I have been on a real French food kick lately, probably because I haven't returned to Paris in over a year, and it's starting to get to me. And in this instance when I say French, I mean bistro food, like the food that was served at my favourite restaurant in the Marais. Hence why lately, when I've been in NY, I've been dragging my friends to restaurants that will hopefully make me forget I'm in the US, for at least a little bit.
And this is why we ended up at Epicerie Cafe Charbon, on Stanton and Orchard, Friday night. We had reservations at 8, but it was more like 8:30 by the time we got there (and yes, we called the restaurant to let them know we were running woefully late.) Seating was prompt.
There are two large rooms - the darkish bar in which you enter, which does have some tables for dining, and then a second room, more brightly (but still dimly) lit, with foodstuffs lining the wall as if you were in a pantry. It was the latter in which we were seated.
There is a standard bistro menu, and then they also have a tapas menu, which you can request, some specials listed on a chalkboard hanging on the wall. As we were looking over the wine menu, the waiter came over, unsolicited, to help us choose one, which was nice. I especially like the fact that they leave a carafe of water on the table for you - much better than having to wait to flag down a waiter for refills. Some good chewy bread was also placed on the table when we arrived, along with a crock of butter.
We ended up ordering the tortilla espanola - one of the tapas - as an appetizer, which came promptly. It was very well done, with a little spice of some sort to keep it from being too egg-and-potato bland. My friend then got the pork filet mignon - really, a pork tenderloin, cut into medallions and carmelised a little bit, served with a gratin dauphinoise - incredibly rich but so good - and some dressed mixed greens. The pork was also good, a little pink on the inside as I generally like it. I ordered the duck confit, as I can never pass up a duck entree when it is listed on the menu. It was served in a small cast-iron pan, a nice tender leg, with crispy skin and juicy meat - unfortunately a little on the small side. It came with a healthy portion of potatoes - the little diced pan-fried ones, so good - and also with some dressed mixed greens. We were both very pleased with our meals. For dessert, we ordered bananas flambe - it took a little while to come, and the waiter offered us glasses of wine on the house as an apology for our wait - but when it came, it was worth it. A banana sliced lengthwise, with a layer of hardened caramel on top, served with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. So scrumptious. Dinner for the night came to around $75 before tax and tip, for an appetizer, 2 entrees, 1 dessert and a bottle of wine.
The place was perhaps 2/3rds full when we arrived, but absolutely full with a wait when we left around 10:15ish. Perhaps corresponding to this, service was prompt at the beginning of our meal, but started to drag on as the night progressed and more patrons entered. I would definitely come back - it's a better place to come with friends than on a preliminary date, I think - and it definitely satisfied my cravings for some good bistro food.