Sweet, Sour and Sage in the West Village
Stopping in for a quick opening-night drink yesterday at Cote D’Or—Simon Oren’s retro-Burgundian restaurant in the space that held Thomas Keller’s inauspicious 1980s Manhattan debut, Rakel—reminded me that in this town, it’s all about taking the long view.
Earlier in the night I’d had dinner at P*ong, fresh off its one-star, half-pan-half-rave (but crushing for an ambitious chef) Frank Bruni review in the New York Times, and chef-owner Pichet Ong was obviously rattled. He still turned out beautiful things—like a walnut-crusted Stilton soufflé with arugula ice cream; a gorgeously supple wagyu-beef carpaccio with shiso pesto and sour plum; and a parfait-like Vietnamese espresso and tapioca dessert—and the dining room was packed. But Ong seemed badly in need of reminders that a rocky start needn’t doom a chef (or a stretch of real-estate: If grim Seventh Avenue South can morph into a hopping-ish restaurant scene—see Tasca, the soon-to-open Centrico Vinoteca, and the aforementioned Oren spot—anything is possible).
Ong does have a few issues to sort out, but his sweet-savory mash-ups tend to be daring, uncliched and surprisingly soulful (if tiny and pricey). I’m curious about the frozen puddings and cupcakes he’ll be selling at his next-door sweets shop, whenever it opens. Meantime, I’ll be back for another summer hit of that Vietnamese espresso dessert (Ong’s least-favorite menu item, but I’m a sucker for Vietnamese coffee). Then I’ll walk down weirdly rehabbed Seventh Ave. South for a nightcap at Little Branch, or herbal refreshment via the sage-spiked Soleil De Bourgogne cocktail at Cote D’Or, which mixologist Lana Keren makes like this:
Four cubes of fresh pineapple muddled with 3 or 4 whole fresh sage leaves and 1 oz of simple syrup; mixed in with 3/4 oz fresh lime juice, 1 oz dark rum and 3/4 oz light rum; then topped with champagne or sparkling wine and served on the rocks in a highball glass.