Café Cornichon251 Grand St, Williamsburg Rating: 4L's
Café Cornichon opened about four months ago to little fanfare. In fact, if there was any fanfare at all, it was equal to the sound of someone blowing silently into a flute. And it’s remained so dreamily calm and unvisited that its quietness has become its allure, like some kind of secret garden for drinkers. Unlike so many other French wine-and-cheese (and a few entrees) bars, instead of going down the “cozy, dark and gilded” road, Cornichon opts for airy and soothing, with little décor other than dark racks of wine, breezy open spaces and a slate-green paint that washes everything in a mermaid-like coolness.
This pared-down look works up front, where towering stools meet the sky-high bar under artsy bare-bulb drop lights, and it all feels springy and fresh, especially in the early evening. It works less well in the back, however, which can feel like a neglected afterthought — all naked tables, pew-like benches and right angles, like someone who put on a blouse and makeup but isn’t wearing any pants. The emptiness does make for a consistently good destination for groups of 10 or more who plan to eat and drink until very late without any disruptions, such as other bar-goers, which I’ve done a few times at Cornichon over the past months, and always enjoyed. It’s hard not to, with delicious and fairly cheap all-French wine (bottles from $22 to $45), cheeses (generous mixed platters with changing daily specials) and lovingly prepared shared dishes (salads, sandwiches and bite-sized tartines). The back area is where the bathrooms are, too — cramped, green-painted shacks tacked onto the walls like indoor outhouses. The lone item of décor (or maybe it’s storage?) was an empty glass cake plate standing on top of those bathrooms.
But after the back area is the backyard party, which is again a study in cool greens and white, with picnic benches and tumbling plants. Making Cornichon a likeably spare bar that almost no one goes to, with a calming backyard and fantastic service from a trio of good-looking and relaxed Frenchmen. So, I recommend Café Cornichon, because wine is good for you, and so is fresh air. Maybe for brunch, maybe for dinner, definitely for happy hour (5-7pm) when beers and glasses of wine are only $3. Which reminds me — a note to the rest of New York City: people drink things other than beer and nasty well drinks at happy hour.