92 Seventh Ave South
Price Range: $25-40
Beckoning starry-eyed lovers from the culinary no-man’s land of Seventh and Bleecker with candlelight, rough-hewn surfaces, and bawdy strains of French jazz, Partage promised a Provençal farmhouse retreat. Amidst barley and sunflower motifs that lend a rustic feel, couples dine on bistro favorites and weekly five-course tasting menus highlighting regional cuisine. This time it was Bordeaux, and at $35 ($15 extra for wine pairings) was a bargain — or would have been, had I ordered it.
I did sample the Cauliflower Soup with Poached Oysters ($6) from that menu and it was the meal’s high point, richly satisfying on a warm October night, enlivened by a huge, intensely briny oyster. A simple salad of smoky roast pumpkin, field greens, pine nuts, and silky goat cheese ($11) melded the fall’s flavors with a deft touch.
All the while, attentive servers reveled in explaining the menu, fixing a wobbly table, and rushing to refill drained wineglasses — though, oddly, never the water glasses. A half hour and a bottle of Côtes du Rhône later, I began to drool as a charred, glistening plate of Steak Frites ($18) appeared before me.
My pleasure was short-lived when I discovered that my poor steak knife could barely saw through the rubbery flesh. The meat, medium rare as ordered, tasted just as my aching forearm portended — bland, like the au poivre pool lying beneath, an insipid mixture of cognac, mustard, and skim milk. It couldn’t even save the over-brown fries.
Perhaps I was naïve to expect a great steak from Partage. After all, isn’t the French bistro about transforming modest ingredients, like the cauliflower, into gastronomic delight? Then they shouldn’t put steak on the menu.
My companion’s Panini of Mushroom, Asparagus, and Pecorino ($10) — though out of place in the amorous darkness — was a delightfully fresh mélange of textures riding a truffle- oil wave. A simple dark chocolate and candied Orange Crepe ($6) was another simple standout. Thin strips of orange peel, bursting with citrus oil, oozed with the luscious chocolate. We devoured it.
This romantic Gallic womb, sitting in West Village college-bar and tourist-trap oblivion, should be given a chance. Don’t depend on the ingredients to be the star; let the kitchen do that. After experiencing the cauliflower soup and reading the intriguingly regional selections, I’m still kicking myself for not ordering the prix fixe. But for the love of God, don’t order the steak. Bonsoir.