CAFE D'ALSACE | 1695 2nd Ave. (on 88th St.) | 212.722.5133 | | | | | | Café D'Alsace on Urbanspoon

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CONGRATULATIONS TO ME! For the first time in over a year and a half, none of my present website clients are behind in their payments. One even has prepaid for next month. A large portion of those debts were relieved within the last three days.

All of a sudden this struggling freelancer has made himself current on all of his own debts! Which puts me in the nostalgic position of having a few more fiscal freedoms, one of those, being able to dine out at a greater variety of restaurants, regardless of cost.

In this still struggling economy, I am mature and wise enough to go all "Vegas" with my recent—and, trust me, temporary—fiscal windfall. But I did decide to treat myself to something beyond Chinese delivery lunch specials, $5 footlongs, 2-for-1 Whoppers, or whipping something together from store-bought items on sale.

I have had my sights on a cozy, little French restaurant called Jacques Brasserie, especially since an old friend and roommate of mine, Dieter (who works at his family's restaurant, HEIDELBERG), has been recommending it for the last several months.

However, I was unfortunately swayed by the some of the negative reviews on Jacques listing on MenuPages. (For the record, I usually don't heed such reviews since I find them to be less than 50% objective in general, but can be more convinced when the problems stated have more to do with the staff and service than the food, as was the case here), I decided to get my first French fix in some time at better-reviewed (by strangers and peers) Cafe D'Alsace, located 4 blocks uptown from my Yorkville apartment.

Cafe D'Alsace

They happily allowed me to sit by the window, a preferred spot for me since it allows me to take food photos with greater ambient lunchtime light. The interior was very cozy, a little "Euro" in décor, but with much less set design art and flourishes as other French bistro-style spots, such as L'Express, Le Monde, or French Roast. The tables were tastefully set, and the woods that made up three quarters of the design were nicely accented with homey yellows and dark reds.

Cafe D'Alsace Interior

Cafe D'Alsace Table

I had already pre-selected what I would order before I even arrived at the restaurant. I would try the Grilled Portuguese Sardine Filets, that came with Niçoise olives, fennel, caramelized onion, roasted tomato, and crostini, as a starter. I would follow with the Croque Madame—a Croque Monsieur (griddled bistro ham and melted Gruyére in/on toasted country bread) with a fried egg on top.

The sardine filets didn't take long to get to the table, and the portion was actually larger than I expected.

Cafe D'Alsace Sardine Filets

Cafe D'Alsace Sardine Filets

Not that I was expecting little tin can-sized sardines that my Grandmother used to put on Saltines with hot sauce, but these were nice, pleasantly seasoned, beefy plats of firm, fleshy fish. The char on the skin heightened the seasonings flavors, although not producing as crispy a skin as I might have wanted. But I did realize that crispy skin is usually the byproduct of lots of hot oil, and this fish was pleasantly not oily or greasy, plain heat bringing out the natural sweetness of the fish and the grilling countering the taste with the prerequisite amount of smokiness.

The peripherals were all complimentary additions, with the roasting of tomato supplying some earthiness and a bit of acid, the fennel countering with some herbal sweetness, and the olives pooping off the tongue with a rich, fresh, hit of sour and salt. I tried each forkful with a bite of toasted thick-sliced country bread, brushed with olive oil and herbs; the bread warm, light and airy on the inside, crumbly-crunchy on the slightly charred crust, finished each bite with some great texture and let the teeth get in on all the fun as well.

I am always wary of bread, especially with the bread the put out before you receive your first plate. I just don't like to fill up on it, risking abating my appetite with each course. Having also ordered the Croque Madame sandwich, it was a good thing I stuck by this ritual.

Cafe D'Alsace Croque Madame

Cafe D'Alsace Croque Madame

A gorgeous visual, it wasn't until I dug into the sandwich (with a steak knife, necessary to cut through the thick, toasted country bread crust) that I appreciate how this traditional sandwich had been layered. The bistro ham, exuding flavor from the marbling of fat throughout it slightly rendering from the its own heat, was tucked and folded between the two slices of bread while the Gruyére was melted on top, then topped itself with a sunny side up egg oozing a nice warm, luxuriant yolk.

Croque Madame

Cafe D'Alsace Croque Madame

I was able to polish off the sandwich and was pretty much happy to get all of its ingredients in every bite. For the sake of stomach room, I had to forsake the fries which, while good, lost a little of their interior airiness as they cooled (which pretty much happens to 75-80% of all the French fries I've ever had).

The menu has such a wide variety of items on it that, for the first time in a while, I can't in good faith give a full recount of the quality of the food in general without at least one more visit. But it is a visit I look very much forward to making, either to try their version of onion soup, or to sample the Moules Frites (mussels) or any of their homemade sausages (including duck, veal & pork, spicy lamb, and shrimp & scallops), or to broaden my horizons with the Baeckoefe, a "traditional Alsatian casserole of lamb, oxtail, bacon & potatoes braised in Pinot Gris with onions & thyme".

The waiter was kind and friendly, but I was a little remiss that no one even acknowledged me as I walked out, especially after leaving 7 bucks on a $22 tab. But I'll be back. I have to grab these great eating opportunities while I have the (money) chance!

Bun Apple Tea!


CAFE D'ALSACE | 1695 2nd Ave. (on 88th St.) | 212.722.5133 | | | | | | Café D'Alsace on Urbanspoon