Note: Chez Jef closed in July 2014, as expected, for a re-vamp. It is expected to re-open in fall 2014.
The re-do was modest: the “Diner” sign remains, with most of its neon letters no longer functional. A few red-and-white checked curtains are basically all that stands between the former diner and a cute little French bistro, with the words “Chez Jef” stamped on the butcher paper that covers ever tabletop.
In February, Palombino told Eater.com that he intended to run the pop-up “for two to three months.” Four months later, it’s still there, although the customers are not: there were plenty of tables open at 8:00pm on a Wednesday, and by 10:00 we had the place to ourselves.
The original announcement was vague about what would follow. Management now says that the restaurant will now close in July and re-open as a more robust version of Chez Jef, with all of the diner trappings finally removed.
Meantime, what we have here is a very solid French bistro, of the sort that is always welcome in this Italian-saturated town. Chez Jef treads no new ground, but fulfills its mission quite capably.
As you’d expect for a pop-up, the menu doesn’t run long: just seven appetizers ($8–18), seven mains ($22–30), and seven desserts ($8–9). A three-course prix fixe is $35, offering a limited subset of the full menu. Surely the highlight is a daily list of house-made charcuterie, written on a chalkboard and presented at the table.
The wine list has gone horribly wrong. In February, there was a 2008 Châteauneuf-du-Pape for $50. I can see why that sold out, but the list’s center of gravity has now moved up to the $70s, which is more than I care to pay for this type of food. A Beaujolais Villages at $46 was supposed to be the 2011, but the 2012 came to the table, and it was about as good as two-buck chuck. Our party of three left half the bottle behind.
The food was an altogether happier story.
A Carrot Salad with vinaigrette ($10; above left) was surprisingly effective, despite its simplicity. Two could easily have shared it.
We sampled two items from the charcuterie list, the Pâté Maison ($12; above right) and the Rabbit Terrine ($12; below left), both thick and luscious. Either one could be served at the city’s best charcuterie palaces. These are the must-order items at Chez Jef.
The Half Chicken ($22; above right) was perfectly respectable; the fries, superb.
Wendy ordered the Octopus Salad as her main course ($16; above left). The octopus was tender, with a satisfying crunchy char. The photo doesn’t show much of the Duck Confit ($26; above right), which was a creditable rendition of this old classic.
In its present incarnation, Chez Jef seems to have run its course, going by the lack of patronage. There are plenty of hot restaurants nearby (Cherche Midi, Bar Primi, Pearl & Ash, to name a few), so it’s obviously possible to lure diners here. Let’s hope a more fully worked-out concept of Chez Jef gets the recognition it deserves.
Chez Jef (241 Bowery between Stanton & Rivington Streets, Lower East Side)
Food: French bistro standards
Service: Just fine, but with so few customers, hard to judge
Ambiance: A lightly-refurbished diner