Next door to a loan service shop and across the street from the recently incinerated Frisky-a-Go-Go building ain't the most obvious locale for French fine dining. And yet, early last month Saveurs 209 popped up there, its sleek modern decor and aggressive brightness helping the petit spot stand out on a stubbornly gritty block of lower Broadway.
Step inside and the Parisian Nykiel family, chef Caitline and parents Sylvain and Sylvie as owner/hosts, will quickly make you comfortable. On each of my visits, both elder Nykiels were there to tend to guests’ needs, whether it be a long, wine-soaked dinner with friends or a quick lunch.
Their current business model puts the downtown location to work, offering a midday to-go menu of simple baguette sandwiches and salads (Brie and butter sandwich? Mais oui!), and more continental fare for a spendy business lunch, most available in small or large portions. I opted, weirdly, for the soft-boiled breaded egg on a bed of sautéed mushrooms and almonds (better than it sounds) and a small bowl of cold cauliflower soup. A feat of culinary science, the egg broke perfectly, leaving a firm white and crunchy coating outside while the runny yolk enriched the woodsy mushrooms. The soup recalled vichyssoise; a scoop of tart apples and salty crabmeat punched up the delicate cream and cauliflower broth. Best of all, even with my two-course lunch indulgence, I was on my way in about 45 minutes.
For dinner, it’s better to linger, even though the stark white walls and naked light bulbs give an ambience that’s more Macy’s dressing room than romantic restaurant. The smoked salmon and pancake appetizer makes an elegant pairing for a Kir Royale, cassis liquor with champagne. I don’t quite make enough paper to justify the $22 Caitline Special champagne cocktail yet, but if you do, let us know how it is. Otherwise, check out the mainly French wine list, with several options by the glass.
Moving on to entrées, fish gets a special focus in the kitchen; there are typically three pescetarian options between the small menu and daily special board. Our most recent striped bass dish was perfectly prepared, served with simple zucchini and a Mornay sauce on the side. My dining companion flipped for an inches-high slab of earthy pork belly with tender baby beets and carrots. Another declared the chicken breast with Gruyere macaroni as good as any she’d tasted in Paris. Flavors, or saveurs, are almost always subtle — Chef Nykiel doesn’t seem to share the American obsession with sodium, as salt is not on the dining tables and barely on the food, although it’s easily offered if requested.
Though the Nykiels still anxiously await a compatriot baker and pastry chef (Sylvie admitted the gratis baguette slices were “imported”), don’t be dissuaded from the Paris Brest dessert, small airy choux pastry filled with praline cream. To really go native, inquire about the fromage plate. I ordered a rich Boucheron goat and a subtle Pyrenees Tomme both of which are hard to find in such quality outside their mother country.
Saveurs 209 gives off a casual atmosphere at odds with the traditional notion of hoity-toity French dining rooms, but don’t go expecting a cheap dinner date. Although it’s located on a down-and-out block, the cuisine inside is still very fine and very French.
Best Bets Breaded soft-boiled egg and sautéed mushrooms, smoked salmon pancakes, fish specials
Hours 11:30-2 Tue-Fri, 6:30-9:30 Tue-Thu, 6:30-10 Fri-Sat
The Skinny A mod French spot suitable for an elegant dinner or a quick lunch to-go.
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