I have a new favorite in New York. It’s called Buvette, a French term for refreshment, and a spur-of-the-moment meal there turned into one of the most refreshing meal experiences I’ve had in a very long time. And I use the word experience because it was the sum of all the parts that made this so enjoyable.
Buvette is one of those places that you might not know about unless you’ve heard it from a friend or a friend of a friend. Indeed, you could pass by its West Village storefront and not even notice a restaurant inside. So I begin by thanking a friend for suggesting I seek it out. Walking inside, one finds an atmosphere that combines the best of a French cafe and a typical New York neighborhood boite. It calls itself a gastroteque, which offers as much guidance as gastropub.
When I stopped in, I merely wanted to get a peek at the menu, maybe for future reference -- I had other plans for my evening meal, and it was still a bit early. The gracious host greeted me and my friend warmly with bonsoirs and bienvenues and presented us with menus. There isn’t a lot to read -- the offerings are small, both in number and in size of the portions. Even the menu itself is diminutive, smaller than an average Hallmark greeting card. The prices are, too, with average plate $10 to $12. Perhaps, we thought, we would just have an “appetizer” before heading out to dinner later.
We grabbed a couple of seats at the marble-topped bar and the same man who had greeted us so warmly started pouring us generous samples of wines he wanted us to consider with our food. He soon turned us over to one of the other servers behind the bar and before long we were talking about good wines and good food with all of them. I ordered the coq au vin and my companion selected the cassoulet from the list of the evening’s specials, written on a small chalkboard.
The cassoulet was served in a small crockery dish, a chicken leg and thigh quarter atopthe beans and generously sliced sausage. The coq au vin was in a little cast iron pot, a darker serving of the classic dish than you may be familiar with. I can’t decide which of the two I liked more. The chicken served with the cassoulet was wonderful because it had obviously been cooked separate from the rest of the ingredients, or so its crispy edges would indicate. The coq au vin had a richness that explained the dark coloring. And even though these were smaller portions than what we’re used to being served in a restaurant, I have to tell you that they were just the right amount to eat, especially with the wonderful French bread that was served with them.
Buvette is very small -- like the menu, the offerings and the prices -- tables and chairs are more suited for couples who don’t mind sitting closely. The biggest things in the place are a massive chalkboard that outlines the wine regions of France and an unusual chandelier that hangs over a larger table in a side room where the decor makes it look like a dining room in a farmhouse somewhere in the French countryside. When I stepped in to snap a photo of the elaborate light fixture, I met the chef, Jody Williams, and she was welcoming and delightful to speak to, just as her staff were.
I’ve had many wonderful meals in New York but few that offered such a total enjoyable experience. Consider this a recommendation from a friend that you should seek it out.
And what about the restaurant that I had actually intended to dine at? I was too full and too satisfied to go. And one day later, I can’t even remember where I was headed.
Buvette is at 42 Grove St., New York. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner daily (I’m told the morning scrambled eggs are prepared using the steamer from the cappuccino machine) and late night, too. Here’s a link to the website, but, frankly, there’s little there in the way of information. (Also, audible alert: the website not only plays music but speaks to you.) The phone number is 212-255-3590.