Le Bistro d’à Côté
1590 1st Avenue
New York, NY 10028
Last Sunday was Mother’s Day, so it is almost required that you have some sort of meal with mom. Some years we get together with cousins for a big BBQ, sometimes we have family over, etc. This year we wanted to something a little more low key, so settled on a nice brunch with just the four of us — me, mom, dad and my brother, Dan.
Dad ordered the Soupe a l’Oignon ($11), or French Onion soup. The broth was very rich and aromatic with a great onion flavor. It wasn’t too sweet, and still had a solid alcohol flavor, which probably came from red wine. It might’ve been cognac though. The swiss cheese gratin crust was thick and delicious, with the classic, nutty flavor that comes from using Gruyere cheese. Plus, the cheese passed the all-important stretch test. The croutons in the soup were soft and soaked up a good amount of the flavorful broth.
While dad opted for the soup, mom, Dan and I split the Le Croustillant De Chèvre Chaud ($15) appetizer, which featured warm goat cheese and spinach wrapped in phyllo over mixed greens. The greens were dressed lightly, and the dried cranberries popped with flavor. They were a little sour, having absorbed some of the vinaigrette, which was a nice burst of acidity to cut through the richness of the dish. The goat cheese itself was so creamy and the phyllo paper delicately thin. The sliced baguette bread that came to the table was hot and crisp on the outside, but perfectly fluffy in the middle. I loved the crunch as I bit into the baguette—it was great for scooping up some of the goat cheese.
Mom ordered the Oeufs Nordique ($15), a delicious, bistro version of smoked salmon Benedict, served with roasted potatoes and mixed greens. The smoked salmon was chewy, slightly salty, meaty and surprisingly creamy. The eggs were perfectly cooked, and the english muffin was soft and absorbed the yolk well. The hollandaise over the top of the Benedict was textbook in its richness, but was also wonderfully light.
The Oeufs Florentine ($13), or eggs florentine, was also tasty. The spinach was still nice and crisp underneath the eggs, and the diner staple of feta cheese wasn’t missed. Again, the eggs were beautifully cooked, and tasted great with a sprinkle of salt. The salmon Benedict didn’t need any salt because of the inherent saltiness of the smoked salmon. My only critique was that the potatoes were not very hot when the dish came to the table.
I opted for a Croque Madame ($13.50), which is simply a French spin on a ham and cheese sandwich, covered with a Béchamel white sauce and broiled. The difference between a Croque Madame and a Croque Monsieur is that the Madame has a fried egg on top as well. I ordered mine with no ham, and was slightly worried that it would be dry, but my worries were unfounded. The dish wasn’t wet and also not dry, but rather got softer and somewhat creamy as I went inward. The egg on top was (again) cooked well with perfectly runny yolk. The fries were crisp and hot, and tasted great with some Dijon mustard—very French. The greens were dressed with some simple oil and were a great vehicle for a sprinkle of the sea salt on the table.
The final dish of the meal was the Risotto aux Champignons des Bois ($19), or wild mushroom risotto. The risotto was in a word: delectable. The rice was cooked al dente and wasn’t too creamy, but very hearty. The dish was very earthy, and had a wonderful deep flavor from the mushrooms, as well as the black truffle oil. It was garnished with small strips of shaved parmesan over the top. The risotto was actually perfect for brunch since it had at the appearance of a bowl of oatmeal.
The restaurant presents itself in a simple, French bistro style with exposed brick, redone hardwood floors, and a narrow but still spacious dining room on one side and a bar on the other. There was relaxing jazz music playing—they actually have live jazz on Sunday nights. Large wine cabinets in the bar and restaurant areas were prevalent, with a simple table setup in the dining room.
I usually avoid talking about any major negatives, but I have to point out that the restaurant’s website indicated that Sunday brunch came with a mimosa, Bloody Mary, juice or coffee if a brunch item was ordered. When we asked about this, the waitress said at first that it was only for their “hangover brunch,” which was a choice between two specific items only (2 eggs any style or a ham and cheese croissant). When she finally came back when plates were cleared away, we asked again and were told that it was for their brunch, but not on holidays. In actuality there was no special Mother’s Day menu. To me, that was false representation and slightly marred the experience.
Overall, the service wasn’t very enthusiastic, mostly from the waitress, however the food and prices were very good. It reminded me very much of a cafe or bistro in Paris. Solid place to get some traditional bistro fare, and hopefully a glass of wine next time. Ah oui!