By Suzanne Parker
Time was that New York City was peppered with little French restaurants, their nucleus being in and around the theater district, owned and operated by Gallic expats. Like the $2 steak, they are for the most part a fond memory. Therefore, we were surprised and delighted to discover Côté Soleil, a new French bistro in Astoria, facilitating time travel to a bygone era.
Except for the lace café curtains in the window, the décor in this petite café gives nothing away. Its overly lit, modernish décor could be the setting for any cuisine. Perhaps the great big clock on the wall is a subtle reference to an earlier time. The mid-century recorded music is another matter. Leaning heavily on Old Blue Eyes, intermingled with Charles Aznavour and others of the era, your ears are definitely transported back to another generation. . Dimming the lights would go a long way towards creating the romantic mood the cuisine deserves.
If you were to ask someone not particularly familiar with French cuisine to name all the French dishes they can think of, they would probably name most of the contents of Côté Soleil’s menu. While French food has evolved, embracing innovation and foreign influences, this café sticks steadfastly to the classics. Perhaps the restaurant’s owner, Vincent Caro’s Breton origins (France’s northwestern-most region), account for his traditionalism. Whatever the reason, there’s a lot to be said for retro pleasures.
The concise menu could have been cribbed from Julia Child’s premiere season on Channel Thirteen. It leans heavily on the obvious, although there are a few surprises like Le baguez (lamb sausage, fries, harissa mayo in baguette) or truffle flavored pizza. We stuck with the tried and true.
We kicked off with a cheesy crock of La soupe à l’oignon gratinée. The broth was sweetly intense, and the cheese, chewily elastic, just as it should be. We followed that up with Le pâté maison, a rustic country pâté. The robust textured slices are a mosaic of meat and liver bits, studded with pistachios, rather than the typical smooth mousse-like version more common in this country. It comes served with gherkins, mustard and bread.
We couldn’t pass up what could arguably be France’s most iconic dish—Le coq au vin.
The menu describes it as “chicken braised in red wine with mushrooms, pearl onions, carrots and potatoes.” Flavor-wise, this rendition lived up to its classic reputation, although the pommes de terre were unaccountably absent. Perhaps as divine compensation, the other entrée we ordered, La bavette à l’échalote, came accompanied by the most perfect pommes fritte in living memory. Along with the divine fries, the flap steak comes smothered in winey sautéed shallots. The shallots were lovely, but be forewarned: Flap steak is, by nature, chewy. Good taste, extra-resilient texture.
The selection of old school desserts Francaises proved irresistible. We agonized between the La crème brulée, La mousse au chocolat, Le riz au lait et son caramel au beurre sale and settled on the L’île flotante. We remember ogling Julia Child making this dish, which was also called Oeufs à la neige in the ‘70s. Côté Soleil’s rendition of fluffy meringue in a pond of crème anglaise did not disappoint.
The Bottom Line:
Whether you’re nostalgic for classical French cuisine, or yet to try it, Côté Soleil is an opportunity not to be missed. Their very affordable minimalist menu offers enough options to please both meat lovers and vegetarians looking for a complete dinner, or just grazing. Their wine list is concise and modestly priced like their menu. On weekends they offer a brunch menu with a full complement of Les crêpes Bretonnes. C’est si bon!
Suzanne Parker is the TimesLedger’s restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached by e-mail at qnsfo
50-12 Skillman Ave.
Woodside, New York
Price Range: Hors d’oeuvres: $7—10; Entrees: $13–20
Cuisine: Classic French
Setting: Small, simple decor
Service: Professional, helpful.
Hours: Open 7 days from 5pm, Weekend Brunch:10:00 am—4:00 pm
Children: Close quarters, need to be well behaved
Credit cards: Yes
Noise level: Acceptable
Handicap accessible: Yes