Magazine article The New Yorker

Cafe Lebowitz

Magazine article The New Yorker

Cafe Lebowitz

Article excerpt

14 Spring St. (212-219-2399)--It is often said that the bistro came into being in 1814, when Russian troops occupied Paris after Napoleon's failed campaign against Moscow. With no patience to wait for pate to be put en croute or for bevies of quail to be tucked under pastry coverlets with hothouse grapes, the invaders shouted "Bystro!" ("Quickly!") at French tavernkeepers, and, lo, steak-frites were born.

At Brian McNally's Cafe Lebowitz, at Elizabeth and Spring Streets in Nolita, the blended Franco-Russian heritage of the bistro is everywhere in evidence. Burgundy leather banquettes, dark wood tables, flickering sconces, and wide, smoky mirrors say France; cream-colored walls decorated with folkloric stencils and Constructivist prints and leaflets say Russia. The menu has been contrived to satisfy the most ravenous muzhik with simple fare prepared with finesse and invention.

The beet, the most beloved root vegetable of the Russian people, appears as a first course, served with grapefruit segments (a marvellous pairing); the roasted chicken comes with loops of sauteed leeks spaded into its center. …

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