71 Spring Street between Crosby and Lafayette Streets
$120 for two people, with four drinks at the bar, with tip
I haven’t been to a nice bathroom with communal sinks since my clubbing days–and I mean, like a real club, not the ridiculous Sea in Williamsburg, Brooklyn–and I’ve never been to AIX Brasserie either, chef Didier Virot’s first venture with Philip Kirsh, so it was like a new experience walking into Fr.Og with pink leather seats and silver-beaded walls. What could possibly come out from the kitchen of a place looking like this in the middle of SoHo?
The menu is French with Vietnamese, African and Middle Eastern influences, but really sounds less confusing on a plate. Fried spring rolls, or Vietnamese nem ran, has the traditional pork and shrimp with cucumber, lettuce and carrot on the side dressed with mint and garlic dressing. They were perfectly dainty and crunchy; the mint starting a party in my mouth. The Lebanese tabbouleh was better than the seared lamb loin served on top of it with its texture giving life to the cold, almost-limp tongue slivers of lamb. I only wished there was more of the foie gras encrusted in ginger. I didn’t even need the mango coulis and the soy-balsamic sauce with it. The drinks were even better than the appetizers. A coconut-lemongrass infused martini was beautifully done and so was a request for a citrusy and fruity cocktail after our meal. The maitre d’ and the bartender were equally nice and accommodating, quite a pleasure from a restaurant that plays dance music in the background.
Chef Didier is known for the short-lived Virot at the Dylan Hotel (later taken over by none other than Britney Spears’s NYLA, also short-lived) but his partnership with Jean-Georges Vongerichten as executive chef at JoJo should be taken more into account. The guy can obviously cook and has a tremendous palate to be able to translate different cuisines on each dish, but at $120 for three small plates and four drinks, I don’t know if people are hurrying to flock the place. I would come back, though, to use that bathroom.
Cheaper Vietnamese food at Xe Lua minus the pretty bathrooms