Small plates continue to take over New York City, sucking the gullible into paying big bucks for tiny bites. Yes, the fad lets you graze across the board, but most often it leaves you overcharged and underfed. So how can a chef still make midget mouthfuls sound enticing? Why, invent a new word for this type of joint, of course! Behold Jody Williams’s Buvette, a self-described “gastroteque” in the West Village. The same tricks apply at this Francophilic spot, only here—quelle surprise—you’ll actually leave charmed and with your belly full.
This might be because Williams previously perfected the genre (with an Italian slant) at nearby Gottino. Yet while her old spot always felt cramped, this new venture feels airy and relaxed despite being a narrow space. The décor marries the hallmarks of French bistro-dom—brick walls, pressed-tin ceilings, long marble bar—with an eclectic, bohemian flair (mismatched mirrors, old-fashioned stools, a fantastic chandelier created by Warren Muller from found objects, including wire baskets and a flute).
Cheese ($7) and charcuterie ($8) are usually fall-back fare, so you’ll be pleasantly impressed by crimson discs of saucisson sec glistening in herb-flecked olive oil. Porky and addictive, these sausage slices don’t even require bread—just a love of swine. Dig your toast deep into the crock of divine rabbit confit, spooning up the creamy spread with nary a tough, stringy bit of meat in sight (often sadly the case when Thumper graces the table).
Or make a meal of the larger nibbles ($8–$12), listed on a small chalkboard brought over by the waiter. Celery root remoulade, cool and tangy, should be the model preparation for the humble, ugly vegetable. Lentils simmered with kale come in a miniature pot so cute you’ll want to take it home for keeps—or at least lick it clean of legumes. And salsify dyed scarlet from a red wine braising pairs up with creamy, flinty Roquefort for delicious and Gallic-colored results.
Another odd couple that pulls it off is an octopus salad—silky tentacles and crunchy celery, with a zippy dressing. You’ll also want to sing the Marseillaise while devouring crespieu, an omelet chock-full of fried oysters.
Of course, some dishes hiccup along the way. Oxtail marmalade on toast tastes too strongly of bitter orange for any beef flavor to shine through, and the aligot tartine fails to replicate the snappy, almost taffy-like consistency of the Aubrac specialty. It instead resembles mashed potatoes with a mere sprinkling of Cantal. Steak tartare bleeds for more aggressive seasoning. Minor complaints, though, easily overlooked with another glass of wine, and forgotten by the following one.
And those wines—France gets a big nod on the well-thought-out and moderately (but not inexpensively) priced Eurocentric list. Get the $56 Bernard Ange Crozes-Hermitage, imbued with complex, fruity flavor.
Desserts ($8) never seem to be strong suits at places like these, maybe because people who frequent them often prefer to drink their calories at a meal’s end (or is that just me?). Despite showcasing bosomy, caramelized apples, a culinary-school-ish tart tatin’s puff-pastry crust falls limp and soggy. Get the chocolate mousse—really more like a hefty pudding—instead. But by the time you’ve reached dessert, you should be stuffed near to the brim of gluttony. If you aren’t, order another plate. After all, there’s no shortage of the little bastards.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 20, 2011