Tartine is a solid B-plus of a bistro: nothing you haven’t eaten before, nothing you’ll dream about for days, but very good, occasionally excellent French fare.
In our newest series, BYOB of the Week, Serious Eats writer Carey Jones will stop by a different New York eatery each Thursday, her own bottle of booze in hand.
Why a whole column on BYOB restaurants? For Serious Eaters who enjoy a drink or two with their meals out, the booze tab is often the difference between a reasonably priced dinner and one that’s an awful lot more. The cost of that entrée might not sound too bad, but tack on half a decent bottle of wine, or a few good beers, and the tab starts climbing faster than you can tally.
That’s the beauty of the BYOB—it frees you of the markup, and the inevitably limited selection, of a restaurant’s wine list. Want a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck with your steak, or would you rather uncork a Château Lafite Rothschild at market cost, rather than at triple the price? Or maybe there’s only one obscure Czech beer that you can ever bring yourself to drink with sausages and kraut, and there isn't a restaurant in town that serves it. Whatever the case, your drink is under your control.
Our first BYOB stop is Tartine, a charmingly petite café in the West Village—you’ll know it by the green awning, sidewalk tables, and almost inevitable line stretching down the block. This is by-the-book French fare, from the morning croissant and cappuccino to the steak frites and escargots on the dinner menu. As such, it requires a good wine—but with no wine list of its own, Tartine leaves that step to you.
After perusing the bistro menu and nibbling from the soft, fresh baguette, we started with a warm pissaladière ($10.95), essentially a thin, Southern French pizza. Sweet, almost caramelized roasted tomatoes and a salty chevre topped a buttery crust, along with sautéed onion and an appealingly aggressive dose of rosemary. (The crust lacked a proper crisp, but I was inclined to blame the evening's incredible humidity.)
The grilled saucisson ($8.75) was another bistro classic, gently cooked potatoes and sausage drizzled with a tangy, mustardy chive vinaigrette. Though tasty, the sausage was lean and barely browned—worth eating, but not the treat it might have been.
The bouchée à la reine ($17) was the one dish we didn’t want to finish. Though the chicken was tender, the béchamel seemed gluey, the quenelles were heavy and underseasoned, the sage and spice barely discernible, and the pastry vol-au-vent lacked flakiness and salt. All the appeal of a microwaved chicken pot pie.
But the kitchen redeemed itself with the beef mignonette ($20)—tender hunks of beef with a perfect outside crust under a spicy green peppercorn sauce. Its accompanying frites tasted like nothing so much as McDonald’s fries, though hotter, and crispier, and better.
Finally, dessert, as good as a long-remembered Tartine macaron would have me expect: a chocolate dacquoise ($8), with a hazelnutty meringue base, silky praline buttercream, and almost fudgy chocolate ganache—all with a scoop of house-made vanilla ice cream. Crumbly and sticky and sweet, the dacquoise falls apart within a few forkfuls, but even once a gooey mess it’s too good not to finish.
And to drink? Don't tell the kitchen, but we committed the ultimate European faux pas—drinking an Italian wine with a French meal. We uncorked a Cantine due Palme Selvarossa Riserva that I'd smuggled home from Puglia. Full-bodied and a touch fruity, it opened up beautifully over the course of our dinner, standing up to the red meat and powerful peppercorn sauce but not overwhelming the meal's lighter dishes.
Essentially, Tartine is a solid B-plus of a bistro: nothing you haven’t eaten before, nothing you’ll dream about for days, but very good, occasionally excellent French fare. Factor in friendly service, outdoor seating, and its BYOB status, and it’s more than worth a visit.
253 West 11th Street, New York NY 10014 (map)