Food

Gallic Grandeur at La Mercerie

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Most French restaurants have butter coursing through their kitchens, but La Mercerie, a six-month-old all-day café inside the Roman and Williams Guild store in Soho (which sells furniture that costs as much as student loans), is a sanctuary of saturated fats. In a soaring space where everything down to the cutlery is for sale (steak knives fetch $98 for a set of two), Parisian chef Marie-Aude Rose, a veteran of that city’s three Michelin-starred Guy Savoy and Pierre Gagnaire, treats the dairy product like more than just an essential ingredient, celebrating it with the same gusto that Nordic chefs reserve for foraged sea buckthorn and elderflower.

In the morning, she stacks dip-ready buttered white bread toast “soldiers” next to a duo of molten-yolked soft-boiled eggs ($11) propped up in little ceramic cups, and serves gobs of butter with fruit preserves and halved lengths of baguette as DIY tartines ($8). Rather than make her own or source from local farms, she proselytizes the decadent handiwork of Jean-Yves Bordier, whose butters have been slow-churned by hand in Brittany for more than three decades using the fermented cream of Norman and Breton cattle. Taste it in all its grassy and gently tangy glory on thick slices of sourdough, which the kitchen sends out to every table gratis. Then there are Le Beurre Bordier’s flavored butters. Rose offers some (fragrantly zesty lemon–olive oil; nutty, grain-studded buckwheat) on their own for $7, and weaves others, like the seaweed butter she sometimes slathers onto rye toasts to eat with oysters, into composed dishes. At first blush, cured anchovies ($21) from the Cantabrian Sea with toasts and bean-freckled vanilla butter sounds like a dubious pairing. Instead, it’s an eye-opening, sweet-salty combination for the ages — the floral notes of the world’s second-most expensive spice harmonizing with the fish’s brine — and easily one of the best things I’ve eaten this year.

This butter bravado reflects an experimental streak and attention to detail that’s reminiscent of what Enrique Olvera and Daniela Soto-Innes do at another well-manicured all-day restaurant, Atla — though instead of specialty mezcals, diners here down French aperitifs and ultra-luxe Rochelt brandy from Austria that runs $75 a glass. And just as Atla is Cosme’s casual, slightly less expensive sibling, La Mercerie, which is operated by Stephen Starr, the restaurateur who partnered with Rose’s American chef-husband Daniel in 2016 to open neo-retro haute cuisine temple Le Coucou around the corner, is built to showcase homier French fare. Also like Atla, the cooking at La Mercerie is consistently irreproachable. Take the soft-boiled egg ($15) nesting in airy tofu-cauliflower puree, which sits under a deluge of Parmesan and bread crumbs and eats like a lavish parfait, or the domed slices of unbelievably light goat cheesecake ($9) that come with apricots poached in syrup. And don’t forego crepes ($13–$19) in any variation, whether cradling sunny-side up eggs, ham, and eighteen month–aged Comte for breakfast, grilled and fanned out over creamed chicken heady with tarragon for lunch or dinner, or sugared and preciously folded into triangles for pitch-perfect crepes au sucre that put the rest of the desserts to shame.

Accentuated by the in-house florist’s vibrant bouquets stationed near the front door, La Mercerie’s dining room, sun-soaked and stunning during the day, turns positively dreamy at night once the sun sets and the handsomely uniformed waitstaff anoint each table with wax-dripped candles. While it’s possible to sate yourself with salads or a pan bagnat ($18), Provence’s highbrow tuna fish sandwich, the intoxicating setting begs for heartier entrées like haricots verts with crisp-skinned chicken ($28) under an ingenious garnish of savory garlic-ginger brittle. The best of these bank on red wine sauces fortified with bacon and mushrooms, as in Rose’s beef bourguignon ($33) generously ladled over macaroni noodles, or the fillet of beautifully burnished roasted salmon ($28) she plunks next to softened, just-cooked cucumbers. Take a bite of either, close your eyes, and you might just believe you’re in Paris.

La Mercerie
53 Howard Street
212-852-9097
lamerceriecafe.com

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