Break out les ballons, lovers of Keith McNally’s classic downtown bistro Pastis — its long-awaited, just-opened second coming is better-looking, more comfy and less chaotic than the original a few blocks away. French favorites cost barely peanuts more than they did 20 years ago.
Is this the Meatpacking District or Fantasyland?
The original, faux-rustic Pastis, which closed five years ago, was always a fantasy. There was no High Line park to draw tourists to Little West 12th Street in 1999. The MPD was still full of meat, and the streets smelled like one big pancreas.
Pastis’ wooden doors swung open onto an artfully crafted vision of old-time, rural France, with every surface “distressed” to faux-aged perfection. The new one looks much like it — at first. The zinc bar, tables, mirrors, globe lights, chipped white tile and octagonal clock had patiently lain in wait for a second call to duty.
But it ain’t quite the same. It isn’t on a corner but in the middle of a block. The first Pastis had red-leather banquettes, but not today’s big round booths. The communal table’s gone.
“I wanted it to be reminiscent of the original Pastis without it being a replica,” McNally tells The Post in an e-mail. “I tried to recapture its spirit more than its physical details.”
Or is it the other way around? The 1999 fake grit played off the actual grime outside; today’s “smoked” mirrors reflect the nabe’s newfound wealth. (See: Diane von Furstenberg’s boutique and Dean & DeLuca, the latter where the old Pastis was.)
This Pastis is airier than its predecessor, and more egalitarian: Reservations are taken for all hours on Resy.com, unlike the original’s “no reservations taken after 7 p.m.” shtick.
The first Pastis helped propel the MPD’s culinary, cultural and demographic transformation. It was maybe the nabe’s only good restaurant in 1999. Today, it’s one good place to eat among many, with Rocco DiSpirito’s killer kitchen at the Standard Grill, Major Food Group’s coastal-Italian hit Santina under the High Line and Danny Meyer’s Untitled in the new Whitney Museum. Younger customers and those new in town might have no idea how electrifying the earlier Pastis was.
McNally and his partner, mega-restaurateur Stephen Starr, know times have changed. But Starr tells The Post that Pastis “offers a timeless way of eating,” and “fits in perfectly as one of the neighborhood’s landmarks.”
The bistro menu’s much like the one of 1999 and, remarkably, only slightly pricier overall — perhaps reflecting Starr’s buying power. (He owns 39 restaurants, including New York’s Le Coucou, Morimoto and Buddakan.)
Pastis’ trademark steak frites was $ 38. Now, the plate can be ordered with three different cuts of meat, ranging from $ 32 to $ 48. Trout almondine “jumped” from $ 28 to $ 30, onion soup from $ 12 to $ 15. Some choices are actually cheaper — i.e., moules-frites that were $ 23 two decades ago are $ 21.
The dishes I tried from chef Michael Abt held their own against those of Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson, the restaurant’s original celebrated chefs. Among them: the best classic escargots in garlic and butter I’ve had in a year and ethereally light-on-the-tongue boudin blanc and veal sweetbreads.
The air when you step outside is lighter, too. No more “eww”-ing or nose-holding. Thank the old Pastis for driving the changes — and welcome the new one to the 21st century.