A few weeks ago, the USDA retired the much-maligned food pyramid and released a new guide to healthy eating. The so-called MyPlate was immediately criticized for too closely resembling a pie. Heartache could have been saved had our nation's nutritionists simply looked to the bistro plate ($18.50) at Jules Bistro for inspiration.
Served on a square ceramic were reasonably sized representatives of the major French food groups: bloomy, blue, gelatinous, savory, and sweet. Walnuts, grapes, figs, salad, sausage, and slices of crusty baguette rounded out the cheeses, poultry galantine, and pâté. Voilà! Uncomplicated and satisfying, pretty and totally un-pie-like.
Those adjectives describe a recent dinner at this long-time East Village favorite, styled as a classic bistro. Burnished mirrors? Check. Bottles of wine? Check. Brass, candles, and leather banquettes? Check, check, and check. It's the real, Francophonic thing, all right, with a twist: live jazz nightly, a nod to the owner's love of Harlem.
Seated outside, shielded by bushes from the parade along St. Mark's, we started with an appetizer special, l'assiette de saucisson sec ($7). The sweet, dry sausage, imported from Lyon, came with a chaser of the mini-pickles known as cornichons. Overwrought as it might sound, the sausage's beads of fat sparkled in the light of the early evening. Still, we resisted the urge to hold up a slice as our very own suncatcher.
The tartare de saumon au gingembre ($9.50) layered softness atop moistness. Because the avocado had more seasoning than the salmon, we worked hard to scoop a portion of both onto the accompanying tortilla chips. Pinks and greens echoed the 1980s, when preppiness ruled. Yet, like pegging your jeans or flipping up the collar of your Izod, you don't always know what will work for you until you try it. We'll take the punky past instead, all safety pin earrings and Mohawks, with its bolder, bigger flavors.
Next to us an elderly couple visiting their daughter befriended two young Norwegians stopping in the city on their way to Cuba. On the stoop above the patio, a group of teenagers huddled around an iPod and started singing Lady Gaga. The daughter, who lived nearby, kept running into people she knew. "Are you going to be here in an hour?" one asked. "Let's have a drink!" Think Friends, with more tattoos, fewer ginormous coffee cups, and a homely pit bull-mix named for a former U.S. president.
Le canard de 7 heures ($21.95). So gosh-darn good it deserves to stand alone as a sentence. A duck leg gets marinated for seven hours, then braised and introduced to chunks of blood sausage and pig trotters. Wedges of root vegetables and potatoes offset the protein sump. Meat might make us strong, but this made us invincible, every bite packed with vitamins and peppery vim.
Date-friendly deals abound: happy hour runs 5:30 to 7 pm, the wine menu has a special section of bottles under $30, and Sunday through Thursday you can get a three-course dinner for the set price of $24.95. The restaurant only accepts cash and American Express. It's comfortable and easy enough for everyday dinner or drinks, with traditional dishes well-prepared and an atmosphere that encourages lingering after the meal ends. Jules Bistro is best for: a date that's casual with a chance of seriousness.