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NYC French Bistrots


ieatfire
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Balthazar and Pastis - Expensive and hard to get a table at peak times, but both do quality renditions of many French bistro classics. As much as I hate to admit it, these trendy see-and-be-seen restaurants offer better French bistro food than much of the competition in NYC.

I think that they certainly do not. I can't speak for Pastis, but I recently ate dinner at Balthazar. I wasn't put off by all the hype - it had only served to heighten my anticipation of a "great" bistro meal. But I got a meal that reminded me of the food served years ago by Restaurant Associates in New York, food that tasted like it had been cooked earlier in the day in central kitchens, and sent to the restaurants to recreate that "airline meal" experience right at your table.

At Balthazar a few days after Christmas, two of started with Salades Lyonnaise, which were simply unremarkable, and whatever was taking the place of bacon was not at all enjoyable. We split a Foie Gras Mousse that had seen better days (I hope) and had to be sent back. And then we had the Confit de Canard, again an unremarkable version, which certainly tasted as if it had been dunked in the deep fryer to crisp it up.

At the other end of the spectrum of bistro experiences would be the much-touted Tournesol in Long Island City. The food there is bright and crisp when it's supposed to be, and moist and juicy when it's supposed to be, and tastes not only like it was cooked on the spot, but by a great chef at that. But it's not surprising. The owners are French, the chef is French, and the place is small enough that they can manage the meals they serve with great care. In a sense I hate to send more people to this tiny, already crowded place, but this is what really good bistro food tastes like in France. And the experience - warm, friendly, jovial, generous people who cook for you, serve you, and care about your enjoyment of your meal with them! It's like a quick trip to France minus the airfare and jet-lag.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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Went to Les Halles last night for dinner for the first time in about two years. It was marvelous. The restaurant was mobbed (we had 9:30 reservations) and we were seated about ten minutes late, which seemed more than reasonable given the number of people waiting and how apologetic the hostesses were.

The meal was wonderful. My husband had the grilled calamari salad and steak frites (perfectly cooked to the right temp). I had escargots and plump and juicy moules marnieres. For dessert he had profiteroles and I had the cheese plate :wub: . We split a very tasty burgundy. He had scotch after dinner, I had calvados. I was thoroughly impressed. The food was excellent. The service, even though they were swamped, was attentive and friendly. Truly a terrific experience.

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I'm pretty new to NYC but even more so with french bistros. However I did manage to make it over to Les Halles on Saturday. I didn't mind the noise or the cramped seating, because I pretty much came for the food and to see what the place was like after reading Kitchen Confidential. We both tried things we hadn't had before instead of going with the traditional steak and frites route. My only problem was that when a shard of metal was found in my girlfriend's meal, the server just said "ok" and walked away. It won't keep me away by any means for seconds, but I guess I can expect the apathetic "wham bam thank you mam" service next time. Oh, and the frites were the best by far.

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I wouldn't go back. Had your girlfriend injured herself, they could and should have been facing a lawsuit. The word "fuckers" came to my mind when reading this, and I wasn't even there!

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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That's a bit strange, I must say...perhaps the waitron didn't hear you right or something.

I love Les Halles. It fills a niche, food-wise, which is all I've ever needed it to. And (even more so for the DC location) it's a great place to have a serious drink in the middle of a Sunday afternoon. I remember (foggily :-) ) spending the better part of one Sunday mid-aft with a friend at the Park Ave. LH, tasting armagnacs.

Jake Parrott

Ledroit Brands, LLC

Bringing new and rare spirits to Washington DC.

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I agree with the comment about La Golue being the place to "see & be seen," not the place to eat. I stopped in for a bite recently, and was disappointed by the food. We ordered a cheese plate that was attractively garnished with walnuts and candied quince, but with barely enough fromage to feed an anorexic fly, let alone "l'appetite Americaine."

I'd also add Cafe Deville (3rd Ave & 13th St.) and L'Express to your list. L'Express is more brasserie than bistro, but it's open 24 hours. I do love that I can get rillettes round the clock.

Based on markk's description, I really want to try Tournesol.

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A reaction like that from the server is an indication of management's lack of care, poor training of staff or a staff that's not interested in the success of the restaurant or a long term position there. I suppose I might add it's also an indication of the server's lack of interest in a good tip. As tommy says, "either way, not good."

I once found a particularly nasty piece of metal in a loaf of bread. I returned to the place and asked to see the manager to whom I displayed my evidence. His reaction seemed genuinely concerned enough that I continued to patronize the bakery and won't name the extablishment here. I recall his offering me free loaves, but that wasn't the point of my visit, not could he have adequately compensated me if I sensed a lack of concern.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I was interested in trying some of the places mentioned in this thread that I've never visited. So I recently had dinner at Jarnac.

The food was decent, but nothing special by NYC standards. Certainly a cut above a place like Jardin Bistro, but also more expensive. There were a few classics on the menu (roast chicken, cassoulet) though the menu was not as much of a classic bistro/french menu as at places like Les Halles or Balthazar. The menu was also fairly limited, and I wouldn't be surprised if it changed often.

I don't put any stock in Zagat's, and Jarnac's food score of 24 in Zagat confirms my skepticism. I would have rated it more around 19 or 20 with a place like @SQC scoring a recent 19.

While the food didn't blow me away, I loved the ambience of room and service could not have been friendlier. My date and I were also able to walk in a get a good table at 8:30 pm without any hassle. The chef came out to each table to greet the diners and make sure everyone was satisfied with their meal.

Overall, it was a very pleasant experience. Jarnac isn't a place I'd frequent, as it's too expensive for everyday meals and not quite exciting enough to compete with my urge to spend a few more bucks and go to a place like Cafe Boulud or Veritas. Still, I'd return on a date just for the fine service and charming atmosphere.

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Last week, a food mag publisher took me to a truly time-warp lunch at LE VEAU D'OR on East 60th Street. Open since 1943, the menu appears to have changed not at all since ; a compendium of lost bistro classics, deposited on the plate sans-garnish of any kind. The room is dusty, forlorn, with a mix of East side mummies and devoted solo afficianados sitting on weathered banquettes. ( A stranger waylaid me as I stoked up on nicotine out front: "Oh!! You know about this place!! It's SO great! This is my special place! Don;t tell anyone about it!) The ancient proprietor (the sole server)--in black and white waiter garb--throws your coat over a disused table and seats you. Drinks are said to often be self-service from the bar. It's the Restaurant That Time Forgot. I had celeri remoulade, my friend the leek (poireau) vinaigrette, followed by rognons de veau dijonnaise over white rice (and navarin of lamb). As regular MENU items, they continue to serve brains in beurre noir, and tripes a la mode de Caen and other dino-classics. I had Isle Flotant (!!) for dessert.

The food was much better than I expected, dead-on authentic (indistinguishable from similar run-of-the-mill Parisian joints) and LOTS of fun. For ambiance and presentation, a true step back into a past I thought had disappeared decades ago.

Which leads me to a question:

Anyone been to Tout Va Bien lately?

Ok, so can anyone tell me where this Veau D'Or place is on 60th?

I love a good trip through the culinary time warp every now and then.

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Ok, so can anyone tell me where this Veau D'Or place is on 60th?

Google

Le Veau D'Or, (212) 838-8133, 129 E 60th St,

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Actually, the waitress did hear her as she picked up the metal object, looked at it, said "ok" then walked in the back. But neither my girlfriend or I are upset, just a bit surprised. I think that particular waitress was a bit stand offish and rude.

Please describe your server for the metal-in-food incident and if it rings a bell, I will see to it she becomes quickly unemployed.

abourdain

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where could this shard of metal come from? was it mixed in with the food? or just on the plate. either way, not good.

It probably came from the steel brushes we use to clean All-Clad pans. Once in awhile a sliver get caught in the bolts near the handle. The pan drys and goes into rotation behind the line. The chef misses it while busy. It's happened to me twice in 10 years. I comped dinner both times. I feel bad for the waitress now but Tony's right, she has to alert management.

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The word "fuckers" came to my mind when reading this, and I wasn't even there!

I think using the plural is unwarranted. "Clueless twit" comes to my mind. Any decent waitron should know to bend over backwards if something goes wrong with a customer's experience.

This is why, when I'm Empress, everyone will have to work in a restaurant for at least six months. People need to learn to appreciate the meaning of the word "service." Part of serving means not having an ego about what people order. (E.g., "You want your meat cooked HOW?!?!?") Another part, the biggest part, involves taking care of people, the operative word being "care." This waitress is lacking the care part, big time. I wonder if she can be taught, anywhere, by anyone. If your customer gets a metal shard in their food, you need to be conciliatory and you need to get the manager. Now.

The worst thing I ever found in my meal, bar none, was the cigarette butt in my cashew chicken at Jimmy Wong's in San Diego. Missing the tobacco. No, they didn't comp: I was such a wuss I paid for the meal. Kids, don't try this at home.

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Mr Bourdain, thank for the tip about Le Veau D'Or. Went there for lunch last week and it was a great experience. Robert (the proprietor) and a regular customer regaled me with many amusing stories and the food was a bargain for $20. I had the celery remoulade, hanger steak with shallot butter and frites, and a toasted almond and caramel crepe with ice cream. I love traveling in the time warp every so often, and for this reason I will miss Lutece.

For those of you with similar inclinations, or just seeking a deal on a three course French bistro menu in midtown, Le Veau D'Or is worth a visit. Just don't tell too many people.....

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Pretty good meal the other night at Les Halles (for the persnickety: LAY-AHL, and a brasserie, not a bisto). Very nice frisée with lardons, a Roquefort-topped crouton, and a dressing with a secret ingredient (chicken liver); delicious foie gras with coarse salt and prunes in a reduction (liver + salt + prunes + sauce = a beautiful array of tastes and textures in each bite); tasty but slightly tough (and too thin) entrecôte; tough and not-so-tasty veal paillard, insufficiently redeemed by its sage butter (I’m told that the D.C. branch has better veal); fresh, crisp, meaty fries that could have been just a shade browner and tastier; nice greens with more of that dressing; good mixed berries. Excellent service by all, albeit at a slack hour. Fun as always. $107 for two with foie gras supplement and non-alcoholic beverages.

"To Serve Man"

-- Favorite Twilight Zone cookbook

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  • 8 months later...

Bistros seem to get short shrift on the NY Egullet. I see a lot of cuisine gourmande discussed, and also fast food. But the bistros are part of Manhattan life, a fun break from the more serious meal. More relaxed, more social, it is one of my favorite ways to have a meal and linger over a few glasses of wine.

I would like to see some feedback of some of your favorite bistros in Manhattan..

I enjoy Bandol Bistro, on East 78th just off 3rd. The environment looks like you are in France; low lighting, intimate setting, little "zinc" on one side-- food is wonderful, and they have an extensive wine list with over 20 choices available by the glass. (In case everyone in the group wants something different).

I've also heard good things about Village, on 9th St. just off 6th, and a newcomer, Le Quinze, on Houston and Sullivan Sts.

Let's hear some other folks favorites!

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Bistros seem to get short shrift on the NY Egullet.  I see a lot of cuisine gourmande discussed, and also fast food.  But the bistros are part of Manhattan life, a fun break from the more serious meal.  More relaxed, more social, it is one of my favorite ways to have a meal and linger over a few glasses of wine. 

I agree, menton1!

Here's one thread that discusses bistros.

A new bistro, Jolie, has recently opened in Brooklyn, on Atlantic Ave. Bacchus is another bistro on Atlantic, a little farther east. In the same basic area, there are a ton of bistros on Smith Street, only one of which I've tried: Bar Tabac. It's dark and cozy, and served me a good skirt steak.

JJ Goode

Co-author of Serious Barbecue, which is in stores now!

www.jjgoode.com

"For those of you following along, JJ is one of these hummingbird-metabolism types. He weighs something like eleven pounds but he can eat more than me and Jason put together..." -Fat Guy

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Bistros seem to get short shrift on the NY Egullet.  I see a lot of cuisine gourmande discussed, and also fast food.  But the bistros are part of Manhattan life, a fun break from the more serious meal.  More relaxed, more social, it is one of my favorite ways to have a meal and linger over a few glasses of wine.

Perhaps bistros get shorted on eGullet, but if, as you say, they are less serious, it's understandable that people will have less to say after just recommending them, or not recommending them
I enjoy Bandol Bistro, on East 78th just off 3rd.  The environment looks like you are in France; low lighting, intimate setting, little "zinc" on one side--  food is wonderful, and they have an extensive wine list with over 20 choices available by the glass. (In case everyone in the group wants something different). 
The one thing I like about dining in France is that restaurants are well lit, although bistros tend to a bit dimmer than fine restaurants. How different that is here. An extensive list of wines by the glass is a positive factor, though I've not found that to remind me of France.
I've also heard good things about Village, on 9th St. just off 6th, and a newcomer, Le Quinze, on Houston and Sullivan Sts. 
Regrettably, we were not all that pleased with le Quinze. We found the food lukewarm, literally and figuratively. Well conceived dishes were poorly executed and poorly conceived dishes were nicely garnished. Nothing clicked and the food was tepid although there were few occupied tables.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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this topic HAS appeared previously in different guises, but i never get tired of the subject, for selfish reasons, i.e., i'm always in search of. so here goes:

agree with bux re: le quinze, oddly, they don't seem to care - weird.

best of the lot (pour moi):

landmarc - not technically a bistro, but pretty darn close.

balthazar/pastis - technically brasseries, but no one seems to differentiate in nyc.

gavroche - very bistro, but unfortunately their wines are marked up too much. i wish they would get the hint, but i doubt they ever will.

le gigot - reluctant to include, but qualifies, just barely.

orsay & la goulue - expensive, snobbish, but beautiful, & the food is good.

quatorze bis - again, not technically french, or a bistro, but perhaps the closest nyc rendition.

believe the oft-touted raoul's is way past its halycon days, & living on its glorious past. touristy, cramped, expensive - why go? the raoul brothers no longer go, nor do the starlets!!

bandol, la tour, brasserie julien, le clown, jacques brasserie - what is the difference between these, other than proximity? so-so food, so-so wines, so-so atmosphere.

what does makes a bistro, a bistro, in nyc?? with due credit, someone else here elequently stated the following, with a couple of my additions:

1. if 1 can close their eyes, & almost believe they are sitting in a parisian bistrot.

2. warm & cozy with french musique @ low volume, in the background. lighting, not too bright, not too dim; lace curtains.

3. the classic bistro dishes - duh!

4. a french wine list with reasonably priced bar à vin wines, i.e., beaujolais, alsace, provence, loire, etc... also agree with bux re: should be more bottles vs. wines by the glass (a la Landmarc). AND, someone should know that regardless of wine by the glass or by the bottle, reds should be served at less than 70F!!!, & whites should be served warmer than ice-cold!!! & when an ice bucket is provided, it should be filled with ice AND water, to the top, without having to ask.

5. several french-speaking personal, & should have a french chef/owner & preferably a french hostess.

6. should have french on the "la addition": merci, à bientôt, etc... i.e., its in the details that count.

7. know what french apéritifs are & how to serve

are there any faux-bistros in nyc that have all of the above? if so, i have NOT found. quite frankly, its pretty sad that the most exciting, interesting, cosmopolitan city in the world ,that also has a fairly large french population does not have a "real" honest-to-goodness bistrot, but many fakes!!!! my vote would have to go to la goulue for the closest, but its really too chi-chi & somewhat geographically undesirable to really be a go-to "neighborhood" bistro!!! balthazar, although a brasserie, is a good candidate BUT, also tough geographically, unless one is lucky enough to live in SoHo. unfortunately though, the wines are grossly overpriced, its too touristy, & one cannot just walk in & expect to be seated, either at a table or at the bar, but nevertheless, it is always fun!

Edited by jgould (log)
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