Monday, May 01, 2006

Pastis: Deal or No Deal?

Pastis has a challenge. Does it shift gears and become a formidable top shelf bistro…. or continue to serve as the “in” spot on the southern edge of the white-hot Meatpacking District on New York’s lower west side. Does it matter?

To those seeking authentic bistro fare without the watered down versions of tried and true French dishes, yes. To those who rubber-neck in the oh-so-crowded dining room, not really. To everyone else, well it really doesn’t matter, because they can’t get a table.

My weekend trip to Pastis was done the right way… with a 3-week in advance reservation… at 6:30 on a Saturday night. We arrived and were seated in the busy main dining room immediately… a good sign. The room was washed in faded yellow and adorned with giant mirrors featuring the menu, hand painted on the fronts. Hmmm. Feels French.

The menu at Pastis is refreshingly authentic, down to the Pernod and Mint cocktail. Yes, there are steak frites (I am guessing half of the restaurant was eating beef), but just as appealing were the simple pastas, seared tuna and braised beef. With the bubbly onion soup and stinky tomato and goat cheese tart… well, it really felt like a Parisian bistro. We even had a French waitress who tried to yell the daily specials over the roar of the packed dining room. Hmmmm. Sounds French.

With thick steaks, delicious fries and gravy boats full of béarnaise sauce piled high, my dinner (the only stray) arrived. A thin sliced pork Milanese… pounded thin and fried, with spinach and mushroom salad on the side. Hmmmm. Tastes French.

My only hiccup was the service. While the waitress seemed to have her act together, busboys hovered uncomfortably over the table all night…. as they were waiting to scoop up the plates, change the tablecloth and welcome the next table. As a general rule, each time one of these guys make a motion to pick up my plate before I am finished, I tack on an automatic 10 minutes (per attempt). You can guess how popular I have become at some restaurants.

The bottom line: Not so French.

Pastis is a great spot for solid bistro food. Unfortunately the “scene” that has developed around the space now dominates the dining experience… so don’t expect any life-changing stuff here. I believe other neighborhood spots in the city (Nice Matin on the Upper West Side) have equally good food without the Trendy McTrenderson’s.

Pack up and head north…. Why travel into the deep when you can get average food and decent service at Café Luxembourg?

9 Ninth Avenue, (at Little West 12th Street)
New York City, NY 10014-1203