June 17, 2019 | BITE: My Journal

Born-Again Pastis


A selection of starters covers the table in this photo by Lauren Bloomberg.

        Can the new Pastis restore Meat Market chic? The crowd pouring in tonight, dressed in everything from clinging evening gowns to rompers and boots, is intense but not insistent. Our posse is sheltered from the hustle and chaos in a booth against the wall, ordering dinner from a menu reminiscent of the vintage 1999 Pastis that Keith McNally closed in 2014 to make way for new construction. We study the classic French bistro offerings.


We know restaurateur Stephen Starr from Upland and The Clocktower. Now he makes the rounds of Pastis.



The new Pastis has expanded space on Gansevoort Street.  A crowd waiting for tables mingle outside.

        McNally had vowed to return. But Restoration Hardware moved into the new building in the former Pastis space. Some backers bowed out when McNally suffered a stroke. Then Philadelphia restaurateur Stephen Starr stepped in.


By the time we finish dinner, it’s almost impossible to slide by the standees at the bar.



Diners can see themselves and watch the action in mirrors everywhere.

        Today's Pastis is a familiar hodgepodge representing the new partnership. Starr’s team runs the house and kitchen. Corry Arnold, Starr’s Director of Door Operations, is at the welcome stand. Arnold Rossman, who oversaw traffic at McNally’s Minetta Lane Tavern, scurries about clasping hands, welcoming, soothing.

       If you didn’t know him in the Village, you might want to make nice now.


Vintage mirrors like this one in our corner are a familiar Keith McNally touch.



Crowds press into the backroom, greeting each other along the way.

        The sprawling turf is not the perfect illusion we reveled in when McNally launched Balthazar. He was young then, and so were we. But it has a golden glow and the requisite mirrors, as did the original Pastis. It feels rowdier here tonight, and not as snobby.


Colorful bouquets sit just above our shiny leather circle booth.

        I could reel off the names of the celebrated that have already been by (many of them as guests at the opening).  Meg Ryan, Julianna Margulies, Lorne Michaels, Andre Balazs, Nicole Miller, Salman Rushdie, Jay McInerney. Is this important to you? Some people I know sit up twice as tall when they see a famous face. My friends are fascinated watching Brooke Shields across the aisle.


Ryan asks if it’s okay to mix the raw egg into the steak tartare we are shaing. Yes, please.



On our first visit, my pal Lyn Hughes, a professional photographer, walks around the room, shooting.

        As a food-world academic, I like being offered classic French cocktails like the gingered Pastis’99, Mon Amer with gin, Aperol, grapefruit and champagne -- even as we settle for a carafe of red instead.


Fat sardines are served in the can with Bordier butter.



Lynn shares slices of her Croque Monsieur which reminds me of French toast sandwiches my mother sautéed.

        A busboy drops off rustic country bread, tucked into a black napkin in a wicker basket. Sardines are served in the can with Bordier butter. Escargots in garlic butter, pâté de Campagne, and asparagus with sauce Béarnaise are what you expect. Croque Monsieur for $18 or Croque Madame ($1 more) are an adventure. My companion sends me a chunk of the rich eggy crust of her Monsieur.


Sharing these rich ricotta-filled ravioli with my tablemates leaves me with appetite left for more tasting.



Roasted chicken in a sea of sauce is unthrilling, but the pomme purée alongside is buttery and wonderfully rich.

        I give her one of my ricotta-plumped ravioli swathed in sweet tomato sauce in exchange for a quarter of an artichoke dipped into green olive tapenade. That evening the roasted chicken I order seems boring compared to the macaroni gratin I request for the table even though I have to send it back to be browned. I dislike the pool of salty sauce the chicken drowns in, but my companion thinks it’s a delight. And the pomme purée that comes with it is wonderfully rich and buttery.


Properly-cooked branzino is served with aioli and raw vegetables.



The calves liver is topped with onions and lapped by a vinegar-etched sauce.

        A second friend has ordered the whole branzino with aioli and chunks of Little Gem lettuce and tomato. It seems expensive at $36 compared to the $21 calves liver and onions on its own vinegared puddle. I love calves liver and order it the rare times that I find it on a menu. Reluctantly I surrender a nugget of my perfect sweetbreads with favas in a spill of lemon butter.


Expertly cooked sweetbreads float on a sea of lemon butter, served with favas.



Years ago I made my own paté de champagne and I’m grateful to menus that let me escape that chore.

        If you’re a pinch-penny like me, you’ll also find hors d’oeuvre, salads, and sandwiches that you want more than the $36 beef and carrots braised in red wine. I fear I’m eating more than my share of the $14 macaroni gratin with little bits of Parisian ham. I’m not the only one eating less or economizing these days. Nor am I alone asking for the leftovers to take home to eat tomorrow with Netflix.


Giant berries line up on this triangle of pie but the crust could be sweeter and maybe the fruit should be glazed.



Sweet spring cherries with pistachio ice cream is a fine combination.

        I wouldn’t want to write this report without tasting dessert. I’m impressed by the generous triangle of blueberry tarte sablé with a cloud of crème fraîche for just $11. And the coupe of sweet cherries topped with pistachio ice cream at the same price is enough for four of us to dip soup spoons.


Is the Meat Market due for a renaissance? Larry and Marc Fiorgione plan to open where Spice Market was.

        The reawakening of Pastis has offset my gloom over boîtes shuttering on the Upper West Side. I do think it makes me feel younger (though not thinner). At the Citymeals’ annual feast in Rockefeller Center Garden Monday, chef Larry Forgione was talking about coming “out of retirement” to cook with his chef son Marc at their new place opening this fall in the old Spice Market space.


I’m fascinated watching the eclectic crowd that passes into our backroom under the clock.

        Remember Spice Market, across the triangle from revived Pastis? It seems the Meat Market’s lineup of fashion boutiques will get a Forgione restaurant soon. Give credit here for the resolve of Keith McNally, the boldness of Stephen Starr and the aggressiveness of our town’s cult of first nighters and the worshippers who follow. 

52 Gansevoort Street between Ninth Avenue and Washington Street  212 929 4844. Breakfast Monday to Friday 7:30 to 11 am. Lunch Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 4 pm. Dinner Monday through Wednesday 4 to 11 pm, Thursday and Friday 4 to midnight. Saturday 5 pm to midnight. Sunday 5 to 11 pm. Brunch Saturday and Sunday 9 am to 4 pm.

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