As February rolls out and March inches in, New Yorkers can reach something of a breaking point. Spring sometimes creeps in the air, but temperatures often dip to new lows, and memories of Valentine’s Day remind us that we’re not living in a city as romantic and rouge-smooched as, say, Paris. The panacea for all of this might very well be in chef Jody Williams’s latest gastronomic venture, Buvette, a self-styled “gastroteque” serving up small plates that are big on flavor and performance.
Roughly translated, a buvette is a sort of food or coffee stall: the relaxed, easy kind of place where you can pop in, unannounced, for an early-morning espresso, a mid-afternoon sandwich, an after-work drink, or some late-night nosh. With friends, or by yourself. For a group gathering in the semi-private back room, or a dîner à deux in the front window (it’s the perfect date spot). And Buvette is certainly all that; it has the pleasingly calibrated bustle of a Rive Gauche café or brasserie, but with all the comfort and fixings of grand-mère’s Provençal kitchen (not to mention her French countryside comfort food).
The morning hours at Buvette are rather special, if not downright sacred. With significantly lighter foot traffic than at dinner or in the after-hours, breakfast and early lunch are comfy and cozy. The warm smell of toasts and coffee (Williams uses Philadelphia-based favorite La Colombe) almost makes you forget that you have appointments lined up for the rest of the day. It is also in the daylight that the details shine through: woven Provençal baskets skattered among antique-finished serving trays and salt-and-pepper shakers; page-boy hats hanging from the bar’s side (and from the bartenders’ heads); the gray-chalked aprons wrapped around the bright-eyed waitresses. Though cappuccinos are available in sufficiently large sizes (don’t ask for skim milk or extra foam: they’re served only one way, which you can take or leave), portions remain true to Buvette’s small-place character and feel (a chocolate croissant actually comes as two finger-food-size delicacies of puffed pastry filled with chocolate rich enough to wake you up if the coffee hasn’t already).
Come nightfall, Buvette transforms into quite a boisterous bistro. A “gastronomo” (a word coined by chef-proprietor Williams to describe the jack-of-all-trades host-cum-waiter-cum-cook-cum-sommelier-cum-bartender) is likely to greet you at the door in a friendly French accent, and then take care of you from cocktails through dessert (mousse au chocolat is tempting, but the tarte tatin will leave you in a state of bewilderment). As for the small plates, there’s seemingly no wrong combination, nor too many nor too few. A suggestion: the butter-slabbed anchovy toasts, the whipped brandade de morue, the gratin of cauliflower, and both the coq au vin and the cassoulet (where else can you order both but not leave as heavy as a Pinkerton guard?).
Reservations are unnecessary—or, more correctly, can’t be had—though when walking past the crowded bar scene that nearly pours out onto the street at prime dinner hours, you wish they’d take a reservation or few, even if it were to involve haggling for a VIP email or number. Then again, this isn’t Manhattan anymore; at Buvette, at least, you won’t want it to be.