Haute, French-influenced food in a space that is large, loud, fashionable, and grungy in the way only New Yorkers love.
Not too long ago in Paris, a group of young, ambitious chefs pioneered the idea that extraordinary food didn’t need to come at an extraordinary cost, and that a casual, bistro-like setting was just as appropriate for a quality, four-course meal as a soaring, majestic space in the 4th arrondissement. At some point, this movement was termed "bistronomy," and it has shaped the experience of dining in Paris over the last several years.
Now, while this might not sound like a particularly ground-breaking idea to a New Yorker who is already innately comfortable with finding a Michelin-starred restaurant in Boerum Hill or, conversely, spending $400 on a dinner in the Lower East Side, in Paris, this was a radical rewriting of traditional gastronomic values. One of the restaurants at the front of this evolution of modern French cuisine was Spring, and one of those chefs was Daniel Eddy, who has since returned to his native homeland and with the owners and wine director of the neighboring Pearl and Ash, has given us Rebelle.
Yet because New Yorkers have been bred to not think twice about walking down a rather rough stretch of the Bowery in search of Michelin-quality food, we do not see Rebelle as revolutionary or rebellious, and we do not gain insight into a progressive culinary movement in France. Rather, we see a familiar combination of technique and skill in an affordable, casual setting. We see what we already know. We see home.
So, if it were really trying to define itself more honestly in its current circumstances, Rebelle would be branded as New York cuisine, influenced and executed with classically French techniques, and served in a youthful, haute setting.
Its menu is organized under four numbered categories, and your waiter will try to sell one of each to you. This is not necessary. A table of two can easily split a "First" course for $14 and a "Second" course for $16 and each get a "Third" course for $28 and be completely satiated at the end of the meal, particularly when one of Rebelle’s 1,600 bottles of wine are included.
Despite this rather odd organization of an a la carte menu by price, there are several successes. One of the first is the raw fluke with a handful of crispy, fried capers, sitting on a brown-butter sauce that is simultaneously rich, silky and mellow, an ephemeral quality that many of Rebelle’s dishes can claim.
The sweetbreads, too, sit under the foamy haze of a lobster-based sauce like a luxurious, tender pair of perfect chicken nuggets. They are flanked by bright fava beans and artichoke hearts whose complementary tenderness again highlights an elegant, deeply delectable lightness.
The third course of pork, however, was unable to achieve the same level of subtle, modern sophistication as the smaller plates. Tough and overcooked to an almost exhausting degree, and then paired with exceedingly bland radishes, the only redeeming element of the plate is the tragically named "headcheese," which is really just a steamy, fried croquette made from the cheek and neck of the pig. It is a creamy, salty bite of relief from an otherwise regrettable dish.
So, while no one should order the pork, guests most certainly should order the chicken or the duck. The duck in particularly has an almost spicy, fruity sweetness from the plum and sour orange, which is then subtly tempered by the brightness of the watercress. It is a dish that is elegant yet fresh, taking a protein and a preparation that is familiar and accessible and making it just ever so slightly brighter.
This is all well and good, but at the end of the meal there is nothing particularly rebellious about Rebelle. Though perhaps we feel this way because us New Yorkers are always in rebellion, and Rebelle feels utterly comfortable, and occasionally, exactly what we were looking for.