dirty, chaotic scene of torn blue-jeans, chains, hair, energy, drugs, drink, loud bars and parties. It has always been a center of the bohemian, the avant-garde, the artist, and the beautiful losers. In those days we were young, and the scene was creative, exciting and dangerous.

Now, gentrification has arrived. St. Marks Bookstore is out of business. We have hipster zombies staring into their identical iPhones and Mac Airs projecting their airs of intense artistic purpose drinking their artisanal  single source coffee. We know they are only wasting time and building their brands on Facebook. There has been much local angst over the gentrification of St. Mark’s. The best article I have seen is in the New Yorker; see the Resources if you are interested.

The question here is how far will the charm of a hostess take a restaurant? Answer: very far indeed!

When I arrived I was greeted with great warmth and smiles by a lovely young and French hostess. I was led to a red banquette across from the bar. There are white table cloths, candles, a full compliment of glasses and proper wine glasses. There are small candles on the tables and the light is low and comfortable. The chairs are old and brown and the wood shows the scrapes and age of history. The bar is small but inviting. The atmosphere is relaxed. The talk is quiet and it is a neighborhood crowd.

These people know jazz. I am listening to the Gentle Side of John Coltrane. It is a perfect compliment. The menu says “Jules Is Jazz” since 1993, so they have been in the bistro and jazz scene for a long time.

There are black and white photos on the wall. They are portraits of unknown people. There is an antique poster of “Port Du Desir.” 

Port Du Desir is an obscure movie. The translation is “House on the Waterfront” and it was directed by Edmond T. Gréville. In the movie, a captain wants to raise a sunken ship at the entrance to the port of Marseilles, not knowing that it contains the body of a murdered woman. The ship’s owner, a local gangster, plans to sabotage the operation, since he was the man who killed the woman to prevent her from revealing his crooked activities. He bribes a young diver  to blow up the wreck with explosives. When the diver discovers the truth, he decides to flee with the dead woman’s sister with whom he has fallen in love. This is classic American film noir as filtered through French sensibility.  The critics say that what sets this film apart from other noir-influenced French crime-thrillers of this period is “the brutal realism that is achieved through the use of natural locations, depictions of no holds barred violence and a grittier, almost neo-realist approach to cinematography.”

I wonder how this poster came to be on the wall of Jules Bistro? Does the owner love film noir, was it a gift, was it found on the street, or was it a random purchase from an old poster store? 

Jules is unique in that it features live jazz during the week. The music starts at 8:30 and lasts until around 11:30. Its website has the music calendar. We heard the Austin Becker Trio. The music was straight up jazz, well played and not intrusive into the dinner.

Dinner and jazz restaurants often fail. They seem like natural companions but the focus may be on the dining experience and the jazz becomes an afterthought. The music becomes annoying.  Or the focus is on the music and the dining experience suffers.

Jules has found the right balance between a positive dining experience, and respect and appreciation for the musicians.

The menu is traditional bistro. Appetizers include onion soup, tartine de chevre chaud (with goat cheese, tomato confit, bruschetta, baby arugula and honey dressing), escargots, terrine de campagne “mere azeline” (with house-made country pâté with cornichons, cipollini onions, toast and greens), steak tartare and a terrine de foie gras.

What is the difference between a “tartine,” a “terrine” and a “tatin”?

A “tartine” is an open-faced sandwich that is lightly toasted rustic bread. It is topped by French cheese and may have a light spread of mustard, spinach and bacon lardons.

The word “terrine” has two meanings. It is a meat loaf similar to a pate but more coarsely made. Many terrines are made with game meat, like deer and boar. Terrines can be made of seafood or vegetables. The mixture is packed into a rectangular dish (sometimes also called a terrine) and cooked in a bain-marie. Sweet terrines may also be made from fruit. Terrines also refers to the cooking vessel which is an oblong earthenware pan with straight sides.

A “tatin” is an upside down individually made apple pastry. I discuss the history of tatines here:________.

The menu is traditional. The starters are salad nicoise, endives au jambon (steamed endives with boar’s head ham) and pot au feu. The mains are: steamed mussels, grilled wild salmon, grilled hanger steak, roasted chicken, steak frites, a cassoulet and duck breast.

The specials are written on a large chalkboard on the wall to the right as you enter the restaurant. This is an important element of the Archetype and it is being lost in many bistros.

My starter was the asparagus soup of the day and the aile de raie aux capres (pan seared skate wing with capers and garlic butter, and Yukon gold mashed potatoes). My son had the saumon grille (grilled wild salmon over warm lentil salad and basil aioli). We had pommes frites on the side.

The baguette arrived in a straw basket as it should. I inquired about the source of the bread and our hostess said: “From Paris, of course!” I am not sure if she was serious but the bread  was a higher quality than I typically see. The crust was dry, and flakey and smelled faintly of nuts, and the crumb had good structure, was slightly chewy and had good balance.

Our wine was the Grenache-Syrah Chateau la Gordonne 2011.It had a deep red color. The nose was intense, with violet, currant and pepper. The finish was full and long. It was a much better wine than the price of $11 would suggest.

The wine menu is balanced. They have wines from the Rhone and the south of France, Burgundy, Beaujolais, the Loire and Bordeaux. There are more wines by the glass than is customary and they have a selection of champagne and sparkling wines.

The asparagus soup was well prepared. It was light and delicate in flavor and texture. Their was a white island of crème fraîche on top.

The pommes frites were quality. Although they were hot, some of them were soggy and not as crisp and salted as they should be.

Our waitress brought our second glass of wine. I remarked that it was my son’s birthday but it had not gone well because his apartment had flooded just before dinner due to strong winter rains that followed a light snow. She was very sympathetic and poured him an extra portion of wine. She was friendly, charming, personable, beautiful and brought a lightness and an energy to our meal. She spoke beautiful French inflected English and we asked her a number of questions just to hear her talk!

Our mains arrived. My skate was cooked in butter and white wine and came with mashed potatoes. The dish lacked color. It was bland and it lacked clarity of flavor between the fish and the potatoes. Too much whiteness and starchiness. Like a good jazz trio, each food element must have its own space. There  must be clarity of texture and color. Each element must mix with the others to create something new yet each must keep its own space.

The salmon and lentils was a stronger dish. The flavors and textures were clear and precise. The salmon was grilled properly. The lentils were over cooked slightly but still acceptable. Over all the food was slightly above average quality.

After we arrived a birthday party was seated next to us.  There were balloons and presents and loud arguments about office politics and bosses.

Our waitress brought a small cake and ice cream and a sparkler. She walked toward the birthday party, turned  and placed the cake on our table. She knew that my son’s birthday had not gone well and wanted to do something nice for us. This is a rare gesture in a New York restaurant and we appreciated it. Small personal acts build goodwill, make a restaurant memorable and result in repeat customers.

The food at Jules is average but the energy, atmosphere and service were excellent. We enjoyed the jazz.  We rate Jules very highly and will be back!

Ratings:

Service:

Archetype:

Food:

Energy:

Resources

Bar Jules

http://www.julesbistro.com/

http://www.forgeoisgroup.com/

Tartines, Terrines and Tatins

http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016851-spinach-and-bacon-tartine

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/gallery/2011/sep/30/how-make-terrine-in-pictures

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/8202/duck-and-pork-terrine-with-cranberries-and-pistach

The Wine

http://www.lagordonne.com/en/category/our-products/chateau-la-gordonne-en

Le Port du Desir

http://www.filmsdefrance.com/film-review/Le_Port_du_desir_1955.html

St. Mark’s Place

http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/what-went-wrong-at-st-marks-bookshop

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-many-lives-of-st-marks-place

http://ny.curbed.com/2014/9/4/10052426/the-strange-history-of-the-east-villages-most-famous-street

Ed van Der Elsken

http://www.edvanderelsken.nl/index.php?page=home

Chez Jacqueline

you’ve seen a strawberry

that’s had a struggle; yet

was, where the fragments met,

a hedgehog or a star-

fish for the multitude

of seeds. What better food

than apple seeds – the fruit

within the fruit – locked in

like counter-curved twin

hazelnuts?  Frost that kills

the little rubber-plant –

leaves of kok-sagyyz-stalks, can’t

harm the roots; they still grow

in frozen ground. Once where

there was a prickly pear –

leaf clinging to a barbed wire,

a root shot down to grow

in earth two feet below;

as carrots from mandrakes

or a ram’s-horn root some-

times. Victory won’t come

to me unless I go

to it; a grape tendril

ties a knot in knots till

knotted thirty times – so

the bound twig that’s under-

gone and over-gone, can’t stir.

The weak overcomes its

menace, the strong over-

comes itself. What is there

like fortitude! What sap

went through that little thread

to make the cherry red!

Nevertheless

Marianne Moore

Chez Jacqueline

72 MacDougal Street

New York, New York 10012

212-505-0727

http://chezjacquelinerestaurant.com/

In 1918, Marianne Moore moved to St. Luke’s Place in Greenwich Village and began to socialize with many avant-garde artists.  Her innovative poems received high praise from Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and T. S. Eliot.  William Carlos Williams wrote about Moore’s ability to describe vastness out of the acute observation of the particular: “So that in looking at some apparently small object, one feels the swirl of great events.”

Marianne  was a great personality and was widely recognized in Greenwich Village for her tricorn hat and black cape. She was a great admirer of Muhammad Ali and even wrote the liner notes for his spoken-word album “I Am the Greatest”!

Chez Jacqueline is one of the oldest bistros in New York City.  It opened in 1965 in Soho and moved to its current location on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village in1982.

Chez Jacqueline is charming from the street. At night it is wrapped in twinkle lights, and has a blue Mediterranean awning over a red facade. Even though it is half a block from Houston, it seems a world away from the traffic and noise.

We were greeted warmly upon arrival and were given a corner table.

The tables and chairs are old wood and the booths along the walls are traditional red leather. The walls are a mustard color, the lights and candles are soft. Large windows open to MacDougal Street. Over the bar at the entrance are globe lights. An armoire is used as a server’s station for glasses, pitchers, napkins and utensils. There is a large community table in the center of the room.

Even when the restaurant filled later in the evening it did not get noisy. It feels like your mother’s living room. The crowd is older and reserved. It is a place of comfortable conversation and warm feelings. My daughter thought it was a romantic restaurant.

The waiters speak English with a marvelously inflected French accent. The timing throughout the dinner was solid, and the service was attentive and friendly yet not intrusive. It is casual. We were not rushed. The staff and service were good.

The music was a selection of jazz and blues. We heard Billie Holliday, Sarah Vaughn and Ray Charles. It was right for the restaurant.

Chez Jacqueline’s advertises that its food is “cuisine provencale”  and “bistro nicoise” and is as close as one can come to “Nice in New York”.

The bread was better than what we find at most bistros. The crust was dry and flakey, and crumb was nutty and moist, with the right amount of chewiness. It came with deep green olive oil. Our waiter said they buy their bread from Cardinali Bakery.

The menu has many salads including an intriguing “celeri remoulade” (celery root salad) and a  “frisee au chevre chaud” (chicory salad with walnuts and goat cheese). The mains included many bistro classics and some creative dishes such as artichoke raviolis, black linguini, grilled Mediterranean vegetables, and roasted duck with cassis sauce. The “provencales” specials are a beef stew, a white bean cassoulet, sauteed calf’s liver and braised pork shoulder with garlic confit.

The specials were  risotto with seafood, branzino, trout and lamb. (Branzio is European sea bass which is marketed under many names such as Mediterranean sea bass, loup de mer, robalo, lubina or spigola). The menu is extensive with several interesting mussel offerings, appetizers and salads, and side dishes.

Chez Jacqueline offers a $28 prix-fixe menu (cash only) between 5:00 and 6:30. (Diners at each of the tables next to us mentioned that they were using Groupon coupons to eat for half price.) Tuesday is Mussel Fest ($10 mussels) and Wednesday is Steak House ($15 steaks).

I had the branzino and vegetables, and my daughter had trout with almonds and string beans. We shared the lobster bisque. We had a side of pommes frites. They were average in quality.

The lobster bisque was light and delicate, and dark pumpkin in color. It was a finely constructed and rich and concentrated essence of lobster.

According to the Academie Française Dictionary: “A bisque is a soup made from crustaceans.” Wikipedia describes a “bisque” as:

….derived from Biscay, as in Bay of Biscay, but the crustaceans are certainly bis cuites “twice cooked” (by analogy to a biscuit) for they are first sautéed lightly in their shells, then simmered in wine and aromatic ingredients, before being strained, followed by the addition of cream.

My branzino was grilled: crispy on the outside and perfectly cooked on the inside. I have found this to be a rather tasteless, generic white fish but Chez Jacqueline prepared it better than most. The vegetable sides were spinach, zucchini and tomatoes. They were not overcooked and retained their flavor. Each of the ingredients had its own flavor space and was clear and well-articulated.

My daughter’s main was a thick trout steak with firm string beans. The flavors were light and clear and the trout was properly cooked.

The wine list ranges from $39 to $84 with a standard selection of whites, reds and roses. The strength of the list seemed to be in the Bordeaux blends.  We had the 2011 Malbec (Gouleyant-Vin du Sud Cahors). It was a round and lush wine with violet notes and blackberry fruit at that price point.

We left the restaurant feeling well pleased with the dinner and the experience.

Ratings

Service: 7

Archetype: 8

Food: 8

Energy: 7

Resources

Reviews

http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/chez-jacqueline/

Cardinali Bakery and Pastry Shop

http://www.cardinalibakery.com/

Greenwich Village Historic District Designation Report

http://www.nyc.gov/html/lpc/downloads/pdf/reports/GV.pdf

GreenwichVillage-What Remains?

http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2013/dec/22/greenwich-village-new-york-coen-brothers

Marianne Moore

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/11/11/all-about-my-mother

http://www.thenation.com/article/less-is-moore/

http://www.poemhunter.com/best-poems/marianne-moore/nevertheless/

Raul’s

Sometimes I feel I’ve got to

Run away, I’ve got to

Get away from the pain you drive into the heart of me

The love we share

Seems to go nowhere

And I’ve lost my light

For I toss and turn, I can’t sleep at night

Once I ran to you (I ran)

Now I’ll run from you

This tainted love you’ve given

I give you all a boy could give you

Take my tears and that’s not nearly all

Tainted love (oh)

Tainted love

Now I know I’ve got to

Run away, I’ve got to

Get away, you don’t really want any more from me

To make things right

You need someone to hold you tight

And you think love is to pray

But I’m sorry, I don’t pray that way

Once I ran to you (I ran)

Now I’ll run from you

This tainted love you’ve given

Don’t touch me, please

I cannot stand the way you tease

I love you though you hurt me so

Now I’m gonna pack my things and go.

Soft Cell, Tainted Love

Raouls

180 Prince Street (at Sullivan)

New York, NY 10012

Phone: 212.966.3518

http://raouls.com/

You can’t separate Raoul’s from its history. From its website:

Two brothers journeyed from Alsace, France, to Soho, New York. They found a little restaurant for sale. They were so poor they threw nothing out, not even the salt. The booths were already in place and they kept the chairs until they fell apart or were destroyed in the brawls that marked the early years. Guy turned his Alsatian cooking skills to fine steaks and fish for low prices – even cheaper at the bar. Serge stood outside on Prince Street, a lonely figure importuning passersby to enter and taste. People began to trickle in from their illegal lofts in the neighborhood. Some came back the next night or the next week. And spread the word. More people came. And came back. Soon the locals were complaining about the good reviews. The rest is New York bistro history.

The history is legendary.

In the 1970’s, before Soho became an outdoor mall offering global brands that are familiar to anyone who has been in an international airport, it was home to artists, writers, musicians and bohemians. The rents were cheap, the spaces were large and the warehouses had charm. After Raoul’s opened, it was not long until the cast from Saturday Night Live came for late night dinners and heavy drinking at the bar in the front room of the bistro. Movies stars such as Kelly McGillis, Jennifer Beals, Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Sarah Jessica Parker were seen at Raoul’s. Quentin Tarantino and the cast of “Pulp Fiction” celebrated the opening of the film at the New York Film Festival at Raoul’s. Robert De Niro and Al Pacino had regular seats.

In 2015 the New York Times published an article on Raoul’s titled: “A Discreet Celebrity Hangout in Soho, Turns 40.”  According to The Times:

The current chef, David Honeysett, has broadened the menu beyond traditional bistro fare to include seasonal dishes. But the steak au poivre remains firmly in place. “I think they drug everybody with that steak,” Mr. Tubb said. “I think the steak au poivre sauce has some kind of LSD effect on people and they have to have it. They crave it.”

When we arrived for our 8:30 reservation on Sunday night, we were hit with a wall of noise. The place was packed. The bar was packed. The front room was packed. The aisle to the dining room in the back was packed. We were concerned that we were in for an evening of shouted conversations and sore throats.

Fortunately, a booth in the dining room was waiting for us. Our stylish and friendly host shepherded us past the stuffed deer with a zebra mask on its head and the fish aquarium at the entrance to the dining room.

The art in the back dining room is an eclectic collection of nudes, portrait paintings and photographs all French inspired.

Even so, our waiter was dressed in traditional black pants, black apron and a white shirt. He presented a chalk board menu in French. If you don’t read French, an English menu is printed.

Raoul’s divides its menu into three main categories:

Petits Plats A Partager (small plates for sharing)

Entrees ( entrance; dish served before the main course)

Plats Principaux (main courses)

The “entrees” included warm octopus salad (with olives, chick pea puree and wild arugula), Catskill’s mountain smoked salmon (with shaved radish, salmon roe and shirred farm egg) and a ricotta and egg raviolo (with guanciale, sage, roquette and beurre noisette). The entrees ranged in price from $13 to $26. Two would be needed to make a full meal.

The “plats principaux”  featured a crispy local skate, a monkfish day boat, organic roast chicken ( soaked in brine for 18 hours according to the waiter) and the famous and psychedelic Steak au Poivre.

“I think they drug everybody with that steak,” Mr. Tubb said. “I think the steak au poivre sauce has some kind of LSD effect on people and they have to have it. They crave it.”

Evidently consuming the steak is like taking a tablet of blotter acid. It is the most famous dish on the Raoul menu.

The waiter brought us a basket of bread and butter. The bread is from Amy’s Bread. It failed.  Insipid.

For the entrees, we had an artichoke (with quinoa, pickled vegetables and Raoul’s dressing), the bigeye tuna saisi (with avocado, red grapefruit, orange, hearts of palm and  yuzu citronette), and the warm octopus salad (with olives, chick pea puree and wild arugula). We also had an order of pommes frites.

“Saisi” refers to the way the tuna is cooked-seared. “Yuzu” is an East Asian citrus fruit, similar to a grapefruit. It has a distinct aromatic rind.  “Yuzu citronette” is a sauce made with a combination of citrus fruits. It is a light and versatile lemon vinaigrette dressing that is often served over salads and steamed vegetables

The subtlety of the lightly cooked tuna was offset by the slightly acidic citrus of the yuzu citronette. The red grapefruit was sliced micro thin, and was rich red. The primary red color of the grapefruit contrasted with the secondary green color of the avocado. The orange added subtle citrus notes. The colors and the flavors were artful.

The artichoke was firm and flavorful. The quinoa was over cooked and lack clarity, structure and flavor. We could not define the ingredients of the Raoul’s dressing, but it was a good compliment to the artichoke.

Octopus tends to have the flavor, texture and chewiness of greasy rubber bands. This octopus salad was excellent. The arugula was fresh and the olives added salty accents to the octopus and the chick pea puree.

Our plats principaux was the organic road chicken (with roast green onion, bell pepper, andouille and jambalaya risotto). It was a large and dense half-chicken. The skin was crispy and salty and deep brown. The chicken was moist. It was lightly flavored from the skin and the salt brine. The risotto was an over-cooked flavorless, brown mass. It reminded me of the sticky mucilage you got in grade school and used to paste together colored sheets of construction paper as you played at being Henri Matisse.

We also had the crispy local skate (with pickled vegetables, wild arugula and gribiche). The fish was delicate, light and flavorful. The vegetables were a perfect compliment to the fish. The watermelon radish was paper thin, and added a sour accent to the fish. An excellent dish.

Gribiche is a mayonnaise-style cold egg sauce in the French cuisine, made by emulsifying hard-boiled egg yolks and mustard with a neutral oil like canola or grapeseed. The sauce is finished with chopped pickled cucumbers, capers, parsley, chervil and tarragon.

Our wine selection was the Chateau Du Mayne Graves Rouge 2011. It is a blend of 55% cabernet-sauvignon and merlot. The wine presented a bright and deep color. The nose offered a beautiful aromatic purity with fruity, blackcurrant and raspberry notes. It was as a very pleasant wine and we ordered a second bottle, which we rarely do. We knew that we would pay the price the next day but sometimes it is a fair trade.

We shared a scoop of chocolate ice cream. We were tempted by the goat cheesecake (with honey parfait and crushed pistachios). Raoul’s desert menu is modest and has traditional dishes such as creme brulee, profiteroles, puddings and cake.

Our standard for best chocolate ice cream in New York is Odeon. Raoul’s  was intense, creamy, opulent chocolate. This ice cream was so excellent that we thought it came from Odeon. We inquired but we were told that they buy it from il laboratorio del gelato. The ice cream laboratory is located at 188 Ludlow Street.

The music was a journey. At the beginning of the evening the volume level was low but we could hear disco, then pop, then 1970’s rock (Fleetwood Mac) and then Talking Heads and New Wave. The volume went up, the hour got late, the buzz and energy became electric and we danced out of Raoul’s to the beat of “Tainted Love.” We are happy and we loved it and we will be back.

Ratings

Service: 8 (Good service even though the staff was quite busy)

Archetype: 7 (Chalkboard menus, classic bistro dishes, waiters in black and white, booths, old tables and chairs and quirky art)

Food: 7 (Recommend the psychedelic steak au poivre and the chicken. Some say the burger is the best in the world, and the asparagus and frisee salad has been on the menu since the beginning. Mains were good but sides tended to fail.)

Energy: 9 (Very high energy and buzzy, get a booth along the wall in the back dining room where you can hold a conversation and enjoy the party. Authentic history and you can feel it.)

Resources

My Articles

The ten elements of the bistro Archetype:______

The bistro rating system:________.

About this blog:________

Raoul’s History

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/17/fashion/raouls-a-discreet-celebrity-hangout-in-soho-turns-40.html

http://www.sohogrand.com/2015/12/29/raouls-celebrates-40-years-in-soho/

Raoul’s Reviews

http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/raouls/

http://www.theinfatuation.com/new-york/reviews/raouls

http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/raouls/

il laboratorio del gelato

http://www.laboratoriodelgelato.com/thelab.php

Gribiche

http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2009/08/sauce-gribiche-au-pif/

Soft Cell and Tainted Love

https://www.discogs.com/artist/12196-Soft-Cell

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tainted_Love