IT WAS INEVITABLE: as art galleries and glitzy restaurants proliferated in the Pearl District, they were bound to start butting up against NW Broadway, those four lanes that both psychologically and geographically separate our city’s arts and shopping district from what has become our neglected Chinatown. While no upscale entrepreneurs have actually jumped the asphalt border, the owners of Chez Joly, a new French bistro on the corner of NW Broadway and Davis Street, took a risk by becoming the first restaurant to open on Broadway in a long time. And by locating themselves right across the street from Embers, one of the neighborhood’s many dreary dens of smoke-fueled late-night debauchery, they aren’t necessarily going to be graced by the typically well-off Pearl passersby.
With its red leather banquettes, gold-painted chandeliers, and red-velvet brocade chairs, Chez Joly may at first appear the rich aunt to its rather dowdy second cousins over in Chinatown. But the food served here is anything but uppity. Coq au vin. Boeuf bourguignon. Pommes frites. Celeri remoulade. This is all classic French comfort food made by chefs and home cooks living on either side of the fence. Judging by the restaurant’s schedule— it’s open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and food is served until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights— Chez Joly is poised to see a fairly diverse clientele walk through its doors. Perhaps bike commuters or bus riders will begin to come regularly for a stack of pain perdu and a café au lait before work. Power lunchers in white button-downs already fill the place for lunch, trading signatures and settling business deals over shrimp Provençal and quiche Lorraine. During dinner hours, I’ve seen an off-duty cop waiting for a seat as a rowdy young couple feasted on fries and lamb burgers.
As for the food, the cooks still seem to be getting the hang of the extensive menuéa lentil salad came out mushy and was served on a sorry bed of wilted greens, and a slice of quiche Lorraine arrived with an herbed top-crust that was overly brown. But if the kitchen can get dishes as time-tested as these right, Chez Joly just may be the bridge over one of our city’s most stubborn divides.