New York, New York
Capsouto Freres located in Tribeca was never a place that was on “Julie’s Restaurant Radar.” Maybe because when I was working in the city in the mid-1980’s, I would hear these annoying radio ads touting its location near the Holland Tunnel coupled with the fact that it was “one of the most romantic restaurants in New York.” I suppose if you live in New Jersey and want to come into New York for a meal this would be convenient but we live on Long Island and use the “other” tunnel (or even the bridge) to get into town. Besides being out of the way, I also had a sneaky suspicion that it was well, touristy. Dare I mention that in my mind any restaurant that describes itself as “romantic” with nary a mention of the food probably doesn’t do a good job in either category?
Fast forward nearly 30 years later. The area around Washington Street where the restaurant is located is within walking distance of New York City’s popular High Line park. Granted the High Line is a huge draw but many of the old warehouses in the area have been converted into apartment buildings with a smattering of new luxury condos thrown in and suddenly the area had become very trendy. Was this another reason to avoid the joint? No, we decided one Sunday to give the brunch menu at Capsouto Freres a try.
I must admit on that early afternoon in August, I was impressed with the feel of the place; it had a nice comfortable bistro vibe to it. We sat down and ordered a couple of Bloody Mary’s. The waiter wanted to know if we wanted to try their special cucumber-flavored vodka in our Bloody Mary’s. Not only did it sound good, it was good.
A bread basket was brought out and filled with some decent rolls, more than enough butter for our brunch, ramekins with sliced apples (think apple compote) as well as an appropriately bittersweet orange marmalade.
On the Capsouto Freres website, they play up their soufflé offerings. With at least 10 varieties available (both savory and sweet), how could we refuse? I had to get one; Lynn had to have his eggs benedict. Since he likes to think of himself as the eggs benedict connoisseur (meaning if they’re on the menu he’ll have to try them), this version, two poached eggs on top of thick brioche bread then topped with smoked salmon, then the egg, then the hollandaise sauce was beautifully plated but I thought the brioche was simply too heavy for an already calorie laden dish. He ate it anyway.
As a side, Lynn and I both ordered a simple green salad which for an extra $5 more per person I thought needed more dressing and less of those tasteless greens that looked like the “spring mix” you get in the bag at the supermarket.
I had the smoked salmon soufflé which was decently crafted, lots of salmon, but while creamy inside, was actually a tad dry on the bottom. Since presentation is obviously a big deal here with a soufflé in some form or another coming out to nearly every table, it is visually appealing to see all these beautiful soufflés doing exactly what they’re supposed to do – be big and puffy until they hit your table.
Looking around the room, besides the popular soufflé orders, next up were omelettes with frites. Since the last time Lynn went to Paris and he actually couldn’t find a restaurant that still served this old school bistro classic, we thought if nothing else we’d come back for a return visit just to try their version.
We decided to do dinner instead and it took us nearly six months to get back there – the occasion being New York City Restaurant Week. Monday night on Washington Street has many advantages – you can park right in front of the restaurant and even on the first night of restaurant week, the place wasn’t that crowded. Choices on the restaurant week menu included three appetizers, four entrees and three desserts. Problem number one was they had already substituted some of the menu items that had been posted online; namely, the roasted duck I had been eyeing had been replaced by chicken. Since we had dinner that night with Mom and Dad and everyone tried to be a discerning critic, we all tried at least a bite of each other’s meal.
A small amuse bouche of pâté spread on toasted bread was brought to the table, water was poured, we were handed the wine list. We were offered the option of adding a soufflé for an extra $5.00 to our meal but chose not to since we were trying to stick as close to the Restaurant Week menu choices as possible. Four of us tried each of the three appetizers on the menu that night: a very large arugula salad with a smidgen of goat cheese, the smoked salmon with capers and red onion and toast (but strangely devoid of any butter or cream accompaniment), and the terrine provencale that looked nearly identical to the amuse bouche. The appetizer portions were generous and when they brought out the entrees – three daube de boeuf bourguignons and a sliced chicken dish with beautifully cooked vegetables (green beans, brussel sprouts, carrots) those dishes were equally large. The beef was really more pot roast-like than stew with thick slices of beef and a somewhat heavy but tasty gravy. With such generous portions, we were full before dessert even came out but we forged ahead.
Before dessert, a plate of candied orange rind with small cookies was offered followed by dessert proper: a crepe stuffed with a blueberry sauce that was simply too thick, a chocolate mousse cake that was really a white loaf cake with a coffee/chocolate mousse filling with the requisite topping of crème anglais and raspberry swirl followed by a poached pear with a coconut parfait. While the pear was yummy, the parfait portion of this couple was too cold and didn’t have much coconut flavor.
Bottom line: portions were extremely generous given the $35.00 menu week price tag. The food was good but nothing you couldn’t make at home. This led me to realize after all these years why this place is still so popular. Very few people actually cook classic bistro food at home. “Beef Stew In A Hurry” anyone?