More than a few have recommended Buvette- critics and chefs, friends and locals. And as it turns out, for good reason. Despite the deceptively simplistic menu, the food ranges from austere to ambitious, and I can't imagine a palate that wouldn't be pleased by at least a few of the offerings at hand. Buvette, "refreshments" en francais, offers... well, if not refreshment, exactly,
The menu is comprised of small plates, some larger and some less so, but all thoughtfully composed. Aside from options on the printed menu with the delightful pop-up detail, there are a smattering of daily specials as well, exhibiting a stringent seasonality. Asparagus, while still among the printed legumes, was considered past-peak according to Buvette's calendar. Instead, a gorgeous heirloom salad studded with roasted corn kernels, fresh cucumber, mint and green onions steeped in the tomatoes abundant juice. Two enormous head-on crevettes, served with a luscious garlicky aioli, were another special, and they arrived first. I prefer to start with my veggies, but here the kitchen determines when you'll get what, and sometimes the "when" part includes painful waits. But as Buvette channels Provence, so should you embrace the relaxed European vibe, and try not to heed your borborygmous- it will be assuaged shortly.
Despite the hyper-seasonality, some dishes don't capitalize on the ingredient's freshness. Artichauts a la Grecque , garnished with a rainbow of plump, whole olives and marinated luxuriously in their oil could've been put up from last summer, and were rich enough for November (delicious as they are). So, too, was a salad of marinated beets, tangy and sweet and all but asphyxiated by a sastruga of horseradish creme fraiche. Granted, it was wonderful enough to warrant eating by the spoonful, but there is a limit. While plates might look small, the flavors most certainly are not. Most illustrative of this was the potted rabbit, a bubbling hot crock of tender meat, falling off the bone into a buttery, salty cream gravy spiked with whole mustard seeds. It might've been even too salty, if you are too greedy ladeling up the rich sauce, but meted out judiciously elevates the lean rabbit to nirvana, and the dense, crusty country bread served in stacks is a welcome tool to leave no sauce to waste.
Of desserts, there are but two options, plus a selection of sorbets and ice creams from Rita's across Bleecker. A chocolate mousse challenged the tarte tatin for the vote, but the impressive pie won out, gloriously displayed countertop, just distant enough to protect it from any drooling admirers. Glossy and untraditionally thick, it threatened saccharine, but quite contrarily only hinted at sweet: the tender apple verged on savory atop its crust of pate brisee. I swear there was a hint of cardamom, or saffron, but the barista insisted the fruit was unadulterated but for the thin caramelized sugar glaze. The sweetened creme fraiche was actually a welcome adjunct to confirm its placement in the dessert category.
Buvette sparkles with these kind of unexpected surprises- just a pinch off of standard. I find that female chefs best offer this kind of creativity (hypothesize on your own for the rationale), and Jody Williams is a perfect example. She was, in fact, there that night, doing something commensurately unique: calling up orders and relaying plates. When was the last time you saw the chef (especially one that has a fan base and t.v. presence) actually do that? She had a soft, lovely glow about her, friendly, but with a humility that belies her robust cooking style. And if all of this wasn't wonderful enough, there are rumors that a backyard garden will be opening up shortly, quite possibly rendering Air France useless. There is a reason their website is ilovebuvette.com.
42 Grove Street