Friday, September 9, 2011

Greenwich Village’s Di Fiore Marquet Café serves up exceptional Merguez sausage

Stepping into the Greenwhich Village neighborhood restaurant Di Fiore Marquette Café, ( one can be forgiven for thinking they’ve entered a Right Bank café or a French countryside auberge’s charmed dining room, worthy of a Truffaut movie set or a scene from the “French Kiss.”  
The out of time fantasy restaurant is a sensual delight.
Di Fiore Bar Seating
The entranceway embraces happy, full-paned grilled windows on either side of the door, cuddling tete a tete seating: perfect for a romantic, coffee-fueled interlude or a business meet up; glass pastry cases whose resident fresh croissants and brioche wink “take me, pick me,” along with a few seats at what can be described as the love child of a mid-century five and dime counter and a low-slung bar that inherited the sterling genes of a good place to eat, especially as a single.  
The unpretentious, glorious seasonal flowers are overflowing in a pitcher near the register.  Transported while waiting to ring up, one can dream about the bouquet’s journey from Greenmarket floral stall via basket or bike—along with a fresh baked loaf of bread.  The reverie is sprung by the hum of fresh juice squeezings, with cappuccino and espresso keeping harmony.

The long narrowish dining room is marked with antique silver mirror glass, sexy, lipstick red walls, menus and appointments. It seems every wall space is filled with framed paintings.  All are for sale.

At the back of the restaurant, casement windows spool out to a picture-perfect garden setting. The bistro size wood tables are accessorized with simple, easy favorite flowers such as tulips, roses, or Peruvian lilies. No tortured blossoms or florist egos are present here to compete with the food and the conversation.
And it is the conversation and stories that help make Marquette unique. 
Celeste Di Fiore -- Inimitable restauranteur
Make no mistake. While the décor and ambiance are heartbreakingly embraceable and the food is the star of the show, it is owner Celeste Di Fiore who is the real–deal charmer – the Elaine of the downtown, Village cohort. 
For more than 10 years, she's looked after her customers like a doting, sometimes worrisome, always supportive, can’t-help-herself favorite friend or aunt. The customers are neighborhoodies: from the nearby Forbes magazine staff, the creative artists and patrons of the Salmagundi artist colony; writers and authors; along with students and professors from the Cardoza law school on the corner, or NYU. There are the quiet celebrities: Meryl Streep, Sean Pean and Giada De Laurentiis' mom, to name a few. Like a butterfly, Celeste can be seen alighting at a table to ask about the customers latest book, or another’s health, or to agree with another about the neighborhood’s lack of a grocery store due to changing real estate, while ensuring his weekly take out dinner is all set.
Meeting with Celeste for a Merguez tasting is not just learning about this distinctive food. 
There is a story behind the venerable North African or Mediterranean sausage.
In what may make six degrees of separation look easy, this merguez culinary discovery resonates as part of Celeste and her Italian family’s roots and how she came to own the restaurant and to her accountant's involvement with merguez, working as he does for the Brooklyn Bangers butcher shop – and the Vanderbilt restaurant, there– but that’s another story.
John the accountant brought some of the merguez for Celeste to sample. “It was delicious. But I almost had a stroke,” she laughs now. That sausage was made with lamb – and pork! She knew no Muslim or Yeshiva customers who frequent her restaurant could eat the pork.  
Besides. True merguez should be lamb and beef, according to her first experience with the sausage gleaned from Jean Pierre Marquette and Lynne Guillot – her former partners.
Jean Pierre and Lynne served merguez on a baguette, with the juice soaked up in the bread, all wrapped up in napkin.
Informed by her first merguez, Celeste prefers a simple presentation. 
Today, her merguez is good enough to stand alone.
Di Fiore's Marquette’s Merguez Sausage from “Brooklyn Bangers” menu item is a Mediterranean-influenced dish marinated in fresh olive oil and thyme.
It is delicious.  It is spicy.  The heat is just right. The restaurant cooks it just right too: on the charcoal grill to impart a smoky, earthy flavor, then in the oven for five to eight minutes.
Celeste explains her kitchen cooks came up with their sterling mint-infused chimichurri dipping sauce.  It is perfect; light but stalwart enough to stand up to the juicy, muscular lamb and beef merguez.
Celeste has it served with big grain Israeli cous cous, mint, julienned fresh, market vegetables including squash, haricot vert beans, grape tomatoes; and potato salad sautéed with a little butter, olive oil and pearl tapioca.  (The tapioca adds strength)  

       Look at this sausage: 

An organic, noble Bricco al Sole Mantepulciano wine, rich and robust with high tannins complimented the entrée. 

Over the course of eating the meal, Celeste shares some of Marquette’s art-fueled stories.
Prompted by a long-ago customer/artist and Celeste’s desire to “warm it up a bit” in the restaurant – a change from her former partners’ more industrial style, the burgeoning talent asked to bring a few paintings to sell. Over time, there occurred an entropic progression toward the Marquette’s dining in a gallery ambiance.
That first hopeful act of art was the catalyst to scores of fascinating, twisted, successful and inexplicable but true tales.  
Celeste reviews a customer's just-purchased art work

Sit with Celeste and she will tell you a story about the art and the artist for every one of the pieces.  Each is recounted with pride, an abiding protection for the artist, along with a resignation and perhaps secret delight for the vagaries that are life.  Artists are grateful for the exposure – and hoped for sales—and at the same time, the stories sometimes sound more like entries at the City Desk.  For example, there is the one about the man who purchased a painting, insisted on leaving the artwork at the restaurant until his check cleared while he left for Egypt. Some years later, the painting awaits his return…Then there is the couple that continues to amass a collection, it seems, buying the art that smiles down on them at their favorite table.
Sadly, dessert suspended more art stories. The macchiato was freshly made as a thick, frosty milk shake of espresso with dollops of milky foam peaks.    

A rather perfunctory search of restaurants that serve marguez in New York turned up less than a handful: one in Queens and the other is Manhattan’s Colicchio & Sons ( confirming how special and uncommon Marquette’s merguez menu offering is. 
Di Fiore’s merguez seduction as calling card delivers.  Don’t miss it – for lunch or dinner.
Soon, Celeste will be stopping by your table to tell or hear a story, as you will have become a Marquette regular, devoted customer.  
 Marquette is located at:
15 East 12th Street
New York, NY 10003 (Between University and Fifth Avenue)
And on Facebook
Open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, brunch, and wine. Delivery and catering.

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