New York Opening: Charlemagne

Charlemagne, a porn-shop-turned-French-brasserie in the West Village, does a suckling pig dish that reminds me of an old tale. My cousin Robert, who went “vegetarian” a few years ago at his girlfriend’s behest, treated himself the other week to a suckling pig at the Breslin when his lady left town. Out it came in all its porcine glory, with the bowls of sauces and the apple in its mouth. A few bites in, who showed up but his girlfriend’s roommate, who’d eat her tote bag to avoid meat. “Robert!” she gasped, “what in the world?” Robert dropped his silverware. “Can you believe this?” he replied. “I order an apple and look how they serve it!”

At Charlemagne, the pig (Chourcroute) comes diced and laid on a bed of bacon sauerkraut, so if you find yourself in Robert’s situation, you can say you don’t read French. Otherwise, enjoy yourself—the menu’s a grand tour of proteins. A bi-coastal oyster list (with special regard for the Montauk Pearl) sits on a bed of ice adjacent to the wine bar. The steak tartare, with a quail egg and Catalan garlic aioli, is safe to eat and then some. Muscovy duck breast and leg match juicy flesh with a crispy skin. If meat’s off the agenda, the wild mushroom fettuccini tastes much, much better than a tote bag.

I can’t attest to the décor of the old sex shop, but Charlemagne sure looks classy. Honeycomb tiles, which sat beneath the former tenant’s flooring, have been lovingly rebuffed. A massive iron chandelier hangs from a shiny tin ceiling, and 19th-century spherical bulbs dangle above each table. Whatever you order, it will be lit up in all its glory. How do you like them apples?

[BlackBook New York Guide; Listings for Charlemagne, the Breslin; More by James Ramsay]