To understand Le Village, the new French bistro in the East Village, you first have to understand a few things about chef-owner Didier Pawlicki.
Mr. Pawlicki is someone who wants people to be happy–to enjoy their meal, to like him, to like the food, and to appreciate the food. A French expatriate, he speaks at a frenetic pace, wears his passion on his sleeve, responds compulsively to online feedback, and seems to run three restaurants at a time by sheer force of personality.
In 2008, he opened La Sirène, a French bistro in the West Village. In his New York Times review, Frank Bruni described “the riddle and spectacle of Mr. Pawlicki,” a “hyperactive presence who ricochets so rapidly through the restaurant’s cramped quarters . . . that comparing him to a pinball flatters the pinball.” Encouraged, Pawlicki established a fondue joint called Taureau. Everyone was happy.
Then, in 2013, he opened La Table Verte, an all-vegetarian French bistro (!) in the East Village. Bloggers appreciated, as I do, that it celebrated vegetables in all their glory rather than trying to imitate meat. “I do love Vegetables,” Pawlicki wrote to me with his characteristically random capitalization, “Vegetables not only are very healthy but can be as ‘gastronomically’ processed too!” Nearby Dirt Candy would agree.
Now, La Table Verte has been reincarnated as Le Village, an almost-vegetarian restaurant in the same East Village location, with the same green tables and painted exposed brick. To please meat lovers, the omnivore Chef Pawlicki has imported some of his favorites from La Sirène, like a classic coq au vin and some roasted snails. To please vegetarians, the menu remains mostly vegetarian, and the vegan dishes are clearly labeled. Everyone is welcome: “We want vegans, vegetarians, and carnivores all to be comfortable,” he explained.
The most impressive dish is a vegan version of the cassoulet. Many bean stews use meats to infuse the beans with richness, and a classic cassoulet–like the one at La Sirène, I’m sure–derives its flavor from the smokiness of sausage and the richness of duck confit. Chef Pawlicki recreates that rich flavor using house-smoked mushrooms, including portobello, oyster, and shiitake varieties. The mushrooms give the dish a wonderful smokiness and depth, making the classic flavors of cassoulet accessible to diners who are vegan or vegetarian, who love mushrooms, or who simply want a fantastic meal.
Do you have celiac disease? Follow an Atkins diet? Never fear! The menu also indicates whether a dish is gluten free, low-carb, or medium-carb. Why? To make people happy, of course! “I simply did and do listen my customers,” he explained.
Wine lovers will be happy to know that Le Village is BYOB with no corkage fee–a rarity in New York! Those who disdain hard currency will be happy to know that there is a bitcoin machine by the kitchen.
Of course, diners should not be deceived into thinking Le Village is overly “healthy.” Indeed, despite the attention given to the meat and carbohydrate content of each dish, many of the offerings are decidedly unhealthy, wielding that (delicious) richness in butter and cream that often characterizes French cooking. The “gnocchi Parisian au gratin” is a entree composed almost entirely of gluten-free flour, butter, eggs, and cheese (no potato) and it is decadent and tasty, but I could not imagine having it as my meal.
In the same vein (but better) is a dish of ravioli stuffed with comté cheese and garlic, cooked with heavy cream, and finished with truffle oil and some shaved truffles. It is wonderful with a deep smell of truffles, and despite the modest portion size it is impressive to find shaved truffles on a dish costing less than $13. On a return visit I would happily share those ravioli and something light with someone to start.
Other, lighter appetizers include an attractively composed salad that plays the sweetness of thinly sliced roasted beets against the kick of freshly grated horseradish. Great combination, and I appreciate that the overplayed goat cheese is absent, although something else creamy and salty might take it up another level (a garlic-walnut sauce?). A dish of sauteed brussels sprouts with balsamic glazed strawberries is well-designed, as both ingredients pair beautifully with tart balsamic, but the rendition I tried was over-seasoned.
On the other hand, I love Pawlicki’s rendition of the classic coq au vin, the only non-vegetarian entree I have tried. The chicken is beautifully tender, having been marinated for a week and then cooked slowly with red wine, bacon, and aromatics. The sauce has that rich, dark color and the taste to match. There’s a reason coq au vin is considered a classic, and I’d like to see it reappearing on more New York menus.
More favorites from La Sirène are coming to the menu soon, like filet mignon with foie gras and truffle sauce (heavy!!) and hanger steak with garlic and parsley butter. That should please the carnivores. “I do want Le Village be a ‘petite La Sirène,'” he told me in an email, but “with Gluten Free, Vegan/Vegetarian friendly!”
House-made desserts are crowd-pleasing, like a gooey molten chocolate cake and a smooth banana brulee with a layer of nicely torched caramelized sugar on top. And why not? After all, food is about making people happy.
127 East 7th Street
New York, NY 10009
Recommended dishes: beet carpaccio salad ($9.75), ravioles a la crème ($12.95), vegan cassoulet ($19.50), coq au vin ($23.75).
Disclaimer: My meal was paid-for as part of an organized press dinner. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. No restaurant is ever promised a positive review.