[Free stuff by Wilfrid: December 22, 2014]
Le Village is a French bistro in a narrow corridor of a room on East 7th Street. It's warmly decorated, service is friendly, and--unusually for the genre--it offers many gluten-free options, and a number of vegetarian and even vegan dishes.
In fact, some things about it seem familiar. And rightly so. In my own words...
In the beginning, Didier Pawlicki created La Sirène in SoHo, and Frank Bruni found the hearty bistro food and BYOB policy good. Inspired, he opened Taureau, a fondue restaurant, also BYOB in the East Village. ...Taureau beat a retreat to SoHo, where it nestles in the shadow of its elder sibling. Where Taureau had been, M. Pawlicki (gave) us Table Verte.
In the same space, he now offers Le Village. Fruitless to speculate whether the strong vegan emphasis of Table Verte was a deterrent to those looking for mainstream French bistro food. Le Village mixes in some of the food which has been so successful at La Sirène, but retains a few of Table Verte's (very good) signature items--and indeed, retains a mainly vegetarian menu.
The decor is somewhat less austere now, and features a light display which slowly changes color--it adds coziness to the room, but will make it look like photographs were taken in several different locations! Eating at the invitation of the restaurant, I tried some new dishes, and some old favorites.
Who could object to starting out with some torchon of foie gras, especially made inhouse (Chef Didier gave us the blow-by-blow) from fresh D'Artagnan duck livers. (Not on the regular menu.)
The spin on the dish: instead of predictable brioche, we were offered puffy discs of gluten-free (you wouldn't know) choux. A deconstructed foie gras profiterole? The choux does indeed show up again in the classic chocolate profiterole dessert.
Another luxury dish, tiny imported French ravioli (the size of ravioli del plin). They come stuffed with Comte cheese, parsley and garlic, and Le Village simply blasts them in heavy cream, with a splash of truffle oil. Not difficult for the kitchen to make; very difficult for diners to stop eating. A gratin of gnocchi in a Mornay sauce, with Swiss cheese, was truffled in a similar way. I preferred the ravioli.
There was a pause for classic French onion soup, fiercely hot and stringy with cheese, which had me nostalgic for winter nights at Capsouto Frères. Along the way, another chance to sample Table Verte's unusual but convincing roast brussel sprouts with caramlized strawberries in a balsamic sauce. Why doesn't everyone match fruit with brussels, instead of bacon for a change?
Cassoulet was beautifully crusted, but of course it features no meat, but a selection of neatly cooked beans. The whole roast cauliflower is still a fascinating exercise in texture as well as taste: in addition to the seared main feature, smooth sweet potatoes and nutty quinoa.
Meat eaters, having eaten pâté de campagne (maybe foie if you're lucky) to start, can choose chicken or duck to follow. The coq au vin--as made at La Sirène--is dark and hearty, with a floury mound of mash to soak up the juices.
Then a parade of desserts to which I could hardly do justice. What looks like--and has the brittle surface of--a crème brûlée--but turns out to be a French take on banana pudding. The chocolate profiteroles. A fondant au chocolat. And a seasonal vegan tart--apple in the case--with first-rate, very light vegan pastry.
Gentle prices: appetizers under $10, most mains in the teens ($24-ish for the coq au vin). And still no corkage, BYO.
Here's the website.