The buzz surrounding Lafayette, the week-and-a-half-old French restaurant from Chef Andrew Carmellini, has been unusually intense, with good reason. He and his team have shown an unerring sense for the kind of food and vibe New York diners will embrace en masse, from casual family-style Italian at Locanda Verde to hearty modern American at The Dutch. Their newest hot spot marks a homecoming for Carmellini, who's fluent in French cuisine after gigs at Café Boulud and the fondly remembered Lespinasse.
But Lafayette is a different animal, an ambitious, multilevel bistro, bar, and bakery-café in the former Chinatown Brasserie space. The food, which Carmellini oversees with Chef de Cuisine Damon Wise (Craft), leans toward France's southwest (e.g., grilled octopus with smoky eggplant and pipérade) and Italian-influenced southeast (ravioli au pistou, among a half-dozen pastas). Bistro standards share the menu with seasonal market specials, and chickens and other meats turn slowly in a rotisserie that sits at center stage in the vast, high-ceilinged dining room.
On Chowhound, early word is positive but restrained. Perfectly cooked linguine noir with seafood and chorizo delivered nice briny flavor from squid ink, gabandgobble says, but steak frites was overcooked and the accompanying béarnaise butter overpowered by herbs. "Slightly inventive tweaks to familiar dishes didn't translate into delicious taste," she writes. Tasty, juicy oysters Sargent, baked with Japanese seaweed, won over kosmose7, but a crab tartine left him unmoved. He might be most impressed by pastries from the bakery case (pictured), which he ranks among the city's best. They're available, along with breads, sandwiches, coffee, and juices, from morning until Lafayette closes.
380 Lafayette Street (at Great Jones Street), Manhattan
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Photo by Chowhound user gabandgobble