“I have no idea where the hell this place is,” grumbled my dining companion over the phone as he tried to find the restaurant’s hidden entrance on Greenwich Street, a full block away from its pin on Google Maps. But when you finally make your way inside, floral wallpaper, red-velvet booths and a giant portrait of Peter Rabbit (after all the restaurant is named after him) generate the feeling of being tucked away in the Marais district of Paris, aided even further by the haunt’s elusive location in a familiar neighborhood.
Bistro Pierre Lapin doesn’t exactly have an animated scene: Only about half of the dining room was filled for the entire evening, and the patrons that occupied the space seemed likely to boast AARP memberships. But some nights, that’s exactly what you’re seeking: relaxed vibes for a delightful meal in a spot where you’re not crammed in and dangerously close to sitting on a nearby stranger’s lap.
The first few minutes at your table will conjure up a question not discussed enough in the New York restaurant scene: What ever happened to the glorious bread basket? In a city that frowns on freebies, let alone carbs, being greeted with a hunk of warm baguette, alongside a plate of pâté, house-made butter, olives and cheese, brings a rush of joy comparable to getting a free dessert on your birthday.
While you’ll feel your arteries constricting as you glance at the menu of rich culinary classics, one of the brightest stars is a preparation of produce: When we ordered le ravier, the French word for a small dish meant for hors d’oeuvres, a cart approached holding seven of the namesake vessels, each one filled with a different vegetable creation. Celery-root slaw, leeks vinaigrette and marinated beets all sat side by side in this refreshing, colorful starter.
Once you burrow past the rabbit food, a Francophile’s dream begins. Egg yolk runs down the cheesy croque-madame and drips onto crisp french fries sizzled in clarified butter. Tortelloni bursting with tender, braised rabbit is balanced by the verdant pop of peas.
Outshining even the lapin, a whole roast chicken for two is carved and nestled over velvety potato puree and foie gras–laden bread stuffing. We were saturated with butter by the time we got the check.
It was one of those meals that was so good, you want to tell everyone how much you hate it so the spot can remain your little cholesterol-spiking secret. But as soon as Villagers on the hunt for the latest and greatest catch on to this concealed gem, it’ll be rabbit season.