There is a pleasant, almost connect-the-dots exactness to the proceedings at Lynn Wagenknecht’s restaurant, Cafe Cluny, which anyone who spends an inordinate amount of time in the company of women (like I do) will recognize almost instantly. For a while, in fact, I didn’t even bother taking my wife there, or either of our two daughters, or our beloved Oprah-loving babysitter from Nepal, or even our beloved (female) parakeet, Fluffy. The idea just seemed too obvious. Everything about this neighborly little West Village bistro on the cobblestone corner of 12th and West 4th Streets, is competent, tidy, almost amusingly just-so. The walls are decorated with winsome arrangements of pressed ferns under glass, stuffed songbirds, and other naturalist knickknacks. There are fresh flowers on the bar, the candles in the bathrooms are scented with golden mimosa (there are fresh flowers there too), and if you ask one of the waitresses where the name comes from, she might tell you, as mine did, that it was inspired by Abbaye de Cluny, the famous monastery in France.
I don’t know what they eat in monasteries these days, but in Lynn Wagenknecht’s restaurants, the menus rarely vary. Wagenknecht is, of course, the founder, with her former husband, Keith McNally, of the Odeon in Tribeca. As such, she is at least partially responsible for elevating the great American faux-brasserie dinner (steak-frites, profiteroles with chocolate sauce) to the hipster equivalent of, say, the McDonald’s Happy Meal. She and her partners still run the Odeon (and it’s uptown doppelgänger, Café Luxembourg), and Cafe Cluny seems to have been conceived as its petite, slightly more civilized West Village relation, a place where you can obtain neighborly, moderately updated versions of old Odeon chestnuts like salad frisée (topped with lardons and a poached egg) and hangar steak