Once upon a time…hit-maker chef Harold Moore opened and closed a hugely popular West Village roast chicken hotspot called Commerce. And then one day…he orchestrated yet another charming mega-hit with Bistro Pierre Lapin. This time, chef Moore decided to focus his kitchen on staunchly Parisian classics to satisfy any Francophile yearning for a nostalgic sit-down at a small table with tall candles. Dripping with charm and oozing with atmosphere, the only thing needed to complete the bedtime storybook view through his rod and gingham-shaded windows of the tree-lined brownstones outside, would be a good foot of snow. But the portraits of Peter Rabbit (the restaurant’s namesake) suffice amiably to set the fairy tale scene.
The L-shaped room is about 2 degrees tighter than what I’d refer to as “cozy” or “snug”. Even “intimate” feels a smidgeon too generous, but this is how I imagine a restaurant must look down a rabbit hole. A litter of small tables usurping every possible square inch, requiring considerable effort to hold in your butt and belly as you curl your way around a warren of shoulders and knees, without sending one of the 4 artisanal cocktails careening to the floor, or bumping a steaming chunk of heavenly house-baked baguette smeared with a greedy dollop of creamy house-churned butter, or a chunky slab or house-cured country pate out of a fellow diner’s hand and onto the adorable rose-garnished wallpaper beyond.
But I digress. The all-day dining menu reads like a French Top 20 from Croque Madame to Steak-Frites, or Cote D’Agneau to an overly dramatic, high-angled table-pour of Pomme purée, but the Soupe aux Oignons is probably one of the reasons we’re all crammed in here. A tangle of tart caramelized onions, as dark as Hermés luggage, lie waiting in a sumptuous umami broth until you bore your way through about an acre of melted Gruyere that manages to stretch itself onto every gluttonous spoonful, delivering a creamy, salty and surprisingly sweet bouillon of delight.
One of the incredibly attentive wait staff deftly dodged his way through the maze of chairs to sidle up a tray of seven dish-lets, each containing a different seasonal vegetable dressed in vinaigrettes. The Le Ravier salad includes tomatoes, asparagus tips, celery roots, carrots, marinated mushrooms… A crispy, crunchy rabbit’s feast stolen from Mr. McGregor’s garden!
Although not on the menu, the Duck a l’orange is a frequent seasonal guest at Pierre Lapin. The magnificently tender duo of breast slithers served medium-rare with crispy skin and perfectly balanced flavors of juice and Grand Marnier, are a testament to kitchen confidence without the citrus overkill under less capable hands.
I couldn’t help feeling similarly about the astounding Coq au vin – which despite being considered “ruin-proof” by many toques (I should have a mastication medal for every time I’ve made my way through a wine-soaked breast, as dehydrated and flaky as shards of Halva) chef Moore manages to evoke all the flavors from Burgundy to bacon while maintaining a succulent and tender bird that succumbs easily to both knife and tooth.
And looking past the colonnade of calories from the likes of Crème Brulee or Passion fruit Pavlova, we deduced that any good rabbit would probably go all in for a trio of delectable Carrot Cake Madeleines topped with warm frosting of white chocolate as the perfect end to a fairy-tale meal, where no-one ever went hungry, and we all lived happily ever after. The End.