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Is there a French restaurant that straddles the great middle?

My mother’s birthday is coming up next month. She’s coming to NYC and would like to have French for dinner. In the past we’ve gone to places like La Cote Basque or Le Grenouille. She doesn’t want to go to such a formal a place this time. I’ve been racking my brains for an alternative and all I can come up with are bistro type places that serve variations on typical bistro fare. Balthazar, Capsuoto Frere and the like which are too casual. I’d like to find a place that had some more contemporary French style cooking but isn’t Daniel. Is there inventive French food that isn’t served in a reverential setting? Is there anything like a NYC version of Chez l’ami Jean or even a Café des Musee? Heck I’d settle for a Joe Beef doppelganger. There was a recent NYT review of Calliope which sounded interesting but it appeared to be a bistro heavy menu. Any opinion on that as a choice? Have I just missed something in this category or am I just in a rut whenever I go for French? As to price, there’s no limit as it mom’s birthday, but to give a point of reference, I can easily see spending $150 pp on just food. Need to be able to get a table for 8 too. Any suggestions?

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  1. Take a look at La Silhouette in the 50s on the west side. The chef used to be at La Grenouille, and the food is of that caliber, while a bit less stuffy.

    3 Replies
    1. re: strangemd

      La Silhouette is not worth a visit. The food is not worthy of the place's reputation, not by a longshot.

      1. re: gutsofsteel

        You must really have fallen upon a bad night. I go there 3 or 4 times a year and find it consistently good. Certainly better than the usual bistros. Their lobster bisque is delicious, the foie gras prep is unusual and deeply satisfying, and both the sea bass and lobster dish and the morrocan-spiced lamb chops are really quite special.

        1. re: gutsofsteel

          I've been there many times and had excellent meals every time. The current menu has a number of new dishes, so it has not gotten tired either.

      2. The Modern Dining Room
        Cafe Boulud

        2 Replies
        1. re: Scott_C

          +1 for Cafe Boulud. It's better than Daniel's flagship, IMHO, even were they the same price point.

          Bouley could do the trick - they're less boisterous than Balthazar, but not as fou-fou or stuffy as the big Midtown French places (Daniel, JG, Le Bern) can be.

          Picholine (have they reopened yet?) could also be an option.

          1. re: sgordon

            Yes Picholine is open. Good suggestion.

        2. You could try that old staple, Le Veau d'Or. It's really one of a kind.

          4 Replies
          1. re: bronwen

            The ancient proprietor very recently died, and I have no idea how the restaurant is doing without him.

            1. re: Sneakeater

              Less than great.

              1. re: Nancy S.

                Are you saying business has dropped off? Or the food?

              2. re: Sneakeater

                Oh! What a shame....I love the "time warp" aspect of the place. Hopefully his daughter will continue on in his memory. Hope so.

            2. La Silhouette or the Modern Dining Room.

              1. Chez le Chef on Lexington in Murray Hill got a decent review in Zagat. We have not been there but it looks interesting. It may be what your mom is looking for.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Motosport

                  Chez le Chef is... well, there's really no describing it. It's kind of insane, a real only-in-NYC place, but it's not a celebratory birthday joint. If I had to compare it to anything it'd be Shopsin's, only Kenny Shopsin's food is better.

                2. Have you considered Benoit on 55th? I've always enjoyed myself there. And, its one of the few places that actually feels like a higher end Bistro in Paris where Parisans actually would eat. :)

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Jersey Girl227

                    I just celebrated my anniversary at La Silhouette, which is my favorite all around NY restaurant.
                    Picholine was recently refurbished and has new life breathed into it.
                    Lincoln is also a fine dining place in Lincoln Center.

                    1. re: Jersey Girl227

                      Given the parameters described by the OP, I heartily second the recommendation for Benoit.

                    2. I am looking for the same thing! In-laws are French and looking for an upscale modern French restaurant, not something stuffy and old-school. Am interested to see what the hounds recommend!

                      1. Agree with those who rec'd La Silhouette: while more formal than a bistro, is more casual than La Grenouille or Le Bernardin, and has a modern flair. I think it would fit your request nicely.

                        1. If you're willing to head into the East 50s, there's La Mangeoire on 53rd & 2nd. Cosy, bistro-ish, and they've also got 1/2 portions for those who'd like to eat well, but not so heavily. http://www.lamangeoire.com/menu.html
                          Other than that, you can't really go wrong with the Modern IF you like the current menu - it changes seasonally. And I've completely given up on Café Boulud. The slowest service in town.

                          1. La Silhouette looks nice. I was hoping for more creativity on the menu. Do they have many specials in addition to the set menu?

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: Bkeats

                              La Silhouette is fairly traditional with a few modern tweaks. I haven't been there in several months though.

                              Try Corton for a creative French menu.

                              1. re: peter j

                                Corton? Been there done that. Dining room is the opposite of warm and comfortable. More like sleek minimalism. Creativity at its limits when you can't recognize anything on the plate. Not Mom's preference.

                                1. re: Bkeats

                                  Perhaps consider Picholine or Tocqueville for safe, accessible, but somewhat creative food and presentation,

                              2. re: Bkeats

                                I'd suggest The Modern Dining Room if you want something creative and not too formal.

                                1. re: Cheeryvisage

                                  Unfortunately they don't have room for us.

                              3. If you're willing to go to the east side, La Mangeoire is fantastic and not too formal. They serve an outstanding roast chicken for two, as well as some classics like duck rillette and frisee w/ lardons. Definitely worth checking out.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: NYR11

                                  I like La Mangeoire, but "fantastic" is an extreme exaggeration. It's fine for what it is, but nowhere near "fantastic."

                                  1. re: gutsofsteel

                                    Totally agree.

                                    1. re: gutsofsteel

                                      When I said it's fantastic I didn't mean it's the best restaurant in NYC. Far from it. But I happen to think it's fantastic for what it is, a more relaxed French restaurant, that's not a bistro. It could be a good option for the OP, and I think it's far better than "fine". Just an opinion tho, no need to get into semantics.

                                  2. Le Veau D'Or (if it's open) or La Mangeoire would be a big step down. In addition to Benoit, consider L'Absinthe.

                                    1. Le gigot?

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: mahler5

                                        I've eaten there twice in my last three trips to NYC. The first time sort of by accident. My daughter wanted to eat somewhere near by on a cold night. The next time we went, we were wanting a break for the top tables and looking for a neighborhood type place. She remembered the place and wanted to go back.

                                        Pretty good little place. Nothing out of this world, but good honest fare in a friendly atmosphere. The cassoulet was especially good, I thought. Not world class, but good, warm, stick to your ribs good on a cold night good. The salads were good and fresh, too. If I could change one thing, it would be to improve the wine list half a notch. But all things considered, I rather like it.

                                        1. re: Mike C. Miller

                                          Le Gigot? Not anywhere near what OP needs.