Pastis 2.0: The Rebirth of a New York Culinary Icon
Mention Pastis—the famed French brasserie which set the stage for the transformation of the Meatpacking district from slaughterhouses and seedy sex clubs to hip culinary hub when it opened in 1999 as the ‘impossible to get into’ all-day café—to any bonafide New Yorker and they’ll quickly recount stories of boozy brunches, long lunches and late-night dinners back in the day. An instant hit with celebrities like Jay Z, supermodels Linda Evangelista et al., and the fashion pack—Anna Wintour and Sarah Jessica Parker were regulars, and Pastis played something of a starring role in Sex and The City—the grief was almost palpable when the legendary bistro closed its doors in 2014 after the landlord tripled the rent.
But just like on Planet Fashion, no hot trend is ever really dead, and last month saw the bold return of Pastis at 52 Gansevoort Street, a short cobblestoned stroll from its original locale on the West 12th and Ninth Avenue corner. Checking out its new incarnation one recent Monday evening, it was immediate from the beautiful, and heaving crowd (yes, on a Monday) that the magic has indeed been reignited. Pastis 2.0 is bigger (8500 square feet to be precise, 2000 bigger than its predecessor), better, and even more atmospheric. The expansive space has three rooms that flow into each other and 180 seats, a sidewalk patio for alfresco dining (a favorite pastime for New Yorkers in summer), and a bathroom evocative of an old wine cellar. This is New York does Paris at its finest, right down to the signature subway tiles, distressed mirrors, mosaic floor, gilt lighting and red leather banquette seats favored by renowned chef Keith McNally (incidentally there’s a law in NYC that says a McNally can’t open a restaurant without subway tiles and vintage mirrors) who teamed up with American restaurateur Stephen Starr (Le Coucou and Buddakan) for Pastis second chapter. Head chef is Michael Abt, a Starr alumni who cut his teeth at Le Diplomate Washington and Parc, Philadelphia’s Parc.
Ushered into the intimate said leather banquette, the vibe felt celebratory, so oysters with mignonette washed down with a crisp glass of La Caravelle champagne (when in Paris) was in order. Next up, salade verte. Not one to usually opt for a simple garden salad, this quintessential French classic was anything but basic. Just ask my dinner companion who I battled it out with over the last mouthwatering vinegar infused iceberg leaf. The prelude to the entrée was the impossible to resist Monday plat du jour, shrimp au Pastis. grilled fresh Australian tiger shrimp. As it happens I’m Aussie—and although contrary to popular misconception they are actually called prawns—I can attest they were to-die-for. A fierce debate ensued over the choice of entrée—a tough choice between the moules frites with white wine and garlic, the grilled salmon with sorrel and cucumbers, the whole branzino with market vegetables and aioli, and the sea scallops with grand mariner—before I settled on steak frites filet au poivre (a new twist on their signature steak frites). I mean, how can you really say you went to the iconic Pastis and not have their most iconic dish. If it’s good enough for Anna…
As for the rest of the traditional French fare-inspired menu, it is a hybrid of old and new dishes. Fear not, there’s still the beloved cheeseburger à l’Américaine, steak sandwich with onions and gruyere, and beloved brunch staples avocado toast and quiche Florentine. Popular newbies include skate moutarde, veal escalopes and herring with potatoes. Game fans and the more adventurous can take their pick from duck aux olives, pork Milanese with arugula and parmesan, rabbit pappardelle with white wine and niçoise olives, Grilled Lamb Steak with artichokes and mint, calves liver au vinaigre with sauteed onions and boudin blanc sausages. For the finale, no one does dessert quite like the French and the Pastis offering promises to delight even the hard to please sweet tooth. For my money, opt for the vanilla bean crème brûlée, profiteroles with vanilla ice cream and bittersweet chocolate, or the artisanal sorbet and ice cream. That is, if you can go past the mousse au chocolat.
I could go on of course—don’t even get me started on the wine list which features an exclusively French curated line up of the best champagne and vino from regions Loire Valley, South of France, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone—because the breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner menu is extensive. So add this resurrected neighborhood stalwart to the top of your hit list. Assuming you can score a table that is…
WORDS Natasha Silva-Jelly