08 May 2009

Lost City Asks "Who Goes to La Ripaille?"

For my latest "Who Goes There?" column at Eater, I returned to La Ripaille, a restaurant I first visited on a date with the woman who would become my wife. I remember it being quaint and impossibly Village-y. It still is.

Who Goes There? La Ripaille

When I first went to La Ripaille in the early ‘90s, the minuscule bistro was celebrating only a decade or so in business. But it already seemed like an ancient relic of a quainter, quieter Greenwich Village. Today, at the age of 29, it feels positively pre-Prohibition. Perhaps, like dogs, La Ripaille ages seven years for each single human year.

The owner, Alain Laurant, admits he actively cultivates an Old World feel. And he certainly helps it along with the French-and-English menu; a wine list that sticks to grape variety and region, with few other details (a recurrent element, I’ve found, with Who Goes There? restaurants); and by hovering over all, clothed in jeans and polo shirt and Gallic attitude. He takes every order himself, making persuasive cases for various specials, and finds time to misguidedly chew out a server or two for good measure.

La Ripaille enjoys an unbeatable location, on Hudson Street facing picturesque Abingdon Square. The positioning adds greatly to the place’s self-consciously romantic personality. Laurent has managed to hold on to the prime real estate because he owns the building he occupies; check out the mailboxes in the lobby and you’ll find that almost every apartment above is occupied by somebody named Laurent.

The small, dimly lit interior holds about a dozen tiny tables. Each white paper tablecloth is crowded with a bottle of water, bread, a vase of tulips, and a long candle. The food is on the expensive side, but, for a holdout of La Ripaille’s character, quite excellent. I doubt the asparagus appetizer or special of chicken breast stuffed with Gruyere cheese could be matched by many other restaurants. Diners—a mix of regulars and virgins—are treated well and allowed to linger long after coffee. Given the date-bait atmosphere, it’s no surprise that couples make out well here. One woman’s eyelashes and laugh were working well overtime as dinner passed to cappuccino and then chocolate truffles. And a nervous man on a blind date, whom I thought didn’t stand a chance in hell, ended up with a surprise mid-meal kiss from his companion. What’re they putting in the broccoli mousse?

(The place also gives great play to the number of celebrities that have visited over the years—going as far as to quote, on their website, their comments from the thank you book. It’s hard to estimate the value, in terms of trade, of Leonardo DiCaprio having said “All the best in the world” or Catherine Zeta-Jones’ “Merci beaucoup.”)

Time passes slowly during a dinner here. The check arrives when it arrives. Everyone’s told to “relax.” Alain, meanwhile, goes over the books at the bar, paging through a local giveaway newspaper, complaining about the rain and chatting with a longtime patron about his daughter’s college choices. Whatever happens to her, one thing’s for sure. She’s got a nice place to live in the West Village.
—Brooks of Sheffield


Joe said...

This place is amazing. This was me and my girlfriends favorite place to go (obviously the review was dead on). Alain is so funny when he takes your order. The food is very inexpensive but rich in taste. A great brunch spot with the outdoor tables.

Ken Mac said...

how was the food?

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Yes, Ken. surprisingly good.

Anonymous said...

Nice review and happy that at least
someone has a place to return too
on that first date which became
a marriage ,how great.

I guess there are no Horn & Hardart's
left where I took my wife on our first date?!

We stayed there for 4 hours talking
which only in love seemed like 15

M.Lane said...

Does this ever sound like my kind of place! Thanks again for another great post!


Brooks of Sheffield said...

Anonymous: It wasn't our first date. ONE of our first dates. Our first date was at the Soho Kitchen & Bar, which is sadly gone. Most of the places of our other early dates are also gone: Cafe Del'Artiste on Greenwich Avenue; Marion's on the Bowery; Chumley's; Roetelle A G in the East Village; El Teddy's. Others are still around: Cafe Luxembourg; La Lanterna Caffe on MacDougal; Lupe's in Tribeca.