Sunday, December 30, 2007

Les Deux Gamins

I was recently out with a couple of culinary gamins, wandering Greenwich Village looking for a good meal. It was Leanboy 2000's birthday, and we were out à trois with his sister, LeanGirl. At first we attempted to enter the longstanding Spanish joint Sevilla, that old stodgy stalwart, that paella purveyor. But the place was mobbed. We wandered down the street and came upon another Village fixture, the French bistro Les Deux Gamins. The decor is all quintessential bistro, with smoky mirrors, dim lighting, bentwood chairs and leather-lined booths. It was empty and the sagebrush was blowin', so rather than perform the extended, tortured ritual of looking for a "better" place, we grabbed a booth.

LeanGirl, a powerful and ruthless lawyer, insisted that she "just ate," and "wasn't hungry," yet proceeded to order numerous items from the menu, muttering something like "money is no object."First to arrive was the charcuterie plate, a classic French spread that includes paté de campagne, duck liver mousse and cured ham. In addition to the cornichons (de rigeur, mais oui), the pistachio-raisin bread was a nice touch.LeanGirl was also very keen on the roasted beet salad with mozzarella and frisée lettuce. The large wheels of beet were unusual and visually appealing.Little baguettes stuffed with roasted peppers and merguez (spicy lamb sausage) always bring me back to my days living in Paris. At that time, merguez frites was just about the cheapest sustenance available. Definitely beats Lo Mein, which is probably the New York equivalent.And what would a night at a French bistro be without a plate of ultra-garlicky escargots? Served without shells in a purpose-made plate, they were awfully fun to eat (although I'm one of those wimps who needs to constantly resist thoughts of "snail trail").
The mushrooms vol-au-vent were also a treat, slow-cooked with wine, topped with a dollop of goat cheese and nestled in light and crispy pastry.
The quality of the appetizers was consistently "not bad," and the main courses were no different, although the tuna was probably the most successful dish over all. The fish was cooked to pinpoint perfection and served with fluffy mashed potatoes, but the spinach side nearly stole the show. It was formed neatly with a ramekin and had a delightful mousse-like texture.The menu special, a generous portion of baby rack of lamb, arrived attractively plated and was juicy and tender. It was encrusted with ground coffee and cacao beans, lending a curious bitter note and a slight crunchiness to the sweet and slippery fat lining the meat.
The dessert, a chocolate mousse topped with what tasted like Cool Whip, was disappointingly workmanlike. And as you can see, through no fault of the photographer, the mousse was served slightly out of focus.

The only aspect of the meal that wasn't at least decent was the wine. We had ordered a bottle of white that turned out to be mediocre. When we polished that off, we tried to upgrade to a better red. The waiter was kind enough to bring us samples of two reds, but after Leanboy and I argued with LeanGirl over which was better, we could only agree on the fact that they were both pretty nasty. Then we tasted two more reds: even worse.

Finally, LeanGirl called the waiter over and, after repeating her "money is no object" trope, asked simply and sincerely, "Do you have any wine that's, um... good?"

"We get that question a lot," the waiter replied.


Gretch said...

Dear Jeff,

I think your article and photos are excellent! This could certainly be another side career for you. Did you send it to the restuarant owner? It could be a good way of advertising.

I also learned something new. When I lived in Paris I only ate pommes frites and never knew about the delicious mergues frites.

Luv ya!

Jeffrey Stock said...

Hi Gretch,

You might also want to try the poulet frites. Fried chicken and French fries, both stuffed into a split baguette. Street food at its best. Back in the day, it could be had for a buck. (Back when the dollar was strong and francs still existed. *sigh*)