The French-Caribbean bistro Les Amis et Les Deux Lapins (222 Thompson Street; 387-8484) formerly operated on weekends out of premises on East 5th Street between A and B. Somewhat inauspiciously, it has relocated to the portion of Thompson Street notorious for its transient population of eat-anything students and “Is this Greenwich Village?” tourists who think jerk chicken is a term of abuse. But happily, Les Deux Lapins is thriving in its new home, and any shortfall in local gastronomes has been made good by the crowd that has loyally followed chef Mark Solomon (who used to run Red Strype) and his co-owner and wife, Jentee, to their new place.
The key to eating well at Les Deux Lapins is to go in a group of three or four and place the dishes into common ownership. Take our friend jerk chicken ($8). Well-cooked, nongreasy, but challengingly hot, it begins, after a few bites – let alone the six pieces that are served – to burn like lava; but taken in moderation (and washed down with very gingery Jamaican Ginger Beer), it makes a great kick start to a meal. Alternatively, try one of the various patty appetizers ($7), all of which are good: Petits patties are compact packets of ground beef wrapped in firm saffron pastry and garnished with a zesty, fresh-as-can-be salsa with peppers and onions; plantain patties are sweet and wrapped snugly in puff pastry; and cocktail patties do the medley-of-vegetables-with-marinara-sauce thing well.
Main courses include some filling but subtle gems. Mouton calypso ($14) is a spicy torte of curried lamb that is very nicely complemented by a sweet pool of coconut crème fraîche. Prawn Port Royal ($16) is sautéed shrimp atop an insular mound of rice surrounded by a complicatedly delicious, now-sweet, now-spicy sludge of beans, rice, tomatoes, and herbs; the prawns are excellent but, given the price of this dish, should perhaps number more than four. Poulet Montego ($12) is a wonderfully thought-out chicken chausson that comes with rice and a sprinkling of beans and chopped red bell peppers; open the cornmeal crust and you strike succulent chicken, a rum jus, and a trove of mustardy and lemony flavors.
Like Malatesta, Les Deux Lapins, thanks to its Caribbean menu and atmosphere, is a great summer venue (but don’t raise your hopes about the four-table cement garden out back). It may be in the fall, though, that this place reaches its zenith. The basement area will be opened with live music, and the samba and the liming will make this joint hotter than jerk chicken.
Les Deux Lapins is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. A.E., M.C., V.