In the last decade we’ve been bombarded with bistros. Most have had more success in plastering their premises with enamel signs and movie posters than in achieving the off-hand quirky excellence of real Parisian bistros. Now along comes Bistro du Vent (“Café of the Wind”), perched on a blustery stretch of far west 42nd Street. Even in its opening weeks, the bi-level space had a lived-in quality: plump red leather banquettes spread beneath beige walls mercifully devoid of fakey signage. The wine list is unusually egalitarian, with a handful of good bottles priced under $25. Included in this self-effacing group is a Corbières, a tart and spicy southern French red that knocked my socks off at $21.
The bill of fare will frustrate those who expect the cookie-cutter menus of East Village bistros, although Bistro du Vent’s fries ($6) rank up there with any in town. Dinner starts with a crusty baguette neatly wrapped in tissue, served with pats of sweet European-style butter and oily black olives. The potage de ma grand-mère (“my grandma’s soup,” $6) mimics minestrone, a thin broth enlivened with diced veggies and a white bean or two. The weirdest appetizer is a dense brochette of lamb heart and veal kidney with bacon in between, planted atop a crouton. The assertive herbal dressing on the accompanying Bibb salad also slicks the kebab. My favorite appetizers were a delicate fan of lamb prosciutto ($7), richer and darker than its porcine counterpart, and a frisée aux lardons salad featuring bitter chicory, a runny poached egg, and larger-than-usual nuggets of excellent fatty bacon.
The entrée list highlights standards from southern France and rotisserie meats. In contrast to nearby Esca, with which Bistro du Vent shares a chef, oceangoing alternatives are given short shrift. Chef David Pasternack had sense enough not to attempt bouillabaisse, a rock on which East Village bistros have often foundered. But he does a fine bourride ($19), a less ambitious Provençal seafood stew depositing hunks of fish (blue, hake, and flounder one evening) in a fumet thickened with almond aioli, resulting in a broth more like gravy than chowder. Sweet planks of fennel underpin the fish. The sole vegetarian entrée is also endearing, a ravioli stuffed with bean paste and bathed in black butter ($16).
On a wintry night, you’ll find the rotisserie selections fortifying. The lamb shank ($20) is rubbed with spices, roasted to near blackness, and festooned with shreds of lemon zest, Moroccan-style, while the pork loin, looking like a thick chop, arrives with a caramelized surface, lolling in peppercorn jus. Less impressive is the spit-roasted chicken with Périgord truffles. Though the truffle flecks furnish little flavor, give the café credit for not cheating and using truffle oil.
Among its other attractions, Bistro du Vent is open till 2 a.m., a boon to late-night revelers. A friend and I decided to go at midnight and see if we could dine as well as we had during peak evening hours. Hunkered in the window at an intimate table, we enjoyed a shared beef daube—a concentrated tussock of dark fibrous meat braised in wine—and watched pedestrians leaning into the wind as they struggled westward on 42nd Street. There’s nothing down that way, I thought. Where on earth could they be going on such a frigid night?