It’s blasphemy to return to New York City to only repeat a dish. But the minestrone soup I found at Buvette in the West Village is a magnet.
Every once in a while I discover a dish that makes me feel comfortable in a place I don’t spend a sizable amount of time in. I’ll get the chance to visit New York a few days a couple of times a year. So how much can one be expected to conquer in NYC’s intimidating restaurant scene with only a handful of lunches to spare?
I consider it a notable accomplishment to commit myself to a dish that’s not within my usual reach, that both makes me feel like a local in a foreign neighborhood and somehow gives me a sense of pride in its familiarity–even though I’ve only nested there for about an hour or so. Sense memory is a powerful thing, and a muscle you don’t get to stretch all that often.
The minestrone soup found at Buvette in the West Village is an experience I often crave that I discovered during a trip to New York during a cold January afternoon, during the antics surrounding G’Day USA Australia Week. What was then just a gasp for air of a meal in between our Mid-Town hustle through sky-high offices of Avenue of the Americas and speed dating via coffee appointments in SoHo.
Upon opening the bistro’s door, there’s a delicate breath of browned butter on toast, and sweet custard wraps itself around me.
Elbowing my way up to the marble bar, tearing off my winter wear, I peer around to spy on what others are eating. Plates of steak tartare piled high on a rustic loaf with polka dots of capers and cornichons. A hearty ‘Croque Forestier’ – melted gruyere toasts with roasted wild mushrooms, perfumed by herbs de provence. Soft-steamed eggs are bright yellow pillows with thick strips of bacon, sun-dried tomato and sniped chives.
I eventually track down the eyes of the server behind the bar. He walks me through the dishes I’d just seen come out of the kitchen. “What’s the soup?” I ask.
“It’s a minestrone with white beans and toast,” he states.
A rich bowl of creamy beans are braided by tender ribbons of kale swimming in a slightly thickened, hearty tomato broth along with nuggets of sweet onion, carrot and celery. Plunged into the middle of the bowl are two slices of crisp toast, positioned like a ramp so that a river of fruity olive oil runs down into the broth. The pool it creates is studded with large grinds of sharp black pepper, and from the heavens it has snowed grated Parmesan cheese.
A distressed man plops down on the stool next to me, hems and haws.
“Hey, how are you?” the server greets.
“Meh…” he utters. He contemplates the one-page menu. “How’s the soup?”
The server rattles off its simple ingredients. I offer an un-welcomed interjection, “It’s beautiful.” Without even looking at me, or my bowl of soup for any confirmation, he groans.
“Ugh, It’s got beans, though…”
For a moment I pity him for casting off the soup. He has no idea. And he’s reason I could never be a New Yorker. But for regular access to Buvette and this soup, I wouldn’t write off the idea entirely.