Dirty French, as the name suggests, is not a subtle restaurant.
The latest from the Torrisi-Carbone dudes, housed on the ground floor of the LES's The Ludlow, feels like a darker vision of a McNally bistro: a giant mirror framed in Edison bulbs, red leather booths and tiled floors with the addition of ominous elements like a row of grotesque busts resembling Jack Nicholson's Joker and a huge red painting by Ron Gorchov that calls to mind a pig's snout.
Then there's the not-so-subtle scrawl of the hot pink Dirty Dancing-ish logo on the menu brought over by a server who's wearing a button-down in the same shade of fuchsia. It's '80s flash meets Parisian chic on steroids.
The menu channels French-Moroccan with a Carbone punch, which is to say big, bold and showy. A silver tub filled with chipped ice is brought to the table to show off the day's oyster selections. A waitress describes the restaurant's three cured hams on offer.
Dishes like lamb carpaccio ($16) is given a Med-African spin with a smattering of figs and eggplant. Gnocchi Parisienne ($14), nicely crisped on the outside and soft inside, gets a burst of sweetness from smoked, bursting cherry tomatoes, and a slick of labneh around the bowl adds a tart creaminess. Black sea bass is beautiful (if a little undersalted), cooked en papillote ($34) and cut open and dressed with an herby pistou at the table.
Baked sea bass en papillote
The retro-glamorous showstopper is the poulet in two-acts known as Chicken and Crepes for Two ($36). The chicken itself is preceeded by a cobalt chicken-shaped glass candy dish—yes, I said colbalt chicken-shaped candy dish—filled with herbs and thinly sliced radishes to dress your crepes. Next a hefty wooden serving board comes along, topped with a cast-iron skillet in which the white meat is relaxing in its roasting juices, as well as teensy bowls of dipping sauces (hot Dijon mustard, harissa, apricot preserves) and, alongside this, a few crepes rolled in paper and tied preciously with baker's string. The gist: Smear some sauce on a crepe, put in some chicken and some herbs, roll, eat.
Next, the dark meat reveal: two legs (feet attached, naturally) confited in duck fat, garlic and herbs and lacquered with honey and kaffir lime. The meat is crackly, charred and a little sweet. It's so good I would have been happy attacking it first and taking the white meat home for sandwiches the next day.
Dirty French is a lot of fun. There's '80s music blaring. There are good cocktails. There's buttery, meaty food to eat too much of. And if that's considered "dirty," well then, I'm okay with that.
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