For me, this moment in New York restaurants occurred in late 2009, when the storied Pink Teacup, a soul food spot that had drawn celebrities ranging from Whoopi Goldberg to Mick Jagger (and had the autographed photos plastered on its walls to prove it) suddenly shuttered after 55 years. For years, this sleepy rose-hued cubby hole along slender Grove Street in the West Village was my go-to place on many a weeknight and lazy Sunday afternoon. Strawberry pancakes, smothered pork chops and — in my opinion — the best fried chicken in New York, the Pink Teacup had it all. Astronomical property taxes and rising food costs ultimately sealed its fate, however. (The restaurant has since reopened in a different spot but the scene — massive, clubby and loud — is different and sadly, so is the fried chicken.)
Just over a year later, a new restaurant has shoehorned its way into the old Pink Teacup’s sliver of a space, however, and it could not be more different. Billed as a “gastroteque,” Buvette, by chef Jody Williams (formerly of Morandi and Gottino), is a lot of things its predecessor was not. Packed with a crowd that looks as if it would be completely at home on the set of “Gossip Girl,” the place is French, constantly burbling with loud chatter, downtown chic and anything but homey and comforting.
When chef Simpson suggested we check it out, I was instantly dismissive. Surely, I couldn’t possibly like my old sweetheart’s replacement. Why waste my time?
Curiosity is a powerful thing, however. And soon enough, I found myself reluctantly sliding into a seat at Buvette’s jammed bar …
There is a lot to find endearing about Buvette — the decor has the studied understated cheeriness of Pottery Barn; when you request a table, the waiter scribbles your name in chalk on the doorframe.
Now, this is a tiny place with a limited kitchen — if you see something you want on the menu, order immediately. Although the croque forestiere (a vegetarian croque monsieur) caught our eyes, Buvette had run out of them by the time we asked for one even though we had spotted a mound of them sitting on the counter just 30 minutes before.
A spot at the bar, though, gives you a front-row seat to the kitchen — you’ll be privy to the minutiae of the bartender-cum-cook in action as he pops bowls of mussels into the microwave or tosses salads together.
Besides the chalkboard menu, the restaurant offers a range of cheeses ($7 each or $21 for three) and charcuterie ($8 each or $35 for five) as well as little $7 tartines topped with anchovies, hazelnut pesto and orange zest or onion confit and gruyere.
We have the braised oxtail marmalade on toast ($7), which is of a healthy size, to say the least. The oxtail is tender and delicious — it is hard to resist the urge to ask for more toast to sop it all up.
We ask the bartender to pick a cheese for us and the Vermont Spring Brook Tarentaise, a raw cow’s milk cheese, doesn’t disappoint. Firm, with a nice little grit to each bite, the cheese is sharp, deep and nutty.
It is the $12 pot pie that impresses, however.
Although it is tiny — little larger than a fully loaded New York cupcake, really — this pot pie packs a punch.
The crust is perfectly flaky and buttery and the thick stew beneath, stuffed with chunks of guinea hen, capon and rabbit, is a true treat. After one bite of this complex filling, with the rabbit lending a nice heft to the meaty mix, a pot pie merely packed with chicken may never seem enough for you again.
This version, though different, was just as splendid, however. (And, I could already tell, just as addictive.)
Which could be said of Buvette as well. The Pink Teacup it may not be — but perhaps, that’s alright.
Buvette, 42 Grove Street, New York, New York; 212.255.3590; www.ilovebuvette.com