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Cafe Cluny

284 West 12th St. (at 4th St.)

TYPE: French-American restaurant
Charming neighborhood haunt
A casual date or group dining
DON’T MISS DISH: Duck confit with baby brussel sprouts
DON’T BOTHER DISH: Roasted cod
DRINK SPECIALTY: 21-bottle wine list; 16 by the glass
PRICE: $45 & up
HOURS: Open seven days a week, 5:30 PM-12 PM; Brunch, Saturday & Sunday 10:30 AM-3 PM; Breafast, Monday-Friday, 8 AM-11:30 AM (starting November 13th)
RESERVATIONS: Reservations are recommended, especially on weekends.

  6.5 (good)
FINAL WORD: Quaint makes a comeback this fall as charming bistros of the Cafe Cluny sorts, emerge in the West Village.

Cozy is the new black this fall as far as restaurants are concerned.  While last spring was marked by an invasion of Asian mega-restaurants the size of airplane hangars, New Yorkers fled in droves to The Little Owl, a refreshingly intimate nook, which snuck onto the West Village scene amidst the seige.  While restaurants of this magnitude don’t usually merit a New York Times review, Frank Bruni stamped two stars of approval on The Little Owl “that could”, paving the way for an influx of intimate cafes trying their luck at the corner bistro game.  Snagging an attractive West 4th street corner location, the team behind Odeon (Lynn Wagenknecht, Judi Wong & Steven Abramowitz), have partnered up once again to open a charming French-American cafe.  As if
it’s been around forever, Cafe Cluny has a decidedly worn-in feel. 
Divided into two cream-colored dining rooms, the space is warmly accented with beige wood floors, tin ceilings and farm tables.  Eccentric bird diaramas and sketches of restaurateurs line the walls, giving it a quirky personality that sets it apart from its West Village neighbors. 

Abuzz with Odeon loyalists and a
chic downtown crowd, the 70-seat space was  already packed and reservations were scarce.  I was assigned to a table in the rear dining room, quieter than the front room with a bustling entrance bar. 
Designed by chef Vincent Nargi (Odeon & Bayard), the French-Americian menu’s as familiar and quaint as the space itself.  Both the wine list and the dishes are predictable at Cafe Cluny; neither overwhelming nor remarkably innovative, which isn’t always a bad thing.  While it was a welcome relief to read a menu that fits on one small sheet of paper, I wondered if locals would all too quickly tire of the limited offerings; roasted chicken, hanger steak frites, swordfish “au poivre”, and sea scallops.

The beet salad was a market fresh bed of bright heirloom baby beets, marinated in olive oil, then tossed with black mission figs, and topped with slivers of aged goat cheese.  Aside from a fork fight over a few slivers of what was unusually silky and robust aged goat cheese, this was a delicately pleasing appetizer.  Though it does beg the question: Is there a goat cheese scarcity in America that I’m been blissfully unaware of?  If so, I might consider moving abroad.  Onto seared sea scallops, well-executed, atop a fluffy cauliflower puree with a dollop of caviar and beet jus.  Sound familiar?  Perhaps that’s because scallops and cauliflower puree have ubiquitously scored a joint spot on practically every fashionable menu this season, including Porter House and Frederick’s Downtown.  Could there be a possible conspiracy between cauliflower growers and scallop distributors, a food alliance of sorts?  Paranoia?  Maybe not. 

Next came the duck confit, which after marinating in its own juices for two days, was slow-roasted to moist succulence, while managing a nicely crisped skin.  Firm brussel sprouts, scattered around the plate, soaked up the savory duck jus from the plate.  Unfortunately, the pan roasted cod, dry and over-cooked, wasn’t helped by a bland and watery
piperade sauce.

For dessert, I sampled the profiteroles, which had a generic, store-bought air about them, not to mention drenched in chocolate sauce.  And an all too uptight riff on peanut butter and jelly failed to please the peanut butter fanatic in me.  The overly sour concorde grape tart was served with an airy ice cream, that was laced with only a slight trace of peanut butter.  Alas, the intimate atmosphere easily makes up for the dessert disappointments.  Brunch lurches just around the corner, November 13th, and Cafe Cluny is worth a visit for the bird and people watching perks alone.

Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl

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