Neighborhood: Lower East Side
Address: 241 Bowery
How hard is it to get in?: Suspiciously easy.
Wallet stress: Low
Get this: Baked boucheron
Skip that: Steak tartare
Does it live up to the hype?: Color me underwhelmed.
On a Wednesday evening at 9:30p.m., I arrived at the Bowery Diner, now chef Mathieu Palombino's freshly minted pop-up venture, Chez Jef. There was a single table occupied. The waiter assured me that weekend's were an entirely different scene, though its still filled with "mostly old people." A typical French bistro setting, Chez Jef has a familiar charm: tables cloaked in checkered tablecloths, a chalkboard scrawled with the evening's specials, and all the requisite Parisian kitsch.
The food, though, is a bit more unpredictable. The baked boucheron offers a tangy goat cheese balanced with a briny olive tapenade-smeared toast; I could eat this for every meal and be satisfied. Other dishes failed to deliver: the steak tartare is good enough, but too straightforward (and underseasoned) to excite. The pork chop, marinated with pineapple and laced with celery-cured Vermont bacon, was a sodium bomb. These bistro staples need to refined and perfected—currently, they're missing the mark. —Shanté Cosme