New York is changing so rapidly – often for the worse – that I’m no longer surprised, after returning from a short vacation, to find half the restaurants in my neighborhood have gone out of business, and whole blocks torn down to make way for high-rise development.
But sometimes there are happy surprises. Such was the case the other day when I was on my way from the 7th Avenue subway to a French restaurant on Christopher Street. There, across from Greenwich Village’s historic Stonewall Inn, was a formerly rundown triangle of park transformed into a beautifully landscaped urban oasis. Amazingly, the Stonewall National Monument, as it is now called, is America’s first LGBT national park. It was so designated by President Obama just two months ago (June 24, 2016). So check out the Park (off 7th Avenue), before or after your visit to Dominique Bistro (DB), which is located on the corner of Christopher and Gay Streets.
Interior of Restaurant
If any part of New York is like Paris it’s the West Village, with its small boutiques and low-rise brownstones. Dominique Bistro, inspired by and named after its Chef, Dominique Pepe, offers classic bistro food in a comfortable and cozy setting. Given the restaurant’s high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows, it’s flooded with natural light, which may be one of the reasons why so many neighborhood patrons settle in early with their laptops, iPads and wine. The other reason, of course, is the delicious food, served from morning ‘til night.
When making a dinner reservation, ask for a seat by one of the large windows. It’s the best view in the house. While we were perusing the menu and sipping glasses of wine ($17 for a glass of Chardonnay and $15 for a glass of Chianti), a delicious bite-size Spinach Croquette appeared, an amuse bouche courtesy of the Chef. Creamy and yet slightly crunchy, it was not only delicate and delicious but a sign of good things to come.
Like most New Yorkers, we chose first courses we could share. I’m a sucker for Tuna Tartare ($21), and this one was one excellent, especially refreshing on a hot summer evening. The Ahi Tuna with lemon oil was remarkably fresh, and the entire dish, on its bed of avocado, wonderfully lemony. Other “French Market” first course choices included such old-time favorites as Steak Tartare ($19), Mussels ($17), Escargots ($17) and Fois Gras ($22).
Yet, overall, I probably preferred the large Pear Salad ($16), whose individual ingredients – baby arugula, freshly poached pears, crumbles of sweet Gorgonzola and crunchy, candied walnuts – were perfect and well balanced. The French bread, dunked in a bit of oil, was delicious. If one were looking for a light pre-theater dinner, one could make a meal from just these two first course choices. Other French salad classics offered were — Nicoise ($17) and Frisee ($16) – as well as America’s gift to cuisine, Kale Ceasar ($16). I love them all and look forward to trying each on return visits.
Diners at the Bar
Between Duck Cassoulet ($32), Coq Au Vin ($29) and other staples of French bistro food, it was hard to make a choice. Instead of Salmon ($28) or Scallops ($32), my default summer choice these days, we went for Duck Confit and Steak Frites.
Of the two, we both preferred the perfectly cooked Duck Confit ($25), a classic dish from Gascony, with its crisp exterior and meltingly tender interior. We also adored the roasted, lightly salted fingerling potatoes that went with the dish.
The Steak Frites ($34), on the other hand, was okay but nothing special. The portion of NY Strip was generous, but the meat a bit chewy and not particularly well seasoned. Similarly, the large serving of French Fries lacked flavor and crispness.
On the other hand, the two desserts we ordered were sensational, and a bargain. If you agree with me that there is no such thing as too much sugar, then you will adore, as I did, the Crème Brulée ($10), with its thick, sugary crust and silken custard underneath. My friend went crazy for the deep, dark Chocolate Soufflé ($10) that, in fact, was more like Jean George’s classic invention, oozing warm molten chocolate in the center. It was served with a scoop of cool vanilla ice cream and ring of nuts, a perfect complement to the rich chocolate.
So if you are in the neighborhood for a movie or the theater, I can’t think of a better place to stop for a meal, especially for those – like me — who still love classic French bistro food in a casual setting.
Dominique Bistro is open for brunch and lunch (10 AM to 5PM), and offers a prix fixe lunch menu with a glass of wine for $35.78.
14 Christopher Street
Photos by Eleanor Foa Dienstag