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Old Guard French Birthday Dinner

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I have my birthday coming up and I've decided on a specific cuisine in mind but not specific on a place yet. One of my favorite restaurants in the city for service and food is La Grenouille. It's decadent and has one of the most attentive staff in the city in my opinion. The entrees transport me back in time without having been stuck there and the souffle for dessert is brilliant.
i've also tried La Mangeoire as well. Decent and satisfying. i like that place because it's unassuming and not scene-y.
...But, i've been there before and i'm looking for opinions on some new "old guard" haute French restaurants here in Manhattan. I've been meaning to try Le Veau d'Or but havent yet. Has anyone got any ideas for a place that is under the radar and amazing at the same time? Your help would be great and i would appreciate your feedback!

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La Grenouille
3 East 52nd Street, New York, NY 10022

Le Veau d'Or
129 E 60th St, New York, NY 10022

La Mangeoire
1008 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10022

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  1. There are very few of these remaining, and none of them are "under the radar."

    Besides Le Veau d'Or (and the others you already mentioned):

    La Petite Auberge
    Le Perigord

    -----
    La Petite Auberge
    116 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10016

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

    Le Veau d'Or
    129 E 60th St, New York, NY 10022

    5 Replies
    1. re: gutsofsteel

      Thanks for your suggestions! I said "under the radar" because I'm not looking to try scene-y places. I 'd like to eat classic french cooking without feeling like the atmosphere is clouded with people who are eating there because of some recent rave review. Just something that emits a good sense of France! I know there aren't many haute French cuisine places left from New York's golden era. But i'm sure of the few that are left, one of them might be worth checking out.

      1. re: ErikLong

        Stick with La Grenouille.

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        La Grenouille
        3 East 52nd Street, New York, NY 10022

        1. re: ErikLong

          Le Veau d'Or was old and tired 15 years ago! I wouldn't go there for the quality of the food.

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          Le Veau d'Or
          129 E 60th St, New York, NY 10022

          1. re: Nancy S.

            Yes, Le Veau d'Or is worth visiting only out of historic interest. Add to the list L'Absinthe - same chef for sixteen years almost makes it old guard.

            1. re: Wilfrid

              That's also worth noting. Having the same chef at the restaurant is also key. Its so rare that the same chef stays at a restaurant for a long period of time.

      2. Here are several places that we’ve tried out recently in search of somewhat similar experience that you are looking for, but I think overall it’s a difficult find. I would agree that for a special occasion meal La Grenouille can’t be beat, and alternative options fall short with quite a bit of gap.

        Casual Neighborhood Places we return to:

        Jubilee
        Le Gigot
        La Sirene
        Rouge et Blanc
        Bistro Lamazou

        Tried but have mixed feelings about:

        Capsouto Freres
        La Mangeoire
        Gascogne

        Tried but won’t go back:

        La Petit Auberge
        La Luncheonette
        Tout Va Bien
        Jojo

        Looking forward to trying:

        Chez Napoleon
        Bistro Vendome
        Leopard at des Artistes
        Raoul's
        Ze Café
        Millesime

        Bit off the mark, but the places that always takes us back to France are actually not “old guard” places yet their food really sings and transports us back.

        Tocqueville
        Mas (Farmhouse)

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        Le Gigot
        18 Cornelia Street, New York, NY 10014

        Tocqueville
        1 East 15th Street, New York, NY 10003

        Raoul's
        180 Prince St., New York, NY 10012

        Tout Va Bien
        311 W 51st St, New York, NY 10019

        Jubilee
        347 E 54th St, New York, NY 10022

        La Petite Auberge
        116 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10016

        Gascogne
        158 8th Ave, New York, NY 10011

        Chez Napoleon
        365 W 50th St, New York, NY 10019

        Mas (Farmhouse)
        39 Downing St, New York, NY 10014

        Capsouto Freres
        451 Washington St, New York, NY 10013

        La Lunchonette
        130 10th Ave, New York, NY 10011

        La Mangeoire
        1008 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10022

        La Sirene
        558 Broome Street, New York, NY 10013

        Ze Cafe
        398 E 52nd St, New York, NY 10022

        Bistro Vendome
        405 E 58th St, New York, NY 10022

        Millesime
        92 Madison Ave, New York, NY 10016

        Rouge et Blanc
        48 MacDougal St, New York, NY 10012

        Bistro Lamazou
        344 3rd Ave, New York, NY 10010

        The Leopard at des Artistes
        1 W 67th St, New York, NY 10023

        34 Replies
        1. re: Kurtis

          Chez Napoleon was disappointing in the late 80's -- I would cross it off your list.

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          Chez Napoleon
          365 W 50th St, New York, NY 10019

          1. re: Nancy S.

            Chez Napoleon might have been 'disappointing' in the late 80's, but that's over 20 years ago. The atmosphere is far from special, but - in the last 5 years at least - the food has always been reliable & flavorful. I wouldn't go there for a celebration, but It's a "throwback" of another kind that is just right for its genre IMHO.

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            Chez Napoleon
            365 W 50th St, New York, NY 10019

            1. re: boredough

              Yes, but, in my opinion, it is still tired and disappointing. Again, like Le Veau d'Or, I wouldn't go to Chez Napoleon for the food. It's not very fresh, and the preparation is quite average.

              -----
              Chez Napoleon
              365 W 50th St, New York, NY 10019

              Le Veau d'Or
              129 E 60th St, New York, NY 10022

              1. re: Nancy S.

                I presume when you say the food is "not very fresh," you don't mean rancid but rather not creative or modern?

                I had been wanting to try Chez Napoleon for years and finally got around to it a few years ago. I have to agree with boredough as I was very pleasantly surprised to find food that was nicely prepared and tasty. Far better, imo, than the other remaining throwback French bistros in the Theater District.

                http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                1. re: RGR

                  I, too, finally got around to trying Chez Napoleon last night and was absolutely captivated by the old world menu. So many things you rarely see any more. I had the baked mussel appetizer and the ris de veau. They may not have been the best preparations of those dishes I’ve ever had, but they were very good and very satisfying. I tried a friend’s Coquille Saint-Jacques and it was just what you want it to be. And I thought the service charming. The wine list is rather short and dull, but at least it’s not expensive. All in all, a very pleasant experience.

                  -----
                  Chez Napoleon
                  365 W 50th St, New York, NY 10019

                  1. re: JoanN

                    I'll have to put that on the list for an upcoming trip. Good Coquilles St Jacques is, in my experience, hard to come by and the sad part is that is isn't that difficult. I usually do better at home (although I can't quite come up to a place in Normandy in 1978 even though they took me in the kitchen and showed me their technique. I think it is scallop quality...surely it can't be me).

                2. re: Nancy S.

                  Chez Napoleon is a gem. Not every dish is excellent, but if you follow the servers' recommendations, you can do very well. I particularly love the organ meats, such as calf brains and tripe. There are extremely few French restaurants that serve these any more. I don't see it as a place for a celebration, but as a great place for down-home traditional French food. Of the "theater district French" bistros it is definitely the top.

                  -----
                  Chez Napoleon
                  365 W 50th St, New York, NY 10019

                  1. re: rrems

                    Ah, there we go once again thinking alike, rrems. :)

                    http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                  2. re: Nancy S.

                    Nancy - have you been to Chez Napoleon since the late 80's? I can't quite tell from your posts.

                3. re: Nancy S.

                  Nancy, what did they serve you 20+ years ago?!? : )
                  As I am willing to forgive of myself many things 20+ years ago, I am willing to give this one a try...

                  1. re: Kurtis

                    We lived two blocks away then, so I tried it several times. The menu has hardly changed. And, as you can see from the website, it's an enormous menu, with too many options for everything to be "correcte" as the French say. I'm not surprised that on their first "graded" health inspection that their score was 46 points. On my last visit, I poked into the kitchen to take a peek, and it wasn't a tempting sight.

                    1. re: Nancy S.

                      I am actually glad that their menu hasn't changed over the years, but very glad to know that their current restaurant inspection grade is A.

                      1. re: Kurtis

                        I do hope you like it, since I certainly don't wish the restaurant ill. It's good that there are enough customers to keep it going, after all these years. For me, though, there are too many other places I prefer to return, but this is purely a matter of taste.

                        1. re: Nancy S.

                          Will report back on our experience, and hope we enjoy Chez Napoleon. It was a huge disappointment when we went to La Petite Auberge (LPA) where we really wanted to like it. Your description of Chez Napoleon in the 80's is how I would describe LPA when we were there about a month ago.

                          Where are some of your "prefer to return" places?

                          -----
                          La Petite Auberge
                          116 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10016

                          Chez Napoleon
                          365 W 50th St, New York, NY 10019

                          1. re: Kurtis

                            I was also hugely disappointed with La Petite Auberge and Le Perigord based on dinners last spring. I'm surprised that these restaurants are routinely recommended on this board.

                            -----
                            La Petite Auberge
                            116 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10016

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

                            1. re: filet_minion

                              That is odd to me because those are two that I invariably hit when I am in town and I've never had any problems at either one. Part of that might be that my family were founding regulars at Le Perigord and I started at La Petite Auberge on my own almost from their Day One so both places are quite comfortable for me. The complaints about being old and tired confuse me...Le Perigord is the same as it was in the 1960's and that is what I want (except that I am now the graying man in the flannel suit at the next table). I go to the newer places from time to time but when I want the classic old stuff, I rely on those two, as I used to rely on Cafe des Artiste on the West Side.

                              -----
                              La Petite Auberge
                              116 Lexington Ave, New York, NY 10016

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

                        2. re: Kurtis

                          Restaurant menus tend to change when they take on a new chef. At Chez Napoleon, Grandma has been cooking there for years, and probably has decided to just continue to do what she does best (which apparently encompasses many dishes). I happen to love the baked mussel appetizer (see JoanN) and look forward to having it again soon. (Getting hungry.)
                          edit: I don't know how my comment ended up here (after hazelhurst) because I was responding to NancyS & Kurtis' discussion about the menu not having changed after many years. Sorry...

                          -----
                          Chez Napoleon
                          365 W 50th St, New York, NY 10019

                  2. re: Kurtis

                    The Leopard is not a French restaurant.

                    1. re: gutsofsteel

                      yeah, Leopard is southern Italian

                      1. re: Simon

                        Yup, my bad...

                    2. re: Kurtis

                      and Raoul's, while a wonderful space, has a terrible menu/chef...

                      1. re: Simon

                        There are several places that's been our list to try but keep getting bumped, and Raoul's is one of them. Another is Le Perigord.

                        Has anyone been to Le Bilboquet?

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

                        1. re: Kurtis

                          We finally made it to Le Périgord in '09 after it had been on my list for ages. The food was decent though hardly anything to rave about, and the surroundings, while comfortable, were sorely in need of freshening up. This was in stark contrast to La Grenouille, where the food is superb, and the space with the famous floral arrangements is beautiful.

                          Le Périgord photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11863391...

                          La Grenouille photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/11863391...

                          http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                          1. re: RGR

                            As I am looking for decent to good here, Le Perigord seem like a good place to visit. Thanks for sharing your photos!

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

                            1. re: Kurtis

                              You're welcome, Kurtis. Glad you found the photos and, I presume, my commentary helpful. When you try Le Périgord. I hope you'll report back.

                              http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                              1. re: Kurtis

                                Our dinner at le Périgord last year (specifically chosen for its old-guard French reputation) was the one meal out of the entire year (or since) that I thought was a complete waste of money. The food was barely passable (raw curry powder in the sauce for the lamb, just nasty), the service was supercilious (we were first-time diners, the regulars seemed to be having a jim dandy time), the table fittings were tired, and the banquette we were on was sticky. I would not go back if it were the last restaurant in the city.

                                1. re: buttertart

                                  Obviously, we've had quite different experiences at Le Périgord. While the food we had was not perfect, most of it was more than passable. And even though we were first-timers, service was fine. Our dinner was in October '09, so it's possible that the food and decor have deterioated since then.

                                  Btw, re: my worst meals of '09, that dubious distinction goes first to the dining room at Gramercy Tavern, followed closely by Blue Hill Stone Barns.

                                  http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                                  1. re: RGR

                                    This was September 2010. I got the impression of it being a "cantine" for the neighborhood.
                                    The one time we ate at Gramercy (dining room) will be our last, too, quite uninspired. Blue Hill itself was OK but did not inspire a burning desire to get to the other stand.

                                    1. re: RGR

                                      RGR, what happened at stone barns? spending the day on the farm and the night in the dining room is one of my favorite things.

                                    2. re: buttertart

                                      I recall reading your comment on the sticky banquette and other horrors. Foreign to me but, in truth, I don;t get to Manhattan with anything approaching the frequency of even ten years ago. What you descrie is more than an "off nigt". I will try to get to town sometime this winter and see what is going on. Memory is a strong pull on perception but if the place were _that_ far off, I'd be horrified and might make noises. Of course, no one there really knows me anymore so maybe it would do no good? We'll see.

                              2. re: Simon

                                It's a shame because it used to be tasty, and the space is indeed fabulous.

                              3. re: Kurtis

                                we really like both Gascogne and Capsouto Freres, and return to both repeatedly. The food is delicious, the service is attentive, the prices are moderate at both places. And Gascogne has the lovely garden, weather permitting.

                                However, neither of these places is in the same category as La Grenouille, which we also love.

                                Tocqueville is in the La Grenouille class, I think. We've always loved the food and ambiance there. If OP has not been, that would be a great birthday place.

                                -----
                                Gascogne
                                158 8th Ave, New York, NY 10011

                                La Grenouille
                                3 East 52nd Street, New York, NY 10022

                                Capsouto Freres
                                451 Washington St, New York, NY 10013

                                1. re: ChefJune

                                  Tocqueville is truly wonderful but isn't Old Guard French in terms of its menu. Even the restaurant describes itself as "American cuisine with a European sensibility." It's still a great choice for a birthday celebration though.

                                  1. re: ChefJune

                                    Capsouto Freres also has an outdoor patio on a quiet street even on weekends. The afternoon sun shines nicely into the patio before it sets. We really enjoyed this Hopperesque evening there.

                                    -----
                                    Capsouto Freres
                                    451 Washington St, New York, NY 10013

                                2. We tried Cercle Rouge the other night and I think this one is a keeper. Great service, and decent to good food here: had frisée aux lardons, duck stuffed with foie, and bouillabaisse - our least favorite of three, with a bottle of Côtes du Rhône that just got better and better with time. We sat outside and was packed on Wednesday night which was nice. Would return to try more.

                                  -----
                                  Cercle Rouge
                                  241 W. Broadway, New York, NY 10013

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Kurtis

                                    what was their bouillabaisse like there?

                                    1. re: Simon

                                      Broth was decent but would have liked more depth, couldn't taste saffron as noted on the menu, and in general bit bland. Usual rescue for this would be nice rouille but their version resembled spiced up margarine. As I generally like this served steaming (not necessarily boiling hot though), it was quite warm to the touch.

                                  2. I am sad to report that our experience at Chez Napoleon was not very good, in fact pretty bad.

                                    Aside from Moules "Napoleon" which was okay, and side of ratatouille that came with the entrees which was good, paté maison, steak au poivre vert, and grilled porkchop special were all done very poorly. The service left us much to be desired too.

                                    I am not sure since when, or maybe that our reservation was around 9pm on Sat, but the grandmere did not cook our meal or was very little part of it: she was sitting at the bar the whole time during our meal greeting many grateful diners as they were leaving. She got up to go to the kitchen a couple of times briefly but arduously. While wishing her the best, I regretted that I have missed the food with her in the kitchen.

                                    -----
                                    Chez Napoleon
                                    365 W 50th St, New York, NY 10019

                                    1. I happened to notice Le Rivage on 46th St recently and was wondering if anybody had been there. Searched it here and didn't come up with anything. They have a $25 three-course prix fixe with coffee included (!) after 8 pm...menu looks good and they have a very nice wine list. http://www.lerivagenyc.com/media/webs... - if that décor isn't Old Guard, I don't know what is.

                                      -----
                                      Le Rivage
                                      340 West 46th Street, New York, NY 10036

                                      7 Replies
                                      1. re: buttertart

                                        Can't vouch for it recently, but it used to be a favorite of a friend who had lived in France for a few years. He thought it one of the best in the city maybe 10 years ago.

                                        1. re: JoanN

                                          Interesting, must check it out.

                                          1. re: buttertart

                                            We had a pre-matinee lunch at Le Rivage about five years ago. The food was mediocre. A real disappointment as we really like that type of old-style French bistro.

                                            Btw, the restaurant that occupied that location before Le Rivage was Le Chambertin. It was excellent.

                                            http://thewizardofroz.wordpress.com

                                            -----
                                            Le Rivage
                                            340 West 46th Street, New York, NY 10036

                                        2. re: buttertart

                                          How can you tell whether that online wine list at La Rivage is "very nice"?

                                          Nowhere are the vintages shown anywhere in the list. Plus, in some of the items, they don't even have the name of the producers. I think it is amateurish at best.

                                          1. re: RCC

                                            "Nice" to me doesn't mean "excellent" or "ideal" as it apparently does to you, it means "acceptable for a restaurant of the caliber of Le Rivage". A term of mild approbation.
                                            It's possible they don't list vintages or producers on the website list because they vary in availability.

                                            -----
                                            Le Rivage
                                            340 West 46th Street, New York, NY 10036

                                            1. re: buttertart

                                              Nope, I don't have those levels of granularity, as you do, in assessing wine lists. To me, if a restaurant has a "very nice" wine list, then it does. I don't trumpet a list that attempts to sell bottles at $40+ price point and do not add producers name and vintages. Some vintages are truly bad, imho, in general and in certain regions.

                                              1. re: RCC

                                                My intention was not to trumpet anything, it was a passing comment. Your points noted.