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REVIEW: le cosmopolitan cafe

Once upon a time I took a French 101 class, hoping to expand my freelance repertoire to include French publications. Low and behold the angels above granted me the opportunity to earn extra credit for the semester's end by eating. Eating...for credit? Oh heavens! I quickly scanned the neighborhood and found a quaint little cafe close to university. Then the night sweats set in. Me? Write in French? Who was I kidding. I tried and tried, but many drafts later I was not even close to confident enough to turning it in to my utterly intimidating professor, or any magazine for that matter. And so here it is, just for you, to take a peek at what would have been. My dear Frenchie readers, comment what you think. Lucky for all of us, I still saw, ate, and conquered. And there is a review...in English...to prove it.
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Qui pense quel j’ai pense ce soir je regarde a le cafe. Le canopy vert est charmant avec le fancy font, et le menu est charmant aussi. J’ai faire promenade toujours curieuse, arriver de mon classe de française a le metro. C’est un nouveau restaurant assez. Un Novembre soir j’ai curieuse et la rue Chambers. Je regarde a le menu. Voici croissants, crepes avec caramel, et un petit menu du vin. Les items sont petit prix. J'ai été heureuse.
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Who knows what traversed through my mind that tempestuous night I happened upon Le Cafe. When in fact, it was no accidental encounter at all. The fanciful thin gold font that spells out simply ‘Cafe’ on the moss green canopy, and the equally charming sidewalk menu had teased me many a night. I’d pass by bemused, always racing in a dazed rush from French class to the train; taking note with my peripheral of the dimly lit interior and orgy of delicate savory fragrances that drifted outside, hovering above enticed passersby. It was finally pure curiosity that made me stop dead in my tracks one early November evening while once again racing down Chambers Street. I took a quick glance at the podium menu, running my fingers along the open faced baked croissant breakfast sandwich, banana crepe drizzled with caramel, and short but sweet wine list. Nothing was over ten bucks. I was sold.

Not more than two minutes later was I inside, cozying up at a table for one in the rear of the restaurant. A perfect spot if you ask me, nestled between the pathway to the discreetly bustling kitchen and the grandiose mahogany china cabinet that housed vintage tea cups, flea market flatware, and doily covered mason jars. I was in awe at the humble embrace yet acute detail of it all. I didn’t feel like I was in France, I just felt at home. Mini coca cola bottles perched on oak shelves, metallic gilded tile basked in the warm 1930s evocative lighting, and the ancient fireplace to my right led my eyes from the nostalgic display pieces to the ornate ceiling. When my eyes came back down to Earth, that’s when I saw him. Craig Bero. A tall, slender, older man with a modest stance, gliding around the dining room, checking on the patrons, keeping things running smoothly. I didn’t know who he was, perhaps the shift manager or barkeep, but I would later find out he was not only the owner, but a Tribeca legend in his own right.

I was soon brought the menu by a petite waitress with a rearing smile. The offerings were short and sweet, which I quickly reassured myself was the typicality of bistro fare. This was a night I wanted to be daring; exhaust my Francophile tendencies. I hadn’t had crepes since my getaway to Montreal, and never before or since. My mouth salivated slightly at the mention of the buckwheat chicken crepe with mirepoix and cream sauce. I didn’t hesitate to order that, and made sure the waitress knew I would be ordering dessert. The apple crumble tart to be exact.

“This will go wonderfully with your savory crepe,” said a somber voice above me. It was Craig, who was handing me a wine glass topped off with delicious Chardonnay that did indeed match perfectly with my crepe when it arrived piping hot from the kitchen. As I eagerly took knife and fork to my dish, I wondered to myself how Craig knew so quickly what I had ordered, and how he could be so sweet as to offer me a complimentary glass of wine. It made me forget I was among aloof New Yorkers altogether. The crepe itself was the epitome of well-priced French bistro cuisine- simply plated, though a large plate indeed, with a side salad sprinkled modestly in vinaigrette dressing. The pungent buckwheat overpowered the goodness it housed inside, until I cut away into the center, revealing the aromatic and flawlessly cooked chicken with mushroom sauce, reminiscent of homemade pot pie. I would have preferred a creamier filling, but alas, I have the palate of a six year old. Kraft macaroni and cheese was my idea of a signature dish for decades.

I giddily awaited the apple tart, having never tried one before. I’ve long promised to immerse myself in French desserts, and this was a good start. But there was Craig again, standing tall above me, generously offering me apple compote a la mode. “This is fresh from the oven! I thought you might like this instead on a cold night like this, but if you would prefer the tart let me know.” How could I turn down anything fresh from the oven smothered in vanilla bean ice cream? My mother raised me better than that. I scarfed it down, but not before requesting an extra heaping scoopful of ice cream to go with the tiny bit of apple pie left in my bowl, which the waitress brought to me in a jiffy, no questions asked. I laughed quietly at the thought of being charged $7 for such a request in a place like Applebee’s.

I was stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey. I sat there content, noticing that I was eating alone, for the first time, feeling completely comfortable, which is no small feat in Manhattan. I indulged in voyeuristic activity, gliding my eyes over the the couple at the front who had brought their own soup and were eating it with mischievous smirks before ordering dessert, on to the seemingly after hours coworker soiree in the center of the dining room had no end in sight, then catching sight of a chatty group of elegant French women wandering inside as I was getting myself ready to leave. After finally getting the waitresses’ attention, I beckoned for the check, then when seeing Craig emerge from the kitchen, I asked him inquisitively what the apple tart would have looked like. I couldn’t eat a drop more, but it was a shame to not experience such a classic dessert. The next thing I know, looking up once again at the shadow hovering over me, was Craig, smiling sweetly handing me a large brown paper bag with an apple tart to follow me home. I was in awe. I spent the rest of the night thinking which was sweeter- my delectable apple tart drenched in crème fraiche and caramel sauce, or Craig, the gentle soul running one of the best cafes downtown Manhattan has ever seen...

5 comments

  1. Well, you transported me from my office in the NBC Tower (in Chicago) to this cozy cafe in Manhattan, quite a feat!

    Craig seems to be on top of things, and quite the charmer as well. :)

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  2. you are an amazing writer! I can't wait to someday read your foodie novel! i can already tell it is going to be a best seller! you did such an amazing job of making me feel like i was sitting right there across the table from you. i wish i was, those sweets sound delicious!

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  3. wow this is an amazing post, this place sounds incredible i must go! you are a lovely writer.

    http://dragonfruit-samnegs.blogspot.com

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  4. So, so, so wonderful!!!

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  5. How sweet and generous of him! He must have seen that you were a special lady and knew you'd appreciate the offerings.

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