Tree on First Avenue in the East Village is a tiny restaurant with an enormous back garden. It features classic French bistro fare at reasonable prices and with little fanfare. I stopped by last week with two friends to see how Tree would do when put to the Apps Only test.
We started with the charcuterie plate ($14), which included some house-made rabbit pâté and duck prosciutto, saucisson sec, a wedge of brie, cornichons, whole grain mustard, and toasted slices of baguette. The duck prosciutto was a bit greasy, though plenty flavorful. The rabbit pâté was the highlight of the plate: subtle and just a bit sweet, it was perfect with a smear of mustard. The brie was pungent, a nice departure from the bland variety you often see. While the saucisson was not quite as special as the other meats, we gobbled it up pretty quickly.
The arugula salad ($8) was topped with roasted peaches, shaved ricotta salata, and a vanilla vinaigrette. The dressing was not as cloyingly sweet as it sounds, though it could have used a touch more acid. The caramelized peaches were really what made this dish shine; they paired beautifully with the bitter arugula.
We continued with the tasty roast pork belly ($10), which was crispy, almost like slab bacon without the smokiness. The fattiness of the pork was offset by a light frisée and tomato salad in a lemon vinaigrette.
The highlight of our meal, though, was an order of escargots ($10). Ten bucks gets you six plump, tender escargot still sizzling in butter perfumed with a heavy dose of garlic and parsley. It might not sound like a lot of food for the price, but you'll be quite full once you've sopped up the leftover herbed butter with a few slices of bread.
Tree is an ideal spot to stop for a drink and a light bite, with plenty of enticing appetizers to choose from. The garden is spacious and pleasant, and the staff are friendly. The restaurant deftly walks the line between classic and casual—though you might be fooled by looking over the menu, Tree is anything but stuffy.