New Italian ‘Le Fanfare’ Serves up Dinner with a Side of Jazz
In a neighborhood largely under occupation by the Haslegrave brothers, we walked into new bar and restaurant Le Fanfare to the pleasant surprise that it wasn’t another one of theirs. The design of the space is comfortable and coherent, from the sharply-painted facade to the sequin-lined stage. Attention to detail pervades everything; the printing on each page of the menu lines up perfectly with the stenciled text on the board holding it, for example. This careful attention to detail appears throughout the restaurant: ingredients, furnishing, music, and even the staff have been chosen and integrated carefully by people who realize that it only takes one cut corner to cheapen the whole experience.
Our night at Le Fanfare (1103 Manhattan Ave) began at the small round bar up front, where we were warmly welcomed by an easygoing and friendly staff. The cocktail list is short and classic, with drinks around $11, and the bar is comfortable and pleasantly backlit by a clouded mirror studded with star-like lights. I sometimes find that I mentally rank spaces like these by how badly they make me wish I could still spend long nights smoking inside at them, and this bar gets pretty high marks there.
Seating beyond the bar falls into three categories: long communal tables, small marble two-tops built in along the wall, and exceptionally nice semi-separated marble-topped booths built for four. The two of us decadently spread out at one of the latter.
We relaxed, chatted, and thoroughly ignored the menus placed before us for a while, which I mention to further illustrate how comfortable we found the space. Our waitress was adept at taking subtle walks past the table to be attentive without crowding, and we tried her patience and knowledge by tasting our way through the wine list before settling on a carafe. Regarding the wine list: it’s got a great diversity given its length, and what I saw on offer was reasonably priced enough ($9 glasses, carafes around $27, and bottles in the high thirties to low forties) to encourage one to linger.
With our wine came a complimentary appetizer: A generous serving of fresh, lightly herbed focaccia alongside a flavorful and hearty white bean dip, which our server kindly replenished once we’d demolished the first round. If this was offered at the bar, I’d happily make dinner out of it alongside a few cocktails.
The food menu has a lot to offer. Instead of tired prerequisites (as in, there’s no high-concept burger) we get a menu with lots of fish dishes and vegetables – this restaurant is perfectly tuned to the pescatarian. The food that came out was, truth be told, a little underwhelming. The striped bass was an excellent piece of fish, and I appreciate seeing an abundant and local species on the menu, but as a main dish it felt like it was lacking something. We also tried the special of house-made squash ravioli which was well sauced and had an excellent flavor but was less than excellent in texture. As for our side of escarole, you likely already know what I’m going to say: great greens, but a little watery and bland in preparation. I did happily chase down and capture every remaining bit of sauce from each of our dishes, though.
Dinner ended, as all pleasant evenings should, with espresso and cannoli, also house made. These were perfect, and there were two of them on the plate. You should bring your favorite person here and split an order of them immediately.
At some point during dinner a live jazz band started up, and I’ll agree with many of the reviews I’ve seen elsewhere about this: it adds a lot to the atmosphere and I’d love it if I were there for cocktails, but it was a touch loud as dinner music. I definitely look forward to seeing where they go with this, though, since music looks like a primary motivation for the owners.
Overall, Le Fanfare is a fantastic space in which to spend an evening. I do have some reservations about the food, which perhaps I judge harshly because every other aspect of the experience was so finely tuned and because certain dishes – that white bean dip, good god, I’m considering going there for some right now – compelled me to keep going back for another taste. I hope that, given a chance to break in and find their stride, Le Fanfare becomes a top choice for the neighborhood on nights that we want to spend sitting comfortably and living well.
Le Fanfare is at 1103 Manhattan Avenue, between Clay and Dupont Streets.
They are open Tuesday-Sunday 5.30pm-Midnight (1am on weekends).