New York Chefs Strike Gold With Bargain Bistro Banquets

Buvette, a neighborhood restaurant in New York's West Village. Diners may sit at the counter or at small tables. Photographer: Richard Vines/Bloomberg

It’s midday on a Sunday and almost 30 people are lined up on a pavement in New York’s West Village. If it weren’t for the queue, it would be easy to miss the fact that this is a restaurant, Buvette. It’s certainly low key.

It’s a similar story over in Brooklyn a few days later, where I grab a seat at Battersby by arriving for dinner before 6 p.m. It’s lucky I had the address because the exterior tells you little, while I’m glad I showed up early as the room fills.

These two no-reservations, mid-priced venues are among my favorites in New York, where such neighborhood establishments appear better and more plentiful than in my home city of London.

Buvette was opened in January 2011 by Jody Williams, a woman previously known for her Italian cooking in restaurants such as Gottino and Morandi. The menu here is mainly French bistro, with options such as charcuterie and croque-monsieur. The walls are bare brick apart from vintage photographs and a giant wine map.

It was the chef David Bouley who alerted me to Buvette.

“My favorite spot for inexpensive eating, or eating in general, is Buvette, in the West Village,” he said. “Jody Williams is doing pure honest cooking, super clean, fresh flavors and it is one of the few restaurants I have found that makes me feel warm all over and is reminiscent of my French mother and grandmother’s cooking.”

Walnut Pesto

I sit at the counter and recognize Williams. She’s cooking and serving. I order a tartinette of walnut pesto with parmesan and thyme ($8) followed by a rich and alluring coq au vin ($15), and then end the meal with a selection of fine American cheeses and a coffee. It’s a simple meal and yet one of my favorite during a dining trip to New York.

It’s helped along by a wine list that offers plenty of choices by the glass and carafe. The service is friendly and efficient for somewhere so small, crowded and busy. There’s a woman sitting next to me who’s eating alone and looks uneasy. I notice how kind everyone is to her and feel a warm glow that I’m sure is unrelated to the two kinds of wine I’ve tried. (I’d recommend the Bordeaux Superieur Chateau Saint Julian 2006.)

The bill? $90.91 plus tip, including $31 for wine.

Buvette is at 42 Grove St. Information: +1-212-255-3590 or

Brooklyn Outing

Brooklyn is another country for some visitors, yet I enjoy the area around the Bergen Street subway stop, which I first visited last year to dine at Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare and Franny’s. Battersby is a walk of about 10 minutes along Smith Street and the cuisine is worth an excursion from Manhattan.

The chef-owners Joseph Ogrodnek and Walker Stern are on Zagat’s 30 Under 30 list of New York culinary young talents. They worked together at Alain Ducasse at the Essex House after graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 2002, according to the Battersby website. Ogrodnek moved on to Anella, Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe and Tabla; Stern went to the Vanderbilt, Blue Hill and 81.

Sous-chef Mike Sowa hails from the Spotted Pig, the Vanderbilt and 81; sommelier Erika DaSilva (“Wine Gal”) is from Otto, Momofuku Ssam Bar and Ma Peche. It’s a strong team.

(I’m grateful to Ed Levine, the founder of, for recommending Battersby.)

The seasonal menu is short and eclectic, mainly Mediterranean/American with Asian elements that may relate back to time Walker spent in San Francisco.

You might start with Peekytoe Crab Parfait, celery, green apple and cucumber; then maybe lamb shoulder with red-pepper glaze, chick peas and piquillo pepper. How about short-rib salad with green papaya, peanuts and chili; then day-boat scallops with aromatic vegetable broth, pistachio and sauteed greens?

I wish there were more American wines on the list. Still, DaSilva is great on talking you through the options. A Greek white, Domaine Sigalas 2010, from Santorini ($12 a glass, $45 a bottle), is versatile and very good with food.

The bill? $168.63 plus tip for two, including $71 for wine.

Battersby is at 255 Smith Street, Brooklyn. Information: +1-718-852-8321 or

(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include: James Russell on architecture, Zinta Lundborg interview.

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