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Review: Zucco Le French Diner

Posted by gambit50 on May 5, 2008

Zucco: Le French Diner, Lower East Side, New York, NY

Zucco: Le French Diner was one of the first places to occupy Orchard St. before the proliferation that has occurred on the block or two south of Houston.

It is one of the very tiny Manhattan shops, supposedly the owner, Zucco, said it seats 20 people or 14 fat people(my kind of guy with that type of honesty) but my memory would say 17 or 18 is more likely, excluding fat people. There are 6 or 7 spots at the bar and the rest is table seating. There is French kitsch everywhere, napkin rings, odd knick knacks, and that French pop style from yesteryear is the feeling that abounds. The music is of the same style, actually pretty good. When it is full and there is no outdoor seating due to weather, it has that downtown Euro, cool kids vibe. For the most part anyway. I have seen Zucco and another twenty-something French guy doing the hosting/serving with two Mexicans in the kitchen, one cooking, the other a busboy. Small crew for a very small place. Everyone is cool and does their job. Due to the tiny space there is sometimes a need to move a bit or accommodate so if you are some high maintenance type, this place won’t work for you if it is more than half full. That said, it works for me.

The crowd is mostly downtown hipsters, cook kids, American with, not surprisingly, a large percentage of French customers. Remember, just a few of the latter will make the percentage greater than in the rest of the city. I must say that one evening when I dined alone at the bar there was an obese man of the 300lb+ variety. His party was composed of the plain, suburban type, middle aged. I wondered how in the world they found this place. Tourists of some sort as far as I saw it. Well, his obesity was a fair inconvenience when he needed to pass by the bar and was waiting there. It is a narrow space as is and his largess was not conducive to the busboy’s tasks about the place. Anyway, I frown upon obesity to put it mildly and this was another case in point.

The food at Zucco is not the greatest French fare in the world. However, that is not its objective and the prices reflect that. I have sampled a few items and overall find this place to be good for what it is trying to be.

A salad with fresh goat cheese was fine, a standard mix of ingredients and a fair portion. I had the lamb merguez plate. I enjoyed the sausages, perhaps could be cooked a bit less to preserve some juiciness, the French fries were solid and the side salad of greens was welcome. There is not too much to get into with these dishes, so I will not go on about it.

I have had the pork tenderloin, also. Five or six slices of properly cooked pig. Quite pink, maybe it would scare some people off but if all the best chefs are willing to serve pink pork I would not worry about it. In this case, it was prepared as a top chef would, in terms of cooking time. It was seared in the pan and finished in the oven. Salt and herbs (I forget exactly which to be honest), that was about it. The way it should be, simple, juicy, enjoyable and didn’t break the bank.

I have seen complaints about the bread served here. I never had any but I must agree it is absolutely awful. I can tell from the touch and feel. Let me also ask the same question most of the complainants asked, “How does a Frenchman have such terrible bread?” I do not know. Honestly, it would be better to have no bread or just charge for bread and offer something decent or good. That said, I will not apply a huge penalty for this fiasco because I never really expected good bread though I am probably being too lenient in this case.

The only dessert I have sampled was off of someone else’s plate of profiteroles. Well, I can do without those. They are not usually executed well and this was no exception. I do not believe Zucco prepares its own desserts.

That is OK, more money saved skipping dessert while dining in the latest ‘hood to have the crap developed out of it. With most every item on the menu topping out near 18 bucks, Zucco is worth a stop IF you can get a seat and aren’t a fat whale. Those of us who aren’t gluttons need the space.

NTG

Summary: A solid value in the Lower East Side and better than most of the crap you find there. It is not haute cuisine or the best bistro food you can find in the world but for the money, the quality and variety in this neighborhood or really any in Manhattan, I can recommend it. Don’t eat the bread and skip the desserts. It is a good place for dates and intimate gatherings if you can get a seat. Kitschy, funky décor, not the sleek, new digs like most places nearby. Last Visited, January, 2007. Cost $24/pp

Ratings:

Food – 80

Vibe – 79

Service – 81

Value – 84

Score – 83

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