The Ultimate Neighborhood Spot: Buvette
Toast, eggs, smoked salmon and caper berries.
“I have an oven in the back of my head,” chef Jody Williams told Kinfolk magazine, in an interview about Buvette, her tiny West Village establishment. Found on Grove Street, not far from The Little Owl, it wouldn't be inconsistent to see a black steel-framed bicycle out front, either as a prop or as a way to get to work. It’s a street with endless charm, so much so that movies and television have used it time and again as a backdrop.
Dinner at Buvette is made up of any number of tiny plates, such that you order more than you think you need, and your diminutive round table quickly gets covered in white china with piles of glistening octopus salad with celery & olives, or a savory pot of cassoulet, or buttery rich cauliflower gratin with Gruyere, or... About her stylistic decision, Williams has said: “I wanted to take big dishes and make them small, take an elaborate meal and make it in two bites.”
Dishes like these say one thing: don’t go to Buvette on a diet. Go if you like being near people.
Dinner at Buvette is romantic and intimate, candles flicker on the walls, and the only way you can spin around is to brush against other people. My few dinners at Buvette had all been wonderful, until I went the other day in daylight, which is when I discovered the apex of their magic, the golden hour: brunch.
If I were asked, and even if I were not, what my favorite meal was, my answer would always be breakfast. And brunch, the grown up version of breakfast, is one step better. To take it further in my fantasyland of meals, my perfect breakfast would include sweet and savory segments on the yin yang wheel.
We sat at the narrow marble bar in high wooden chairs that did not invite lingering, even while all you wanted to do was order glass after glass of crisp white wine as you chatted with your friends or the smiling staff behind the counter. Buvette’s menu, as narrow and petite as the bar, detailed a sprinkling of oeufs, legumes, tartines and patisseries to choose from. I chose the oeufs, or the eggs.
As we waited for our order I glanced over at the kitchen, a two-foot by three-foot area behind the bar that looked big enough to froth up milk for a latté but was actually doing the entire show. It is a feat to behold. There are toasters, waffle irons, a miniature oven and who knows what else. The eggs are scrambled and frothed in a tall silver pitcher using the steamer wand on an espresso machine. Let’s just say that if you wanted to go camping, the chefs at Buvette are the people you want to bring. They are the MacGyver’s of kitchen ingenuity using only three knives and a broken plate.
Fluffy eggs arrived balanced atop three thin slices of bread, grill marks included, a pile of salmon and a few cheeky caper berries. Perched on the teeny plate it managed to look both immense and delicate at the same time. I dug in. Roasted beets arrived mounded in a bowl with chunks of almonds and horseradish crème fraiche. They tasted cool and sweet, the creme spiking it with a hint of peppery spice. We passed the bowl left and right. It was easily shared by three, despite its reported smallness.
The downside to sitting at the bar is there is no downside. But, well, if I am going to admit it, the problem is that you get to see everything close up. That’s how we ended up adding an order of cranberry walnut bread topped with honey and bee pollen. Hello yummy savory and sweet bread, in my make believe land of bread where I can eat as much as I want, and not worry about pesky things like blood sugar and insulin, you are that which I dream of. Alas, Buvette is the type of place best visited by non-diabetics.
Did I mention my glass of wine? I had one, a gorgeous white from Alsace. We all had a drink in fact: wine and a few Bloody Mary’s. When we were done the girls behind the counter regaled us with our future: tarte tatin, mouse au chocolat, affogato, and more. They batted their eyes, attesting to the desserts greatness. My eyes wanted the tarte tatin but my brain told my eyes to stop it.
And then we left, even though I could have stayed. The restaurant remained stuck in my mind, in a golden glow of amber, in perpetuity. And Chef Jody Williams? She has an oven in the back of her head, so when she walks away from the kitchen, she can still see what’s baking.