New York City French Dining with a Certain 'Je Ne Sais Quoi'



Once upon a time, in a mid-century New York City of yore, the only “good” restaurants were French restaurants. Namedropping with an exceptional French accent meant that you knew what fine dining was in New York City. America's ample agricultural resources were being replaced by industrialized factories and farming initiatives at breakneck speed. Young American chefs looked to the Old Country as a guide on what to eat, where to go and how to eat it. Fussy dishes like sole a la meuniere and lobster thermidor were the height of chic, and rich, buttery sauces were the name of the game.

While these heavy-hitting classics do still retain some luster, there is much more to French food than meets the lobster press. Fortunately, new world French cooking has reinvented French fare in these Etats Unis, coupling impeccable technique with bold flavors, local products and fresh seafood straight from the Atlantic. Now, at tables across New York City, chefs serve French cuisine with different degrees of American accents. From Eric Ripert's tireless pursuit of perfection at Le Bernardin, to La Grenouille's decades of elevating the old guard, to Benoit's cassoulet in winter, or neighborhood favorites like La Mirabelle and La Bonne Soupe, New York has no shortage of delightful French dining at every price point.

Bon appetit!



10

 

Tucked amid brownstones in the Sutton Place The Gallic charm begins the moment the accented wait staff greets you in this picturesque three story townhouse, nothing could seem more urban or more French. Owner-chef Pascal Petiteau specializes in signature Gallic classics at Bistro Vendôme, and he has gained a reputation for moules-frites, available here in five variations. This is where you'll taste the classics as they were meant to be: escargot bathed in a rich and fragant parsley and garlic-butter sauce, to mussels Provencale with crispy French fries; tailed by floating islands of meringue in creme anglaise with toasted almonds. On warm summer nights ask for a table on the terrace. Burgers are not too shabby at $22, served at the bar.


9
La Bonne Soupe


 

On an unremarkable Midtown block, bi-level La Bonne Soupe provides classic bistro fare and a peaceful respite from the chain restaurants and camera-toting crowds that is modern-day Times Square. A low-key crowd of neighborhood regulars, homesick French ex-pats and the occasional pre- or post-theatre group settle into the banquettes and wooden tables of the warmly lit space, which has two levels of seating, framed posters of Edith Piaf concerts and Pedro Almodovar films on the walls and a bistro-tiled bar in the back. The casually welcoming staff dish out rib-sticking favorites like crepes stuffed with leeks and goat cheese, enormous plates of salade nicoise and, of course, Gruyere-topped soupe a l'oignon, all at remarkably low prices.


8


 

Old-school in all the right ways, La Grenouille is an institution that has outlasted real estate shifts, economic collapses and the birth of so-called "high-low" cuisine. But, hey: plus les choses changent, plus elles restent les mêmes. Since 1962, generations of the Masson family have served classic French haute cuisine such as frog legs Provencal, grilled sole with mustard sauce and endive salad with pears, walnuts and Roquefort. The traditional French fare is accompanied by more modern dishes like zucchini blossoms in ravigote sauce, a 40-bottle wine cellar heavy on Bruts and Grand Crus, and, of course, flowers. Lots of flowers. The minuscule dining room is punctuated by enormous bouquets that demand attention â€" tastefully, of course.


7


 

A stunning brasserie with buzz to spare, Balthazar is perennially packed with a well-heeled, see-and-be-seen crowd that spans investment bankers, media moguls and, more often than not, an oversized-sunglass-wearing celebrity or four. The escargot, braised in garlic and white wine, is a favorite, as is the classic tarte tatin. Its onion soup voted one of three best in the city (the other two are on this list). Linger over a glass (or several bottles) of wine, and you're sure to see at least one boldfaced name. The highly coveted rear booths are unofficially reserved for the truly elite, so let your glance pass over all the restaurant's flatteringly lit nooks and crannies. Be cool. This is New York, after all.


6


 

La Mirabelle often appears at the top of lists of most loved neighborhood restaurants. Unstuffy, honest and gentle, its patrons have been returning for decades. Annick Le Douaron, a transplanted Breton, brought her love of bistro fare, fresh ingredients and European hospitality to this corner of the city. Although this chatelaine of La Mirabelle passed away last year, her daughter Natalie and her husband have embraced the role. Highly recommended is the roasted duckling with plums, which is crispy, juicy, while the sweetbreads are rich and memorable. The dining room is cozy but not crowded and unlike many new venues, you need not strain to hear your dining partner. Softly lit, the walls are decorated with Gallic paintings of rustic scenes that set the tone.


5


 

Something exciting has happened at that iconic bistro, Benoit. Alain Ducasse is a world traveller and it is explicitly expressed in the fact that he likes to open French restaurants outside of France, such as Tokyo and Osaka. Of course, the original centenarian Benoit is in Paris, and the New York version welcomed a brand new team this year. With Executive Chef Laëtitia Rouabah in place, Benoit is ushering in a new era. Alongside Rouabah is the young Head Pastry Chef Thomas Padovani, who hails from Corsica. Together they focus on the New York Meets Paris approach that includes new interpretations respecting traditional fare. Young and up-and-coming winemakers are spotlighted with rotating wine flights such as the Vine a la Ficelle system where guest pay based on the amount of wine consumed.


4
Upper East Side


 

This Central Park stunner is still sparkling after all these years. First opened in 1993, the fine dining institution has introduced impeccable French fare courtesy of Michelin mainstay Daniel Boulud to two decades of Upper East Side diners. The restaurant received a significant facelife from a 2008 redesign by Adam Tihany (One & Only Cape Town, Dinner London), bringing a fresh energy to a dining room filled with the expense account-wielding, Brioni suit- and Hermes scarf-wearing set. By all counts, Boulud's fare is as unrelenting as ever, with signature dishes like roasted halibut, served with Thai basil and a mellow yogurt-curry sauce, providing an indulgent argument for white tablecloth fine dining.


3


 

Celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongrichten has a culinary empire that spans the globe, but his eponymous restaurant connected to the Upper West Side's tony Trump Hotel remains a gold standard for the chef's subtly Asian-inflected, French haute cuisine. His now-legendary salmon tartare and young garlic soup remain enormously popular with Harry Winston-wearing hotel guests, well-dressed ladies who lunch, and top-tier executives from nearby Hearst offices. The front room, Nougatine, was recently remodeled with a sleek, modern aesthetic, neutral color palette and increasingly casual atmosphere. Both dining rooms, however, maintain their stalwart service standard, expense account-worthy cuisine and bright, dappled natural light over Central Park West.


2


 

Sirio Maccioni developed his first taste for the New York restaurant business in the 1960s as a maitre d'hotel. In 1974, Sirio opened what was destined to become a New York landmark: "the circus" or Le Cirque. Since then, Le Cirque has moved several times but retained its ability to provide an eccentric and elegant atmosphere. Over the years circus balls, monkeys, and tent shades have become associated with Le Cirque, but the heart of it is the Maccioni family. Entertain yourself by discreetly watching celebrities and socialites. The interior features a stunning two-story " wine tower," an all-glass bar and plenty of big top-inspired flare. Reservations, jacket, tie and best behavior required.


1


 

Opened in 1986 by Gilbert and Maguy Le Coze, this award-winning restaurant is a respite from the Rockefeller Center and Bryant Park crowds in Manhattan's Midtown East. The menu focuses on seafood-centric, high-end French fare, all the work of the legendary, Antibes-born chef and co-owner Eric Ripert. The understated dining room is a study in beige, with white tablecloths gleaming in bright natural light from large, south-facing picture windows. The four-course, prix fixe dinner menu includes sauteed merluza with foie gras and turnips, classic Dover sole and "almost raw" first-course options like chilled Beausoleil oysters and wild striped bass tartare served with Champagne-mango reduction.


Map

Meet Maria Lisella

No matter how many countries Maria Lisella has visited (62), this native New Yorker finds the world at her doorstep in amazing Queens where its residents speak 138 languages.

Maria writes...  More About Maria

×