Jules eats world.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Belle de Jour

She's no Catherine Deneuve...but she'll do.

Call-girl by day, bourgeoise housewife by night, the Catherine Deneuve of "Belle de Jour" was no doubt shocking to audiences in 1967, with the main character's sexual fantasies of humiliation. It's a provocative name, then, to choose for a French bistro in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, a few blocks north of the bustling South Street Seaport. When I told a Frenchman, presumably the owner, that I knew the movie, he tossed his head and said dramatically, "Je suis Belle de Jour!"

Belying the name, however, the ambiance at the restaurant is much less apres-le-scandale than comfortable and classic, much like Deneuve's evening identity. Despite its proximity to the bridge, the location on a quiet corner of a cobblestone-lined street gives the impression of a calm neighborhood place that the nearby tourist hordes haven't yet discovered. It has pretty textbook bistro decor, with brick-colored tile floors, wood chairs and furnishings, and the requisite tables on the sidewalk.

The menu fits the classic bistro mold as well: moules frites, salad with goat cheese, tuna tartare. On one visit, a filet of bass was moist and delicious, served with a casserole of turnips, fennel and carrot. The endive salad was dressed with a refreshing orange vinaigrette. On the second, the food remained solid, but there were some sour notes: my friend found the addition of mustard to a pate toast a little odd. And the choice of keeping shrimps' heads intact with a risotto was a dubious -- and messy -- one in such a saucy dish, especially since said dish was oilier than it should have been. All was redeemed, however, by a warm creme brulee with candied lemon peel. The kitchen may need a little fine-tuning, and perhaps a trip to the motherland? But I'll give this belle the benefit of the doubt, since the first visit was the better one, and make another trip to her boudoir.

Belle de Jour
259 Front St.
At Dover St.


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