Bright Night: Cafe du Soleil

Crème brûlée with a hint of lavender, cornmeal-crusted calamari, moules frites with garlic aplenty- what says sun like the fruits of the sea and cream spiced with flowers? Cafe du Soleil is very much about maintaining an air of fresh air and sunlight. I know this because I tested it out on an overcast, bone-cold Manhattan night, and it worked like a charm. Call it a warm retreat. It smells like  your best friend’s kitchen…if your friend lived in Provence and cooked like Soleil’s chef du cuisine. While this is possible, flying overseas for a taste of the French Mediterranean is not an option for most New Yorkers. Fortunately, this sunny little spot on the Upper West Side most certainly is more than a possibility: it needs to be on your To Eat list.

The streets leading upwards to Morningside Heights are not terribly welcoming. Cafe du Soleil succeeds in brightening up the entire block between 104th and 105th streets on the west side of the avenue. Upon entry, guests will be pleasantly surprised by the balance achieved by Soleil’s interior design plan: warm yellow walls and large mirrors along the top half of each wall are tilted downwards, exposing one portion of the restaurant to all others in a highly appealing way. The space is very comfortable without feeling cramped (a rarity in New York City). There are many angles, but the layout is anything but harsh or sharp. The dining room may readily be described as romantic, intimate, and heat-invoking.

In case you are one of those people who can never make up their mind and nearly stops the show when they have to actually turn a page on a menu, the menu here is not at all anxiety provoking. Present are the herbed leg of lamb, braised rabbit, steak au poivre, and coq au vin. Fish as a food group is a mainstay of the Provençal bistro.

I almost immediately settled on the moules-frites, which remains, for me, a soupy wonder of simplicity. These are mussels: they exist in a bath of butter and wine. The fries are garlicky in this wonderful, garlic lover way. They are super crisp, golden, and come in a cone! The steak au poivre vert is a hand-long stretch of peppercorn-crusted, juicy, tender meat that needs no side (other than some of crispy, golden companions…).

The star dish —a lovey-dovey, totally to the teeth delight, I mean— was the escargots de Bourgogne. So succulent was this plate of food that I might have requested it in the form of an entree, if I had a just bit less restraint. Earthy, smooth, chewy, and made with only my guardian angels know how much butter: this is the perfect comfort food.

One bowl of super-rich dark chocolate mousse and a handshake from Chef Matthew Tivy and I left floating back out along the then icy, rain-decked streets of the Upper West Side. While I would not mind the excuse to visit Cafe du Soleil when the sun is out, why would you readers need a review of breakfast when you can go try the place for yourselves? If I’ve made you hungry, I’ve done my job.

Cafe du Soleil: 2723 Broadway between 104th and 105th streets, NYC 10025


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