The Best Little Bistro in…Brooklyn

bon-appetit-magazine-may-2014-141573l1Not even a week after Mark and I returned from our honeymoon, Bon Appetit arrived announcing “the best little bistro in Paris.” Imagine my fury in thinking I had missed out on a critical food experience by a few days.

Then I read the opening line of the article: “Why not?” says Jody Williams when asked why she, a New York City chef, would open a French restaurant in Paris.

HOLD UP.

Buvette, BA’s best new bistro in Paris, is a recreation of a Greenwich Village restaurant of the same name that’s been operating since 2011.

OH PLEASE.

At this point, I began ranting to Mark about the incredible New York-centeredness of Bon Appetit that has been annoying me lately. They couldn’t find a French restaurant, owned by a non-American for the travel issue?! Mark, on the other hand, having a tendency to be New York-centered himself, took the opportunity to wax poetic about how wonderful it is to be a New Yorker. “See, we didn’t even need to go to Paris to have the best Parisian food.”

We both knew this wasn’t true as evidenced by all of this:

Maybe I was just really missing Paris, but I was annoyed by the whole thing. And then I was doubly annoyed when I looked into Buvette’s NYC location and discovered that it focuses on small plates with big price tags. You don’t have to go to Paris to have the best food in Paris, but you do have to pay Paris prices.

Or… you know where this is going… you make the best food in Paris in your kitchen.

This being Bon Appetit, there were recipes from the Parisian Buvette in the article. Part of me wanted to trash the whole issue on principle. But then I saw a photo of the Croque Monsieur. I can be a hater and an admirer at the same time, no?croque-monsieur-700x499

photo 1 (5)It took a few weeks to build it into my plans, but soon I was buying ingredients for this week’s recipe. Keeping in mind that I was competing with the best Paris/New York had to offer, I did not hold back.  I went with whole milk (no skimping on the healthier stuff), Gruyere imported from France photo 5 (4)(Mark took a photo of the cheese label with the Fleur-de-lis as evidence), fresh thick sliced peasant bread and uncured baked ham.

The recipe had three steps:  make the béchamel, assemble the sandwiches and bake the sandwiches.

The béchamel – with a rich 50/50 butter to milk ratio – came together nicely. I was intrigued by the use of whole grain mustard in the sauce and chose to complement that by making a side of roasted potatoes tossed in whole grain mustard.

photo 2 (5) photo 3 (5)

The secret to this recipe and the differentiating factor from others that I’ve seen, is in the assembly.  As with most French food, there is no holding back on the dairy.  When I attempted to add two doses of béchamel and cheese per sandwich, Mark was convinced I was reading it wrong.  But no. The order was clear – and “très délicieux“:

  1. Bread
  2. Béchamel
  3. Ham
  4. Cheese
  5. Bread
  6. Béchamel
  7. Cheese
  8. Herb de Provence (which we already had in the pantry – classy)

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We slipped the assembled sandwiches into the oven alongside the potatoes, waited the requisite 15 minutes et voila!

It was not the most advanced recipe in the magazine – and didn’t rival every dish we ate in Paris – but it was impressive all the same.  I could taste the difference between this and other Croque Monsieur recipes we’ve tried in the past.  The ingredients were of a higher quality, as was the execution.  It was, despite its American chef and NYC restaurant roots, authentic.  All we needed was an accordion, a group of loud, English speaking tourists at the next table over and abominably slow table service, and we would have been back at one of our own favorite bistros.

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It made us both a little sad that the vacation was long over, but also grateful that we could (almost) go back whenever we wanted.  Perhaps you can take Paris home with you.

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