The outdoor garden at a quieter moment than we experienced it
When Paradou opened in mid-2001, the Meatpacking District had not yet completed its metamorphosis from a seedy industrial district that was home to more prostitutes than restaurants, into the bastion of high-concept tourist dining that it has now become. It’s hard to name many Meatpacking restaurants that can be seriously recommended chiefly for their food. Paradou, which means “paradise,” is one of the few.
That’s not to say that Paradou hasn’t succumbed somewhat to the spirit of the neighborhood. When Eric Asimov of the Times reviewed it in January 2002, it was just a tiny Provençal bistro serving wine and sandwiches, with scarcely more than about half-a-dozen tables. It now has a large outdoor garden that’s enclosed during the winter, turning Paradou into a full-size restaurant. That garden might be pleasant for al fresco dining in the summer, but it entirely lacks the charm of the intimate front room. Tables are scrunched together, and on a Saturday night the space got noisy indeed.
Beet Tarte TatinSince the early reviews, Paradou has also added a new chef, Kfir Ben-Ari, who has expanded the offerings considerably. The menu changes seasonally, and prices are in a fairly wide range. Appetizers are $7 (soup du jour) to $30 (caviar). Entrees are $19 (chicken) to $76 (a thick-cut veal chop and a whole lobster for two). Side dishes are $6, desserts $6–9. There’s a serious cheese program, presented on a separate menu, which we didn’t sample.
I started with the Beet Tarte Tatin, which validated my new addiction to beet appetizers. As usual, beets were paired with goat cheese, this time atop a puff pastry, with walnuts and other garnishes hovering near the edge of the plate.
My girlfriend had the French Onion Soup, which I didn’t try, but it looked hearty enough, and she seemed pleased.
Poisson du JourMonkfish was the Poisson du Jour, here served on a bed of black beans and topped with carrots. I found the fish just slightly chewy, but the combination as a whole worked well. My girlfriend, who was in a steak mood, was happy with the Entrecôte with Potato Gratin.
The kitchen managed to keep things moving well despite the Saturday night crowds. Servers and runners were attentive, but seemed a bit rushed, and several times dropped things (nothing important) on the floor, like silverware and menus.
In an unusual arrangement, Paradou offers a considerable number of wines by the quarter or half-liter, in addition to a larger selection by the bottle, with a quarter-liter being good for about two glasses. In the Times, Eric Asimov found this format inconvenient, but the quarter-liter prices seem more than fair. We ordered a full bottle, which unfortunately didn’t please us, but I don’t hang that on the restaurant.
Paradou has worked hard to remain relevant in a neighborhood dominated by fancier neighbors. On Saturday mornings, there are cooking lessons ($40) for children under 5 (Times story here). The weekend brunch special ($25) includes “all you can drink” Belinis, Mimosas, and Kir Royales. A Monday to Thursday weeknight special from 6:00–7:30 p.m. ($20.07) offers a plate of cheese, paté and salumi with a glass of red or white wine.
I wouldn’t say we were wowed by anyting we had at Paradou, but I suspect the restaurant is a lot more pleasant on weeknights, when it isn’t overrun by the Meatpacking Crowd. The hearty Provençal fare may not be remarkable, but it deserves to be taken seriously, in a neighborhood where so little else can be.
Paradou (8 Little West 12th Street between Ninth Avenue and Washington Street, Meatpacking District)
Ambiance: no stars for the garden in wintertime