Bistro Cassis isn't interested in serving provocative, forward-leaning food. Quite the opposite. At this new midtown eatery, the focus is on adhering to culinary traditions and offering authentic French fare.
From the restaurant's menu to its decor, New York-based Restar Hospitality Group is trying to mimic a typical French brasserie experience, right down to the massive mural of the Paris Metro. Yet Cassis still feels too new and shiny to fully capture the rough-around-the-edges essence of a true bistro français. That said, the je ne sais quoi of such a place is tough to replicate, and what's important is the restaurant is trying hard.
It begins with the scrumptious baguette, which executive chef Cyrille Bolle makes fresh daily. Refills are unlimited and always warm, and at dinnertime, the bread comes with complimentary homemade chicken liver pâté. Born in the Lorraine region of France, Bolle had a restaurant in St. Maarten before moving to Miami and landing a position at the now-defunct Nothing but the Best.
"We wanted to find someone who was very well-versed in tradition and making things the right way, without shortcuts,” Cassis co-owner Jason Machado says of Bolle.
Take, for instance, the escargots in a garlic-and-herb butter sauce. The chef caps each scintillating snail with a brioche crouton. The rich, herbaceous liquid is the best part of any well-prepared escargot dish, and the crunchy bits of bread absorb it brilliantly. Still, it's tempting to use some of the baguette to sop up the sauce.
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Some eateries cut corners and use chicken stock instead of beef or veal stock to prepare French onion soup, but Bolle favors veal. He also goes for Gruyère cheese, not Swiss. The satiating starter has a wonderful aroma and balanced flavor without a fatty taste.
A generous serving of mussels cooked in a sauce of white wine, garlic, and onion was less commendable. The bivalves were slightly acrid, and the broth was watery and underseasoned. However, the next fish dish, sole meunière, was just right. Bolle lacquers the meat with a classic brown-butter sauce featuring the perfect amount of citrus. He then plates it with crisp haricots verts and roasted potatoes.
By meal's end, my dinner guest and I were stuffed. Our tab, including two glasses of vino, tax, and tip, totaled less than $100. When the manager stopped by to inquire about our experience –– a gesture that's not as common as it ought to be — we emphatically replied we'd be back.