Found ourselves in downtown Manhattan on a rainy Friday night at 9:30, hungry and without a reservation. Felt like going a little upscale since I was, unusually, with husband and not child. Aha! I thought. Le Zinc--that bistro opened by the Waltucks of Chanterelle. No way we would get in, though, I thought. Called on the cell and they said usually it would be a long wait on a Friday, but the rain was keeping people in (or out). They guessed twenty minutes.
We arrived, and were--miracle of miracles--seated instantly. We squeezed into a corner booth. They kind of pack 'em in there. It's a fun-looking room, with a high-vaulted ceiling, sort of like a train station. Appealing contemporary art posters are pasted on the walls. The acoustics, in that full room, were absolutely the worst--THE WORST!--I have ever experienced. The server leaned over us to take our order. "I can't hear you!" she shouted. You can imagine--I'm not a low-talker.
An order of assorted charcuterie sounded large enough to share, so we did. We downed an entire basket of excellent, really crusty bread while we waited--not because it took long, but because the bread was so irresistible. Our wine arrived, a '98 Jaboulet Croze-Hermitage Les Jalets, which seemed like a good deal at $25 or so. It was the lightest Jaboulet Les Jalets I've ever tasted--would have mistaken it for a garden-variety beajolais if I tasted it blind. Charcuterie came. A quenelle-shaped portion of chopped chicken liver--smooth and a bit bland. Several other decent patés, including a venison pate with dried cherries and a pretty good rabbit terrine. A little salad on the plate, along with something that looked like cornichons but tasted like bread-n-butter pickles.
My husband tried to order a pork shank, and the server said "Oh, they should have told you we're out of it." Who "they"? Isn't that up to the server when you get the menus? The coat check attendant should have told us? He ordered a pork chop charcutiere instead. That arrived perfectly cooked, just a little pink in the middle, with a tangy, interesting charcutiere sauce. Along with a layered potato dish that was so salty it was inedible. My husband ate it anyway. Garnished with really boring sugar snap peas that added nothing to the overall picture. I had a Hungarian style stuffed cabbage, filled with pork and basmati rice that was supposed to have some jasmine scent or other. (That was how the server described it.) Of course it wsa just a hearty hungarian-style stuffed cabbage, so any subtle scent would have been lost, and was, if it was ever there. It was tasty and satisfying, though terribly undersalted. Wasn't anyone tasting the food in there? Again--the dumb sugar snap peas, even dumber with my dish.
Our server disappeared halfway through dinner, though we saw her working the other side of the room. We got a new one, with no apparent reason. We shared something called a bete noir for dessert, a dense flourless chocolate cake with chocolate-flavored whipped cream. Just okay.
We had fun, though we had to choose our words carefully since it was so hard to hear each other, even though we were at on banquettes at the corner table! A word, though, about the use of the descriptor "bistro." Bistros are comfortable and cozy. This was much more like a brasserie in atmosphere--loud, pretty bright, and kind of raucous. Food was decent, though I won't be back anytime soon.