Left Bank: A Trip Down Meh-mory Lane

Prop Joe's fave lamb tartare?
Liz Barclay

The Left Bank isn't just the part of Paris where the intellectual elite (and their wannabes) debated Sartre and chain-smoked Gauloises. It's also what we used to call the West Village. Bohemians and radicals once flocked there, too—before software moguls and celebrities nabbed up all the real estate.

A new restaurant in the heart of the 'hood—the corner of Perry and Greenwich streets, to be exact—pays homage in name to that era of revelry and rebellion. Formerly housing Braeburn, the bright space has been stripped down for a subdued yet modern feel. There's very little décor of note, save for a smattering of charcoal portraits in the barroom depicting the likes of Diane Keaton (circa Annie Hall) and "Prop Joe" from the TV show The Wire. (The owner is a fan, I was told.) An austere setting can work if the kitchen's output requires every millisecond of your attention (à la Per Se). But that's not the case here. Although the food and exceptionally friendly service more than pass muster, the culinary creativity is, well, lacking.

Chef Laurence Edelman draws on American, French, and Italian classics, crafting a well-priced and notably brief menu with only four to five selections each for apps and entrées. A short menu can be refreshing—but each plate should then sparkle with originality. This bill of fare reads like hundreds that have come before it.  

Some starters elevate the excitement a notch, such as a lamb tartare ($16), minced fine and perked up with capers, anchovy, and Parmesan cheese strips. A thick slab of porky rillettes ($14) smears nicely over slices of toasted bread. Have a few bites and pretend the nearby Hudson River is the Seine.

Keep the water glasses on hand (or, even better, the delightfully refreshing nonalcoholic $4 Peach Punch) if you order the brandade ($11)—the crock of whipped cod and potatoes packs the salt, almost unbearably so. Tomato salad with Petit Billy cheese ($12), though, has the opposite problem: Where's the flavor? And no, the slivered cornichons don't count.

Best to look beyond the starters for the tastiest way to begin your meal. Order the side dish of heirloom beans ($8). Four types of cooled legumes soak in an olive-oil bath, all showered with pecorino and a scattering of mint leaves. It puts to shame all those starchy and mealy beans from the Goya two-for-one deals you ate during your hippie vegetarian phase.

Pastas and proteins divide the entrée options. Mint lends an earthiness to the pesto coating the gnocchi ($17)—think of it as a fond farewell to summer eating. The paccheri ($18), a large tubular pasta tossed with pancetta and cauliflower, also stands out a bit from the remaining Bolognese blah. Those with hearty appetites should stick to the meats. Tuck into the golden skinned chicken ($21), oozing with juice and accompanied by a potato hash. Or the fat pork chop ($26), which gets a side of cold slaw "sauerkraut," almost like an Americanized choucroute.

Desserts offer equally slim pickings, and there's only one that's really worth considering: maple syrup pie ($8). A family recipe from Edelman's partner, Micheline Gaulin, the sugary slab boasts a thick, caramely custard rich in sappy Quebecois goodness. Especially compared to the other two choices—a slightly bitter affogato and an assortment of ice creams—it's both delicious and unexpected. If only I could say the same for everything else at Left Bank.

For more restaurant coverage, check out our food blog, Fork in the Road, at Follow us on Twitter @ForkintheRoadVV.

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