With the opening of OCabanon last week, New York got its first “cave à manger,” a concept that has been big in Paris for several years.
It walks the line somewhere between a wine bar and a bistro. Bistros can satiate your hunger but leave you somewhat longing for better drinks, while wine bars are great for wine, but can leave you hungry, said one of the partners, Armel Joly. “It’s the right balance between a bistro and a wine bar,” with equal weight given to food and drink.
OCabanon’s space on West 29th Street had been unused for seven years, and in building up the cave à manger, Joly and his partners Alexandre Mur and Michael Faure carved out several distinct atmospheres, from the zinc bar (“It reminds of bars in France that we love,” Joly said), a dining room, and a copper bar in the back where you can watch the kitchen staff buzz about their work.
Although the look and ambiance are chic, the spirit of the place is meant to be informal, a place where wine is made accessible, and where it’s easy to share food and drinks with your neighbors.
Stairs lead you onto a mezzanine, with a couch to sink into, a wine cellar with a salvaged wooden beam serving as a tasting surface, another dining space overlooking downstairs, and finally, stairs that lead to nowhere—but that you can easily see yourself leaning on with a glass of wine in hand.
It’s a family affair—the three Frenchmen are brothers-in-law—and OCabanon is named after a cabanon, a little house, in the South of France that “recalls a grandmother’s cooking—something that’s simmering, so when you arrive unexpectedly, there’s always something for you,” said Faure.
Aside from dishes that are fun to share and nibble on, there are heartier dishes, like a daube provençale, a long-simmering beef stew in a red wine sauce ($18).
Dishes are paired with wine suggestions, especially helpful if you suffer from indecision when faced with the 100 or so wines. For example, L’Assiette Croquante, with a cauliflower carpaccio, lemon vinaigrette, salade folle, and pine nuts, topped with mandarin ($14) comes with a recommendation of a sauvignon blanc, Nadia Lusseau, 2011; or a Bagel au Foie Gras, with a marmalade of caramelized onions and a jam of griotte cherries ($19) with a recommended pairing with Costiers de Nimes, Les Galets Rouges, 2011.
There are also cured meats (paté de campagne, $9, for example), smoked salmon, and oysters.
The accent is on natural wines: organic, biodynamic, wines made without chemicals. “The wines are made by wine-makers who use their hands … people who remember how to make wine,” Joly said.
245 W. 29th St. (between 7th and 8th avenues)
Daily, noon–1 a.m.