Entries in Didier Pawlicki (5)


Table Verte

Table Verte is the latest offering from chef Didier Pawlicki of La Sirène and Taureau. It opened under the radar, with about the worst timing possible, last October, just before Hurricane Sandy devastated the far East Village.

Pawlicki’s three restaurants couldn’t be more different: a traditional bistro (La Sirène), a fondue place (Taureau), and now a vegetarian spot (Table Verte, or “green table”). The cuisine of Pawlicki’s native France is the only tie that binds them together.

Table Verte occupies the former Taureau space, which became vacant when Pawlicki was able to move Taureau to a storefront next to La Sirène. Unlike the first two restaurants, his role here is as an owner–patron, with chef Ken Larsen running the kitchen full-time.

I’ve enjoyed both of Pawlicki’s places, but I probably wouldn’t have visited Table Verte on my own dime, as I’m not a vegetarian. I was there at the publicist’s invitation, and although I enjoyed the meal, I’m not the one to say how it ranks with the city’s other vegetarian restaurants.

The goal, as the chef explained it, was to serve enjoyable French-inspired food that “just happens” to be meatless. A mixed party of vegetarians, vegans, gluten-frees, and carnivores could dine here, without major sacrifices by anyone. There aren’t any gimmicks, or dishes tricked up to look like one thing, while actually being another. The food is straightforward, and mostly very good.

Though Pawlicki doesn’t cook here, his fingerprints are all over the place, from the spare décor, the odd menu prices (ending in .25, .50, .75), and the Franglais menu, occasionally with grammatical and spelling errors.

Nothing is expensive. Soups and appetizers are $3.75–9.50, larger plates $14.50–19.75, side dishes $2.00–6.00. Every dish is labeled vegan, gluten free, or in some cases neither. (Some dishes are made with butter and/or cheese.) The menu changes weekly.

A warm Rosemary Onion Focaccia (above left), baked in house, is so soft and flavorful that it doesn’t need butter (and none is supplied).


There are several “Plats Froids” (cold plates) on the menu, or you can have a selection of three for $7.00. For this arranged tasting, the chef sent out a quartet of them (above right): 1) Celery root marinated with lemon juice and dressed with house-made mayonaise; 2) Lentils vinaigrette with brunoise of carrots, celery and leeks with Dijon vinaigrette; 3) Beets with horseradish, seasoned with shallots, tarragon and herbs; 4) Assortment of carrots, with chickpease, leeks, and raisins in a lemon spiced vinaigrette.

The lengthy descriptions give an idea of the kind of effort that goes into these salads. They are all worthwhile. I also enjoyed the Yam Cake ($3.75; nine o’clock position in the photo, above right), made with layers of sweet potatoes, seasoned with nutmeg and cinnamon.


I disliked the Vegan Cassoulet ($14.75; above left), as I couldn’t put out of my mind what it lacked: the combination of duck confit and pork sausages, or the like, that a cassoulet traditionally requires. If you love real cassoulet, you’ll feel that something crucial is missing.

Gnocchi Parisian au Gratin ($19.75; above right) is the chef’s marvellous interpretation of mac and cheese, made with 180-day-old swiss cheese, shallots, and black truffle. This is a much better bet for carnivores, as you won’t wish the dish contained anything else. (We were served tasting-sized portions; the full entrée sized portion is enormous and should probably be shared—it is that rich.)


Dessert was “my grandmother’s semolina wheat cake” with crème anglaise, rum and raisins ($5.50; above far left), gluten-free chocolate ganache with rice, almond and raisin crust ($8.75; above middle), and a Banana Brûlée ($6.50; above right). Once again, the gluten-free chocolate was the least successful (for this carnivore), because I was reminded of what it lacked. The other two were excellent.

The intimate space seats just 38. The chef works with just one assistant and serves many of the dishes himself. As far as I could judge, other tables got the same good service that we did; the space wasn’t full on the weeknight we visited, but this being the East Village, it operates on very different hours than I do. The restaurant is currently BYOB; a wine license is expected in the spring.

Table Verte isn’t a fancy spot, but it’s rustic, hearty, and enjoyable. I probably won’t be back on my own, but if I were entertaining a vegetarian friend, it would have my business. As far as I can tell, it’s a success for what it’s trying to be, and should build a strong East Village following.

Table Verte (127 E. 7th Street between First Avenue and Avenue A, East Village)



One-dish restaurants are all the rage, so why not all-fondue, all-the-time? As of three months ago, you can have it at Taureau in the East Village.

When we say “all-fondue,” we’re not kidding. To paraphrase W. S. Gilbert: fondue for starter, fondue for entrée, fondue for dessert—to have it supposed that you care for nothing but fondue, and that you would consider yourself insulted if anything but fondue were offered to you—how would you like that?

Well, you might expect fondue’s charms to wane over the course of a meal, but chef Didier Pawlicki mines enough from the theme to keep it exciting—at least for one visit. I cannot imagine it becoming anyone’s neighborhood go-to place, but for occasions ranging from romantic twosomes to large parties, it is already a hit. There’s nothing like cooking raw meat in a shared pot of boiling oil to bring people closer.

Like the same chef’s La Sirène, it’s the barest slip of a space, seating only 38. Each table has a built-in convection burner, leaving very little room to spare.

It is also BYOB, and at least for now, cash-only. If you don’t know the policy or forget the wine at home (as I did), the liquor store and Citibank are only a few blocks away.

The most straightforward ordering strategy is to choose one of two prix fixes, at either $37 or $57 per person, with a minimum of two. (Practically everything served here requires at least two people.) Either way, you get cheese fondue to start, meat fondue as the main course, and chocolate fondue for dessert. There’s still a dizzying array of choices (more offered at the higher price)—which cheese? what kind of oil? what chocolate? You could certainly eat here half-a-dozen times without exhausting the menu.

All of this (and a lot more) is available à la carte, although if you order three courses it will cost you considerably more than the prix fixe. We ordered the $57 menu, which comes with enough food to sate almost anyone.

We started with Perigord Cheese & Truffle Mushroom fondue, which comes with a choice of four “sides” for dipping. We chose the white asparagus, hot chorizo, slab bacon, and fingerling potatoes. It also includes a forgettable green salad and croutons, also for dipping. (The lower-priced prix fixe offers only the salad and croutons.)

The melted cheese itself was rich and luscious. The bacon was the best side dish, and the potatoes also worked well. The asparagus didn’t really pair with the cheese, while the chorizo (cold and clammy) simply wasn’t that good.

For the main course, there’s a choice of oils—we chose peanut—plus four house-made dipping sauces. Our prix fixe came with two meats: we chose pork tenderloin and filet mignon. You can probably guess the drill: dip the meat into the oil, where it cooks in about twenty seconds. Dip in sauce, and repeat. Simple pleasures.

The main course comes once again with the same forgettable green salad, which the chef might want to consider omitting. We didn’t touch it the second time.

Dessert is similar: your choice of chocolate, with a tray of fruits for dipping, and on the side, bowls of shredded coconut, almonds, and walnuts. It’s a can’t-miss dish, but we especially liked the frozen bananas (above, foreground).

The service team consists of the chef himself and two very busy servers, who manage to keep things moving briskly. It helps that the kitchen has very little actual cooking to do. The whole production takes around two hours, though you might spend the first twenty minutes of that just puzzling over the unfamiliar menu.

Pawlicki’s mission here may not be complicated, but he does it very well, and in New York he has the idea all to himself. It’s not food you can eat every day—it’s too rich and too monotonic for that—but it’s loads of fun and thoroughly worthwhile.

Taureau (127 E. Seventh St., West of Avenue A, East Village)

Food: *½
Service: *
Ambiance: *
Overall: *½


La Sirène

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Part of a critic’s job is to direct readers to great restaurants they wouldn’t otherwise discover. Unfortunately, most of New York’s professional critics seldom have time to do so. With just one published review per week, it’s all they can do to keep up with new restaurants that, for all intents and purposes, must be reviewed.

lasirene.gifSo we were gratified to see Frank Bruni’s review of La Sirène—a restaurant we’d never heard of. We’re not sure how Bruni even found the place. When it opened in May 2007, every critic in town ignored it, except for Time Out New York, which awarded four-of-six stars. (TONY’s ratings are a bit odd sometimes, but they have one of the most thorough dining-out sections in town.)

Bruni awarded one star, but you shouldn’t be deceived by that. One star is supposed to mean “good,” and though the stars have been debased over the years, this was one of those rare reviews in which one star was a compliment: Bruni loved the place.

So did we.

lasirene_inside.jpgThe name means “The Mermaid,” perhaps a nod to chef Didier Pawlicki’s Marseille roots. The minimal décor in this tiny slip of a restaurant is faintly nautical, though there’s red meat on the menu too, in addition to the obligatory fish and seafood, especially mussels.

Pawlicki is a constant presence in the dining room, explaining himself and seeking our approval. He served the hangar steak at a table next to ours, and said, “Here it is, medium. I refuse to cook it medium well.” At another, he served sea bass and explained how much of the fish gets thrown away to yield just one filet. To us, he explained the sweet–sour balance of the chocolate in the profiteroles.

Time Out New York called Pawlicki the “Cockiest chef with the goods to back it up.” (The little plaque the magazine gave him is hanging proudly on the wall.) On Citysearch.com, Pawlicki adds a personal comment to every review. The overwhelming majority of those reviews are positive.

On the classic bistro menu, which changes seasonally, appetizers are $7.50–$13.95, entrées $19.50–$28.50, desserts $7.50–$12.75. There are four different preparations of mussels, $12.75 as an appetizer, $21.75 as an entrée. It is probably time that Pawlicki rounded his prices off to the nearest dollar.

These prices have risen considerably since TONY reported that the average entrée was just $20. But La Sirène is more-or-less in line with other places serving food of comparable quality. The restaurant is also BYOB, and apparently has no plans to obtain a liquor license. This reduces the de facto cost of dinner considerably.

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Some of the menu descriptions mix French and English in almost comical ways, such as “Brie, Blue Cheese et Chèvre Rotis sur Croutons a l’ail et Salade Verte” ($13.75); that’s brie, blue and goat cheese on garlic croutons over greens. Our other starter, Gateaux de Crabe ($11.85), speaks for itself.

Both appetizers were adequate but unmemorable, and the plating of the crab dish wasn’t very attractive.

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Hangar Steak, or Onglet Poêlé à la Facon Luchonaise ($24.50) was wonderful. The menu pronounces it the “Signature Main Course.” The steak was lightly seared, cut in thin ribbons fanned around the plate, served with a garlic and parsley sauce, and with a brick of sweet potatoes in the center. Hangar steak can sometimes be tough, but Pawlicki’s version was so tender you’d think it was rib-eye.

lasirene03.jpgMy girlfriend had the terrific Kassoulet Toulousain de la Maison ($26.95), with cannellini beans, tomato, duck leg confit, bacon and pork sausage, all braised with “duck fat yummy!!!”

The challenge with this dish is to ensure the ingredients maintain their clarity; the last two places I’ve had it, the cassoulet was over-cooked, and it the flavor had all boiled away. Here, it was just about perfect.

The entrées came with “veggies du moment” (left), served family style.


The profiteroles have apparently been controversial, with some diners complaining the chocolate was too bitter, though others seemed to love it. Pawlicki yanked it from the menu, but he was able to whip up a batch rather quickly when Frank Bruni and his friends asked for it.

Anyhow, it’s back, along with Pawlicki’s quirky description: 

Grand Profiteroles au “Bittersweet” Chocolat (Good to Share)
Back on the Menu due to Overwhelming demand. (You like it, Good. You don’t, it will stay this time! This isn’t Hershey’s Chocolate, but Callebaut!

Pawlicki ain’t kidding when he says “Good to Share.” With three pastries, each stuffed with ice cream, and the whole plate slathered in chocolate and whipped cream, even two people will struggle to finish it. We certainly didn’t. We can understand the “overwhelming demand” for this excellent dish, but it’s the most expensive dessert on the menu ($12.75). It should probably be scaled back a bit.

The early TONY review referred to an “empty dining room,” but that isn’t the case now. La Sirène has been discovered, and it was full on a Friday night. There are two servers for twenty-five seats, but they’re patient and polished, despite the slightly hectic atmosphere. The ambiance is decidedly informal—you have to pass through the cramped kitchen to get to the restroom—but there’s a romantic rusticity here that is instantly endearing. We suspect that La Sirène will remain a neighborhood classic for some time to come.

Note that, except for AMEX, credit cards are currently not accepted.

La Sirène (558 Broome Street, just east of Varick Street, SoHo)

Food: *½
Service: **
Ambiance: *
Overall: *½


The Payoff: La Sirène

Today, Frank Bruni awards one star to an “oddly compelling little bistro,” La Sirène:

I don’t want to oversell La Sirène, which opened last spring. It operates on a shoestring, doesn’t have a liquor license and doesn’t ace many of the dishes on its relatively short French menu…

And drawing attention to La Sirène runs the risk of overcrowding it. It has only about 25 seats and not an inch to spare, so if your table isn’t ready you have to stand outside, where you’re treated to an intimate view of cars streaming into the Holland Tunnel.

But this scrappy restaurant, where you can hear the bell every time a dish is ready and heat from the kitchen steams diners’ eyeglasses, will charm many people turned off by the vacuous polish and higher prices elsewhere. With no corkage fee, it’s a solid option for wine drinkers seeking liberation from restaurant markups.

Though he loved the place, only five paragraphs mention the food. The rest is about the cramped ambiance and chef Didier Pawlicki’s penchant for responding personally to Internet critiques on sites like citisearch.com.

But I loved the review anyway. It was one of the rare Bruni reviews that called attention to a worthy restaurant that all the other critics had missed. Usually, he just follows breadcrumb trails already well paved by others.

And it was one of the rare one-star reviews that was actually positive. Too often, Bruni’s one-star reviews read like a list of regrets that he couldn’t award a higher rating. One star is supposed to mean “good,” and there ought to be no shame in that.

Lastly, as I mentioned yesterday, this seems to be the first time that Bruni has actually gone out of his way to review a French restaurant. I don’t want to celebrate prematurely, but perhaps he is finally expanding his interests beyond Italian, Asian and Steakhouses.

In the betting department, we’re a loser again this week. We acknowledged that one star was the most likely outcome, but with Eater offering 15–1 odds on the higher rating, we couldn’t help but take the chance, though we must admit it’s a betting strategy that has never yet worked. But because this was such a good week for Bruni, we actually don’t mind losing. The review was at the higher end of one star, as we expected, but one star nevertheless.

Eater wins $4, while we lose $1.

          Eater        NYJ
Bankroll $74.50   $85.67
Gain/Loss +4.00   –1.00
Total $78.50   $84.67
 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 34–14   33–15

BruniBetting: La Sirène

Every week, we take our turn with Lady Luck on the BruniBetting odds as posted by Eater. Just for kicks, we track Eater’s bet too, and see who is better at guessing what the unpredictable Bruni will do. We track our sins with an imaginary $1 bet every week.

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni has an under-the-radar special: La Sirène. The Eater oddsmakers have set the odds as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

Zero Stars: 3-1
One Star: 4-1 √√
Two Stars:
Three Stars: 75-1
Four Stars: 25,000-1

The Skinny: It’s hard for a reviewed restaurant to be more obscure than this one. La Sirène—that’s French for The Mermaid—has been in business for nine months, and I can’t find a single professional review. How did it even come to Bruni’s notice? Well, it does seem to be popular in the gay community. (I am not suggesting that that’s its only attraction.)

The Eater odds today are really crazy. Frank has never pulled a restaurant “out of nowhere” to give it zero stars. It makes no sense to waste a reviewing slot on a place the critics have already ignored anyway, only to suggest that it’s not worth our time.

When Frank reviews a small, earnest restaurant that’s off the beaten path, the rating is usually two stars. After all, one star in the Bruniverse isn’t much of a compliment for restaurants above the level of a deli. One star used to mean “good,” but the truly good one star review is a rarity nowadays.

To the best of our recollection, this is the first time Bruni has reviewed a French restaurant that wasn’t, in some sense, “compelled.” La Sirène is a restaurant he could easily have skipped—after all, every other critic did. When Bruni goes out of his way, it’s usually Italian, Asian, or Steak. So what’s going on here? Bruni must really have been smitten.

We hesitate to jump on the deuce train. For one thing, it’s BYOB, and that’s a rare deficiency in a two-star restaurant (though not unheard of in the Bruni era). Also, what is the probability that there’s a two-star restaurant that every other critic completely overlooked? Assuming that chef Didier Pawlicki’s cuisine is worthy of Frank’s attention, the rating could come down to service, and we have no reliable data points from which to judge.

Our usual practice here is to bet on the most probable outcome, which we believe is one star. But we are positive that if Bruni bothered to put this restaurant on his reviewing rounds, he must have found something extremely compelling, and he would just love to pull the two-star trigger if he could. Therefore, Eater’s 15–1 odds on that outcome are just as crazy as Eater’s 3–1 odds on a goose egg.

Perhaps Eater is just toying with us, but we can’t leave an attractive 15–1 spot hanging like that.

The Bet: Although we believe one star is the most probable outcome, we are laying a wager on the huge payday that the Eater oddsmakers have offered, and are betting that Frank Bruni will award two stars to La Sirène.