455 Tenth Avenue, East Village
I never made it to Café Paris, but there's enough Francophile to me that I'd looked forward to it. Wine and small plates can be just the thing some evenings, even if you have to roll into East Village to get them.
So when I heard Café Paris had closed, I felt as though I'd missed out. Turns out, it only closed momentarily for rebranding. In late January it reopened as Rustic, a tapas and meatballs place promising local craft beer, sangria and a couple of the old café's more popular wines.
Okay, so maybe I missed out on the overt Frenchness of the bistro, but the spirit should remain the same. Small plates were still available, and adding a healthy assortment of beers never made anything worse.
I checked it out on a Monday evening, and while there weren't many diners, there aren't a lot of tables either. The place has a pretty bare setup, going for casually comfortable, succeeding only by virtue of some upholstered chairs in the back.
The service was very European — the kind that usually irks American tourists expecting prompt and attentive. The beer list is short, with not even a handful of our 80-plus local brewers available. I'm selective enough that even a list of ten beers often disappoints; in this case, I stuck with water.
I tried not to dwell, instead devoting my attention to the tapas menu. Choices included mussels, baked brie, bruschetta and baked artichoke. Not entirely what comes to mind when I think tapas, but the word does cover a lot of ground, so I opted for the bruschetta, which is common, and the less-typical artichoke.
The bruschetta consisted of toasted sourdough slices topped by melted cheese and cured ham or cranberries; not bad, but only three for five bucks. The baked artichoke featured cheese, bacon and a tomatillo salsa — there are worse ways to eat brined artichoke, but mostly better ones.
I put the starting course out of my mind and focused my anticipation on the main event — meatballs. Here the variety picks up a bit, as for eight to ten bucks you may mix and match beef, chorizo, soy chorizo and turkey meatballs with a variety of cheese and sauces, either on a sub, atop spaghetti or served on "paella rice."
Paella's one of my favorite dishes, so I didn't hesitate, opting for beef and chorizo meatballs on rice with manchego and aoli. And because a slider's only three bucks, I got one of those too, with a turkey meatball, gouda and pesto.
The turkey pesto slider was the best part of the meal. The paella rice was far overseasoned, and the meatier meatballs seemed pretty much slapped together, kind of like a busy mother might do for her kids on a weeknight. Not like a chef would prepare to be served in a restaurant.
I'm not sure why Café Paris had to go, but I have to believe I would have enjoyed it more. With Rustic, there's not enough happening with the atmosphere, recipes or drink list to cope with parking downtown, even on the cheap. Maybe the next iteration of this bistro will fare better.