“It’s a real find,” our producer friend Dasha promises, inviting us to discover the no-airs bistro Tree in the East Village. And midway into a first-rate crock of onion soup and classically French lardon-studded frisée under a steaming poached egg, I have to agree. Dasha wandered in one night just before curtain at Theater for the New City down First Avenue and found chef-owner Andrew Robinson eating at the bar. “I’ll have what you’re having,” she said, “if I can eat and be out in twenty minutes.” Now she’s hooked on his crusty short ribs atop bow-tie pasta—a variation of the menu version with its wonderfully savory chorus of root vegetables. Tree may be only nine feet wide with clatter that bounces off brick walls, but come balmier nights, its bistro ambitions will extend into a sprawling secret garden out back. Tonight’s steak au poivre, with a side of first-rate fries, makes my meat-and-potato-loving guy very happy. Starters like beet-and-goat-cheese salad, white-bean soup with Swiss chard, and seared foie gras are predictable; it’s the gentle prices that surprise, appetizers from $6 and no entrée over $21. For Gramercy Tavern veteran Robinson, this is a homecoming, steps from Grand Street, where he grew up and his mother taught him to cook. Already actors across the street have discovered they can linger after the show. Dinner and a glass of wine for less than $45, till 1 A.M. What more could the neighborhood ask?
190 First Ave., nr. 12th St.; 212-358-7171