Cercle Rouge has been through a tough first 2½ years. Once touted as “Tribeca’s Balthazar-to-be,” it seemed destined for an early demise after the State Liquor Authority threatened to revoke its license, because it was adjacent to a mosque. An Eater Deathwatch followed.
At around that time, the original chef, David Féau, departed, followed soon by his deputy, Michael Wurster. Since October 2006, Pierre Landet has been executive chef. Somehow, Cercle Rouge kept its license and survived. In mid-January, after 90 weeks on the Deathwatch, Eater’s official position is that Cercle Rouge is in “remission.”
It certainly didn’t become a “Tribeca Balthazar.” The initial excitement has long since died down. I walked in after work one day last week, shortly before 7:00 p.m., to find the restaurant practically empty. Business did pick up a bit during the hour I was there, but it was never busy.
The menu now seems to be that of a standard French brasserie, though the chicken wings that critics raved about during the Féau era are still on offer. I suppose it’s a problem when chicken wings are the best dish at a French restaurant. They’re the only thing on the current menu that isn’t French.
Prices are in a wide range, with appetizers $7–18, entrées $17–38. Côte de Boeuf Béarnaise for two will set you back $68. Wines are reasonable; I was pleased to find a great half-bottle of Haut-Médoc for $38.
Last week, the restaurant was showcasing the cuisine of Toulouse, chef Pierre Landet’s native region (menu at left; click for a larger version). It was the promise of cassoulet that drew me there, though I was also eager to try those chicken wings once again.
The Chicken Wings ($8) are as fun as I remember with them. Somehow, the chicken is scrunched up at one end of the bone, making each one into a lollipop. They are lightly breaded and mildly spicy. The accompanying bleu cheese sauce seemed to have been made up hours before and stored in the fridge, and it wasn’t really suitable for dipping.
Cassoulet ($24) is the perfect antidote to a cold evening. White beans, carrots, braised duck, and sausage are cooked in a steaming hot crockpot. In this rendition, the vegetables were better than the meats, which were over-cooked and not as flavorful as they should be.
The space is comfortable and easy on the eyes. Service was attentive and enthusiastic.
Cercle Rouge (241 W. Broadway at N. Moore Street, TriBeCa)