There’s magic in pied de cochon ($13)— flesh scraped from boiled bones and chopped fine, merged with bits of onion, celery, and carrot, then formed into a patty and fried like hash. Unless you identified the peculiar interplay of solid and glutinous elements, you’d never know it was pig’s feet. Sided with three fingers of rich mashed potatoes that grope toward the edge of the plate, this culinary transformation is typical of the clever and aggressive cooking techniques of Casimir, yet another Alphabet City bistro.
The decor is less exciting, composed of the same rickety bent-cane chairs, beveled mirrors, antique advertising placards, and general brownness of all the other joints seeking to re-create the ambience of the Gallic prototype. Led onto the premises blindfolded, you’d be hard-pressed to tell whether you were in Lucien, Les Deux Gamins, Jules, or Casimir. The service, too, is not particularly good— attentive yet ineffective. Ask for the check, and the waiter is likely to wander off thunderstruck. But I’d go there if I had to fetch the food myself, because it’s killer— at least some of it.
The menu is divided into four main areas and four smaller ones based on the size and content of the offerings. Consistent pricing within most sections allows you to choose without the pressure of price, a great idea. The salads ($7.50) are unexpectedly generous, suitable for a light meal. Best is Parisienne, an impressive spread matching tomatoes and roast beets with a delicious lentil salad and a mayonnaisey mound of celeriac, both bistro staples in France. The sole failure is Benjamin, a shivered heap of sesame-anointed endive freakishly topped with sugary Malaysian jerky. But the soup of the day ($4) is often the best starter. My vegetarian asparagus was scrumptious, a generous bowl mellowed with cream, sprinkled with flat-leaf parsley, and hiding a good quantity of tender young stems in the depths. Leading me to wonder— is some guy in the kitchen gobbling tips?
The conventional appetizers of “Paysan Bites” ($6.75) also turn out to be mini mains. Reeking-of-garlic rounds of Lyonnaise sausage straddle vinegary potato salad; plump and perfectly sautéed— meaning crisp but still pink in the middle— chicken livers push well-dressed mesclun toward the center of the plate; and salmon tartare sparkles on its toast platform. But Casimir falters badly attempting American food. The chicken pot pie ($13), heralded by a puffy top crust concealing poultry and vegetables, is unpleasantly scented with clove in a too-thin broth, with a huge bowl of horseradish crème fraîche provided as thickener— an absurd solution. “And no bottom crust,” a friend griped. Equally lugubrious is hamburger New Orleans ($10), a nice puck of ground sirloin topped with a gloppy caper relish like a zapped version of Big Mac special sauce and situated on a tough bun that squirts meat out the sides when you chomp down.
Stick with bistro classics, however, and you can’t go wrong. To my surprise, the bouillabaisse ($16) was the best I’ve ever tasted. Fragrant with fennel and bolstered with a touch of Pernod, this fisher’s potage was massed with mussels, cod, and scallops, the latter imparting a pleasant sweetness to the broth. A stunningly large shell-on shrimp sprawled across the top, but even more appealing were the croutons, slopped with a rouille radiant with garlic and cayenne that sloughed into the soup like lava from an erupting volcano. Eat it blindfolded and you’ll think you’re in Marseilles after all.