As nouveau cirque enthusiasts across the city gear up for the upcoming run of Au Revoir Parapluie (Dec 4-16 at BAM), a French food enthusiast is born in Brooklyn.
For two of the last three nights I have warmed myself on Le Gamin’s hearty yet refined sandwiches, delicate yet substantive crepes, and invigorating yet stupefying GROG.
Le Gamin graces New York and Boston with several locations; ours is located on Vanderbilt between Dean & Bergen, nestled on a very special block next to two of my favorite spots, sweetie pie boutique Red Lipstick and reliable repair shop Bicycle Station.
This is a first date’s wonderland with a cozy, romantic feel and a menu that won’t break your bank, even if he orders the most expensive thing (roast beef tenderloin, $15). A fireplace warms the back of the restaurant, and a generously sized patio equipped with umbrellas and picnic tables promises warm weather fun to come.
Mooseknuckle and I both began with sandwiches, or as they call them: “Les Sandwiches.” Isn’t that just darling? He housed the Merguez a la Moutarde Forte – spicy lamb sausage with roasted red peppers. You know how sometimes roasted red peppers are the ‘luxury’ item in a sandwich or salad that you pay extra for, but still you’re like – is this worth it? Should I have just gotten free tomato slices instead? In this case, the roasted red peppers totally complete the sausage – just the two of them there in that sandwich would keep each other well enough, but the goat cheese that Moosie opted to add contributed a lovely smoothness as well as that cool tartness to cut through the sausage-spice and red-pepper-sweet. Mmm!
I went for Le Saumon Fume – smoked salmon, hard boiled eggs, cucumbers, mesclun, homemade mayonnaise, and pesto. Right away I liked their boldness at including as standard two condiments. They’re a funny pair. If you added mayo to pesto, it would totally bring down the quality. If you added pesto to mayo, you’ve got yourself some gourmet spread. But allow the two to exist separately but equally (what doesn’t work in society can sometimes work in sandwiches) and you’ve got a sandwich whose mayonnaise helps things stick together and keeps the eggs from sticking in your throat, and whose pesto seeps into the ciabatta and gives your teeth a succulent layer of olive oil to sink through before reaching the chewy crust. I liked it. The salmon itself was also great – not overly salty, and generously portioned.
Both sandwiches,$9.75, were served with mesclun salad on the side – fresh leaves, appropriately engaging but understated dressing.
The next night, intending to just stop in for desert, Mooseknuckle, Johnbaptisedme, and I were taken in by the savory selections. They were sadly out of mussels, so I opted for a Brie crepe ($9). Whaat??! Oh man. Combined with expertly carmelized onions and sliced baby tomatoes, it was excellent. If you are the kind of person who has to restrain herself from downing the whole baked brie wheel at a party, then this dish is for you. Don’t share it!
Moosepie went for a make-your-own crepe ($10.50) with chicken, goat cheese, and ratatouille. After the disappointment that it was not served by animated rats subsided, he tucked into this tasty concoction. The taste I begged off him was very satisfying. More ingredients provide many many possible combinations for personalized crepes. Like an omelette bar but way classier. Also served with salad.
Always a classist, I mean classicist, JBM got Gratinne a L’Oignon, the classic French onion soup ($6). Mmm! The rich broth you want, the crusty bread made soggy in it, the sharp cheese knocking you down. They get it right.
And then of course there’s desert! Though the actual desert menu sounds great, with a warm upside down apple tart served with creme fraiche ($5) and a classic creme bruelee (also $5), how could we do anything but head straight on to the sweet crepes ($4.50-$7)?
Apricot jam made a delicious filling. As did melted chocolate – of a really high quality and cocoa count – either on its own or combined with fresh bananas. They are famous for their crepe with fresh sectioned orange and homemade caramel, and for good reason. Unlike its made-by-Kraft counterpart (not that there’s anything wrong with that), Le Gamin’s homemade caramel does not stand up on its own, instead lending the subtle flavor of burnt sugar sweetness to the juicy oranges and light crepe dough.
The drink options in a French restaurant can be intimidating, but with a small and accessible wine list, I felt empowered to order a glass of Muscadet to accompany my meal. It was a nice choice and at $7 for a generous class I felt like all was right with the world. Mooseknucks opted for a bottle of Brooklyn, which Le Gamin rings in at $5. About reasonable and standard at a Brooklyn restaurant, no?
The drink enticements continued on to the section of the menu entitled “Les Boisson Chaudes,” or delicious wam things to which we occasionally add liquor. I was taken in by the GROG (as I may have mentioned before). It turns out GROG is a simple and refreshing drink, the Mandy Moore of warm winter drinks. Hot water, lemon juice, honey (that you add yourself to your liking), and spiced rum. Serve it in a big ole bowl and you’ve got yourself my new favorite drink!
The next night I opted for a steamed milk, again with honey and spiced rum, again served in an oversized bowl. What is not to like about drinking from a bowl? In a place like this, you feel like a viking and a refined French person at the SAME time! A valuable, if too rarely found, combination.
So, clearly, I recommend Le Gamin with no reservations (ha!). No, really, you don’t need reservations. This 3 1/2 year old restaurant was no where near crowded either night I went. Perfect for a romantic rendezvous or a night out with the gals, Le Gamin has an extensive, inexpensive menu that will make your friends think you know your GROG.
Le Gamin, 566 Vanderbilt Ave, Prospect Heights