Recently, an encounter with a Chinatown fish bound for somebody’s dinner table goaded me to address a long-standing discomfort about eating animals. This highly persuasive fish had mermaid-y blue-green scales, and he moved his perfectly shaped back fin in a wave of goodbye to my omnivorist ways. Suddenly, I was a vegetarian.
That is all well and good, but a couple of days into going full-veg I remembered that I had an upcoming reservation to review Paris Commune. A West Village institution, the Commune isn’t known as a hotbed for NYC’s vegetarians. In fact, the last item on the menu here is called “Roasted Greenmarket Vegetables.” Tailing a list of items like grilled ostrich, filet mignon, and duck confit, a vegetable plate by that name seems to scream: “Okay, fine, we’ll throw in something at the end for the hippies.”
So since I arrived skeptical, I’m beyond heartened to know that you can easily find a scrumptious, incredible meal while eschewing meat at protein-heavy bistro Paris Commune.
Paris Commune’s dining room is warm and welcoming, festive and fragrant; the food can be described the same way. My dining companion and most omnivorous friend and I started with an appetizer of brie, which is encrusted and flaky, and served with sweet and savory garnishes. It’s small and rich and the exact right size; it easily wedged its way into our hearts at first oozy bite.
Too stubborn to order said Roasted Greenmarket Vegetables (although our intimidatingly debonair server recommends it as tasty and of beautiful presentation) I chose the other vegetarian option, vegetable risotto… though I don’t typically like risotto outside of Italy. But Paris Commune’s version is delicious and here to convert me to a stateside risotto lover. Chewy grains are suspended in a light creamy sauce and well-proportioned with not-overdone vegetables. Salty and soft chunks of feta cheese sit half-melting on top.
My date, who’s qualified to rate Paris Commune not just by all of its food groups but also as someone who’s half French, enjoyed a dinner portion of succulent mussels and fries. I wasn’t above soaking a few fries in the mussels’ quite original mustard-beer sauce. We shared glasses of Cotes du Rhone–smoky, caramelly–and an spicy but light Argentine Malbec. Both are well-chosen, and the remainder of the wine list could stand some further exploration by me.
I managed to pass up the spiced pumpkin fritters for dessert, but only because the kitchen had unexpectedly run out of them. We chose instead the traditional French pot du chocolat, which Caroline compared to the motherland version as being bigger, colder, and generally more mousse-like, yet scrumptious, and made to be complemented with a light red wine.
It’s difficult to imagine an occasion that Paris Commune’s dining room isn’t perfect for. The night I visited, I learned about the downstairs bar, which brings a whole new list of reasons to spend an evening here among friends. Lucky us, we happened to visit on a special day. Hugo and Jaime are Paris Commune’s co-owners–smart restaurateurs who know how ensure a classic restaurant continues to exceed expectations–and it turns out, they throw a pretty good party. It was Hugo’s birthday, and Jamie cordially invited us to his birthday celebration in the basement. The space is dark but vibrant and encircled in a giant mural (in fact, the artist was in attendance). The painting is full of friends of the owners and faces of favorite celebrities. We enjoyed a truly gracious Paris Commune specialty cocktail, as I thanked them for a rich and lavish meat-free meal that left me wanting absolutely nothing. Next time, maybe I’ll even give the vegetable plate a chance.
99 Bank Street, Corner of Greenwich Street