June 18, 1990 | Vintage Insatiable

Quatorze Bis

 

         When the handsome garnet-red façade of Quatorze with its homage-to-Paris gold lettering settled on 14th Street, it was an oasis of snap and good bistro food in a desolate arrondissement. Its seedling, Quatorze Bis, ought to transplant happily enough to the Upper East Side in the spot vacated by Remi. That same rich front, thrown open to the street, an instant flash of the Boulevard St.-Germain, stands out like a red dress in a sea of black. And it hasn’t taken the neighborhood long to move in. Tables at the prime dinner hour are scarce.

 

           This is what we’ve all asked for…old-fashioned, unfussy bistro fare in a casual setting at temperate prices. So why aren’t I happier here? All the charm and personality of Remi have been stripped away, except for the chair rail that bisects the biggest French posters, “collected for years in hopes there’d be an annex one day,” says partner Mark DiGuilio. Maybe the décor will seem less minimal once the liquor license arrives and the bar wears a festive clutter of bottles.

 

          Perhaps it’s too early to expect the kitchen to master even a menu abbreviated. But food so simple needs to be expertly cooked and assertively flavored. Tonight, the house’s much-touted classic chicory salad with bacon and hot vinaigrette is an overdoused sog. A smooth armagnac-scented terrine is listless and flat, the rugged country pâté only a little more interesting, not nearly as good to eat as the traditional garnish, the pungent cornichons and tiny black niçoise olives. Better by far are tomato-and-eggplant soup or the savory hot saucisson of Lyon with lentils. There are oysters, too, sold by the piece, smoked salmon, and herring, all the bistro familiars.

 

          With entrées priced from $16 to $22.50 and appetizers $5.50 to $8.50, Quatorze Bis is not quite the bargain its namesake once was, but the braised duck is wonderfully rich and tasty, the grilled salmon (pink at the heart, as requested) comes with a tart, tomato-tinged choron sauce, and juicy herb-grilled chicken is almost hidden under a mountain of good, thin fries -- better than the house’s rather taste-less shoestrings. The excellent aged sirloin (very rare, as requested) is served with a sauceboat of béarnaise. Alas, the liver is mushy tonight, and though the smoked pork loin and plump sausage of the choucroute garnie are fine, the sauerkraut, even with its occasional juniper berry, is wimpy and wan.

 

          Traditionalists will be pleased to see Roquefort on the menu here. (It can be sublime paired with a glass of Sauternes.) A thin, flat tart the size of a couturier pizza boasts luscious caramelized apple. The chocolate-hazelnut mousse is dense and good, the chocolate regal cake dark and rich.

          
          This is a vintage review of course, but Quatorze Bis is still alive at this address, due for a visit, I guess.

 

QuatorzeBis 323 East 79th Street . 212 535 1414

 

         

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