Frederick's Downtown

As soon as the beautiful model-actress and her French male companion sat down at the window table at a certain cafe, she slapped a copy of the New York Post down on the table with a loud thwack.

Now this was Nello’s target market.

We weren’t in Nello, however, but rival restaurant Frederick’s, which, as far as anyone knows, has never paid Page Six $1,000 to attract the same kind of moneyed WASPy/Euro crowd that used to patronize Au Bar back in the day. The newest installment is Frederick’s Downtown, which makes sense: the West Village practically invented louche lounging.

It’s also one of the best neighborhoods for outdoor dining, and for as long as the weather holds, Gastro Chic will valiantly seek out the best in this category. Frederick’s Downtown, once the home of Bivio, has a number of tables outside and floor-to-ceiling windows thrown open to shady Hudson Street.

Louche lounging wouldn’t be complete without wine, there are some nice ones on Frederick’s menu. The buttery, oaky house Domaine du Prieure chardonnay, though a little clich├ęd, gives the people what they want, and the velvety, chocolatey house Bordeaux is a bargain at $10 a glass. Also on the list is an excellent Latour pinot noir, also priced at $10 a glass or $50 a bottle.

The menu has all the greatest hits of French bistro food with a few typical snacky foods thrown in. Fried calamari were the best of the bunch in the appetizers we tried. Fresh, tender, and perfectly seasoned, they were accompanied by a garlicky, light tartar sauce with a hint of lemon. I’d heard a rave about the salmon tartare, but the version served that night was Puritanically plain, with no seasoning whatsoever. It did not seem in keeping with the Frederick’s way, but the decadent, creamy orzo with lobster, mushrooms and marscapone cheesewas exactly what we expected it would be: over the top. But why both lobster and mushrooms in one dish? Better to stick to either the earth or the sea.

Entrees continued in the decadent vein. The figgy sauce that accompanied delicate sea scallops overwhelmed the rest of the dish with sweetness. Light, flaky and flavorful branzino comes roasted whole, stuffed with herbs and lemon. This was the best of the entrees we tried - again, "weird" food - in this case, fish served with the head on and the glazed-over eyes staring back at the diner - is often the best. There was nothing too complicated about the steak frites; it was a nice cut of meat that got better the longer it rested on the plate.

"I couldn't help but overhear what you were saying," the model-actress said, leaning over to out table as soon as her companion left for the men's room, and picked up the next sentence. We engaged in some girl talk. Though it was only 7pm on a Wednesday, she had already had a bottle of wine at Pastis. She ate some of our fries as we ogled her excellent bone structure.

"I'm in a similar situation," she whispered, "but I can't talk about it right now." Behind a raised hand, she pointed frantically towards the returning male companion.

The next day, my friend the working mom replayed the scenario.

"We let a total stranger eat food off our plate," Working Mom laughed. "She's one of those people who's so beautiful, she can get away with anything."

As, indeed, can Frederick's.

Frederick's Downtown
637 Hudson Street at Horatio Street