I never thought I’d see the day, when French restaurants were opening in New York at such a pace that I cannot visit them all. But that’s the moment we’re in, and I am a happy camper.
Among those I’ve reviewed in the last six months, there’s La Villette, Le Midi, Table Verte, Le Philosophe, Cocotte, and Lafayette. There’s the ones I haven’t gotten to yet, and might not, such as Brasserie Cognac East, Charlegmagne, and Little Prince. Have I missed any?
The menu is overtly French, but the décor is all downtown New York. Picture windows on two sides look out on Kenmare Street, where shops, bars, and clubs are sprouting up like spring flowers. Unlike the last time I was here, the view is actually worth looking at.
The entrance is down a few steps. There’s a small lounge area, with bench seating and low stools. In the dining area, the tables and chairs are bare-bones. Around the room, there’s a few votive candles and a few bouquets, offsetting an austere slate grey ceiling and cement columns.
The bar is well stocked with artisanal gins and rums, and various obscure ryes, whiskeys, and so forth. The stools are rather uncomfortable, which is a pity, as the cocktail program is excellent.
Between us we tried four of these (all $14): the Vieux Roble (Brugal 1888 rum, armagnac, two kinds of bitters, Cointreau noir, rocks, lemon, lime, and orange peel); the Gainsbarre (Rémy Martin VSOP, green chartreuse, Noillly Prat Rouge, Angostura bitters, orange peel); the Corsair (Calvados, lemon juice, grand marnier, absinthe, lemon zest, apple fan); and the Metropolis (Ford’s Gin, cherry heering, fresh lime juice, bitter orange, zested peel).
These were some of the best restaurant cocktails I’ve had in a while, all with excellent depth and balance. Without my asking, the bartender offered to transfer the tab to our table.
The wine list is fairly basic, as it often is at such places, with about 24 bottles, many of them also available by the glass. Prices are in a wide range, but not not extortionate, and there are enough options at the lower end.
The Château Réal Martin 2006 ($46; left) seemed a bit too good to be true, and it was: the server brought the 2008 to our table instead, and seemed surprised when I pointed out the inconsistency.
The restaurant is open for all three meals, since it needs to be available for a hotel crowd. At dinner, most of the clientele seemed to have come in from the street. It was not full at 7pm on a Wednesday—though it was hardly the hour when I’d expect it to be. The crowd was about 2/3rds young women.
Prices are modest, with hors d’oeuvres $13.50–26.00, soups $7.50–8.00, salads $9.50–15.00, main courses $12.00–24.00 (except for filet mignon, $33), sides $4.50–6.00, desserts $5.50–8.00.
Most of the standard mains are in the low $20s. If you want to dine inexpensively but well, an order of onion soup ($7.50), a croque monsieur ($12) and a scoop of ice cream ($5.50) would set you back all of $25 before beverages, tax and tip.
To start, we shared an assortment of Iberico ham ($18.50; above left). Lamb chops, a special (above right), were thick and tender.
I quite liked the Escaloope de veau ($24; above left), not the most impressive piece of veal, but served in an appealing mushroom cream sauce with rice and string beans. Should you choose to end with a cheese plate ($13.50; above right), the kitchen sends out a quite respectable assortment.
The service was just fine. The dining room isn’t the most comfortable, but it’s certainly good enough for such a casual spot. Great cocktails and solid, inexpensive French bistro cuisine aren’t unusual any more, but one seldom sees both in the same establishment.
Cantine Parisienne (40 Kenmare Street at Elizabeth Street, NoLIta)
Food: Solid, inexpensive, well made French bistro cuisine
Service: Better than it needs to be
Ambiance: A typical downtown room that doesn’t feel like a hotel