I’ll cut to the chase: I ate at what is probably the hottest opening of the (late) summer this weekend.
Dirty French, from the team behind Carbone and ZZ’s Clam Bar, among others, is on the Lower East Side and it couldn’t be cooler. It’s in The Ludlow hotel and the look is ultra cool Brooklyn meets Moroccan bazaar meets modern art gallery. It’s dark, it’s loud, and the hostesses are all impossibly beautiful. I felt pretty old and uncool, so don’t bring parents or an intimate first date here. This is prime real estate for business people with deep pockets, Euro-celebs, and – of course – foodies looking to see if Dirty French lives up to its elder siblings’ reputations.
The menu isn’t classical French – it’s made up of all of the foods of places that French cuisine has had influence – heavy on the Moroccan and New Orleans dishes.
Shall we begin?
Honestly, it seems gimmicky. They are all East coast oysters, which I certainly enjoy, but there is nothing like a small, deep cupped, creamy West Coast oyster. I find East Coast oysters to – generally -be a little brinier and flatter tasting. These come in a variety of preparations, with spicy garnish or baked with garlic and butter, but we didn’t try any that night. Also, this raw bar selection is market price, which is always scary when it comes time for the check.
A refreshing, cooling citrus cocktail.None of that pine-y taste that gin sometimes has. It’s a little sweet from the apricot liqueur, which softens the tart lime juice and rounds out the edges. This is strong but not hit-you-over-the-head-powerful and it’s an ideal aperetif.
Warm bread and herbed yogurt
One of the hits of the night. No kidding…what’s the last time that you can say that the complimentary bread was a better than the foie gras (which, by the way, was good enough to try but not to get again – a little greasy and lacking salt)? This arrives on a silver platter piping hot from the oven. It’s a naan/doughnut hybrid that is puffy, doughy, and slicked with butter and salt. It’s tasty enough to eat on its own, but when you spoon some sumac dusted yogurt over it and let it melt into the warm bread…well, then it’s a course unto itself. Cool, hot, creamy, tangy, soft, and buttery…I’m not writing a poem, I’m just eating bread. Really, stupidly, amazingly tasty bread.
Beet and Roquefort salad
This could be so mundane, but the attention to detail makes it shine brighter than similar salads in town. The beets are clearly home roasted, with a toothsome texture and almost candy sweet taste that is echoed by the crunchy candied walnuts. Thinly sliced apples, miniscule slivers of chives, and some really creamy, salty Roquefort complete the dish. Everything is bite sized and easy to enjoy in one mouthful. Plus, it helps lighten up a meat-focused meal.
Boudin with pickled onions and Creole mustard
Outstanding – a refined, subtle version of the down home original. This is what a great restaurant does – it takes something that you know and love, and honors it by putting its own stamp on the food. Dirty French succeeds here, with a sausage that is tender and rich with pork and liver flavor. It’s not overly garlicky or salty and really lets the minerally taste of the liver shine, almost like chicken liver pate. The outside is crispy and lacquered in an almost sweet glaze that works with the pickled onions and the spicy Creole mustard. If you like sausage, you just have to try this boudin…it is a show stopper.
Unique and tasty, but not a must order. The lamb is beautifully butchered and sliced paper thin in sweet, mild slices, but it lacks a lot of taste. The figs and yogurt seem to overpower it. I prefer steak tartare to carpaccio, and perhaps if the lab was ground instead of slice, it would have been more to my liking, but here it just disappeared.
Chicken with crepes
Shut. it. down. (Thanks, Rachel Zoe). Get this. Moroccan chicken meets Peking duck. The breasts are seared and served with harissa, spicy mustard, and sweet chutney that you roll into thin crepes like Peking duck. The legs come later, barbecued under a peppery, lacquered skin that is the legal version of crack. The legs come fully intact with feet and claws, so order another cocktail if you are feeling squeamish.
Or just eat another one or 2 of the white meat filled crepes.
I didn’t even touch on the salmon maison or the absolutely EXCELLENT, UNMISSABLE POMMES FRITES (do not leave here without getting these!). So, most of the food was excellent and the vibe was super cool – why am I not giving this place an unmitigated rave review? A few things brought down the general feel of the night:
Service: Aloof at first, then warmed up to excellent service by the end of the night. Still, the beginning was so reserved and slow (cocktails alone took about 20 minutes), that it was hard to shake that.
Price: It’s expensive and without many of the perks that you get from restaurants in a similar price range. No mignardises, no super personalized attention, no questions about allergies to certain foods.
Location: Wherever you live, this is not near it. It’s just a PITA to get down here, and while I might visit it a lot more if it was farther west or farther uptown, I’m unlikely to make another special visit here.
So, what’s my takeaway? This place is great, if expensive. It needs to iron out a few kinks, but the food is interesting and delicious – not to mention, much needed in the Moroccan void that is NYC. Its longevity will, I predict, be determined by how well it fine tunes its service and listens to the neighborhood’s demands, since few of us are likely to make this a weekly trip.
But, with pommes frites and bread like this…a trip at least once is well worth it.