Café du Soleil has all the trappings of the faux French bistros that are part of the Tour de France restaurant group—the cane chairs, vintage tin ads for Ricard, and 1920s posters of the Moulin Rouge and San Tropez. Yet, Soleil is, happily, a one-off neighbourhood bistro with genuinely excellent French fare and a genuinely friendly Upper West Side crowd. What’s more, its prices are practically Parisian during the lengthy 4-7PM Happy Hour: $5.00 for glasses of basic but good Sangiovese, Pinot Noir and Cabernet, $7.00 for a House Cocktail or Apertif, like the aptly named Parisian: Prosecco with St. Germaine. There is a wide selection of bar bites, and my favorite is the escargot, seven squiggly morsels swimming in a luscious green tarragon garlic sauce ($5.00!), with no limit to--and no charge for--the good French bread for sopping it up. A metal cone of crisp garlic French fries ($3.00) transports me back to a brasserie in Paris, where the Chef and I vacationed in December (and dining out was surprisingly cheap). So does the bartender, Max, a handsome stocky man from Nancy with a French accent so thick that customers have accused him of faking being French and being from Michigan instead—Michigan!
Not only is Café du Soleil a très bon snacking experience, but it’s also the perfect place for New York City women friends to sit, drink and kibbitz. Flexing conversational muscles is a sport with us, and we can do it here without having to shout over a raucous Happy Hour crowd. I’m lucky to have several female friends I can text at short notice who will meet for a drink. I never take these tête-a-têtes for granted. New York City women know how to get right to the point—we are “faithful to the central meanings” as the poet Sharon Olds would say—whether we’re delving into the messy story of a birth, the travails of a college-aged child’s love life, the triumphs of finding a new calling in midlife, or the sadness of all that falls short of our demanding ideals—husbands, bosses, the peeling laminate on our new kitchen counters. I came in out of the season’s first snow storm to the warm candlelit bar of Café du Soleil to meet Zoe, whose life was turned topsy turvy after one child came home from school on medical leave just as mine was being upended by my elderly mother’s move to a nursing home. Zoe and I were introduced by a call from the local police when our sons, then in high school, were caught lobbing water balloons out the windows of our 8th floor apartment. No one died, the boys became fast friends, and even though Zoe has a classically crazy-busy job, I enjoy our infrequent drinks. There is no throat clearing chit chat: we just get down to it, the stories of our lives, mediated by wine, plump mushrooms in truffle butter ($7.00) and the ministrations of charming (very real) French bartenders.
Café du Soleil
2723 Broadway (btw 104th and 105th Sts.)
New York, NY