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)