On Friday night, after the very fun Gallatin holiday party at Le Poisson Rouge, T and I walked up Bleecker to Grove, and Buvette, Jody Williams’ tiny French bistro which, in what’s a particularly modern move, has just opened a branch in Paris (a city newly in love with Americans remixing its classics and selling them back, doing French food better than the French—or at least, in a way that appeals more to Americans.) But Buvette, as T might say, comes correct. There’s a long marble bar that’s both a service and a storage area for desserts, crockery, and wine chilling in buckets; we ordered vin brûlé from a silver urn, which was spicy and rich and smelled like Christmas in a Dickens novel, but lighter and fresher; they hold the sugar, in everything, thank god.
We got a bottle of very reasonable Prosecco and a tiny table by the stairs, and had to huddle in as waiters and waiting guests crowded us. Incredible how many people that tiny space could absorb, and the waiters managed; not rushed or harried, just doing their job, with none of the cloying solicitude you usually get from staff in fancier but less good New York restaurants—they don’t ask “how is everything?” thirty seconds after setting it down, because they know. You get a kind of “all good?” nod as the guy goes past, and he remembers which bottle is yours and tops it up on the fly. We had a glorious little meaty lineup to start—velvety chicken liver pate, rich duck rillettes, thick, spicy cured sausage, then slivers of veal tongue and braised leeks.
And then dessert. Tarte tatin is a classic dessert I’ve made many times, and love. But I’ve never had one like this. In restaurants it’s usually too sweet and too cakey, a caramel-apple glop on a puff-pastry mattress, but this was something else. The apples and caramel tasted almost smoky, like there was whisky in the glaze (I’m sure there wasn’t), and the creme fraiche dolloped on top had a real farmyard musk to it, like they were churning it fresh from cows out back on Sixth Avenue. You just don’t realize how much flavor there is in food when your palate is so accustomed to the thinning-out that happens when things are processed, sweetened, strung out to one note. It’s not so much that there’s more going on—there’s pastry, apples, caramel and soured cream—but that there’s a scale in each of those that runs from one to a hundred rather than one to five, and the whole thing is played. I resort to musical metaphors, though I don’t play music. Beyond the merely harmonious, melodic, the symphonic. Which is to say, go if you can.