OCabanon (Cave a manger)
245 W 29th Street (Between 7th and 8th Avenue)
New York, New York 10001
“What is a “cabanon”? It’s a French word to define a little hut in a garden. In the South of France it is more than that; it’s a small place where you can cook, eat, talk, and have a little nap. For us, it is a small kitchen where grandmothers used to cook their specialty dishes and where there was always something to eat and drink. The door was always open and everybody could come to think, laugh, talk, eat, drink, etc.”
It was a gloomy night, rainy, windy and cold. Malevolent taxis and traffic spewed aggression and danger in the forlorn and abandoned landscape West 29th Street. My spirits were dark and low. I was filled with dread and malaise. I was locked in post-election despair when I realized that the national nightmare was real. And it would last four years.
I was headed to the Anti-Inaugural Concert and Ball at the Baryshnikov Arts Center. I thought that being with like-minded people listening to modern classical music would lift my spirits. International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) was playing; I am a huge fan and hoped they would shine a light on my soul darkness.
OCabanon is located on West 29th Street. The area is an industrial wasteland-charmless, forbidding and desolate. On a dark block underneath scaffolding, you will see a French Flag and then laser light dots on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. It feels like a small dance club that is lost. I was greeted warmly and seated in the dining area just past the bar in front of the restaurant.
OCabanon is run by three brothers in law: Armel Joly (wine); Alexandre Mur (chef) and Michael Faure (manager). They are from Lyon, France.
The decor is fun and quirky. There are posters of obscure French cartoons on the walls, a popcorn machine, oscillating red and green and blue lights on the ceiling and a Booz Barometer next to the waiter’s station.
The basic idea behind the Booz Barometer is that, for 5 cents, you try to drag a screwdriver over a curved metal tube without touching the tube. If you touch, the screwdriver sparks and a bell rings. You may find that you are embalmed, pickled, plastered, smashed, skunk drunk, or sober as a judge. The promotional flyer reads:
“The sobriety test of champions.”
“A great gimmick for entertaining your patrons.”
“A real money-maker for the reasonable price.”
“Customers cant resist playing again and again!”
OCabanon is a caves a manger. In Paris, this is a wine bar that has a strong selection of biodynamic or natural wines and small plate food of very high quality. These are one of the hottest dining trends in Paris. They are the result of a local licensing requirement that lets restaurants sell wine if customers get something to eat as well.
The table tops are zinc, the color scheme is grey, and candles are on the tables. The kitchen is open and is at the back of the restaurant. The upper level of the restaurant is cozy with wood tables and chocolate brown leather sitting chairs. The music is house (strangely but there are laser light dots on the sidewalk, after all) but just above the audible threshold. The service was efficient but not personal.
After I arrived happy hour at the bar began to bubble as a crowd of twenty-somethings from the neighborhood energetically talked and drank and pursued their after work rituals. The noise level never reached the point of being annoying.
Confessing my skepticism about the food quality based upon the unusual decor and the fowl nature of my post-electorial mood, I did not expect much. Mostly, I wanted to eat and run. I was wrong; very wrong.
I started with the broccoli soup. It was excellent. The essence of broccoli-ness. In the middle of the soup was a circle of olive oil and inside the circle was a thin slice of a baguette and herbal sprigs were placed across the bread. Broccoli soup can be dense, heavy and oppressive, but this was just the opposite. One of the better expressions of this soup that I have seen in a long time.
Unfortunately, the bread was a failure. Insipid. No reason to eat it. Why bistros provide bad bread I will never understand.
My main was the demi poulet roti ( organic half chicken, marinated and roasted with vegetables, mashed potatoes, and lemon sauce).
Creating an interesting dish from roast chicken is difficult. It is like making a great photograph of the Brooklyn Bridge or the Empire State Building. The images always end up as cliches. This standard dish was very well done. The vegetables were carrots and cauliflower. They were roasted, firm, crispy and flavorful. The orange notes of the carrot added greatly to the aesthetics of the dish both from a visual and a culinary point of view. The chicken was perfectly roasted. Firm and moist. The sauce added an acidic element which cleansed the chicken and mashed potatoes from the palate. Impressive.
The menu covers all of the bistro basics. I want to return to explore the menu more fully.
The wine list emphasizes natural wines. Armel Joly has been quoted as saying:“The wines are made by wine-makers who use their hands- people who remember how to make wine.” I had an excellent glass of grenache and then another! Perhaps drinking a lot of fine wine from France is a rational response to Trumpism.
Service: 6 (Generally efficient but not warm and personal. Modest understanding of the food and wine)
Archetype: 7 ( The menu follows the Archetype; the decor is neo-bistro in feeling. Slightly silly, witty and fun.)
Food: 8 (Very well executed bistro classics. Wines by the glass were outstanding.)
Energy: 4-8 (You decide. If you like quirky, upbeat and new, go with the 8. If you like more traditional bistro Archetypal energy, go with the 4)
Le Corbusier’s Cabanon
Baryshnikov Arts Center
International Contemporary Ensemble