French Roast Coffee Shop
78 West 11th Street, New York, New York
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!
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)