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Fine Dining Without Pretension at Tribeca's Capsouto Freres

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This is the latest edition of Who Goes There? a regular feature in which Lost City's Brooks of Sheffield cracks the doors on mysteriously enduring Gotham restaurants—unsung, curious neighborhood mainstays with the dusty, forgotten, determined look—to learn secrets of longevity and find out, who goes there.

[Krieger, 10/28/10]

Capsouto Frères turns 30 years old this year. It's amazing it lasted a month. Situated in the two bottom floors of a beautiful old 1891, neo-Flemish, landmark building on an isolated block of far west TriBeCa, to say it's out of the way is putting it mildly. The wall of traffic leading into the nearby Holland Tunnel all but dares you to try and find it.
As the name indicates, the restaurant was founded by three brothers named Capsouto. They came to New York from Alexandria, Egypt, by way of Paris, and brought their French culinary traditions and Old World grace with them. Two remain, Jacques and Samuel. Albert passed away in January at the age of 53. They hunkered down on the corner of Watts and Washington years before Montrachet and other pioneering restaurateurs ventured below Canal. They've remained there by doing pretty much what they've done since 1980. "Nothing's changed much since then," said the Maitre D', "which both works for us and against us."

In the grand, high-ceilinged dining room, hung with many chandeliers and ceiling fans, the scene is the very picture of customer loyalty. Most of the diners have been here many times before. It's a place for long-standing married couples, who dine comfortably over wine and soft conversation; or pairs of marrieds, who use it to renew old bonds and catch up. If a teen comes here, it's because a parent brings them, thinking they're doing the kid a favor. (They are.) The elegant, two-tiered room and tall windows make a very nice backdrop for dinner with the folks. One imagines graduations and engagements are commemorated here. It has that right air of occasion.

The menu is classic French, right down to the array of souffles. Almost no one leaves here without ordering one. They arrive, puffed up and brown, with some pomp, a couple men needed to rush the dish and the accompanying sauce to the table. "Where you going with that?" said one seasoned souffle eater, seeing the busboy move away with the sauce boat. "Leave it."

An obese, bearded man with a gold-handled cane wobbles to his table. He wears a navy jacket. Even though the restaurant has no dress code (does anyone anymore?), most guests suit up anyway, the Maitre D' said. The mustachioed Jacques Capsouto, suavely clad in light colors and oozing casual charm and Mediterranean ennui, sidles up to the man to greet him. He goes on to say hello to every couple he recognizes. There are many.

Even while heralding 30 years, Capsouto marches on with little fanfare, offering fine dining without pretension, confident consistency with little itch to follow trends. The food is good. Though there's no flash here to attract the restless diner's eye, it would be a shame if young foodies never passed through its doors. That said, I wonder what twenty-somethings would make of Capsouto Frères, its civility, the quietude, the inside voices, the wide open spaces. There's no cacophonous musical soundtrack, no elbows to jostle at the table two inches away, not a Blackberry in sight. Is this a restaurant?, they might puzzle. You mean we're just supposed to eat and talk?
—Brooks of Sheffield

Capsouto Freres

451 Washington Street, New York, NY 10013 212-966-4900 Visit Website