common / Restaurants
A Touch of France on Main Street
As Pascal Graff sits sipping cold café au lait, surrounded by empty, white-draped café tables, red walls, and decorative details here and there that evoke a Parisian bistro, all that’s really missing is a black beret, a Gauloise cigarette smoldering in an ashtray, and some Edith Piaf music in the background. Just then, a robust blonde-haired woman in a pastel North Face jacket pokes her head through the open door and asks, “Do you serve breakfast?” The spell is broken, but not for long.
We are sitting at Le Bouchon (“the cork”), at the corner of Main and Fair Streets in Cold Spring, and it’s the beginning of another busy Saturday in town. Pascal seems eager to share his story with the PCN&R. Pascal was born and raised in France, the countryside of Alsace, to be exact. The region is as far east as you can go in France without crossing over into Germany, and Switzerland sits just below it. He was raised on a farm surrounded by chickens, pigs, rabbits, vineyards, and orchards, and along with his brothers, was drawn to learning the preparation and presentation of French foods. “You know how it is in the countryside,” he reminisced, “it’s all about food.”
When Pascal was about twelve, he told his father he wanted a moped, and his father replied that if he worked to save the money they would put it away for him. Pascal began working in a local restaurant two days a week in order to get that moped, and a career was born. He started as a full-time apprentice when he was 14. The program was very formalized: three months of restaurant work followed by two months culinary school—for six years. All of the restaurant owners in France are required to teach their trade to apprentices and Pascal worked in a number of places, learning different techniques and approaches to food wherever he went. Pascal came to the US—Northern California—in 1994 and started work in a Sausalito pub. The economy was not good and Pascal was “not impressed,” having worked seasonally in fine European restaurants in Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and Hungary. He headed to Miami and worked in a country club, but ended up returning to France for a few years. When one of his brothers asked him to help with a new restaurant in New York City he returned to the US, and eventually ended up in Cold Spring in 2002.
The colorful 100+-year-old building where Le Bouchon is located has had a checkered history. According to Pascal, it belonged to an artist for a long time, but in the ‘70s became a restaurant location, where a series of eateries never seemed to last too long. Pascal recalled how friends warned him that the building had a bad business history. “People would tell me, ‘You’re crazy, this building is cursed!’ but I had already signed the lease so there was nothing to do. I was lucky,” he concluded, “business has been good.”
Pascal credits much of his success to simple customer loyalty. “I have really loyal customers, mostly local—Peekskill, Garrison, Fishkill—and I have the most splendid staff—all of them have been here at least five years. That’s the best feature over here. You know, obviously if you want a grand restaurant experience, you go into the city with all the ‘tralala,’ but this is more like a good neighborhood bistro where people know everybody.”
Pascal comes in to eat on Sunday with his family. His favorite dishes are boudin noir (a black blood sausage) with mashed potatoes, as well as the baby octopus or the mussels. He has thirteen or so restaurant reviews and “every single one talks about the French fries and the mussels.” Pascal is proud that the fries (pommes frites) are freshly made at Le Bouchon, but laments the fact that not everyone cares about these details. He is also very fond of Le Bouchon’s escargots (snails) and the delicate garlic butter sauce that makes them so special. The most popular menu offering with customers is the steak with French fries. “We use only Angus steak,” he emphasized, “and everyone loves it.”
Asked about desserts, Pascal replied that they make a few special ones, including an apple tart, but, in truth, people are ordering fewer desserts. “I think these days [both for health and financial reasons] they indulge less,” he said, adding that in this economy business is down by about twenty customers a week, “just like everywhere else.” He also noted that Le Bouchon sells much more wine by the glass now than by the bottle, but that in a suburban location that is often the case, anyway “because they have to drive.”