Wookiee Hut Cuisine presents:
Quatorze Bis
Upper East Side, NY
212-535-1414

Review by Diana DeRiggs

You can tell that real estate is expensive in this neighborhood. Although the façade is bright red, it's easy to miss because it's so small. The room is packed, the tables are way too close together, and you can hear couples nagging and whining ... you don't want to hear that. Even if you are a gossip and eavesdropper, you honestly don't want to hear about "the sofa is worn, no, I want the $6,000 one ... I got this shirt at over 50% off at Pink, that's more than half off, you know -- the ruffly dramatic look, only $200 ..." Okay, I know I'm a snob, but I am NOT an idiot.

That's why I came here anyway, despite the neighborhood denizens. When this restaurant was in Greenwich Village on 14th Street (Quatorze, get it?) it was said to be like sitting in a bistro in a low-number arrondisement. The location on 79th Street is brighter and more modern (we LOVE the bomber-propeller-style multi-oscillation cycles ceiling fan by the entrance) and less fab. The waiters are efficient, cranky guys with French accents who forgive mispronunciations by patrons (we suspect they might be actors). They pick on each other, adjusting napkins placed on the table by another waiter, murmurring things like, "No attention to detail ... use a tray to clear ... scrape clockwise ...."

The menu seems austere, but it's a bistro. They have as many daily blackboard specials as they do items on the printed menu. Both are classic bistro fare, and that's a great thing. The food is French and it's done really well. From overhearing the other tables, people come here weekly or so for dinner away from the kids, etc. And even when they order their trout and frites with "American Red Sauce" -- i.e. ketchup -- the waiters don't judge, and they serve it professionally and well.

We had some classics: endive with roquefort and walnuts; saucisson de Lyons (served with diced boiled potatoes and mustard); frisée with hot lardons (thick-slab bacon) and croûtons; cassoulet (white beans baked with duck confit, sausage, and ham); grilled sirloin steak with frites and a wondrous sauce bearnaise; tarte tartin (thin sliced apple tart); crème caramel en reversée. It was all really delicious -- flavors and textures were perfect. Everything was ultra French -- not a sign of Italian-ness, American-style ketchupy baked beans, etc. Hey, the French may be bastards about other things, but their bistro and peasant fare is the best.

There were other things not nearly as French, and we didn't see anyone ordering those -- spaghetti, for instance. Nice wine list, not unreasonably priced, and you can get Perrier Jouët Champagne by the glass if you are so inclined.

So the neighborhood is pretentious and expensive (reflected in our tab -- $180 for two on a weeknight!), the waiters are efficient and the food is divine. We'll come back. It was really worth it for a special night out with a special buddy! And though the neighbors were annoying, they turned out to be okay in the end.


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