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Dec 8, 2011 09:44 AM

Le Veau d'Or - How to Best Explain It

This past Monday evening, my wife and I had the chance to eat of Le Veau d'Or for dinner. There was a post here about it recently and I mentioned I'd post a review. Here it is based on what I see as the basics:

-Food: The food is 100% French in nature, cooked the same today as it was for Grace Kelly and Truman Capote when they frequented the joint. That has its pluses and minuses. Clearly, we know more about food science today and can cook/season dishes better than what was known sixty years ago. If you are looking for something more modern, you are going to be disappointed. However, if you go with the expectation knowing the food will be more classic in nature, like what your grandma might have made, you’ll be able to see the base on which the dishes of today are built. My wife had the mussels for an appetizer and they were great. Perfectly cooked and every bit of the sauce was mopped up with the bread tray. It was a nice rendition of the classic. I had the vichyssoise and it was quite tasty. I’ve had better versions, but this one seemed like a base on which the others were built. For the entrée, I went with the Escalopines De Veau . Some would find the saucing of the dish underdone while others would argue it is veal and you should taste the veal, not the lemon cream. In any event, the meat was cooked and seasoned perfectly. My wife had the Coq Au Vin and she enjoyed it to the point where it was not possible for me to get a bite. I can tell you it looked and smelled fantastic and that I’ve been ordered to source hens in the Twin Cities to make this at home. If I had to rate the food on the star system, I’d likely give it one star or maybe two. It's classic, no-frills French.

The People: Here’s where I could see people getting intimidated. Everyone there speaks French and they do it throughout the meal, even if you don’t. I can totally see how some would find the off-putting as they aren’t catering it to you. I can also see how some people would find it charming, as if they were being transported from New York to a Paris Bistro. We went with the attitude that this was part of the show if you would and we totally enjoyed it. It even helped me knock some of the 20 year dust off my HS French. The owner, Robert, sat us at our table and was the perfect gentleman. He took my wife’s coat and helped her sit, even though he’s fifty years her senior. His daughter was our server and she was beyond friendly. She does speak English so when it comes to ordering, she’ll make sure you get what you want. There was another older gentleman who served our desserts and he took was the image of professional, formal service. Again, some people might find that formality stuffy or off-putting. I didn't, I found it respectful. Servers aren't supposed to be there to be your friend or third wheel conversant. Dishes were served from the left and cleared from the right according to the rules of decent society. There was definitely a formal air to the proceedings, but also one of respect. I’d give it three stars.

The Room: It feels like a club in the basement of a building. The tables are close to one another. So close in fact, that we could hear a wife at the table scolding her husband for a lack of charity this year. Sadly, he had only donated a million dollars to their chosen organization while their friends had been closer to ten. The horror, the horror. If I had to choose a word to describe it, I’d use intimate. The music is classic in nature, but not loud in the least so conversations are easy to have. We were definitely the youngest couple in the room by twenty years. It’s older people who probably remember the days when their parents took them to the place to experience the best New York had to offer.

The Verdict: The best way to describe it is a time capsule that brings you back to an older New York. The one that says women dress formally and men wear suits and ties out at dinner. If you go, you should dress the part (cuff links don’t hurt either). A place where you run into an old neighbor or co-worker and catch up on your lives. A restaurant that gives you a feel as to what four-star dining and service consisted of back when Don Draper owned Madison Avenue. It’s also a place that can transport you across an ocean to a classic Paris bistro. If you go looking for that type of experience, you are not going to be disappointed. That was our goal for the night and they totally met, if not exceeded it. But this is not a place for foodies. There are French restaurants that have evolved and are serving these dishes with the benefit of what we’ve learned over the last sixty years. To a foodie, this restaurant would be a disappointment, more like what they would expect from a home cook than a restaurant. Again, that’s not to say that the food is bad, it’s not. It just doesn’t have the frills that a foodie would be looking for in a restaurant experience. But frills and what’s hot in cooking today are not what Robert and Le Veau d'Or seem to be about. It’s about the classics and paying respect to that tradition. Those that go with that in mind will not be disappointed.

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

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  1. Thanks for this very descriptive report, db Cooper! We've never been to Le Veau d'Or, and I've been considering trying it. Thus, I found your review quite helpful. As soon as you mentioned coq au vin, it pushed me over the edge towards going since that is probably Mr. R.'s favorite French bistro dish. Whenever it's on the menu, he jumps at it.

    Despite the fact that we consider ourselves "foodies," we still find the style of cuisine being served at Le Veau d'Or appealing. Perhaps, our age has something to do with it because that's the kind of traditional French food we were eating in the 60's and 70's.

    The fact that the staff is French-speaking will add to the charm for us and not be a deterrent as I can get along fairly well in that language. As for Mr. R., he likes to say that he speaks excellent "restaurant French."

    One question. Were all the gentlemen wearing jackets?

    12 Replies
    1. re: RGR

      The OP's report does make the restaurant sound "charmant". Now that La Petite Auberge has closed, this may be one of the few remaining traditional French restaurants. It's near my office, so I may check it out at some point. I was watching Anthony Bourdain's new show on the Travel Channel, and he seems to like Le Veau d'Or very much.

      1. re: ellenost

        RGR, all the men had jackets on. There were a couple going without the tie, but most had the full windsor knot in play. My wife had bought me a new set of cufflinks that day in the Financial District so I had the French shirt as well. That may be a function of the clientele. Most were, or seemed to be, upper-east side regulars and there is some money there or so I've been led to believe. I really think you both will enjoy it knowing what it is going in and your abilities to speak French will only enhance the experience.

        Ellenost: According to the owners, Mr. Bourdain saved the restaurant by including it on the show. Give it a try. For anyone with a love of France and old NYC, I'm thinking you'd have to love it. It's one of those places were emotion seems to be just as important as food. It's hard to convey that in a review, but that's really how I feel about it. We went at dinner so I'm not sure if you'd get the same feel at lunch, but it's down below street level so I think it would work much the same.

        If either of you go, I hope you'll come back to this thread and post about it. I'd love to hear what you thought.

        1. re: Db Cooper

          I checked their menu on MenuPages (no, they don't seem to have a website--not surprised in keeping with a more traditional restaurant). I would probably go to dinner since I like the dinner menu too. Fortunately, I do speak some French, so maybe I will enjoy getting to practice. Thanks again for your post since I regularly pass the restaurant, but hadn't read much about it.

          1. re: ellenost

            Yeah, no website. The owners told me they've never seen the Bourdain show. They never watch TV. It was thru word of mouth and a crush of crowds that they found out. So a website is probably never going to happen unless someone does it for them out of love of the place.

            The prices have gone up slightly since that menu was posted. For dinner, the three-course meal (app+entree+dessert) was between $35 to $40 with the lamb being the highest at $46. Some of the apps are an extra $8 to $10. But being it is in NYC, I thought it was really reasonably priced.

            1. re: Db Cooper

              Three courses for around 40 bucks??? That's almost a bargain for the UES.

              1. re: kevin

                I thought it was a heck of deal for what you get, but I also live in a town where the most people will pay for an app plus dinner is $30, so my scale is different from those who live there. You are definitely getting four-stars on the value scale.

                1. re: Db Cooper

                  Yeah, where do you live, not in NY state?

                  well, some small cities only do have mid-range chanins a la applebee's and olive garden and etc, hence they might not even spend more than 25 for appet and entree

                  1. re: kevin

                    I live in Minneapolis/St. Paul. We are a step above the chains, but cost of living here is significantly lower so incomes are lower and therefore, budgets tighter while dining out. Most fine-dining restaurants here in this market have app prices around $10 (for two) and average entree prices around $25. There are a couple that are higher, but that's the average.

          2. re: Db Cooper

            Db, Interesting your mention of cufflinks. Mr. R. has several and loves wearing them. And he always wears a tie with a jacket. So, he'll fit right in! As for me, sounds like a fancy cocktail suit would probably work.

            When we go, I will certainly report back -- with photos, of course. Unless there will be a problem taking them there?


            1. re: RGR

              I think photos would be fine, but that of course is up to you. I'm not one to do that, but I feel like you have more than enough experience to know when it is and isn't the right time where I just don't have that gauge.

              The pictures on your website are very well done BTW. I bookmarked the page just so I can keep in touch with what is going on in the city. I usually am there two or three times a year so I try to stay up so I know where to go and what to try.

            2. re: Db Cooper

              This is the best news I've heard in ages. Have not eaten there in a long time, having been accustomed to various other places. But most of those are gone now and I need a new spot to light upon. Will put it on the list for my next trip. Thanks for brightening my day.

              1. re: hazelhurst

                That post made my day. Thank you for the kind words. I'll never be in their league, but eat your hearts out Bruni and Sifton on that kind of compliment!!!!

        2. Thanks for the informative review, Db. I am drawn to time-warp restaurants, especially where I can eat/speak French and pretend I am in Paris. I may just try it soon!

          1 Reply
          1. re: City Kid

            I also feel sometimes there are a need for these kinds of restaurants, where time forget, except maybe perhaps for the 2012 pricing.

            And the newfangled french restaurants are usually more fusiony and more french by way of that particular chef who opens the restuarant.

            In this day and age, where can one get quenelles of seafood mousse, veal in a butter sauce (res di vieu), or slabe of pure foie gras, and classically prepared chateubriand???

            Sadly, only the time warps. And I don't mean that in the pejorative sense at all.

          2. What a fantastic post. This sounds like a place I would absolutely love. Thanks so much for taking the time to write this.

            1. Thank you for your report - my husband is a bit of a Francophile and loves getting dressed up, so this sounds like right up his alley. I see one of my all-time favorite dishes on the menu too - roasted duck with cherry sauce - classic combination, but for some reason it's not the easiest duck preparation to find in this city!

              3 Replies
              1. re: uwsister

                I had lunch there Saturday and it was lovely, it's truly an oasis in the middle of New York. I had vichissoise, chicken livers and the oeufs a la neige (floating islands). Robert and his daughter were on hand and I had a lovely talk to her about Tony Bourdain who really is a champion of the place, they are very grateful for his support. I highly recommend it - as Bourdain says it's a slice of "disappearing New York".

                1. re: bronwen

                  Sounds charming -- do they serve the prix fixe lunch on weekends?

              2. Based on the OP's review, I went for lunch today -- a step back in time, yes, but in a very good way. It is a lovely vestige of a slower-paced time and a refuge for delicious, authentic bistro food. Nothing nouvelle about it...thank goodness!

                8 Replies
                1. re: City Kid

                  CityKid, I'm glad you enjoyed it. And I hope you'll pay it forward by telling some of your friends. Places like these are a dying breed and I hope in my own little way I can keep the ones that I know about going.

                  1. re: Db Cooper

                    You are so right, Db, and I have already done. I thank you for changing my inaccurate preconception. I know I'll get a big laugh for this, but I enjoyed it more than lunch at Jean-Georges! I realize that's apples:oranges but I'm a big bistro food fan.

                    1. re: City Kid

                      On your recommendation I forwarded it to a prominent attorney friend who had not eaten there in some years and who is always in New York en route to Somewhere. Like me, he prefers quiet classics and would not be caught dead outside of a suit and tie. I think he'll send them some business. Thanks for doing The Lord's Work.

                      1. re: hazelhurst

                        At lunch yesterday the daughter half of the father-daughter ownership team was joking about how the publicity (from Bourdain, Chowhound, etc.) has led to a renaissance: "They've resurrected the father and it's killing the daughter," she laughed, adding she was working 9AM-11PM. I told her we loved it but wouldn't tell anyone ;)

                        1. re: City Kid

                          The outpouring of enthusiasm is heart warming, if a little surprising. The food really wasn't good when I ate there. You'll do much better for French bistro food at L'Absinthe or any of Boulud's places. Good luck to them, though.

                          1. re: Wilfrid

                            I found the food better than L'Absinthe and the homey, time-warpy atmosphere, far different from Boulud's places, was very appealing to me.

                          2. re: City Kid

                            Was this owner around the time when Orson Welles visited the restuarant?

                            1. re: kevin

                              No, M. Tréboux didn't take over until '85.