A lesson in surviving the Meatpacking District
It was all so elegant. I was sitting on a
deep-brown, leather banquette. In front of
me was a marble counter bar table with an
enormous pillar candle on it slowly burning.
I sipped a tart, “French 75” cocktail—a
mixture of cognac, lemon, organic sugar and
champagne (original Ritz recipe, natch).
In the background I heard the sounds of sophistication:
a tinkling piano, a slight murmur of voices
pierced by an occasional laugh here, as polished
silverware clinked against delicate china.
All the while, waiters hurried about, dressed
in white coats and black ties.
walking in you felt, well, important, and
all this could be had so effortlessly for
only the price of a cocktail—a
$14 cocktail. This is Del Posto, Mario Batali’s
offering to the Meatpacking District, where
oversized, over-the-top restaurants have
overwhelmed the neighborhood with thousands-of-square-feet
filled with bridge and tunnel types thrilled
to have made it past the de rigueur velvet
such a world, it’s great to see
that Florent—that cramped, little 75-seat,
all-night French bistro, now more than 21-years-old—continues
to thrive despite being surrounded by the
likes of Spice Market and Buddakan and rumors
that it won’t be around much longer.
Morellet, a French-born mapmaker, opened
the restaurant in August of 1985. Back
then, the Meatpacking District was just
that, home to the city’s butchers.
Scattered among the warehouses, the region
was also another type of meatpacking district,
home to long gone, seamy gay clubs like the
Anvil, the Mine Shaft and Alex in Wonderland.
knew the area well, and when an old diner,
the R&L Restaurant—a
hangout for longshoremen—became available
he grabbed it. Now, two decades later, it
still retains its authentic 1950s heritage.
Morellet kept the formica tables, the red
vinyl banquette, the stools along the diner
counter and the aluminum siding.
Morellet also added some personal touches:
Maps, his personal passion, line the walls
and the menus. One map details the small
country of Liechtenstein. It marks the seat
where Roy Lichtenstein, the ’60s pop
artist who died in 1997, used to sit. As
for the specials board, Morellet kept it,
but has updated it with weather reports and
personal observations. “Prepare 4 the ‘War
on Easter’ Debate.” “Get
an abortion while you can.” “Hey!
What about Darfur?” Morellet doesn’t
hide his political leanings.
Just as the restaurant mixes the past with
the present, Morellet does the same with
the menu. Ultimately, Florent is a diner,
but an upscale one that serves welcoming
French bistro staples: French onion soup,
escargot, steak frites.
On a recent night, a combo plate featuring
three French charcuterie staples ($12.95)
started the meal off superbly. A large portion
of duck liver mousse was soft and creamy.
A healthy slice of pate de campagne complemented
the mousse. Finally, a dollop of rillettes
of pork was moist and succulent, a pleasant
surprise as the dish can often be stringy
and dry. Mussels ($12.95) cooked in a white
wine got the mix just right between saltiness
and sweetness. Chilled artichoke ($7.50)
proved refreshing. The only disappointment
was a beet, endive, pear and walnut salad
($10.95) that was more endive and only a
smattering of rather uninspiring beets.
entrees, however, failed to match the strength
of the first course. The skirt steak ($17.50)
was cooked just right and covered lightly
with a nice mustard sauce that added a
pleasant flavor. But there was a slightly
greasy quality to the steak. The crab cake
served on an English muffin ($11.95) arrived
over-fried. The roulade of chicken breast
stuffed with spinach, mushrooms and Jarlsberg
cheese ($15.95) was juicy and tender, though
its exterior was over-fried. Large “pearl” couscous
served in a spicy broth with merguez sausage
and chicken ($16.50) dazzled the senses,
but perhaps a bit too much.
For dessert, Florent offered typical bistro
fare such as chocolate mousse ($6.50) and
crème caramel ($5.50). The wine menu
was simple with wines listed by type (pinot
grigio, chardonnay) or by region (Sancerre,
Gigondas) and ranged in price from $17 to
It’s when the bill arrived that I
remember where I just ate. For nearly the
price of an entrée at Del Posto, you
can have a complete meal at Florent, and,
while the food recalled the restaurant’s
past life as a diner, it remains a refreshing
antidote in the Meatpacking District.
If the latest restaurants are the equivalent
of mega-churches, something for everyone,
but a little impersonal (and never an available
table), then Florent remains your neighborhood
church. A little funky, a little bit off-the-beaten
path, but it’s a welcoming place where
you can quietly—even with George Clinton
and Michael Jackson playing in the background—worship
a time that has long since past. Amen, Florent.