Named for a poem by Arthur Rimbaud, Le Bateau Ivre is a French wine bar in Midtown. It offers more than 250 types of wine, many arrayed around the burgundy- and dijon-colored, leather- and brass-decorated room. It does not offer any interpretation of the poem, in which a boat speaks about what it has seen on the water, or the life of the poet, which included being shot in the wrist by his lover Paul Verlaine, hard living in Paris and London, and composing some of the great works of symbolism, all before the age of 20. But you can't have everything.
We all know that French women don't get fat, but what about French school kids? The brie and miel tartine ($9.50), which we ordered as an appetizer, would make a fine after-school snack. Thanks to the tiny open kitchen, we watched the chef's preparations, memorizing each step so we could attempt it at home: two slices of country bread go into the broiler, then get drizzled with honey and topped with chunky rectangles of brie. Back into the broiler they go, and then out they come, transformed into excellent iterations of sweet creaminess. Enough of these, and we'd certainly start to pop our waistbands. Worth it.
The pâté de campagne ($12) had the look and feel of potted meat. Made on site, the pâté came with cornichons, bread, and mustard. We weren't wild about the consistency (denser than Une Saison en Enfer), but the nutty, tangy flavor made amends.
American bars have nachos and potato skins; French bistros have croque-monsieurs. The open-face croque vegetarian ($9.50) lightened the classic by swapping ham for eggplant and zucchini. The layer of béchamel covered in cheese—here, emmental cheese gone to gooeyness—remained. A fine sandwich, although a few slices of tomatoes would have been most welcome. If you're going to commit what some might call sacrilege, you might as well go all out.
The poulet roti ($22) could have fed a family of five. As it was, it easily fed our family of three, we two plus the cat at home. We prefer our roast chicken a little on the dry side, so this version worked well for us, but many will want an extra splash or two of the rosemary jus. Unlike the veggie sandwich, this dish offers no new takes, no attempts to put a unique stamp on roast chicken. Innovation is a good thing, but so is familiar done more than fine.
From 6-6:30 pm, Le Bateau Ivre offers a wine tasting. Everyone, from server to chef to maître d' to, of course, those at the short bar and in the dining room, stands around a table as a sommelier gives a brief lecture—a friendly gathering of folks coming together to learn about fermentation. The restaurant itself is open from 8 am to 4 am.
Cynics will say there's no romance in midtown, unless you count the relationship between people and money, but late at night this place offers its own charms, especially if some of those wines sampled earlier have been given time to breath and be imbibed. It's best for: a lyrical date.