In Paris, the bistro has been a cultural mainstay for centuries. Since the 19th century, eating outdoors and peoplewatching at these bistros has been a cornerstone in the city, so much so that eating inside is basically sacrilege. These days, however, the institution of bistro dining in Paris has slowly been deteriorating due to a number of factors, changing cultural practices and an influx of foreign influence, just to name a few. However, for a city like New York that has yet to experience the same kind of bistro culture, an introduction to this style of dining has been a long time coming.
French-Americana fusion restaurant Loulou Petit Bistro seeks to fill that void. First opening back in early March, the restaurant had to quickly shutter due to the onset of Covid-19 , but reopened recently and takes advantage of its outdoor seating. Located in trendy Chelsea, it’s helping revamp and transform the neighborhood after the damage the pandemic caused to the neighborhood’s restaurant scene, along with New York overall.
The interior is warm and inviting, with a huge marble-topped bar catching your eye as soon as you peek inside. High-top leather benches line the left-side wall inlaid with large rectangle windows to let in lots of natural light and provide a view of the streets. Outside, tables are separated with clear dividers to ensure safety without feeling boxed-in or cramped, and there’s a large gazebo with extra seating next to the sidewalk (indoor dining is also back on, but only at 25% capacity). Slow, ambient French jazz plays through the speakers both inside and out, which only adds to the I’m in Paris vibe.
Though the rules of social distancing are always in effect, staff says that the place is almost always packed and vibrant, which means that people want to come out of their cocoons, at least a little bit.
“You’d be surprised how many people you see here at night,“ said Chef Jarett Brodie, a Bronx native who cut his teeth at multiple prestigious hotel restaurants before launching Loulou. “It’s a sign that people are willing to come out and eat and get their minds off things,” he said.
Brodie worked in his family’s restaurant as a server when he was a teenager, but knew a thing or two about being in the kitchen. Though he left for Africa to study traditional drums for a time, he found himself falling back in love with cooking and attended the Institute Of Culinary Education, eventually scoring a spot as executive chef at the Kimpton Muse Hotel and later chef de cuisine at The Knickerbocker Hotel.
Chef Brodie, who says he’s always been the creative type, lends that creativity to his dishes, which tend to stick around southern France in origin, from Gascony to Provence. His version of Tuna Niçoise Salad isn’t traditional- rather, it’ spread out on a plate with seared tuna, Kalamata olives, potatoes, green beans and more. The duck leg confit is covered in gala chutney with an apple-rosemary puree, cooked to perfection.
This spot also features classics like ratatouille, steak tartar, flatbreads and charcuterie . And don’t get me started on the whole grilled branzino; it’s to die for. I couldn’t resist asking for some more of the herb pistou it’s covered in to take home with me.
Lending to the “Americana” aspect, Loulou also has an unsurprisingly good burger, covered with clothbound cheddar and caramelized onions. Other unspecifically French food include ribeye steak with onions and fig jus, mussels, and an oyster raw bar.
That huge bar also puts in its share of work with a number of craft cocktails like Loulous Maid, made with Bombay Sapphire, lime, cucumber and mint, and the El Cievo, with Cazadores Tequila, lime, ginger syrup and rosemary needles.
With de Blasio’s announcement that outdoor dining is here to stay, restaurants like Loulou in Chelsea and beyond can breathe a sigh of relief that they won’t have to shutter once again. Brodie also said that the team plans to set up some outdoor heaters for patrons. When it comes to the Covid crisis, Chef Brodie (who never stopped working to help his community) wants people to eat good food while staying safe.
“Just keep your head down and keep moving forward,” he said. “I’ve got hope for the future, and as long as we follow the rules, we can get through it.”