After months of anticipation, French grand cafe Lafayette began its dinner service on Monday. The all-day restaurant and bakery is run by culinary power trio Andrew Carmellini, Luke Ostrom and Josh Pickard, who also helmed hotspots Locanda Verde and The Dutch, as well as nearby Joe's Pub and the recently revamped restaurant space The Library inside the Public Theater. The bistro takes over the former Chinatown Brasserie spot, opening up the formerly gloomy dark red and black space with sparkling glass, colorful tile and lots of natural light. The transformation is stunning and recreates the charm of a casual French bistro with touches of elegance that speak to its pedigree. If the food comes anywhere close to the beauty of the space—and early word says it does—then Lafayette is poised to be a homerun.
Chef Carmellini, who brought on Chef de Cuisein Damon Wise from Craft, draws inspiration from a variety of regions in France, with a mix of classic brasserie fare, as well as seasonal and market-driven dishes. The bistro staples are there, including Bouillabaisse Royale (MP) for two, Beef Tartare Cressonniere with poached marrow ($19) and Steak Frites with bearnaise butter ($28). A Spring Salade ($12) of lentils, leeks, radishes and kale and Grilled Mediterranean Octopus with eggplant and piperade ($17) stand out in the Hors D'Oeuvres section; charcuterie, cheese and Fruits de Mer selections are also available. Handmade pastas include the playful adaptation Spaghetti Nicoise with tuna ($22), as well as a hearty macaroni with veal ragout and brebis ($24). Wood-Fired Dorade ($30) with beans en cocotte and muscat grapes and Duck au Poivre ($30) with organic grains, radish and smoked bacon round out the Entrees.
A row of 10 seats look directly into the rotisserie section, where plump chickens spin and brown, and a long bar—backed by a glowing amber wall with an antique station clock—pours glasses of French wines, local beers and house cocktails by beverage director Josh Nadel, who's also behind the drinks at Locanda Verde. The enormous main dining area seats 150 on cozy leather banquettes, surrounded by windows that look out onto tree-lined Great Jones Street or bustling Lafayette. The airy space is uncluttered, with a few cartoon-like characters painted on the walls and empty glass bottles for decoration.
The equally important bakery section of the restaurant sells freshly baked pain de campagne, made with whole wheat and rye flours, baguettes and other scratch made breads and croissant-type goodies by Per Se alum James Belisle. Decadent tarts, macarons and other sweets by Jen Yee are displayed inside gleaming glass and zinc cases, which beckon you as soon as you enter the space. During the day, the bakery area will also offer a selection of tartines (open-faced sandwiches), soups, fresh juices and coffees to carry out starting at 7:30 a.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. on weekends until the restaurant closes.
380 Lafayette Street; 212-533-3000. Restaurant open for dinner with breakfast and lunch following in a few weeks.