On a rainy Monday night in midtown a few weeks ago, I found myself faced with classic New York dilemma. I was running late to meet Andy for his birthday dinner downtown and needed to make a decision: Should I try to catch a cab (always a risky proposition on a rainy night) or just get on the subway, which involved a transfer (always a time-eater)? At the same time, I was also asking myself Why didn’t we just stay home for his birthday? The girls could’ve been part of it and I certainly wouldn’t be standing on a corner soaking wet, nervous about being late. To add to my decidedly First World anxiety, we were going to Buvette, a jewel box of a restaurant on Grove Street in the West Village, run by Jody Williams, who has become something of a cult hero to food insiders and bon vivants everywhere. In other words, it’s popular. Every minute I was late felt like an hour I’d have to queue up for an open table.
I took the subway to Christopher Street, sprinting a block in the rain, by then coming down sideways. When I finally bulldozed into the gastrotheque, feeling very much like a wet dog, I made my way back to Andy seated at a small table tucked into a corner. “Happy Birthday, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Happy Birthday,” I said, but less sorry than relieved that we still had a table.
“What’s the stress?” he said, taking a sip of his Manhattan and leaning back. “You’re here. Look at this place.” He opened his arms wide, as if personally presenting Buvette to me.
He loved Buvette — which is why we picked it for his birthday. I looked around at the intimate, brick-exposed space, at the regulars reading books and drinking cocktails at the marble-topped bar, at the chandelier made from old cooking equipment hanging like a piece of modern art in the back room. For all the trendy chatter about this place, it felt neighborly and warm, as if it had been here forever. Within minutes, I was sipping my own Manhattan, overtaken by the warmth, the cold rainy streets fading away like a jet trail.
I’ve only been to Buvette for dinner, but I’ve heard it has this escapist effect on diners no matter what the meal, and no matter what state of harriedness the diner might arrive in. Like the corner we were tucked into, everything about the place is small: The table, the menu, the plates, the portions, the covered ramekins holding little cassoulets, confits, rabbit stews, and coq au vins. We started with two toasts: Fava and Ricotta and Anchovies with Butter, then moved on to beets with horseradish creme fraiche (coming soon to a dinner table near me) and rabbit moutarde before finishing with a chocolate mousse, so densely chocolate that the two forks planted like flagpoles in the dessert stood upright until we removed them and mauled what sat before us.
I’m not writing this to a) make you jealous or b) gloat (though I will say, I nailed the birthday dinner.) I’m writing because as of this week, even people who don’t live within a subway transfer of Buvette can still have the experience at home (minus the sprinting and the raining hopefully). Recipes for everything we ate that night are in Williams’ new book Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food: The toasts, the moutarde, the mousse, the creme fraiche — not to mention everything else we want to go back to eat including the Roast Chicken Salad (above, left) Braised Leeks with Shallot Vinaigrette (above, right), Oatmeal Brulee (below), Duck Confit, Warm Potato Salad with Anchovies, and an Apple and Cheese Fricos that my kids would go crazy for. And the book itself, with its cloth spine and poetic photography (by Gentl & Hyers) is one of the more stunning objects I’ve seen. I know what I’m giving hosts and Mother’s Day celebrants this year.
Soft-boiled egg with prosciutto-wrapped Parmesan-spiked soldiers.
Toasted Oatmeal Brûlée that can be made up to a week in advance — should you be doing some breakfast or brunch entertaining.
Apple and Cheese Fricos
Makes 4 fricos
Extra-virgin olive oil
1½ cups coarsely grated Montasio cheese (or other aged cow’s-milk cheese, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano)
1 Gala apple, stemmed, cored, and thinly sliced
4 fresh sage leaves
Set a heavy medium skillet over medium heat and pour in enough olive oil to thinly coat the entire surface of the pan. Sprinkle a quarter of the cheese evenly over the surface of the pan and scatter over a quarter of the apple slices and a sage leaf. Cook until the cheese has completely melted, is bubbling, and is golden brown on its underside. Using a spatula, carefully fold half the cheese over to form a half-moon shape (like an omelette) and transfer the frico to a square of parchment paper.
Continue to make fricos with the remaining cheese and apples, adding more oil to the pan as necessary. Serve warm.
Here’s some great news: Grand Central Publishing is offering a free copy of Buvette to a commenter chosen at random below. Contest ends 4/23 at 5 PM ET and winners must live in the US. Good luck!
Best logo ever.
Update: The winner is Courtney (A Life From Scratch) #255. Thanks to everyone who participated! Also: apologies that the deadline originally said 4/24 instead of 4/23! I totally messed up the date — it was only supposed to be a two-day contest; please forgive the typo.