What’s the Vibe at Libertine, NYC’s Buzziest New French Restaurant?

Libertine exterior

I have a categorical hatred of French restaurants in the U.S. They tend to be overpriced and basic, and often bear no resemblance to “French” food, which can be highly regional and religiously seasonal. New York in particular has a slew of spots offering oyster towers and not a French person in sight. So when I heard of people going hog wild for the West Village’s new French restaurant Libertine, seemingly the reservation of the moment, I knew I had to give it a try.

Libertine opened in May of this year, under the helm of Chef Max Mackinnon. It almost instantly became impossible to get a reservation. (I had to set an alarm to refresh the reservations page at 7AM to secure a spot 30 days ahead.) The restaurant was designed to look and feel like a bistro, and being a bistroficionado myself, I allowed myself to be reluctantly hopeful.

So what did I find?

Libertine NYC Review

Libertine Interior
Libertine Interior

Libertine has been carefully designed to come off as “approachable” (or at least, some West Village approximation of approachability), as evidenced by the floors, which were clearly designed to look like an afterthought, tiled in some places but bleeding into exposed concrete in a way that was definitely intentional. Classic French cafe tables take up the majority of the space, while walk-ins cozy up to the mirror-lined bar. Instead of a paper menu, the restaurant has a French bistro-style chalkboard menu, a nice touch. (Though it was missing that extremely particular French handwriting that’s a little hard to read, but can be found on every chalkboard menu in France.)

It’s pricey, of course, and the servings are small, but Libertine offers the kind of relatively niche French food I can actually respect, Saucisse Purée and Lamb à la Moutarde, with an exceptional (if staggeringly priced) wine list. Our server kept saying things like, “You can eat with your hands after all, it is a bistro,” when I asked for a spoon to serve our appetizer. I’m not entirely sure what he thinks a bistro is (a place where people lick plates and avoid cutlery, apparently).

He expressed how glad he was to work at a place with a more relaxed vibe, where he could actually talk to the customers. But I suppose it’s easy to create a relaxed vibe when your reservations are booked out a month in advance, and you know exactly how many people you can squeeze in over the course of an evening. The place felt full but not crowded, expertly curated.

Yes, Libertine has spent a lot of money to look this poor. It’s not a bad vibe, but if you can charge $36 for an appetizer, I think you might be pushing the whole “laid back bistro” thing a bit.

The Best Dishes at Libertine

Oeufs Mayo at Libertine
Oeufs Mayo at Libertine

Our server also mentioned that they had locked in a crowd-pleasing menu for critic season, but once it was over, the menu would rotate every few weeks. We had Oeufs Mayo with trout roe, which were simple and creamy and lovely, the little bright bursts of roe popping in your mouth breaking up the richness of the eggs in mayo.

Oeufs Mayo at Libertine
Lobster Chou Farci at Libertine

Then there was Lobster Chou Farci, or cabbage stuffed with lobster. It was heavy on the lobster, light on the cabbage, good because lobster is good, but nothing to write home about. There was also a Jambon Persillé, a kind of ham terrine with a parsley aspic, served with whole grain mustard and cornichons. I’m not usually a big ham person, but it was well done, light on the aspic so as not to give the whole thing a jello-like texture.

Duck Deux Façons at Libertine
Duck Deux Façons at Libertine

But the star of the show was the Duck Deux Façons, a meal for two that came with seared duck breast au poivre, and a duck confit with onions topped with fluffy pommes aligot. The confit, which came in a little cocotte, simply melted in my mouth, and the light, cheesy mashed potatoes on top were a revelation. Apparently the comté used in the potatoes is stored in a cave in Normandy alongside their butter, so there is “some cross-contamination” between the cheese and the butter (who would have thought those words could mean something so delicious?), resulting in a fluffier, more buttery potato mash.

Chocolate Mousse with Chartreuse Cream at Libertine
Chocolate Mousse with Chartreuse Cream at Libertine

For dessert, we had chocolate mousse with a Chartreuse cream. The mousse was incredible, but honestly, I didn’t need the cream. The flavor of the chartreuse overpowered the rich chocolate, and the cream was more of a flat pool, when I would have liked something whipped. But this could be a personal opinion, since Chartreuse in hot chocolate is a common French winter treat, known as a Vert Chaud.

They also have a roast chicken leg made with Vin Jaune, an oxidized wine from the Jura region of France, which comes with a full on chicken leg, nails and all. Supposedly delicious, but perhaps not for the squeamish. The table next to us let me take pictures of theirs.

Chicken Vin Jaune

Overall, I like Libertine. She’s like your cousin who makes more money than you but wears old Nikes with her $3,000 outfit from The Row to try and seem more relatable. She’s a sweetheart with good taste, but that doesn’t mean the next round’s on her.

Catherine Rickman is a writer, professional francophile, and host of the Expat Horror Stories podcast. She is currently somewhere in Brooklyn with a fork in one hand and a pen in the other, and you can follow her adventures on Instagram @catrickman.

A close up of a sign

Frenchly
newsletter.

Get your weekly dose of Frenchly’s news.

Read more

French gastronomy is very rich, and one of its flagship dishes is cheese. There is a wide variety of cheeses to suit all tastes. But do you really know how cheese is prepared? Fromagerie Guilloteau tells you its story and how it makes its creamy cheeses.

Frenchly newsletter.

A close up of a sign

Get your weekly dose of Frenchly’s news.

Frenchly Newsletter.

A close up of a sign

Get your weekly dose of Frenchly stuff.