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French for a Francophile

I have friend visiting who is a real Francophile wannabe. She dreams of living in Paris someday (never most likely) etc. Anyway, I agreed to take her to 2 french restaurants in NYC over the next week or so. In the past we've been to Petite Auberge, Nice Matin, Pastis, Alouette and several other places that were such duds that I can't even recall their names at the moment. She really like Petite Auberge as it had a "Rive Droit" vibe--well sort of I guess. She liked Alouette too. Anyway, I am not sure were to take her now.

I was thinking Chez Napoleon--but I have some reservations (may be past prime??), or maybe http://www.laboitenyc.com/ (reviews are so mixed), or maybe Chez Lucienne in Harlem? Any thoughts on these? Any better ideas? Thanks for any guidance.

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  1. I've not been to Chez Napoleon (though I want to go), but wonder if you saw the piece about it in the NYTimes within the last couple of years? Apparently French tourists like to frequent it because it is the kind of traditional French restaurant that has become hard to find in France. For a really upscale place, I'd recommend La Grenouille, but it is expensive. I've posted two reports on it recently.

    Another place that I've wanted to try is Le Veau d'Or, http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/..., and I think there actually might have been a nice piece in the NYT about it last year. One more place to look into - though I've not been for about 15 years - is Le Perigord.

    4 Replies
    1. re: MMRuth

      Le Veau d'Or was a place on mind, but I could not recall the name. I think it was featured on Anthony Bourdain's show, maybe?? This is the type of place my friend seems to like, but honestly I had the same concern as Chez Nap. I will add this place to my list--thanks for the reminder.

      1. re: Ora

        Yes - it was that AB episode, not the NYT, that brought the restaurant to mind. I did poke my head into Chez Nap. once, and it is a dark tiny little place.

        1. re: MMRuth

          I ate at Chez Napoleon years about 7 yrs ago on a no so great date and the food was OK; but, then again, my lackluster date may be clouding my memory :)

          1. re: Ora

            I like Chez Napoleon because it is just about the only place I can find certain organ meats, particularly brains. It is quite true that even in France it is difficult to find this type of cooking today. There are plenty of places with better food, but Chez Nap is a little gem that really gives you the feeling of being in a bygone Paris.

    2. Gascogne, La Luncheonette, Lucien.

      1. Benoit
        Le Perigord
        Boeuf a la Mode
        La Grenouille
        Brasserie Cognac
        and of course L'Absinthe

        Most of these have reasonable prix fixe options at lunch and at dinner. You can read about these options on their respective websites or on menupages.com

        Scroll through the photos of Benoit. It is a francophile fantasy, at least visually.

        http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/...

        8 Replies
        1. re: gutsofsteel

          How's the food at Benoit and Brasserie Cognac? They were both places that I had wanted to try when they opened, but seem to recall reading less than raves about them, and haven't tried them.

          1. re: MMRuth

            HIt or miss at both, I'd say. Stay simple and classic and they're both fine.

            1. re: gutsofsteel

              Thanks. And, now that I think about it, I did try to go to each right after they opened, and couldn't get a table. Then lost interest.

              1. re: MMRuth

                You would enjoy the Benoit space.

                1. re: gutsofsteel

                  It's in the old La Cote Basque space, right? I recall reading raves about the room. Putting it on the list!

          2. re: gutsofsteel

            yes, there was just an article about la grenouille in the nytimes

            http://events.nytimes.com/2009/12/23/...

            1. re: lemonyc

              It just got a 3-star review in the NYT...

          3. I'm very fond of Chez Napoleon, and also of Gavroche on West 14th. Both have decent (not spectacular) classic dishes at very decent prices. And your friend can practice her French with the charming owners at both places.

              1. re: Jeffo405

                Yes, I like the sound of Gascogne--it will make the list! Thanks to all for the great suggestions!

              2. La Mangeoire. I went for brunch this weekend, and it was good. Granted, this was brunch, but based on their acquisition of new chef Delouvrir and a good dinner review I saw lately, I'd give it a try.

                1. Have you tried Cafe d'Alsace; it's Alsatian cuisine (still French).

                  12 Replies
                  1. re: ellenost

                    I like Cafe d'Alsace but if she's looking for classic French cuisine in a French-feeling atmosphere, it's not that.

                    1. re: gutsofsteel

                      Try La Mangeoire - 53rd & 2nd. You'll need reservations. It's very cosy and French-feeling.

                        1. re: gutsofsteel

                          guts:

                          I've been looking at your posts and am impressed by your impeccable taste.

                          My heart sank when, in a post above, you failed to include La Mangeoire on your list. Your recommendation of the place, above, was cause for great relief on my part.

                          I haven't been there in a year. But I've been going for what seems like 30 years.

                          That being said, how's Le Perigord these days? I haven't been in many years.

                          -----
                          Le Perigord
                          405 East 52nd Street, New York, NY 10022

                          La Mangeoire
                          1008 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10022

                          1. re: shaogo

                            You need to get back to La Mangeoire. It's Christian Delouvrier in the kitchen now!!

                            Last visit to Le Perigord was probably 6-8 months ago. I enjoyed it as always - went very classic on the food and it was fine. Nothing earthshattering, but well executed. But I love the category - old school French. Service was a delight, and I like the room.

                            1. re: shaogo

                              Le Périgord has been on my "go to" list for ages. We finally went in October, and I agree with the views expressed by gos.

                              Photos of our Le Périgord dinner here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11863391...

                              Le Mangeoire is now high on my "go to" list. Our one experience with Delouvrier's cuisine was 17 years ago when he was the excutive chef at the haute Les Celebrites. I can still remember my first course seared foie gras with apples. It was one of this biggest portions I've ever. Not that I'd ever complain about that as I'm a foie gras addict. I'm really looking forward to seeing what his cuisine is like at La Mangeoire.

                              1. re: RGR

                                RGR I'm confident you will enjoy it.

                                1. re: gutsofsteel

                                  I have not a doubt, gos. The man can cook!

                                2. re: RGR

                                  RGR,

                                  I remember Delouvrier's apple with foie gras, and I agree with you that it was wonderful! Les Celebrites was one of my earliest fine dining restaurants..

                                  1. re: ellenost

                                    ellenost,

                                    Obviously, you were very young at that time. Moi? Not so much.

                                    Back then, restaurants like Les Celebrites were reserved for special occasions. We were there celebrating one of my "major" birthdays. The room was gorgeous! For the main course, we ordered the lacquered duck because Mimi Sheraton raved about it in her review. I actually found it a bit disappointing. Iirc, I had a soufflé for dessert. Delouvrier came out of the kitchen and made the rounds. A very sweet man.

                        2. re: ellenost

                          The service at Cafe d'Alsace is really sketchy...and yes, it's really far from classic French cuisine as gustofsteel said.

                          1. re: diablofoodie

                            It's not far from classic French cuisine if you're from Alsace (please try to remember that there are many regions of France that serve very different styles of cooking from what is available in Paris). I've always had very nice service at Cafe d'Alsace.

                        3. Epicerie Café Charbon 168-170 Orchard St., is a small slice of France.
                          "an elaborately concealed restaurant and bar posing convincingly as a contiguous crèmerie (dairy), tabac (newsstand), and épicerie (grocery store)—a virtual Main Street from pre-supermarket France, transported intact to the Lower East Side"
                          http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/...

                          1. Ora, look into Ouest. The food -- especially the red meat preps -- is very good. Cafe Boulud might also be interesting, especially for charcouterie.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: cimui

                              Took her to Cafe Boulud already--she liked it. I didn't think of Ouest. Is true French or merely french named? I've only been there for drinks and that was eons ago. An UWS side location would be ideal for me!

                              1. re: Ora

                                Ouest is not really French.

                                Check out L'Absinthe and Benoit.

                                1. re: Ora

                                  Ouest is probably best described as nouveau-French or heavily French influenced new American. The kitchen uses a lot of traditional techniques and ingredients, there are lots of traditional French sauces and dressings at play on the menu, and the fresh-from-the-oven mini baguettes for the table are as delicious and perfect an example of the genre as you'd find anywhere in France (or at least as I've found anywhere in France).

                                  I don't know how traditional the gravlax with chickpea pancake, caviar and mustard oil is -- maybe the chickpea pancake is based on southern French socca? -- but it's a fantastically good appetizer. The house smoked sturgeon with lardons, frisee and egg *is* very recognizeably French and it's very well made, here.

                                  Here's the full menu if you want to make your own determintion: http://ouestny.com/dinner.html

                                  ----

                                  Really, any Boulud restaurant would fit the bill. Daniel isn't too far away across Central Park.

                                  1. re: cimui

                                    Daniel, while wonderful, is a bit over the top for our purposes :)

                              2. I recently took my friend who is from Paris to L'Orange Bleue. She's since been back by herself about 10 times. She says it's just like the places she loves back home. Laid back, good food, fun atmosphere. Try the duck bastilla, it's really good.

                                My favorite French place is Lucien though I cannot vouch for authenticity since I've never been to France. Def get the duck there as well!

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Jacquelyn

                                  Thought about both of those--only hesitiation is location. Kinda out of the way for an after work dinner for me. Both have been on my want-to-go-soon list forever though.

                                  1. re: Ora

                                    Aw that's too bad. Lucien is a hop away from the F though if that's close to you at all. I cannot stress how good their Canard aux Figues et Ravets is (Magret and confit of duck on a bed of spinach, figs, and turnips). Do go at some point!

                                2. To close this thread out, thanks for all the suggestions, they were all appreciated. We went to GASCOGNE last night. The ambiance was what my friend loves. Small, intimate, candle lit. The service was very nice--sweet at times in fact. The garden looks ideal for spring, summer brunch. The food was a solid good. Its not earth shattering, no new ground covered--not to be expected at a bistro anyway. But averagely prepared hearty french bistro food, which was fine for us. The bill was 100, pre tip. I had the potato goat chess appetizer ($12) and 5 bone rack of lamb ($26), and a kir. All was fine and tast, but again not ethereal (wasn't expecting it to be at these prices either). I will return and perhaps try the crepes suzette which is made table side and with great flourish by the waitstaff. Thanks again to all. We are going to another place next week, I will consult these recommendations accordingly!

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Ora

                                    Thanks for the very nice write-up, Ora.

                                    1. re: cimui

                                      Glad to hear you had a nice meal there. Gascogne is one of my favorite spaces in the summertime -- the garden is such a nice place to have a meal. The food was never transcendent, but always nice. Had good luck ordering off the specials menu in the summer -- lots of fresh, bright ingredients, simply but well prepared.

                                      Unfortunately, the last time I was there was not nearly as pleasant. Sat inside last winter -- cassoulet was unbelievably salty and meats were way overcooked. And the service, which was always quite friendly, was surprisingly rude.

                                      I will certainly go back again in the summer, though, just because the garden is so damn nice.

                                  2. Restaurant a Francophile might really like is L'Absinthe: http://www.labsinthe.com/

                                    Walk in and you're transported to Paris and the food is pretty good. Nice place for meeting friends and/or romantic for just 2. Nice setting and atmosphere.

                                    4 Replies
                                    1. re: Quimbombo

                                      Agree--L'Absinthe has been on my short list since I saw it several months back on Colemco's PBS show. I may just hit it this week coming--though, I have read such mixed reviews.

                                      1. re: Ora

                                        I mentioned L'Absinthe one of my posts above. I enjoy L'Absinthe but the food can be hit or miss. Another one is Benoit - decor is wonderful, food is fine if you stick to the classics.

                                        But La Mangeoire is where you should go. As authentic as it gets in NYC. Decor, food, service - everything. The chef is Christian Delouvrier, formerly of Lespinasse and ADNY!

                                        1. re: gutsofsteel

                                          I agree about the food at L'Absinthe. Walked by Amaranth this afternoon - pretty room. Any thoughts on the food?

                                    2. Cosette on 33 St/ 3rd ave is small, dark, reasonably priced bistro with atmosphere.

                                      There is French attitude to go along. My companion politely asked for a dirty wine glass to be replaced. This produced a reaction similar to the Monty Python "dirty fork" sketch. This was an excuse for the staff to have a go at each other. When the meal was about the be served, we were asked if we wanted ketchup. I presumed this to be an insult implying unsophistication of Americans. The meal was very good and ketchup wasn't necessary.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: MahatmaKanejeeves

                                        We always enjoyed the food at Cosette. But we stopped going there because I finally got fed up with the very uncomfortably lumpy banquette seats. By any chance, have they reupholstered? I'm guess, not.

                                        http://www.cosettebistro.com

                                      2. Gascogne and La Luncheonette