Studying abroad in the Czech Republic for the 4 months was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my entire life. Call me a cliche. I’m that annoying kid who walks around constantly talking about “that one time in Prague.” While I love New York for its own distinctive set of charms, I’m always looking for a little piece of Europe in Manhattan. Walking down Orchard Street a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon what I imagine a Parisian street looked like circa 1968, when you’d pick up a fresh bottle of milk in the mornings at the local dairy shop and not a week before at the supermarket.
Cafe Charbon-Epicerie, which opened in 2002 and is located at 168-170 Orchard St., is a bar, cafe, and brasserie whose facade masquerades itself as a block of quaint French shops. Next to one of the restaurant’s dining rooms, there’s a Cremerie, replete with a variety of cheeses in the window and accompanying prices, in Francs, nacht. Next door is a Tabac (and what would a Parisian street be without a place to purchase the necessary pack of Gauloises). Its windows are covered in faded lottery advertisements en Francais, and there’s even a (nonfunctional) door with opening and closing times. Rounding out the strip is a continuation of the Cafe Charbon-Epicerie dining room. The restaurant’s interiors, covered in vintage French signage and decor, are also a Francophile’s wet dream.
The menu centers around classic French bistro fare, including steak frites, moules marinieres, and duck confit. I haven’t had the chance to dine at Cafe Charbon. Most entrees will set you back at least $15, which is reasonable by Manhattan standards but still a little steep for my broke student lifestyle, so I can’t vouch as to whether the food lives up to the absolute Frenchiness of the restaurant’s design and exteriors. No, you can’t actually go into the Cremerie or Tabac, but you can peer into the artfully dressed displays and pretend you’re somewhere where Serge Gainsbourg is a household name.
168-170 Orchard St. (at Stanton Street)