What The Heck Is Going On At Lazare Bar & Restaurant In West Village?

Steamed mussels in a too salty broth.
Steamed mussels in a too-salty broth.

So Lazare had a rocky start. Even before Nancy’s review hit the newsstand, chef David Gilbert was gone. Curious, I went there the other night to see how it was faring. My dinner companion chatted up the bartender (who I think was also seating tables?), asking him about the wine and cocktail list. My friend kept getting answers like, “The former bar manager … ” and “The former general manager … ” so it seems as though David Gilbert is not the only one who’s left. As you might imagine of a restaurant in turmoil, our meal was disappointing. To start, fried green tomatoes had a mysterious topping of chopped tomatoes, chopped raw onion, and strings of basil–which made it taste more like bruschetta than a fried green tomato. The basil and onion really offended me, because they overwhelmed the tomatoes, which were supposed to be the stars here. Equally strange was the hard triangle of jalapeno cornbread on the side–with no jalapeno in sight. And, if you look at Nancy’s original review, this was a departure from the original fried green tomatoes on Gilbert’s menu. Hmph.

Mysterious fried green tomatoes topped with chopped tomatoes, chopped raw onion, and basil.
Mysterious fried green tomatoes topped with chopped tomatoes, chopped raw onion, and basil.

Undeterred, we moved on to steamed mussels with frites. At first we couldn’t see any broth in the shallow bowl, but after we dug through some shells, there it was. My favorite part of eating steamed mussels is dunking the bread in the broth, but wow was this broth salty. As my fellow diner remarked, “Fresh seafood is supposed to taste of the sea, but even seawater isn’t this salty.” (And did I mention this guy went to culinary school? IJS.) The mussels themselves were fine–not tough or fishy–and the hand-cut frites were the best thing we ate all night. For dipping, the dish came with a side of ketchup and what I think was ranch; it was hard to tell because it was so runny. Sigh. Moving on to a BLT flatbread–hey, I’m an eater, and I was determined to find something I liked–which, how can I put this gently, was limp, greasy, and practically bacon-less. The L part of this pizza were mixed greens dressed in sherry-ginger vinaigrette, but they suffered from dressing overload. Double sigh.

Roasted chicken had a few nice bites, but overall the meat was bland.
Roasted chicken had a few nice bites, but overall the meat was bland.

Our last-ditch effort was the roasted chicken, which I remember Nancy enjoying on her visit. Our server told us that “people come in just for the roasted chicken.” My culinary grad has been known to go on roasted-chicken adventures to see which restaurants in town can do a good bird. (BTW, Craft was among his top picks.) So Lazare had some pretty high standards to meet. The preserved lemon, whole onions, and beautiful brown color were a good start, but a few bites into the breast and we were disappointed yet again. It simply had no flavor, although it was cooked properly. When I did manage to get a bite with skin and a sliver of preserved lemon, I was happy. And, of course, we got more of those delicious fries. But it sure seems like a lot of trouble and money to find a good french fry.

No doubt the location is terrific. And, come fall, that patio will be the perfect perch from which to people-watch. But unless all you want is a cocktail and some french fries, I don’t know that you’ll want to stay.

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