New Yorkers who want a casual meal have dozens of cuisines to choose from on any given day. For most, French cuisine doesn’t even make the short list. Dining out at a French restaurant can be somewhat of an event, complete with formal ambience and an upscale price tag. Chef Didier of La Sirene breaks that convention with his gluten-free French bistro Le Village. The tiny East Village spot stays true to French classics in a modern, youthful atmosphere befitting the neighborhood.
Chef Didier is a curious, enthusiastic devotee of French food, and his mentality shows throughout the dining experience. With the pressure of succeeding in such a competitive market, many Chefs would feel pressure to make the menu completely gluten-free and vegan from the get-go. Chef Didier has courageously chosen the position of making elements of his dishes gluten-free or vegan when it makes sense to do so, and showing restraint when it really doesn’t.
The space is cozy, small, and nondescript from with outside. With eclectic decor and modern music, Le Village is a refreshing alternative to the atmospheres of older, European-style bistros. It’s an ideal place to experience some of the French basics in a relaxed setting.
Le Village’s menu is not vast by any stretch of the imagination, but what there is is made expertly. Here you will find classics such as Coq au Vin and Cassoulet in addition to robust vegan dishes such as the beautifully presented cauliflower entree with sweet potatoes and quinoa. The appetizers are all worth trying, though the Ravioli stands out in particular. It is the only dish not entirely made by Chef Didier; the pasta is imported from France and tastes exquisite when paired with its rich, house-made cream sauce. The foie gras is also exceptional, served with soft and sweet gluten-free pastries and an onion confit. If you’re new to or skeptical of foie gras, this is the dish you want as an introduction.
For true foodies, labels such as “gluten-free” and “vegan” can prompt horrific visions of blandness and unsettling chewiness. In Le Village, gluten-free is more playful than oppressive, instituted judiciously rather than stubbornly. The Onion Soup, for example, is everything such a dish should be, but is made with a vegan broth instead of a meat broth. The substitution proves undetectable. Likewise, the gluten-free chocolate lava cake is perfectly rich, soft, and heavenly. Creme brulee is certainly played out, making Chef Didier’s Banana Brulee a delightful addition to the dessert menu.
Le Village is not an ideal place for special occasions, but in some ways that’s why it is special. Beyond the gluten-free and vegan angle, the restaurant’s uniqueness is truly in its laid-back accessibility. French cuisine is elevated to a mystical, inaccessible status in America and it’s nice for New Yorkers to have a place where it is simply good food.
Le Village is open for dinner every day except Tuesday. Make a reservation on their website.