“Who picked this place? It’s so good!” my friend exclaimed as we dug into the table full of French food.
How good does it feel when you pick a restaurant in a city where you don’t live that your New Yorker friends haven’t been to yet and it’s good?
I knew I wanted French food, I wanted to impress my camp friends (Taylor, Brendt and Anna all live in NYC), and I had a not-so-secret weapon: eater.com. My greatest resource for restaurants these days is the Eater’s’38 essential’ guides. Since January, I have eaten in Chicago, New York, Madrid and Barcelona using these restaurant maps as a way to eat at the hotspots, and I have yet to be steered in the wrong direction. Dinner at Lafayette Grand Café & Bakery, also known as #10 on The 38 Essential New York Restaurants, Spring 2016, was no exception.
Lafayette’s dining room, accompanied by a bar and a bakery, occupy an impressive corner in NoHo, an inviting glow emanating through the rows of windows with gold decals. Bistro-style lighting and hints of that perfect French country blue are everywhere from the intricate tile floor to the menu font; almost cheesy, but authentic enough to be impressive.
Cocktails first. I went with the Aviation ‘Royale,’ a spin on the classic bistro staple with lemon and Creme Yvette, and Brendt opted for the Lafayette Old Fashioned, made unique by a whisp of honey.
I started with the escargots bourgignons with parsley and garlic. Sheltered by a layer of buttery breadcrumbs, the snails were perfectly cooked, and I used the charred-to-perfection toasted baguette to sponge every last drop of the parsley butter.
Anna’s beef tartare came perfectly formed with a raw quail egg sitting atop giving it the extra flavour it needed. The sad salad that accompanied it was another story.
Starting off strong, the boys shared the entree-sized rigatoni duck bolognese with crispy rosemary. This is one of those dishes that everyone at the table was jealous of, and of course we all had more than a spoonful or two of the earthy sauce, lightened by the aromatic rosemary.
The wine list at Lafayette is exclusively and proudly French. The sommelier suggested a Pinot Noir from Bourgogne that miraculously paired with our mishmash of main selections.
Brendt and Anna both chose the rotisserie chicken, an act I would normally shun at a restaurant, but it was piled high classic French bistro fare. Rustic, roasted and served with country potatoes.
I couldn’t not get the duck breast. It was giant, as thick as a steak and served with the most savoury daikon I’ve ever had. Cooked to medium rare, it was the perfect texture, with little bits of bacon and sweet Pomegranate seeds popping in my mouth all along the way.
Taylor’s tagine was a production from the moment the server lifted the lid. Steam floated above tender lamb, fragrant with exotic spices and served with almonds and couscous.
Lafayette is great for lunch, brunch or dinner. Service left something to be desired, but the sommelier knew what she was doing, and I tend to prefer bistro-style service to uptight-white-tablecloth service. Lafayette is loud and casual with a hint of elegance, good for a celebration: If you search them on social media you’ll see pictures of excited birthday girls with giant sparklers leaping out of cakes. It’s a spectacle worth asking for.
It’s been a long time since we’ve all been together. After spending years working together in a summer camp in upstate New York, it was hard to believe a decade after we first met, we were all grownups with real jobs sitting in a cool New York restaurant. But there we were, and the food was damn good.
380 Lafayette Street | New York, NY | (215) 533-3000 | lafayetteny.com