Bistro Vendôme opened in early February in the former March space, which had been vacant for nearly three years, after its replacement, Nish, quickly flopped in early 2007. The chef here is Pascal Petiteau, who worked at the nearby Jubilee and finally has his own place.
I remember March only vaguely, as my lone visit was nearly six years ago, and I never made it to Nish. The décor now is bare bones, but the space seems much brighter than it used to be, relying on natural light flooding through wide windows on three levels. There will be outdoor terrace dining in good weather.
There is a long, spacious bar at the front of the townhouse that Bistro Vendôme occupies, which I am fairly certain wasn’t there in the March days. The host stand is past the bar, and this leads to mild confusion, as customers coming in are a bit unsure, at first, about where to congregate. The restaurant was packed on a Saturday evening—always a good sign for a place mainly dependent on neighborhood business—but the host was a bit overwhelmed, and we were not seated until half-an-hour past our 8:00 p.m. reservation. A cocktail at ordered at the bar tasted mostly of tonic water. Service at the table, however, was just fine.
The menu offers classic, inexpensive French bistro food, straight up and without complication or distraction. It is all done well, but not beyond the better classic French places that many NYC neighborhoods have. (Disclosure: We had the pleasure of dining here during “Friends & Family,” courtesy of a publicist’s invitation, but our review is of the meal we paid for.)
We wondered about how many bushels of green salad the restaurant consumes per day, given its prominence in two fine appetizers: a Crispy Goat Cheese Cake ($10; above left) and an off-menu special, Crispy Sweetbreads ($10; above right).
Ribeye steak with sauce au poivre ($30; above left) was fine for a non-steakhouse preparation, and the fries were perfect. We’re a bit past Cassoulet season, but I had a hankering for it anyway ($24; above right), and the chef nailed it. Duck confit, bacon, and garlic sausage were on target, and so were the beans.
For a restaurant this inexpensive, I would like the wine list to have a few more choices below $50; a 2005 Guigal Crozes Hermitage was $54, and there weren’t many French reds below that level.
The packed house seemed to be mostly an older, Upper East Side crowd. As far as we are concerned, there can never be enough good French restaurants. Sutton Place agrees with us, if last Saturday’s crowd was any indication.
Bistro Vendôme (405 East 58th Street, just east of First Avenue, Sutton Place)