3/06/2013 01:00:00 PM

First Bite: Clarkson, West Village Spot from Cafe Noir Owner, Debuts Tonight

"There's no way I can do a four-star place, no way," said Georges Forgeois, owner of NYC joints like Cafe Noir and Bar Tabac as he made the rounds during a preview of his newest venture Clarkson, which opens today in the West Village. "People ask me, 'why not?,' he said as he looked over the stylish crowd who got in early for a sneak peek of the casual, bistro-like room. "Good wine, solid food - that is my life."

This joie-de-vivre vibe was on display when we stopped by to check out the spot, and will hopefully translate into success for what many industry watches have dubbed a cursed space. Steak Frites, Lucy Browne's and the Village Lobster & Crab House have all made runs at this address. Can the restauteur, who owns five other eateries in the city, turn the venue at the Southern tip of the Village into a draw? Well, if they invite back the mustachioed singer who crooned old-school classics from a barstool, that's certainly a start. Here's what else we found:

The Food: As Forgeios said, the goal isn't four stars - the simple, elegant and reasonably priced fare is meant to please. Chef Rebecca Weitzman is at the helm, and she's prepared an expansive menu that ranges from raw bar fare to duck leg confit. Lamb sausage and charcuterie are made in house and a special section of dishes meant to share includes a butter-poached half lobster. The offerings had a clubby, Graydon-carter like vibe and there are few secret threats in the mix (check out the burrata that's served on crispy, bacon-like slabs of eggplant).

The Decor: Old-world class, Orient Express-style. Though it doesn't feel quite as train-themed as, say, the Orient Express cocktail bar a few blocks uptown, the decor takes its inspiration from that famed rail line an others like the Mombasa-Narobi route. There's a Zebra print on the wall paper and a huge U-shaped bar that leaves plenty of elbow room for those looking to knock a few back. The spacious dining room has about 70 seats and the bar can fit another 30 revelers.

The Drinks: And about those cocktails. The beverage program is headed up by Dushan Zaric of Employee's Only Fame. Fans of Zarics will recognize libations like the Mata Hari, a mix of cognac, chai-infused vermouth, pomegranate and lemon. Other interesting options include The Widows Kiss, which is Calvados mixed with green chartreuse and benedictine. See the menu here.

The Details: It's opening for dinner, and brunch and lunch are promised for sometime in April (that singer and his jazz duo may return for said mid-day meal). Right now you can stop by and check it out at 225 Varick Street.


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