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Best French Bistro in NYC?

Hi. I used to live in NYC but i came back to Luzech (Southern France). I am back in the city for 2 weeks and I have a very special birthday that I would like to celebrate in a GREAT Bistro, but I am outdated, lost... I remember going to balthazar, artisanal, payard, raoul's, pastis, odeon, gavroche back in the days...BUT which is the Best Bistro as of Today? I will REALLY appreciate the help. jacques

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  1. Jacques, I haven't a clue as to the "best" bistro in nyc, but I've enjoyed Lucien's on First and First (mixed reviews among the Hounds, but I've always enjoyed it). I keep wanting to go to Gascogne, on Eigthth Ave. around 18th St., which has been well-reviewed.

    I'm sure the bistro experts will soon pipe up and share the best, though. Happy Special Birthday....make it one in which you Bistro-hop!

    6 Replies
    1. re: 280 Ninth

      I have been to Gascogne on both my trips to NYC and love the place... especially the courtyard... but the food is great

      1. re: Mel

        Does anyone have had a bad or mediocre experience at Gascogne?I think im going for it...

        1. re: jacques gaudet

          I've been to Artisanal (has a prix fixe) more recently and Balthazar some time ago. Both are lively, noisy, crowded (I need to be in the mood for the bistro scene).
          I want to try Gascogne next. You might want to do a search of this site to see what comes up for Gascogne. You can find menus on menupages.com.

          1. re: jacques gaudet

            Never had a problem, plus they have a lovely garden!

            1. re: jacques gaudet

              I love this place.. i have had the cassoulet which is wonderful.. the specials also are great... i had a mango crab salad, hubby had seared scallops.... i also had duck another time... enjoy it!

          2. re: 280 Ninth

            i like Lucien too, especially the bouillabaise and steak frites and endive salade...i also like Balthazar...never been to Gascogne but have heard very good things here...

          3. Because "French Bistro" has not been the fashion for a number of years, you won't find the scene much changed. I would say that Odeon and Raoul's have declined since their heyday. Balthazar is still doing what it always did (as, I expect, is Pastis, although I haven't been). I can't think of a new bistro which surpasses this standard.

            Cafe d'Alsace on the UES made a splash when it opened, partly because it's a bleak neighborhood for dining, but also for the unusual and extensive beer list. Might be worth a thought. In any case, I think the best in the city has long been L'Absinthe.

            1. I'm not sure why you'd want to come all the way over here to go to a French Bistro when you live in France.

              Why not go somewhere really good that isn't a charicature of what you already have at home? Having said that, there's a really good, fairly unknown (no scene) bistro on 54th between 1st and 2nd called Jubilee.

              I really enjoyed Cafe D'Alsace then I went there a few weeks ago. Heard good things about Lucien, but havent' been there myself.

              5 Replies
              1. re: egit

                i just like the whole 'french bistro' construction in new york city, i used to like it when i lived here and i miss it. I also have to say that i live in luzech (a small rural village in the south, with INCREDIBLE food but there are no bistros there, just great food in your own garden) not in Paris. thanks from the recommendations, i will love to hear more.

                1. re: jacques gaudet

                  I can tell you where not to go at thats Les Halles..

                  1. re: Daniel76

                    Daniel, what's wrong with Le Halles, exactly?

                    I am just asking because I have never eaten there.

                    1. re: roger_gastronomy

                      I can only speak for Les Halles downtown location which is very inconsistent. It's a shame because I used to go and it's open on weekends (many places dowtown close on the weekends).

                      1. re: roger_gastronomy

                        Park location is super loud, super crowded, with long waits for poor service. The food is good enough, but it's a trying overall experience. On a saturday night, we waited 45 min past our 9:30 res for a table in a cold corner. Weeknights might be different, with less people going for the ghost of A Bourdain.....

                2. Not sure which is the best, but I have two personal favorites right now. For casual inexpensive left bank type place--La Bonne Soup. For more of a right bank feel and a little for expensive, Petite Auberge on Lexington.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Ora

                    i wouldn't know what to choose between Gavroche, Balthazar or Payard...is L'Absynthe really good? Oh and Raoul's used to have a nice patio, but i heard the food is not what is was.

                  2. Took my wife to Le gigot on Cornelia street in the village last year for her bday and we just loved it. A small neighborhood bistro with top notch food, service and cozy space. The owner sources her oysters from an island in the pacific NW and explained to us how she found them during a trip. Solid classics that did not disappoint. Excellent wines paired by the waiter. Honestly we never got past the starters menu. Started with a dozen oysters (buttery smooth, small and clean flavor) and then worked our way down the list matching wines along the way. Have gone back on special occasions just to get the oysters and wine.

                    Enjoy!

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: pulled pork

                      How could I forget Le Gigot--sweet little place (though a tad pricey).

                      1. re: Ora

                        so between le gigot, balthazar l'absynthe and let's say gavroche....what would you choose?

                          1. re: Ora

                            better than gascogne or l'absinthe?

                            1. re: gurmanda

                              I was less than impressed w/ L'Absinthe - thought it was over priced and the food mediocre. Only went once b/c of that though, so I may have hit them on an off night. Le Gigot is wonderful and IMHO much better than L'Absinthe. Haven't been to Gascogne since the early 90s so I won't comment (that's just out of ignorance of how their food might be today).

                    2. the former chef at Odeon is now at Cafe Cluny in the west village on West 12th street. it isn't rigidly traditional, but the execution on dishes that come out of the kitchen far exceed Pastis/Balthazar. Highlights include the frisee lardon salad and the duck confit, both of which are excellent.

                      1. Jean Claude is my favorite. Used to be really cheap, too. I also like Bistro du Jardin.

                        1. Jardin Bistro has fallen on hard times. Try Bistro Les Amis on Spring.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: dawnfawn

                            thanks so much...i am still undecided: are these better than Raoul's? is Raoul's really not good anymore?

                          2. I don't know what the best one is, but we love Balthazars...wonderful every time...

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: jinet12

                              Don't ask me how, what with the same owners and much the same menu, but Balthazar is very good and Pastis is lousy.

                              I have written more detailed reviews of both places on here, but for now I will just save you the trouble and summarize as above.

                              1. re: seal

                                Interesting, I hear people share that opinion, but I have have had better food at Pastis than Balthazaar.

                              1. re: gurmanda

                                I do not live in NY, but I have been there about 20 times. I have also been to France 27 times.
                                I thought Gascogne, on my one visit last winter, was an amateurish joke. La Goule is not any better (how did it get a Michelin star?); there are 500 Paris cafes that serve better food. Balthazaar looks French, but it is extremely oppressive and the food mostly not French at all.
                                I have never found a decent so-called French bistro in NY, but if you move up a notch to Fleur de Sel, you can eat well.

                                1. re: Jerrysfriend

                                  What was "oppressive" about Balthazar? And, while I actually like some of the food at La Goulue, I have absolutely no idea how they got a Michelin star. Once I saw that after buying the guide, I put it in the waste paper basket. Fleur de Sel is a place we keep meaning to try ....

                                  1. re: MMRuth

                                    I have been to Balthazar three times. Every time it was a noisy, packed madhouse. Not my idea of pleasant dining. Some of the food was pretty good, but pot pie and Beef Strogonoff are not French dishes. The plateau de fruit de mer was good, but there was no way to eat the cockles, as there were no pins. When I asked for some they seemed startled (you are going to actually eat those things?) and supplied me with some wood toothpicks. They were useless, as they broke when I tried to pivot the flesh out of the shells. Furthermore, a plateau de fruit de mer should be served with sea snails (bulots), but they had none.

                                    1. re: Jerrysfriend

                                      Thanks for responding - it is noisy and a bit of a madhouse, but we've always found that once we were seated, we got surprisingly excellent service, given the frentic nature of the place. I seem to remember getting some utensil for the cockles. While this veers away from the general topic, I do think it is unlikely that one is going to find a truly authentic French bistro or brasserie in the U.S., just as it is unlikely that one is going to find an authentic American hamburger place in France, which is why I wouldn't seek out the latter while in France, or anywhere else in Europe for that matter.

                                  2. re: Jerrysfriend

                                    Hey, Jerrysfriend,

                                    What was it about your meal at Gascogne that made you feel it was "an amateurish joke"? It happens to be one of our favorite French bistros. We had dinner there a few weeks ago, and the food, as always, was delicious. Service was friendly and competent. And dining in the thoroughly charming garden on a lovely summer's evening is always a pleasurable experience.

                                    As regards Fleur de Sel, it's another favorite of our favs. However, in my view, it's not a bistro, but rather an upscale French restaurant serving superb contemporary French cuisine.

                                    1. re: RGR

                                      We went to Gascogne rather late; after attending an off-Broadway production about 2 blocks away. I think they did not really want us, as we were the last to leave. The Cassoulet was not real, like all I have in the US. The key to the dish is preserved goose fat which liquifies and then forms a hard crust at the top, just like a creme brulee, but even thicker and harder. The stuff also permeates the food, imparting a distinctive flavor. Without it, you just have a combination bean, sausage and poultry dish. Maybe preserved goose fat is unavailable in the US. I do not remember the dinner too well, but none of the three of us were impressed with anything we ate. The service was friendly enough, but he was a far cry from a professional French waiter.
                                      I said that Fleur de Sel was a notch up from a bistot. It is small and rather modest, it is but a top-quality modern French restaurant. I think the food there rivals Bouley and The Modern.

                                      1. re: Jerrysfriend

                                        Thanks for the response. I'm not all that fond of cassoulet, but my husband is a cassoulet addict and likes the version at Gascogne. He's had cassoulet at various restaurants in NYC, and there are differences in each preparation. I'm no cassoulet expert, but from what I've been able to gather, there does not seem to be just one specific way to prepare cassoulet (even in France) though I think you're right that the preparation you describe is not generally found here.

                                        I can't account for your feeling that you were not welcome at Gascogne after your show. I find service there to be more than adequate, though certainly not polished as one finds in more upscale French restaurants, so you'd have to be more specific as to why you thought your server was "a far cry from a professional French waiter."

                                        Though I would place Fleur de Sel higher than just a notch above a bistro, we obviously agree that the cuisine is top-quality.

                                2. I agree with Egit. Jubilee is lovely and great for mussels, among other things.

                                  1. Although I haven't been there yet, I have heard that the new Massif Central on Bleecker Street is really good. It realy specializes in that region's food including Bleu d'Auvergne.

                                    1. Though I like Gascogne too, La Luncheonette is still my favorite bistro after 20 years. Great atmosphere, service and cassoulet too. Do not leave without having the best tarte tatin in the universe.

                                      1. Totally with the La Luncheonette call. I just wish they had frites. The food is so good there, but the sides can be lacklustre.