Restaurants change with the times. Table Verte, which I enthusiastically reviewed when it first opened as a French Vegetarian Bistro about a year ago (see our review), has changed its name to Le Village, modified its décor, and evolved into a restaurant with some classic French bistro meat dishes (about 20 %) while maintaining a strong focus on vegetarian and gluten-free fare.
The Owner/Executive Chef Didier Pawlicki – who also owns Taureau and Sirene in Soho – is a high-energy presence in the dining room and kitchen. He presides over his tiny realm (seats 26), as if it were his home, one without a liquor license. The good news is that it’s a BYOB establishment without a cork fee (you can buy a bottle of wine next door); the bad news is that it sometimes takes a while between courses. But it’s worth the wait because the food is still terrific.
A surprise amuse bouche at our press dinner was a meltingly delicious disk of Fois Gras paired with an onion relish and small profiteroles (in this case gluten-free). To be honest, I prefer to spread my Fois Gras on a slice of warm, lightly toasted French bread (although everyone else seemed to love the gluten-free profiteroles), but it didn’t much matter because the homemade Fois Gras – whose complex preparation Chef Pawlicki spent a good deal of time explaining to us – was first rate. If it happens to be on menu, grab it.
Winter is a great time to indulge in a hearty French Onion Soup. Le Village’s version is delicious and, with its thick crust of Swiss cheese, a bargain at $9.75. You can order it with chicken stock or vegetable stock, and also request gluten-free bread on the side.
A number of holdovers from Le Table Verte’s appetizers include perfectly cooked sauteed Brussel Sprouts with Balsamic glazed strawberries ($9.75). Also – my absolute favorite — Ravioles Royan à la Crème ($12.75). These tiny raviolis, imported from France, stuffed with comté cheese, parsley and lots of garlic, are nothing short of fabulous. Didier smothers them in heavy cream and a touch of truffle oil, which turns them into creamy, garlicky explosions of flavor. He calls them Sensual. I call them Sensational.
Didier offered us three vegetarian and gluten-free entrees, and one dish for meat eaters. Of all three, perhaps my favorite was another rich, creamy concoction, Gnocchi Parisian au Gratin with Truffles, Mornay Sauce and Swiss Cheese ($18.50). It is Didier’s version of French Mac and Cheese, and a definite winner.
I happen to love vegetables, especially cauliflower. In fact, the Table Verte version of Choux-Fleur Roti was my favorite dish. But somehow, this version, roasted cauliflower on top of sautéed greens, sweet potatoes, quinoa and a red pepper coulis, did not have the same magic. And at $18.75, it did not seem worth the price.
The hearty, mixed bean-based vegetarian Cassoulet ($19.50), with mushrooms and potatoes, will please vegetarians and vegans but bears little resemblance to a classic meat-rich Cassoulet.
French cooking is all about the sauce, and Didier’s Coq au Vin ($23.75), with its traditional ingredients – chicken, red wine, bacon, onion, mushrooms, a boiled potato and herbs – was a well-executed dish. Even though I found the chicken a bit overcooked, its deep, rich, red-wine sauce was excellent.
Save room for the desserts! Each and every one was terrific, so it’s really a matter of whether that evening you prefer chocolate or fruit.
Normally, I would go for the fruit desserts. As at Table Verte, the Banana Brulé ($6.50) was heaven. And both the thin-crust vegan Apple Tarte with coconut sherbet ($7.50), and the Pruneaux a l’Armagnac ($6.50), red-wine macerated, pitted dried prunes with cinnamon, bay leaf, Armagnac, and topped with Coconut Sherbet, couldn’t have been better.
But on this particular evening, chocolate won the day. I think, in part, because of the quality and generosity of the chocolate involved. First on my list was the rich, rich, rich Profiterole au Chocolat Noir ($8.50), overflowing with chocolate, augmented by a generous portion of whipped cream, toasted almonds and a strawberry. Just an exceptional version of the dish.
And I have to say that Didier’s Fondant au Chocolat ($9.75) – Jean-George Vongerichten’s widely-imitated gift to the dessert world – made with chestnut flour so as to render it gluten free, was perfectly molten, as it should be, and – with whipped cream on one end and vanilla ice cream on the other – a perfect ten.
Le Village is one of those small, out-of-the way restaurants that’s so good and so reasonably priced that you almost don’t want to let anyone else know about it for fear that it will be impossible to make a reservation. It’s obviously not a fancy place and for non-vegetarians, the menu is limited, although there are two more meat dishes on the menu — a Black Angus Burger, and Seared Duck Breast – which I haven’t tasted. But for those adventurous souls who love French food with a vegetarian accent, Le Village is not to be missed.
Photos by Eleanor Foa Dienstag
127 East 7th Street (Between First Avenue and Avenue A)
Hours: 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday
5 p.m. to 11p.m. Friday and Saturday
Note: They only accept cash or American Express.