Pastis French Bistro, 9 Ninth Ave., New York, NY
Meme Mediterranean, 581 Hudson Street , New York, NY
When you finally get to try a restaurant that takes no reservations but is always so crowded the line is out the door there are only two outcomes: you either 1) wind up scratching your head wondering what’s all the fuss? or 2) confirm that there are still plenty of folks who appreciate eating quality food prepared in a creative fashion. We tried the ever-crowded and trendy Pastis French Bistro on Ninth Ave. just north of Greenwich St. in the Meatpacking District for brunch with disappointing results and Meme Mediterranean on Hudson St. in the West Village with quite the opposite outcome.
Pastis advertises itself as a moderately priced bistro and perhaps $17 for a mediocre omelet and $16 for a bagel and lox plus $4.75 for juice and $3.50 for coffee is moderate by French restaurant standards but not in my book. They don’t serve any bread with the meal but for a mere $18 you can get a basket of bread and sweet rolls. Give me a break. There was only one type of omelet available (with herbs) – how hard is it to offer options for interesting fillings e.g., sautéed fresh mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, any number of varieties of cheese? The fries were limp and greasy and for a French restaurant that about seals the deal. Add to that an indifferent and incompetent wait staff and you’ve got a recipe for a huge disappointment.
Meme Mediterranean was quite another story however. While its small dining room was bursting at the seams and might be described as controlled chaos, the staff was courteous and attentive. We were lucky to get seated quickly (the owner welcomed us and took our coats) and we wound up sharing a long table with another group, family style. We were quickly served fresh, crusty olive bread with olive oil, olives and marinated veggies plus a complimentary bite-sized taste of something resembling tuna carpaccio that was exquisite.
Meme has both a Tapas menu and conventional entrees and appetizers. We chose to go with the latter but plan to return to sample the large variety of Tapas. We started with the chef’s special appetizer of fresh Little Neck clams with chorizo sausage and stewed tomatoes in a spicy sauce – the clams served in the shell were plump and tasty, not over-cooked and rubbery and the portion was generous. The sauce was so tasty I picked up a spoon to finish it off after the clams were gone. For entrees we selected chicken tangine with apricot, raisins, almonds, couscous and spicy carrots and a lamb burger served with goat cheese, charcoal grilled tomatoes and sweet onions, and fries (which by the way were perfectly cooked). The tangine was sweet and savory with lots of tasty sauce to cover the cous cous. The ground lamb was medium rare as requested and the soft chevre which melted on top was a nice compliment.
The only negative turned into a positive: the waitress forgot to bring the beer I ordered and I had to ask about it again – for this minor inconvenience the beer was on the house. Meme proved to be deserving of the attention and is well worth the challenge of getting a table.