14 Jul The MAPPETITE Mile: Greenwich Village, France
The Statue of Liberty, gift from the French, and the Washington Square Arch, modeled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, are two of New York City’s “French-est” landmarks. Then there is patisserie and boulangerie, the Napoleon and the baguette. If a visit to Liberty Island leaves you with hunger pangs for a croissant and a cafe au lait you’re out of luck. However, that’s not the case when you’re in Washington Square Park.
Anchored by the arch at the base of Fifth Avenue, Washington Square Arch commemorates the centennial of President George Washington’s inauguration. Reminiscent of the Arc de Triomphe, the very French design is by the renowned architect Stanford White. These days the arch and park are all aglow – no reminders remain of its former status at the turn of the 19th Century as a potters field (countless bodies are buried under its grounds) and the days of 1960s “peace & love” linger on solely with the few stragglers singing Neil Young songs and pot dealers soliciting you with a mumble under their breath. With its recent refurbishment a la the French garden style it is a magnet for locals and the New York University student body who hang out at this fountained oasis of green smack-dab-center in the heart of Greenwich Village.
Head south from the park, down Laguardia Place to the very oddly “suburban” Morton Williams supermarket at
Bleecker Street and you’re on the edge of the gardened and wooded five acre expanse of the SILVER TOWERS apartment complex. Sitting center stage in the broad plaza fronting the three mid-century Internationalist Style buildings designed by architect I.M. Pei’s is the Bust of Sylvette, the massive statue modeled on Pablo Picasso’s smaller original. It’s really quite the setting, something more reminiscent of a housing project you might come upon in a Paris’ 13th arrondissement rather than in New York’s typically predictable urban grid.
Take a short stroll from the imposing neoclassical arch, past the fountain sprays and newly refurbished gardens of Washington Square Park to Laguardia Place and, voila, you’re at MILLE FEUILLE BAKERY CAFE. The shop, recently opened by a French engineer turned pastry chef may be simple by LADUREE standards (the haute Parisian patisserie chain recently opened a macaron boutique on the Upper East Side) but, on this city stretch of city blocks that hosts a strip mall and NYU campus housing, it’s a moment of bakery opulence.
At MILLE FEUILLE there’s no “wow” factor to the resplendent-less design. The small shop is centered around an unremarkable stone counter running the length of the bakery; the front displays patisserie and the back serves as the prep table where excellent croissants take shape. In addition to the croissants there’s the bakery’s outstanding namesake, the mille feuille (aka Napoleon). There may be lots of beautiful visuals with these very French bakes, especially with the rainbow of ever-so-popular macarons but, we’re not sure where they got the idea to use plastic wrap for the mounds of cookies and sliced loaf cakes – this is a serious faux pas for such haute-minded bakery crafts.
More French on your mind? Well, you’re set to enjoy the offerings at FPB, aka FRANOIS PAYARD BAKERY NYC, on West Houston Street, just on the cusp of Greenwich Village and across from SOHO. You’re here for outstanding boulangerie and patisserie though don’t go out of your way for their lunchtime fare. Also, while we love the concept of chocolate – who doesn’t? – we’re not fans of the chocolate filled plastic squire bottles on the tables nor the design of the shop – even with its broad windows looking into the kitchen it’s disjointed layout is resplendent with bad feng shui.
Of the gateaus, exceptional and simple are words to describe the gateau Basque – something my friend Joe turned me onto when we were traveling in Southwest France many many moons ago. It remained a distant memory until a visit to FYB. Nothing gooey to this crumbly moist cake and its subtle flavoring and sweetness from almond flour, pastry cream and sugar. We drove that summer along the coast from Biarritz, France to San Sebastian, Spain with lots of wonderful meals and wonderful desserts of which the gateau Basque, in all its simplicity, took the cake.
It’s also a reassuringly safe patisserie play o rustic-edged breakfast and lunch time at viagra soft tabs the French inspired chain that is LE PAIN QUOTIDIEN. It may be everywhere in the world but this Belgian born company gets patisserie and boulangerie right. Hearty breads with an all day breakfast and lunch menu where tartines (in Yank talk, sandwiches) and tarts are consistently a-okay. Friends endearingly call it the “Pain” but nothing hurts about this comfort chain just one block away from Washington Square Park.
Welcome to Greenwich Village, France.