In my experience, French cuisine tends to be heavy on the meat and carbs, but Le Village changes that perception, devoting itself primarily to vegetarian options. The dishes are no less authentic for their vegetarian focus though – throughout my dinner, I was reminded time and time again of meals that I have eaten in France. The menu is annotated so that diners of varying dietary restrictions can be sure to find something to their taste – whether vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, or low carb. In what I consider a true marking of good vegetarian food, there is nothing on the menu that pretends to be meat. Instead, Chef-owner Didier makes the vegetables themselves the star of the show. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his Choux-Fleur Roti, where an entire head of cauliflower is roasted and served at the center of a beautiful plate that also features sweet potatoes and sautéed greens.
Le Village is not Didier’s first foray into the restaurant business. A native of the southwest of France, Didier owned a Bistro in Montmartre, Paris for thirteen years before moving to Manhattan. In 2008, he opened his first restaurant in New York, La Sirène. He followed with Taureau, a fondue restaurant, before opening Table Vert at this 7th Street location in 2013. In 2014, Didier rebranded the restaurant as Le Village. The emerald green tables serve as a colorful reminder of the restaurant’s previous incarnation, which served vegetarian cuisine exclusively. As Le Village, the menu has expanded to include meat options like Coq au Vin and Hanger Steak.
I began my meal at Le Village with the Salade de Saison, and was immediately transported to France. This was no overdressed American-style salad; instead, the ingredients spoke for themselves: endive, sliced apple, green leaf lettuce, and tomato, brightened only by the lightest of lemon dressings. It was the taste of summer in a small french town, far from Manhattan’s sweaty streets.
The next dish that I tried was sautéed brussels sprouts with strawberries – a surprising pairing, but they came together nicely with a balsamic glaze. The Veggie Napoleon also mixed vegetables and fruit to great success – the layered presentation of roasted potato, eggplant, bell pepper, and pear slices made for a hearty main, served on a bed of chickpeas with tomato sauce, and sprinkled with pistachios for a nutty finish.
For dessert, the banana brûlée was a temptation I could not refuse – a marriage between banana bread and crème brûlée, this custard contained whole slices of banana and and vanilla wafers hidden beneath the classic caramelized crust. I was also invited to sample the Fondant au Chocolat, a gluten-free lava cake served with house-made ice cream and whipped cream – positively decadent.
Le Village offers all of the flavor with none of the pretension of most other French restaurants in the city. With a kitchen just a little larger than my own, and a dining room that seats scarcely more than thirty, eating at this East Village gem is akin to being welcomed into a French home for a family dinner. Le Village is BYOB with no corkage fee, so I recommend picking up a bottle on your way there – perhaps at the nearby Wineshop LLC - for a relaxed evening at this charming restaurant.
European cheese dishes have long been staples in American cuisine, from fondue to burrata. But as Edgar Villongco noticed, raclette - a Swiss cheese that is melted and scraped fresh from a cheese wheel onto a dish - never caught on in the United States. When the Manhattan Sideways Team met with Edgar, he told us about his wonderful journey with raclette, the cheese that eventually became synonymous with his widely popular East Village restaurant.Edgar was working in Europe in the aerospace industry when he was introduced to raclette by a former French girlfriend. He fell in love with the dish, quit his job in Europe, and decided to work for a year under a French-trained chef, who taught him the ins and outs of French cooking and dining. Along the way, Edgar refined the menu for his future restaurant. Edgar knew that his idea would be a success from the start. “I always knew it would work. I never had a doubt in my mind. People are crazy here in New York for really good cheese.”After cooking by himself for a year, navigating the New York City permit process, and running a bike shop on 12th Street to support himself, Edgar opened Raclette in 2015. Immediately, Edgar became famous through a series of videos uploaded by users to social media outlets, as well as coverage by major New York food reviewers and bloggers. Raclette opened right as social media hit a critical point in the restaurant business, Edgar said. “We were in the right place at the right time.” Customers uploaded shots of cheese being scraped fresh from the wheel - “instagrammable” moments. After noticing Raclette’s virality online, Facebook partnered with the restaurant for its new video platform, which should debut by the end of 2017. A short episode will feature Raclette’s signature cheese dishes, as well as some other wonderful shots of the space.While we spoke with Edgar, we tried Raclette’s classic dish, a plate of bread, potatoes, small pickles, pearl onions, various cold cuts, and salad covered in delicious, gooey cheese. Raclette’s cheese come from a farm in the Alps, and is from free-roaming cows. The cheese is warmed immediately prior to serving, and is best eaten directly after it is scraped from the wheel. That way, we learned, the flavors from the cheese are strongest and the cheese has the best consistency. While this dish is Raclette’s most popular, the restaurant also offers a wonderful variety of croques, a French grilled cheese, and tartines.Edgar has brought a classic Swiss dish to the United States, and as a result, the food has spread outside of his restaurant as well. After starting the restaurant with just himself and a cashier, Edgar now has a full team working for him and hopes to expand to other locations in the city. “I put it all together, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. You have to be a crazy to start a restaurant in the city, yet I never had a doubt this would work.”
Le Petit Parisien alludes to a nineteenth-century French newspaper. Started by Jean Dupuy in 1884, the paper achieved the largest media circulation of its time before retiring in 1944. The sandwich shop under the same name, which opened in 2015, is owned by Jean’s great-great-grandson, also named Jean Dupuy, in partnership with his nephew, Paul. Its narrow storefront is outfitted in copies of its namesake paper, and the menu offers a total of nine entrée sandwiches, including the deliciously simple "Parisien" - a ham and cheese sandwich. Others are named for historical French figures. The Brigitte Bardot contains artichoke, goat cheese, kale, and tomatoes atop a French baguette from Orwashers, while the Louis XIV, befitting the royal name, gets foie gras and fig confit. Other menu members include the Gainsbourg, the Charle de Gaulle, and the Marie Antoinette, which contains decadent, sixteen-month cured ham.
Au Za’atar is an Arabian-French bistro at the edge of Alphabet City that serves everything from Mediterranean cheeses to couscous to mezze, a variety of small plates meant to accompany drinks — which can be paired with Au Za’atar’s extensive wine and craft beer offerings. The chef is Lebanese, but there are plenty of recipes originating from Morocco and Tunisia as well. The restaurant’s interior is simple and inviting, with brick walls, rich wooden tables, and red leather booths, making it a great place to sample some exotic dishes or just grab a drink at the bar.
"The Two Faces of Italian Food" is the tagline at this restaurant and wine bar. The perfect blend they are referring to is tradition and innovation. The menu boasts homemade and traditional options - the wine list is not limited to Italian varieties, though the beer is. We stopped in briefly and relaxed with a glass of wine in their quiet back garden and spoke with one of the restaurant's partners as waiters set up for that evening's meal. When we asked him to describe the food that Giano served in a short sentence he told us humbly: "Italian food. No big deal." Can't wait to try it!
Most business owners know how difficult it is to bounce back after being robbed. Makoto Wantanabe has done it twice and, ironically, has a thief to thank for the very birth of Tokio 7.Makoto was globetrotting in the early 1990s when he arrived in Southern California on what was supposed to be the penultimate stop on his tour. He befriended a homeless man and let him stay in his hotel room for the night, but Makoto awoke to find everything except for his passport was stolen. Stranded with no money and far from his home in the Japanese countryside, Makoto called one of his only contacts in the U.S., who worked at a Japanese restaurant in Manhattan. He scrounged up enough money for a bus ticket and was off.While in New York, Makoto felt that men’s clothing suffered from a lack of style. Having always had a knack for fashion, he knew he could change that but lacked the funds to open a store with brand new clothing. So, after several years of saving his wages as a waiter, he founded one of the first consignment shops in New York City.Tokio 7 now carries men’s and women’s clothes, with the overarching theme being, as Makoto says, that they are simply “cool.” The clothes are mostly from Japanese designers and name brands with unique twists. In the store, clothing that has been donated with a lot of wear is labeled “well loved.”Despite its importance in the community, the shop fell on tough times during the COVID-19 pandemic. To make matters worse, Tokio 7 was looted in the summer of 2020 and had 300 items stolen. When Makoto contemplated closing his doors permanently, longtime customers begged him to reconsider. Resilient as ever, he set up a small photography area in the back of the shop and sold a portion of his clothes online to compensate for the decline of in-person purchases.Reflecting on his journey, Makoto marveled at the whims of fate. Had he not been robbed all of those decades ago in California, he had planned to start a life in the Amazon rainforest
This small, old-world neighborhood barbershop is loaded with personality. Everything about Barbiere is unique: the whimsical wrought-iron gate out front, the retro hair and shaving products along the walls, and the high-quality, old-fashioned service. When we poked our heads in to chat with the barbers and their clients—all seated in vintage leather chairs—they were proud to tell us that James Franco is among the celebrities that drop by for a haircut or a classic shave.
Biking with my husband on a beautiful August day, I stopped short when I noticed something new and picturesque on 5th Street. It was three o’clock in the afternoon, but I had been holding out until I discovered the perfect place to grab a bite to eat, and I certainly landed in an ideal spot. The rustic charm indoors, with replicas of the farm equipment used in Italy hanging from the ceiling, captured our hearts immediately, but it was the food – the outstanding rice dishes – that solidified Risotteria Melotti indefinitely on my list of top restaurants to recommend. Since the restaurant was quiet at this odd hour, we were able to chat casually with the staff throughout our meal, and we learned not only about the history of the restaurant, but also about the world of rice. Back in 1986, a couple began producing rice on one acre of land in Verona, Italy. Almost three decades later, together with their three sons, Rosetta and Giuseppe now farm 544 acres of land, all devoted to growing award-winning rice that is sold the world over.There are basically two different textures of the grain that they produce. Vialone, the more traditional rice, is rich in proteins and vitamins and, because it absorbs liquid better, is used for their delicious risottos. Carnaroli rice, “considered one of the best in the world,” is more readily used in salads because it remains al dente when cooked, adding a chewiness to the superb insalata di riso that we shared. We both marveled at the combination of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, roasted red and yellow peppers, capers, fresh mozzarella and, of course, brown rice. When we first sat down, a bread basket was placed on the table. Their take on focaccia was very good, but I could not stop sampling their rice cakes throughout our meal – the basic recipe is made in Italy and then flown here to be tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh rosemary and then baked for fourteen minutes. I cannot say enough about how amazing the second dish that we tried tasted. We never knew that you could make polenta from anything but cornmeal, but we had our eyes opened to something new and wondrous when we had our first taste of polenta fritta con caciottina – a fried rice polenta with mushrooms and cheese that was perfectly moist in the middle with an added crunch on the outside. Every mouthful was rich and heavenly.This brand new restaurant – the first outside of Italy – serves about thirty people, making for an intimate setting, especially when evening falls, the lights are dimmed and the candles are lit. Up front there is a little “shop” that sells many of their rice products. The staff explained that the family has made an across-the-board decision to only offer Melotti’s gluten-free rice merchandise in the States. Thus, anyone eating gluten-free can come to their restaurant and be served a carefree, excellent meal. Anyone fortunate enough to live in the area can either have their food delivered to them in their home or office, or stop by, browse the menu, and take it to go. I have no doubt that we would be eating a lot more rice if we lived in the East Village, but we will visit as often as we can.