If a Hollywood producer were filming a frothy romantic comedy set in Paris, and needed a tiny bistro so perfectly charming that a starry-eyed Meg Ryan, dining there, would fall hopelessly in love with the leading man... well, he could save money on airfare by filming the scene in La Sirene. Of course to make the scene work, you'd need a happy, enthusiastic chef who would run out of the kitchen -- which is really part of the dining room since the whole place is, while larger than a postage stamp, not all that much larger -- and make everyone feel welcome. And the producer need not hire an actor to play that role, because no one could play it better than Didier Pawlicki, the chef, owner, and chief busboy (he lugs huge sacks of potatoes to the kitchen in between cooking) of La Sirene. A woman next to me was allergic to onions. Mr. Pawlicki came to her table, went through the entire menu -- "this dish I could do, that dish needs onions to make it work, ah wait! I know the perfect dish for you, no onions and it is fantastic!"
There's a 3 course prix fixe available between 5 and 7 for $25 (cash only, credit cards accepted for everything else, and wine is BYOB with NO corkage fee!) I ordered calamari, simple yet lovely squid rings sauteed with wilted greens, tomatoes, spices. For my main, I requested the skate (there's also mussels, seafood pie, lamb stew, or duck confit) You're in luck, said the chef, you got the last portion! But then a few minutes later, he came out. Je suis desole, there is not enough skate. Instead of having me pick from the other entrees, he said he'd make something special. What would you like? I put myself in your hands, I said in hopefully passable French. A while later, out came hanger steak, which is on the regular menu, but more expensive than anything on the prix fixe. And it was wonderful. Simply sauteed in something rich and buttery, with a few herbs thrown on, cooked very rare just how I like it. Sided with spinach, mashed potatoes, and two kinds of sweet potatoes. Dessert was a simple chocolate mousse.
I'm glad I discovered this place. Actually, the New York Times discovered it before I did. So call before you go. The Times liked it as much as I do, and so the place is packed, all 25 chairs.
558 1/2 Broome Street (Varick Street)
Times review: http://events.nytimes.com/2008/03/19/...