Recently Opened Restaurants (In Honor of Bastille Day)
by Julie Besonen, 07/13/2009
268 W. Broadway, 212-925-1600, TriBeCa, Manhattan
The wrought-iron latticework spreading toward the lofty ceiling makes you feel like you're sitting at the base of the Eiffel Tower, so how's that for feigning being in Paris for Bastille Day? Giant birdcages with bird-size bulbs illuminate tout le monde in a flattering light, and over the radiant bar "Porte du Bonheur" (roughly translated as "lucky charm") is imprinted in big black letters. If you think this sounds like a high-spirited place, you're right. Terrance Brennan, of Picholine and Artisanal fame, has imbued his downtown outpost with a cheese focus, but still caters to those who might have other cravings. In addition to a fragrant cheese and charcuterie bar is an all-under-$21 menu of pissaladiere (wood-fired, French-style pizza), seafood, pork belly and supersize hamburgers. Celebrations can continue until 1am, when an appealing late-night menu is in effect.
La Bonne Soupe
48 W. 55th St., 212-586-7650, Midtown West, Manhattan
Longtime regulars are applauding the return of La Bonne Soupe, a beloved bistro that closed in March after a kitchen fire. The water damage proved to be worse than the fire, leading the Picot family to install new black and white tile floors; chocolate banquettes; soft, indirect lighting and, of course, a new kitchen, which hadn't been renovated since the place opened in 1973. The debut of the new bi-level space occurred over Fourth of July weekend, just in time to be equipped for the July 14 onslaught of revelers. In the department of other reasons to be happy: the family's Haitian art collection was spared, and the modestly priced menu of Gallic classics (salad Niçoise, croque monsieur, filet mignon au poivre) is the same. French onion soup with salad, dessert and a glass of wine is $17.25, and the three-course prix-fixe dinner, with more meaty choices, goes for $23.95.
Le Relais de Venise L'Entrecôte
590 Lexington Ave., 212-758-3989, Midtown East, Manhattan
The name is a bit of a mouthful, but once you get past that, dining here is user-friendly. First things first: you must like salad and steak and accept that there is no other choice until it's time for dessert. The prix-fixe meal is $24 and includes a salad with walnuts and mustard vinaigrette and sliced steak doused in "secret recipe sauce," which smacks of tarragon and butter. A pile of hot, skinny fries is also heaped on the plate. The steak is tender though not transporting, but even still, the moment comes when you think, Yes, I'll be back. Luckily, that's also exactly the moment second helpings surprisingly appear, having been kept warm over a flame. To quench your thirst, order the house wine, just under $20 a bottle. It's a formula that's made the chainlet all the rage in Paris, London and Barcelona. Time will tell how New Yorkers respond, but it's a pretty sweet deal.
Sel de Mer
374 Graham Ave., 718-387-4181, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Chef/owner Jeff Slagg (ex-Sweetwater and Oceana) has eaten his way through France a few times, and here faithfully re-creates a mussels dish he had in Lyon, the bivalves swimming in Roquefort, pancetta, heavy cream and white wine. The menu at his new no-frills Williamsburg spot has staples like steak with haricots verts and beer-battered fish and chips, but the specials are really where it's at, depending on what's freshest at the fish market. The French-style preparation means seafood is basted with butter and fine herbs and the skin left on. The wine and beer license is still pending, but once it's granted, you can drink at the dock-like bar that Slagg and a friend made from reclaimed wood.
Plus: French Cuisine for the Classically Minded
746 Madison Ave., 212-988-8169, Upper East Side, Manhattan
Madison Avenue is about to lose one of its biggest French stars, so you'd better act fast to experience your New York moment here. The latest news is that this well-preserved, 36-year-old beauty will be closed by the end of August. In short, the landlord has other plans for the building. Jean Denoyer and his partner/cousin, Régis Marinier, hope to move into another space soon, but will it have the same polished staff, gorgeous dark wood paneling, warm lighting and dramatic flower arrangements? Will it attract the same society and celebrity clientele? We can only hope. In the meantime, the $35 prix-fixe menu remains in place, featuring Marseille-style fish soup, coq au vin and pêche melba.
180 Prince St., 212-966-3518, SoHo, Manhattan
Don't forget about Raoul's, a favorite haunt of actors, musicians, artists, fashion people and publishing types (those who still have jobs, anyway) since 1975. It's a way to experience SoHo's bygone grooviness before it got all slick and commercialized. David Honeysett's French fare might be better than ever—there's artichoke vinaigrette, frisée with lardons and poached duck egg, seared foie gras with local strawberries and chanterelles and classic steak au poivre. For summer, items like lobster gazpacho and bigeye tuna sashimi with salty melon consommé have been added to the mix. We're not naming names, but you never know who you're going to see in the dark, sexy booths or glass-enclosed atrium.