It has been said that ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.’ We recently had occasion to visit two vastly different restaurants on the eastside of New York. L’Absinthe, a beautifully decorated brasserie located on the Upper East Side that is evocative of Belle Epoque Paris, and Freemans, a funky and charming restaurant in the Bowery on the Lower East Side, that with its rough-hewn tables, wide floor boards and private rooms is suggestive of a Colonial American tavern.
Betty and I enjoyed a wonderful dinner at the former, which presents a classic brasserie menu including Foie de Veau, sautéed calf’s liver and Coq au Vin, chicken braised in red wine. The following morning we met our friends Colin and Bernadette for brunch at Freemans, where we enjoyed two outstanding appetizers, Devils on Horseback and a hot artichoke dip served with crisp French bread, followed by traditional brunch dishes with innovative twists.
We will be back to both restaurants in the near future, as each was memorable in its own right; food service and ambiance, all at a reasonable price. But in the meantime we decided to try to replicate the appetizers and the Coq au Vin and invited our friends Ed and Anne to be the guinea pigs. Being world travelers, fine cooks, and people who enjoy food and wine, they were the perfect dinner guests with whom to share these ventures.
The Devils on Horseback were the easiest to replicate, as our waiter at Freemans was forthright in responding to the question ‘what are they?’ The hot artichoke dip was a little more complicated and required some thought and experimentation, as it was obvious that cheese was an essential ingredient along with non-marinated artichokes. But what cheese, which fat and how much savory? According to our guests, we got it right.
The Coq au Vin was the most complicated, and in order to limit the preparation to a manageable amount of time and effort, as well as utilize ingredients that are readily available, the consultation of three cookbooks was necessary: Mastering the Art of French Cooking, French Classics Made Easy and The Food of France. We think we got that right too, at least all of our plates were clean at the end of the meal.
The Coq au Vin required two bottles of Côtes du Rhône and we and our guests required another two bottles. As a very wise man once told me, ‘you can’t go wrong with a good bottle of Côtes du Rhône.’ He was absolutely correct. Bon appétit!