Cold Spring’s Le Bouchon brings classic French bistro fare to the banks of the Hudson
A few months ago, in its annual restaurant issue, Gourmet magazine announced something that had escaped my notice: red is the most popular color for restaurant interiors. Red stimulates appetite, which might seem unnecessary in this era of large portions. (During the Depression, restaurateurs discovered that blue has the opposite effect: customers didn’t complain about small portions when they were served on a blue background, giving rise to the “blue plate special.”) But red has an even more important function in these emotionally insecure times: it evokes feelings of warmth, safety, and acceptance.
Take Le Bouchon, an intimate French brasserie in Cold Spring’s historic downtown, opened nearly two years ago by chef-owner Pascal Graff. Bright scarlet banquettes blend with scarlet walls and ceilings, and the deco-style mirrors with built-in lights reflect more red. Even the marble fireplace, as old as the building, is a warm shade of terra-cotta, stoked though it is with a fire conjured from orange silks and a fan.
Color therapy may be one reason everyone from staff to patrons is in such a good mood, but Graff knows how to heat things up with frequent visits to the dining room. He chats up the evening’s specials, discusses improvements he’s planning and his troubles with the landlord, and pulls up a chair. The regulars clearly enjoy his attention. Meanwhile, the middle-aged-and-up gourmands who are the restaurant’s primary clientele strike up conversations with strangers, and the small bar in back has its own thriving scene.
Le Bouchon (French for “the cork”) has all the classics you would expect at a French brasserie, such as onion soup, salade Nicoise, mussels in white wine, steak frites, steak tartare, cassoulet, leg of lamb, and, to prove its pedigree, blood sausage. A few dishes reflect international influences: there’s lamb sausage with harissa (a spicy tomato paste from Morocco) and mussels with curry sauce. Side orders of pommes frites, mashed potatoes, spinach, and haricots verts are available for just $4.
The 45-bottle wine list has some nice things going for it: prices are concentrated between $20 and $40, and there’s a good range of wines by the glass, mostly at $7. The list leans toward French wines — Bordeaux, Burgundy, the Loire, Rhone, and Alsace — with a smattering of other wines from around the world. I enjoyed the delightfully full and fruity Julien Meyer Pinot Blanc from Alsace ($7 glass/$28 bottle) and an unusually elegant Spanish sparkling wine called CuvÃ©e 21 ($8.50/$36). From the reds, the organic Spanish Osoti Rioja ($7) is a pleasantly robust choice. Fischer’s, a bottle of Alsatian lager with a delicate floral nose ($5), is nearly as full-bodied as an ale.This is one French restaurant that doesn’t push bottled water, though maybe they should. Every table gets a big carafe of room-temperature water, and from there you’re on your own.
Forget the bread basket: the bread is ordinary in the best of circumstances, and one night was so cold it seemed to have come straight from the fridge. Better to enjoy the onion soup ($7), a satisfying blend of homemade stock packed with caramelized onions and topped with toasted French bread and a thick layer of GruyÃ¨re. Or try the excellent La FrisÃ©e Du Chef ($7.50), the perfect winter salad of curly chicory and vinaigrette scattered with a generous handful of tiny bacon lardoons, topped with a blue-cheese mousse.
The cold appetizers we tried were less successful. The strudel of thinly sliced potato, herbed cream cheese, and smoked salmon ($8.50) was a near cousin to a bagel and cream cheese: tasty, but loud and simple in its flavors. Meanwhile, the duck pÃ¢tÃ© with pistachios ($9) was so cold it could hardly be tasted, and was saved only by the red onion confit.
EntrÃ©es were consistently good, like the New York strip steak au poivre ($21): pink and tender, with a thick crust of peppercorns nicely complemented by Cognac cream sauce, and served with a big handful of hot French fries made from real potatoes. Health-conscious diners will like the salmon en papillote ($18.50), four or five ounces of fish wrapped in parchment paper with mixed grilled vegetables and lemongrass sauce and oven-roasted. It’s great to order cassoulet ($16) in restaurants because it’s so much work to do at home, and here the blend of large white beans, sausage, and a big joint of duck confit comes in a serving large enough to satisfy a lumberjack. The truly adventuresome should save themselves for the blood sausage ($15), rarely found in even French restaurants in America. Perhaps it’s because when asked, waiters would have to explain that it’s made from seasoned pig’s blood and fat. But the rich, earthy sausage has a unique flavor that goes nicely with caramelized apples scattered around the plate and the mound of perfect mashed potatoes piped into the center.
Desserts were also good to excellent. Chocolate lovers will revel in the generous portion of rich, creamy Grand Marnierâ€“flavored double-dark chocolate mousse ($7.50), served in a parfait glass. And the little round tart made of puff pastry and apples sliced uniformly thin — beyond what mere humans are capable of — was delicious served warm with a tiny scoop of vanilla ice cream ($7.50). You wouldn’t be able to tell it from the menu, but the lowest calorie choice is the Cointreau-drenched sponge cake with fresh strawberries and coulis ($7.50). It’s heavy on the strawberries and coulis and short on the charlotte, which is nice if you want a lighter dessert.
Le Bouchon could improve its coffee service. The cappuccino is thin and lacks a nice frothy head. Its only advantage is that it costs the same as “American” coffee, overpriced at $3.50. Overall, it’s a bit high-priced for a brasserie, but if you ordered an appetizer and a hearty salad, or an entrÃ©e and a dessert, the ticket would come down.
In the end, we left happy, and if we lived in Cold Spring, we’d be regulars, too. Let’s just say it has a lot more going for it than red paint. ■
Le Bouchon is located at 76 Main Street in Cold Spring. Appetizers are $7 to $12; entrÃ©es are $9 to $25; desserts are $7.50. Lunch and dinner are served Thursday through Monday from noon until 9 p.m. on weekdays; 10 p.m. weekends. Closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Reservations are accepted. 845-265-7676.