Like its West Village sibling, Café Henri in Long Island City serves French food. No fusion, no fakery, no fuss. The boxy orange space sits on a corner, near where the residential neighborhood starts to shade into industry. Big windows frame the streets, so that everyone who walks by looks as if they're in a movie. Beneath the restaurant, the 7 train rumbles. Whereas elsewhere the subway's clamor might annoy, in this place, as punctuation to easy conversation, the noise seems kind of sexy. If nothing else, the subway reminds you that any relationship you form in New York must by nature be polyamorous, as the city will always demand its share of attention.
Our cauliflower soup ($5.50) was simple arithmetic: pureed cauliflower plus milk plus butter plus flour, et violà. Maybe a leek or an onion as well. Nevertheless, the soup tasted lighter than those ingredients might portend. Someone's arm, or a food processor, got a good workout whipping them into lump-free airiness.
La salade nicoise au thon grille ($14) had an excellently peppered, excellently cooked tuna steak atop a greens dressed with a vinaigrette and anchovies, hard-boiled eggs, green beans, a handful of tiny olives, and pale, forgettable, don't-let-them-touch-anything-else tomatoes. Again, this salad exuded simplicity, even if it didn't succeed on all fronts.
Then dinner got a little fancy, thanks to a condiment. Mustard made le merguez a la moutarde forte ($10.50), a lamb sausage and roasted red pepper sandwich. As with a satisfying romance, the sandwich was both sweet and spicy.
We also ordered a side of ratatouille ($5), a naturally sugary concoction of carrots, onions, zucchini, and peppers, lots and lots of peppers. Rosemary too. A picture of a big-headed Bichon Frise adorns Cafe Henri's logo, but a sprig of rosemary would work equally well. This is a restaurant that's fond of the herb, and thus well-suited to cozy winter dining.
To finish, croissant pudding ($8). The mottled layers were moister than moist due to chocolate veins and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. When it comes to bread pudding, there's a fine line between pillowiness and mush, and Cafe Henri's version stays on the right side of it, thanks in part to the almond slivers scattered throughout.
Cafe Henri does a strong takeout business, but those who stay do seem to stay for a while, browsing the magazines on offer, ordering another café au lait, adding a commentary to the narrative outside the windows. With its simple but satisfying food and comfortable surroundings, Cafe Henri is best for: a lingering date.
10-10 50th Avenue, Long Island City NY 11109 (map) 718-383-9315