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Brasserie Les Halles


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Not wishing to dwell unduly on bad meals, I think it's worth saying I found dinner at the downtown branch of Les Halles to be significantly less enjoyable than the meals I've had on Park Avenue. The downtown venue does have the advantage of space between the tables, and a big long bar at which to wait. It's a nice looking place altogether.

I dined with two "babes" - lucky me- and maybe we should have stuck to the classics - confit, choucroute, and so on - but they were offering some Bordelaise specials which looked interesting. The fish and leek soup, which came to the table with an overpowering smell from the leeks, was judged inedible after two diners had tasted it and sent back. It was just quite nasty - leeks in thin fish stock. Instead of anyone asking if there was a problem, the busboy promptly brought it back in a takeaway plastic container and plonked it on the table. We sent it away again.

My entrecote was fatty and stringy, and left a huge slick of oil on the plate. The marrow bone was empty of marrow. I didn't taste the duck, but my Beloved didn't like it. Steak tartare was acceptable, and the pommes frites were okay. Cheese was chilled and uninteresting.

Our waitress was harried, but at least seemed to know what was going on. Service at the busboy level was dreadful, from the takeaway soup slapped on the table between courses, through the rudeness of removing plates as each diner finished a course, to the offer of teaspoons with which to eat the cheese. It wasn't a case of someone laying for dessert, not knowing that two people had ordered cheese; no, the teaspoons were dropped noisily onto the cheeseplates. The substitution of serrated steak knives when the error was pointed out did not impress me.

There were some fair pirced wines from South West France on the list, and the $28 '95 Malbec was good.

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A recent visit to the Park avenue location was similarly disappointing. We had hoped that a decline in the quality of the entrecote was just a random event, but friends have expressed their (unsolicited) opinion that it had recently changed for the worse. We decided to give them one more chance in the coming months, otherwise we'll just have to get our entrecote at Prune.

M
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Since Les Halles Downtown is a short walk from my house, and I stop in when I'm desperate for a latish dinner, I had to check this out. I ordered a couple of the same dishes, just to see how they were.

Soupe de Poisson à la mode d'Arcachon: what this had to do with Arcachon is beyond me. Larousse says it is a town "...dear to the hearts of gastronomes and lovers of oysters. Arcachon is famous for its magnificent oyster beds." OYSTERS????? Not in this soup, that's for sure. Leeks, yes, and more leeks, and more leeks; a rather over-reduced fish stock; tasteless tiny bits of unidentifiable fish; and red wine, which gave the whole a truly bizarre tint. Although as a positive: at first it gave off a lovely aroma of ... butter!

Entrecôte à la Bordelaise: well, after all, Entrecôte IS a ribeye steak. But mine was lovely -- quite tender, hardly any removable fat, perfect quadrillage. Sorry, Wilfrid, maybe my steak karma is better than yours? :shock: However, yes, the "bone Marrow" was almost devoid of marrow. And when I picked up the bone, there was a perfect circle of grease on the sauce where it had been. It left a nice thick "O" of grease on the paper table-cover where I placed it to get it out of the way. And the 3 pieces of tournée potato felt and tasted as though they started life in a tin can. But the sauce was delicious -- much better than the shallot sauce they serve with other dishes: richer, meatier, winier.

BTW: they were out of the duck special.

The service: well, I've never had good service there. I think they are terribly understaffed on waiters, and overstaffed on bussers who probably get paid bupkes. When I asked the sullen-looking busser who cleared my soup plate for water and bread, he immediately ... went over and told my waiter, and then walked away. And the waiter could not multitask (bring bread? bring water? Not both at the same time!) yet kept telling me how they had seated too many tables at one time. (Sweetie, I really don't need or want to hear that :smile: I want bread. I want water. :smile: )

So when the "manager" came by (after walking through the entire length of both dining rooms running his hands through his hair :blink: ), and asked how everything was, I said, "Well, it took an awfully long time to get bread and water." :smile: Oh, said he. Soon thereafter my waiter came by, looking very worried: "Was there something wrong with the food?" No, everything was all right (well, the soup was semi-edible), but I told her what I told the manager about bread and water. More apologies. "He shouldn't have scared you like that," I told her. And I tipped my usual 20%.

I've got to find out which places force the waiters to tip out management; so that in a situation like this, I can hand the waiter cash and mark a big X on the charge slip where the tip goes..

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I don't know if there IS a correct angle. All I know is it should be even, so you get squares (90º) or, um, diamonds with equal sides -- Rhombi??? The main thing is not to have your marks crossing really strangely, or not at all. You know, you just pick up the slab of meat, give it a turn of 90º or so, and plop it down again. None of this pick-it-up-put-it-down-pick-it-up-put-it-down-again-and-again nonsense. UGLY!!!!!

(Please forgive me for my overweaning pride, but when I worked the grill at Match Uptown, my chef told me I marked very well. I've never forgotten that. :blush: )

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  • 5 months later...
I have never visited Les Halles (any location). What would be good items to sample during a weekend lunch visit (not the entrecote, at this point)?

the hanger steak seems to please most. and me as well. charred and blood-red in the middle. nicely marinated.

edit: i said "skirt." not sure why. :wacko:

Edited by tommy (log)
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Do not risk the downtown location. The boudin noir used to be okay, but I do not know if I have sampled it since Arnaud Carre stopped making it, so there's a risk. The frisee salad with lardons is acceptable. I would stick to the simple dishes and avoid "regional specialities" and the like.

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Now, now, Wilfrid. I quite enjoyed a shrimp cocktail I had there some months ago: the shrimp were quite large, not overly chilled, and served head on (and the whole rest of the shell as well, of course).

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I work within spitting distance of Les Halles downtown. My colleagues refer to it as "Les Hell."

It is slow, slow, slow and crowded with rich tourists and local businesspeople. Lunch took nearly two hours. But then again, a long lunch is tres French, isn't it. The food was nothing to write home about.

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  • 4 months later...

I go to the downtown one a lot, because it's close to my apartment and open late, which few other places are. The roast chicken is always reliable. Frites are pretty decent, sometimes excellent. Charcuterie plate also a safe bet, and the skirt steak. The only weird thing is that they put the good green salad on the hot plate with the meat and frites, so it cooks a bit :sad: . Duck confit salad is usually okay, too. He Who Only Eats had the choucroute a couple of weeks ago, and it was okay, nothing special. Definitely stay away from the specials. BTW, Chef Bourdain has mentioned that he is neverever at the downtown LH.

At the uptown one I like the steak tartare. But my ears need a day or two to recover (I agree with Tommy about the noise). :blink:

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In addition to the ear-shattering decibel level at the Park Av. S. location, the seating at the tables along the walls is so close that a sardine would feel uncomfortable. :shock: Of course, forget private conversation -- not that it matters, since one can barely hear one's companion anyway. :rolleyes: They do serve an excellent hanger steak and very good frites.

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I have eaten at Les Halles on Park many times. It would probably disturb me to go through my credit card statements to see how much I have spent there. Excluding the past couple of months when I have been very busy at work, I ate there three or four times a month for the past year. Generally, I sit at the bar, but if I am with other folks I will get a table. Even though the restaurant is always busy, I have never had to wait long for a table.

I really enjoy both the food and the atmosphere at Les Halles. The food is good, consistent, and fast, and the service is reliable and unpretentious. When I eat there, I generally start with a slice of the pate as an appetizer and then have the steak-frites-salade medium rare. (The steak-frites-salade is a good deal.) However, there are many other dishes that I really love including the tartiflette, the gratin de macaroni, the merguez and the faux-filet bercy. The charcuterie is also really awesome, but it is a huge dish. The wine list has a decent selection of French bottles and wines by the glass.

I don't think the restaurant is too loud, but then again, I enjoy loud crowded restaurants. And Les Halles is crowded. Even though I don't smoke, I miss the smoky bar--I really thought it added a lot of character to the place. (Of course, that is a topic for another thread. :smile: )

I think the fries are the best french fries in New York City. Bourdain bragged about them in his books, and he has every right. The fries are well made, perfectly cooked, and served hot. Most importantly, they taste great with a perfect crisp and a nice smooth center.

I am glad this thread started--I really have to get back to going to Les Halles regularly. It is out of my way since I work in Rock Center and live in Brooklyn, but it is well worth the trip for a good meal. I hope you enjoyed your meal there tonight, Dumpling.

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We went to Les Halles(Park Avenue South) Sunday night. Given the trek in from Jersey, I was hoping that it would live up to its billing. The first thing we noticed as we approached was the French feel of the building on the outside. As you enter, there is a boucherie on the right with a nice display of meats for sale. To your right is the hostess' station and the hostess who is French. The restaurant itself is set like a classic brasserie. There is a big wooden bar with an array of wines and liquors, small tables set against the walls and a few bigger tables in the center. The lighting was dim, bordering on the pitch black. I heard the captain telling another table that it was "romantic" and I suppose it might be if you were actually able to find your lover through the darkness. Of course you would not not be able to find him by calling for him, as he would not be able to hear you over the incessant beat of whatever music that was playing. My friend commented that it reminded him of Satuday Night Fever and a guy with his chest showing wearing chains. My friend's wife jokingly asked for a flashlight in order to be able to read the menu. At a certain point, however, our eyes and ears did adjust.

One of the things I've always enjoyed about France is their baguettes. It is difficult to find comparable here. Just before I would leave on the plane, the last thing I would usually do was get a baguette, a last vestige of France to take with me. Zagat's describes LH as "Almost Paris" and the bread does not disappoint. It is very close; even the butter is like the President butter which is all over the country. In addition to the baguette, other bread with a country taste was also served.

Our captain addressed us in a relaxed, almost laconic, and easy manner. He ran the specials and we(5) ordered things he recommended-the hanger steak, rib eye, steak au poivre and the duck special. First, however, we started with escargots and foie gras with prunes. The escargots were plump and nice, although the sauce was rather bland. The general consensus with the foie gras was that it was overpowered by its sauce. The sauce was very much appreciated for dipping for the bread. When the entrees arrived, the steaks which had been ordered medium rare were served too rare and had to be sent back. My steak au poivre which I had ordered medium was cooked just right although the pepper was a little too much. When the other steaks returned they were done exactly right and were quite good. All the steaks were accompanied by a little salad and frites. The frites are definitely the specialty of the restaurant and are excellent, crispy on the outside, soft and hot inside, very nicely done. For $17.50, you can get a rump steak, the frites and salad. The fifth meal was enjoyed by our youngest compatriot. Josh, the 14 year old, was enamored of his duck special, roast duck breast pieces served medium rare over spinach and mashed potatoes with a delicious accompanying sauce. He saved one piece of duck until after he ate everything else, so that the duck would be the last thing in his mouth. At least until the dessert.

We shared creme brulee, profiteroles and the warm bananna and chocolate tart, my favorite being the creme brulee. With the coffee came a little square of something that tasted like a brownie.

The service throughout the meal was good. Water was assiduously refilled, our bread was replaced and the captain checked on us a couple of times to make sure everything was okay. I did not find it too crowded but it was a Sunday night which the hostess said is an easier night. It was however, full by the time we left, although not overly so. I had to change the reservation twice but the restaurant had no problem with that, again probably because it was Sunday.

If you can chalk up the lighting and the din to the rollicking charm of the place, the experience as my friend noted was quite "lovely", a nice time with solid classic brasserie food.

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My husband and I ate at Les Halles last October. We were on our way to dinner at Mesa Grill, and happened to pass by Les Halles. I decided to go in and make a reservation for the next night.

We were in NYC only three days, hubby not having been there since the late 70s, and there was lots to do/eat. Unfortunately, that was the day we stopped for Belgian fries, so were completely fried-out when we got to Les Halles.

I had the onglet, and double salad hold the frites. Hubby ordered a special -- a porterhouse, I believe it was -- with the salad and frites. Both steaks tasted great, but when we got the bill and saw the porterhouse was in the neighborhood of $32, we decided my onglet was definitely the tastier of the two.

Apart from the sticker shock, we enjoyed our meal at Les Halles.

Kathy

Minxeats
http://www.foodloversguidetobaltimore.com/'>Food Lovers' Guide to Baltimore

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We were at dinner with Dumpling on Sunday, and I agree with her review... EXCEPT..

The music didn't remind us of Saturday Night Fever.... the incessant repetitive beat reminded us of the Saturday Night Live sketches where the two guys at the bar were trying to pick up (and constantly being rejected by) women. It wasn't the same song as in the sketches, but it seemed to go on and on and on and on. There was a brief point where the music stopped... and it was a relief. I suppose the twitching will stop sooner or later < s >

As Dumpling said, the entrees and deserts were quite good, but the appetizers were disappointing.

Edited by alanz (log)
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One thing I forgot to mention... it was REALLY dark in the restaurant.

We only half jokingly asked for a flashlight. There is a place in NJ called "The Restaurant" that is also very dark, but the waiters do hand you little flashlights when they give you the menu.

The waiter made that funny remark about it being romantic, but in fact, the table next to us had some older patrons who simply could not read ANYTHING on the menu because of the lighting. The waiter basically verbally enumerated the menu, which in and of itself is a difficult way to select a dish (it's like the waiter telling you about 30 specials... how would you remember them, or even guess at the prices?).

It's not just my 50 year old eyeballs that had trouble... our kids did too. We were able to finally view the menus after our eyes adjusted for quite a while, but it really was straining to do it.

So, as charming and romantic as a dark restaurant may be, I believe it would serve the customers to make their menus as easy as possible to read.

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Dumpling, thanks for the thorough review. I eat at LH fairly often, and found your review to mirror my experiences there.

My two cents on Les Halles:

Noisy and cramped (but that's part of its personality)

Reasonably good service

Great frites, even better when dipped in sauce with hanger steak

Very good to excellent hanger steak, lots of flavor

Intriguing, reasonably priced wine list from good producers

Excellent bar selection (the only place I've ever seen Belle de Brillet in the USA outside of Daniel Boulud's restaurants)

I usually stick to the hanger steak/frites/salad combo for $17.50. One of the best bangs for the buck in NYC I think. I don't bother ordering expensive specials or higher end steaks at Les Halles, as there are better dining options in that price range.

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I have been to the downtown NYC Les Halles twice and have been underwhelmed both times, despite being a fan of Bourdain and the whole concept of the restaurant. The menu seems more limited downtown and the service left much to be desired. The best dish I've had on either visit was the Tartiflette (Gratin of reblochon cheese with bacon and fingerling potatoes), which is kind of like getting upscale potato skins. The duck confit and poulet basquaise were ok, but not particularly inspiring. Given the comments, it seems that the downtown location is quieter, but the service has definitely been lacking. My wife has been wanting to try the Park Avenue location so I expect we will soon.

Edited by mikeycook (log)

"If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony."

~ Fernand Point

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one note on the crazy/noisy/loud aspect of the downtown Les Halles location: For lunch it is indeed bordering on insane. Forget about quick service altogether. But that's because of the location -- close to Wall Street, full of business lunchers, commuters & the occasional tourist.

For dinner, it's considerably more sedate. It can even veer toward sleepy some evenings. And it's a lot easier to get into than the Park Ave. location.

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