When La Cantine opened three years ago on 60 St. Nicholas Avenue, it offered something that this part of Bushwick lacked: a daytime dining alternative to the abundance of bars and night time restaurants.
Which is why it’s ironic—with La Cantine’s introduction of Sunsets, a 3-evening-per-week bar—the French-inspired luncheonette is becoming part of the neighborhood nightlife.
Owner Ioana Hercberg, who moved to New York from Paris 12 years ago, is quick to point out that her goal is far from a rowdy street party (not that she finds anything wrong with that), but more a laid-back destination for winding down with natural wines, beer and a small menu of nibbles.
At Sunsets, which launched on Aug. 18 and currently takes place on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays between 6 and 10 pm., there is no standing room and reservations are not taken.
Of the many nearby operations where boisterous patrons imbibe huddled together, Hercberg says, “it’s actually so Parisian. But we have neighbors that we love, so I wanted to make sure we set the tone that this is very chill. You come in, you sit.”
The Sunsets menu, which Hercberg developed with head chef Caitlin Curole, is a departure from what’s served for lunch and breakfast. “There’s just a little crossover with crispy potatoes because everyone loves them so much,” Hercberg says. Otherwise the dishes, meant to be shared and with attention to beautiful plating, tend to be items that La Cantine’s owner misses from her homeland, with slight tweaks and seasonal specials rotated in.
For example there are warm marinated olives, cheese with peach lemon verbena jam and bread, as well as rillettes with cornichon. Eggs & Mayo (oeufs mayonnaise) is, in Hercberg’s estimation, the French equivalent of peanut butter and jelly because it’s enjoyed by so many French youngsters.
“Normally it’s just a hardboiled egg with mayo, but we wanted to give it a twist,” she says. “So ours is not hardboiled; it’s a 9-minute egg and the mayo is blended with shishito from the market. We also try not to waste anything. Another dish we serve is leeks vinaigrette. Any of the leeks that have not been used we turn into ash.
Tortilla de patatas with aioli might seem like an outlier, but Hercberg says that’s her Spanish mother’s influence (and recipe). “It’s not in the works yet, but my next dream is to open a tapas restaurant and I figured we could try a couple of things and see the Bushwick reaction to a Spanish dish,” she says.
Drinks-wise, Sunsets at La Cantine pours two beers from Brooklyn-based, female-owned Talea and have worked with neighboring Starr Wine to curate a limited selection of natural wines—currently one each of orange, white and red.
Hercberg says now, with a base of regular customers behind them, it felt like the right time to expand into an evening service that was distinct from the rest of the neighborhood’s more raucous venues.
“There are definitely people out there who will eat whatever we’re offering, even if they’ve ever tried it before, so I think Sunsets is pushing that to the nighttime,” Hercberg says, “We want to surprise people with things they haven’t eaten here during the day, but hopefully it’s also in line with what we’ve shown them already.”