An Early Look at the Reprise of Cafe Noir

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How attached were you to the original Cafe Noir (35 Lispenard Street, 212-431-7910), a bistro that held its Soho slot for for nearly two decades before succumbing to a lease dispute? Because if you spent dozens of nights or days huddled at a table or staring out the massive front windows at that neighborhood fixture, you might walk through the door to the new sleek space in Tribeca and say, in a voice that's equal parts befuddled, hopeful, and disappointed, "Well, the new one is definitely a lot nicer than the old one."

Still, owner George Forgeois preserved the air of a neighborhood bar here -- a brightly patterned tile floor sits below a dark bar, dark wooden tables, and a wood paneled ceiling. And the new address has large front windows that open onto Lispenard Street, giving the new place a similar breeziness as the old. And wall hangings from the original have made their way here, adding continuity within the concept's lifespan.

And so far, the place seems to have brought out the regulars of the former address, who sit at tables as if they own the place, making it extra hard for the servers, who seem brand new, to correctly pace service (if you go in these early weeks, expect dinner to be slow -- and be sure to tell your waiter to course your meal if you don't want, oh, 12 dishes to show up at once).

Rebecca Weitzman -- who also presides over the kitchen at Clarkson, another Forgeois Group restaurant -- is in charge of the menu here, and she's diverged from the board of tapas that formed the basis of the menu in Soho. She's still putting out shared plates (Forgeois has called them "gastro bites"), but they've been updated for seasonality, and they have a North African-Mediterranean bent. You can start your meal with a seasonal ceviche, dip into a cheese and meat board, and then share dishes like the Moroccan quinoa with pickled currants, cumin-crusted lamb carpaccio, a hot preparation of radishes, a duck egg with grilled mushrooms, and charred octopus. We'd be sure to order the pea fritters; the indulgent blocks are crisp around the edges and as soft as mashed potatoes within. We'd skip the boar meatballs -- the night we had them, they were dry, unrevived by the mushroom ragout they swam in.

Pair your meal to something from the by-the-glass list; it's a robust selection. Us, we drank our way through the three rosés.

Cafe Noir is open from 5 to 11 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and 5 p.m. to midnight Thursday through Saturday.

See more photos on the next page.


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