Paris by Way of Chelsea
Why you should pay Montmartre a visit
It would be easy to stroll right by Montmartre without noticing the place at all. Don't. Nice things transpire quietly behind the casement windows of this unassuming little storefront.
First, there's the space itself: Narrow, yet light and comfortable, it terminates in a not-quite-covered garden with a second bar, tiles underfoot and a patchwork of tattered brick. Then there's the food: basic-seeming bistro fare that, when you look a little closer, turns out to be not very simple at all.
Consider the hamburger. Really, consider it. Though you are in familiarly French territory here, it's worth thinking about the burger because your chef Michael Toscano certainly has. Brisket and short rib are bound together in the loosest of ways, a flash mob of dry-aged meatiness. The bread is pain au levain, crisped on the plancha and pinched at the edges to seal in its gooey, drippy components like a louche pita. There's a rich, creamy underpinning that isn't spelled out on the understated menu but is worth exploring.
"I make a white cheese like an American cheese," Toscano explains. "Then we add a béarnaise reduction to that, throw in some fresh tarragon and creamed spinach and sautéed onions finished with a good amount of red wine vinegar. What you're eating is essentially a steak house dinner between two pieces of bread."
In other words, not your average bistro burger.
Montmartre doesn't quite conjure the 18th Arrondissement. Nor does it feel like 18th Street and Eighth Avenue. An oversized portrait of Mos Def presides over slatted wood booths; a framed pressing of Peter Frampton's "I'm In You" LP hangs above the loo. The newest and northernmost outpost of Gabe Stulman's Little Wisco empire of diminutive dependability, Montmartre is the classic overnight success--that took a while to get there.
It opened early this year with Tien Ho (ex of Má Pêche) doing interesting, hybridized French-Asian things in the kitchen. Toscano replaced him a little over a month ago, steering the menu towards revitalized classics: escargot with shallots and burgundy; Coq au Vin for two by way of the Jura, with vin jaune, lardons, roasted maitake and egg noodles.
It's a new restaurant--the kind of neighborhood bistro you'd travel out of your neighborhood to get to. There's ample thought behind these dishes, not that you'd notice from the coyly minimal menu description. "That's kind of my thing," Toscano says of the under-promise/over-deliver ethos of the joint.
Check it out; it might be yours too.
Don't overlook Montmartre for brunch either. The menu here is more interesting than many around town. Think French toast with almond cream and figs, and a garlic sausage hash. And yes, the burger is available at brunch too.