photo credit: Emily Schindler
Place des Fetes
These days, “wine bar” is shorthand for any restaurant with a brief menu, an open kitchen, and a sommelier who’s fond of things that smell like feet. You'll find one of these spots in every single neighborhood, and many of them are quite pleasant. But if you're looking for the best, you'll have to visit Place des Fêtes.
Run by the chef from Oxalis, this date night-worthy Clinton Hill wine bar serves a handful of dishes that are exciting enough to help you imagine a world in which all is delicious and creativity abounds like discarded receipts in an ATM vestibule. Think of it as casual, à la carte fine dining, and come when you want to drink a natural wine on a tweed banquette and have a bite or two that will remind you why you still bother with small plates.
Place des Fêtes mostly serves snack-sized items, and you may find that aggravating until you try a few. The food leans seafood-heavy, and there’s usually some kind of tartare on the menu. Get it. It might arrive in a pool of deep-green olive oil, or it might come topped with tiny cubes of gelée that, somehow, you're actually excited to eat. Any specials, like silky cured mackerel or fried sweetbreads doused in a cream sauce, are always worth exploring, and the plates of cured meats are unskippable.
There are always exactly three larger dishes on the menu, and that’s where Place des Fêtes falls short. It’s a little unfair, however, to call the mains disappointing, since they’re always judged by the unrealistic standards set by the small plates. The daily pasta would be a star at any other restaurant, but here it’s just a pleasant seasonal dish that’ll fill you up as you reminisce about something you ate five minutes prior.
Some people are novelists, others are short story writers. Place des Fêtes is the latter, and it’s the most exciting place to drink natural wine and eat small plates in the city. In a town overflowing with candlelit spots that serve skin-contact beverages and undersized bites, that's a very big deal.
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A Note On The Menu
The menu at Place des Fêtes changes frequently. Some items (such as the mussels and sardine toast) tend to stick around, but most dishes are gone within a month. There are also daily specials, and you should really pay attention to those.
Place des Fêtes could have easily gone the French route with their wines (and that would have made sense, given the name), but the options by the glass are mostly Spanish. This feels fun and refreshing, although it might be disppointing for anyone who absolutely needs a glass of Chablis. Glasses are mostly in the $15-$20 range, and all of the wines are natural, so you'll probably wind up drinking something that tastes like it was fermented in a shoe (in a good way).
A single sardine on a thick slice of bread, this toast doesn’t look like much, but it’s one of the best things on the menu. There’s a layer of smoked butter hidden underneath the fish, and it’ll make you feel as if you’re sitting around a bonfire a few feet from the Atlantic.
Mussels En Tinta
These mussels arrive at your table smothered in a sepia ink sauce the color of charcoal. As you stare at the plate, you’ll try to guess what it might taste like—but no matter what you land on, you’ll be wrong. The chilled emulsion is tangy, acidic, and infused with Szechuan peppercorns, and the juicy mussels are stuffed with crisp spring onions. This dish is one of a kind, and it’s a necessary order.
Place des Fêtes’ flounder tartare is the first thing that made us realize we might want to eat here once a week. If it's on the menu, get it. The preparation changes often, but expect firm, meaty fish and maybe also a dashi gelée that melts in your mouth.
We can't give Place des Fêtes full credit for this mortadella, which is made by Chicago-based Tempesta. But they sure do slice it thin. Order some for the table.
You might be hesitant to spend around $15 on a plate of five small (albeit delicious) anchovy filets, and, as savvy consumers ourselves, we understand. You can, however, dip a side of bread in the accompanying pool of olive oil, so take that into consideration.
In general, PDF’s seafood small plates are better than their vegetable ones. These smoky, vinegary, charcoal-grilled peas are an exception. If they’re listed as a special, order them.
Another exception to the seafood-is-better rule (and another special), this carpaccio is like a little riddle the kitchen wants you to solve. Under a layer of thinly sliced squash, you’ll find a hidden stash of crunchy pine nut potpourri, and you’ll wonder how exactly you’re supposed to go about eating this. Get a little of everything with each bite.
There's always a larger fish option on the menu. In the past, we've had battered, fried halibut, served with a side of tangy gribich. It was crisp and well-excecuted, but—like every other main we've tried—it wasn't as compelling as the small plates.