French Fare, Sans Meat: Mushroom Snails and Seitan Steak in the West Village
Located in a tiny, brick-walled space on a tree-lined stretch of Christopher Street just off Sheridan Square, Délice & Sarrasin is the Platonic ideal of a cozy French bistro, if Plato had been a vegan more concerned with comfort and atmosphere than epicurean adventure. On a weekday afternoon, the room, which seats about eighteen, fills up with Village denizens sipping coffee, nibbling sweet crepes, or reading the paper. It feels tranquil, ideal for a lazy urban reverie. For dinner, it becomes a perfect date spot — low-lit, quiet clientele, capable service, and an evergreen menu of French staples with a twist.
Former fashion model Christophe Caron Soriano opened the place in August of 2015 with his parents — who moved to New York from Toulouse, in the South of France, where Caron Soriano's mother, Yvette, worked at Le Garenne, a restaurant and hotel. Before opening, she set out to create versions of French classics that wouldn't rely on meat, butter, eggs, or cheese. For a cuisine that leans heavily, and proudly, on all four, it was a tall order, like building the Eiffel Tower out of sustainable bamboo instead of steel. That might account for the occasionally lackluster results.
But first, the bright spots. A truly excellent appetizer, the "escargot beurre maître d'hôtel" — here, vegan snails in garlic-coconut butter — comes out sizzling with thin slices of toasted bread, redolent of fragrant parsley and garlic. Oyster mushrooms stand in for the mollusks, an ingeniously rich, chewy choice. As for dessert, you can't gobble down the La Bryan crepe fast enough: The thin, crisp pancake is topped with spicy gingerbread croutons, whipped "cream," powdered sugar, and salted caramel — a light, not-too-sweet seasonal treat. Similarly enticing are the savory crepes, made with buckwheat flour (hence the "sarrasin" of the restaurant's name), like the Mr. Rabelais, with sausage, mushrooms, mustard cream, and nut-based gruyère.
It's hard to find an entrée on par with those dishes, though. No French vegetarian dish is more iconic than ratatouille, the vegetable stew of tomato, squash, eggplant, peppers, onions, and garlic, which is why it should be a home run. But while it performs its warm, comforting function, the version at Délice & Sarrasin would benefit from a healthy sprinkling of salt. The ersatz steak frites are served with a seitan chop that tastes like hamburger, and the crispy thick-cut fries are bogged down by too much truffle oil, giving them a bitter aftertaste. One of the dessert specials, a vegan éclair, should be an exciting prospect, considering recent innovations in egg-white substitutes such as aquafaba (chickpea water). But instead of airy and crisp, the pastry is cakey, dense, and dry. If there is some approximation of cream inside, it's lost amid this inedible brick.
Bafflingly, the menu doesn't identify what each meat substitute is made from — off-putting for omnivores and vegans alike, all of whom might appreciate knowing exactly what they're ordering without having to ask. There's simply "v. steak" or "v. salmon"; the aforementioned oyster mushroom escargot is identified as "v. snails." This seems a misstep, especially given the restaurant's use of such cutting-edge ingredients as cultured coconut butter and rich cashew cheese from California-based producer Miyoko's Kitchen.
Délice & Sarrasin has the location, space, and ambition to show that a cuisine famous for being antagonistic toward veganism can succeed without meat and animal products. The proof might not yet be on all the plates, but it's on a few.
Délice & Sarrasin
20 Christopher Street, 212-243-7200
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