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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: 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.

            1. 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.