Best French restaurants in NYC
New York dining mores have experienced a seismic paradigm shift in the past decade, toppling Old World restaurant titans and making conquering heroes of chefs that champion accessible food served in casual environments. But Le Bernardin—the city’s original temple of haute French seafood—survived the shake-up unscathed. Siblings Gilbert and Maguy Le Coze brought their Parisian eatery to Gotham in 1986, and the restaurant has maintained its reputation in the decades since.
Even in the worst of times, a world-class city needs restaurants offering the escape of over-the-top coddling and luxurious food, with a star chef who's not just on the awning but in the kitchen and dining room, too—in short, a place like Daniel. The most classically opulent of the city's rarefied restaurants, Daniel Boulud's 15-year-old flagship emerged from a face-lift, looking about as youthful as a restaurant in a landmark Park Avenue building realistically can. The sprawling dining room no longer resembles the doge's palace in Venice. Instead it's been brought into the 21st century with white walls, contemporary wrought iron sconces and a centerpiece bookshelf lined with vibrant crystal vases among other curios.
Today’s buzz makers are no longer made-for-Michelin temples of hyper-vigilant service and tweezer-art fare—they’re lox-and-schmear bagel bistros, wood-fired pizza joints and prepubescent pop-ups. By those criteria, Gabriel Kreuther—the restaurant, not the man—is not “cool.” The big-box room, situated on the ground floor of the Grace Building, is too comfortably cream-toned for cool, fixed with timber barn beams and folky stork wallprints evocative of the Alsatian farm country where Gabriel Kreuther—the man, not the restaurant—hails. But Kreuther isn’t concerned with cool, nor should he be. Fresh off an acclaimed decade at Danny Meyer’s MoMA restaurant, the Modern, the veteran chef joins the grand pantheon of name-bearing flagships—the Daniels, the Jean-Georges—with cooking that’s as personal as it is precise.
Rebelle seamlessly blends East Side edge with sommelier sophistication. Thick as a hotel-drawer bible, the French-American wine list is a staggering 1,500-bottle selection. Helpful, handshaking bartenders are quick to guide you through the sizable tome, in between stirring oohs and aahs from the crowd every time they whip out one of the bar’s space-age Perlage pressure tombs. Chef Daniel Eddy (formerly of seminal Parisian restaurant Spring) turns out brainy Gallic bar bites with vino in mind.
New York’s haute French dinosaurs (including Lutece, La Cote Basque and La Caravelle) have basically gone extinct over the past few years. La Grenouille, which opened in 1962, is the last survivor, a window to when stuffy waiters and chateaubriand were considered the highest form of dining. It doesn’t get much snootier: jackets are required, cell phones and kids forbidden, and the electric red décor, full of mirrors and flowers and deco details, has the feel of a Mad Men power lunch. That said, La Grenouille endures for a reason: the execution, whether tender, fried sweetbreads, buttery Dover sole with a mustard sauce or five types of pillowly soufflé, remains near flawless. You pay for the flashback—at $95, the three-course prix fixe runs what a full-blown tasting menu does at other top spots, and that’s before numerous insulting supplements and the heavy-hitter wine list. Living history comes at a price.
Over the past decade, Jody Williams has established a serious food-industry following. At the Gallic-themed Buvette, she's got just enough space to feed a neighborhood following. Indeed, with so little room for gastro-groupies, rhapsodic reviews may be the last thing she needs. Williams thrives in this intimate setting. She's filled every nook with old picnic baskets, teapots and silver trays, among other vintage ephemera. Even the bottles of wine seem to have been chosen as much for their aesthetics as their drinkability.
Unlike so many of its vaunted peers, Jean Georges has not become a shadow of itself: The top-rated food is still breathtaking. A velvety foie gras terrine with spiced fig jam is coated in a thin brûlée shell; a more ascetic dish of green asparagus with rich morels showcases the vegetables’ essence. Pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini’s dessert quartets include “late harvest”—a plum sorbet, verbena-poached pear and a palate cleanser of melon soup with “vanilla noodles.”
Bouley features the exciting culinary talents of famed four- star Chef, David Bouley. Bouley offers French cuisine with modern Asian influences served in an elegant and intimate setting. In addition to the á la carte menu, the restaurant offers a $55 five course tasting menu for lunch and $175 seven course tasting menu for dinner. Parties of 8 or more may order from the tasting menu only. Chef Bouley is always happy to accommodate all dietary needs and restrictions. Jackets are required for gentlemen at both lunch and dinner.
Dominique Ansel honed his skills as executive pastry chef at Daniel for six years before opening this American and French patisserie. Caramelized croissants, miniature pastel meringues and madeleines make up the sweet selections at the counter. But the café also serves savory offerings, like roasted butternut squash soup and a pork club sandwich with pickled eggs, tomatoes and spicy mayo on sourdough.
Everything in Lafayette glows: the blue-flamed rotisserie and wood oven, the soft lamps and candles, and the gently backlit bar. The large room enjoys a proper bustle, not a din. Lithe young things tilt their heads over glasses of Sancerre in that golden light at tables, and over at the bar, clutches of suits strain their necks to get the bartender’s attention. The menu, cooked by longtime Craft executive chef Damon Wise, is suffused with all sorts of food you’ll want to eat, starting with hunks of pain de campagne that have a beautiful rye sourness and chew. Spend some time with the dishes in the “French Market” section: egg Lafayette with smoked sable and trout roe, a sort of Russ and Daughters take on deviled eggs.
Michelin-starred chef Armand Arnal (France's La Chassagnette) brings Southern France to Soho with this pint-sized French café, awash in country charm, with reclaimed farmer's tables, vintage colander chandeliers and spindle-leg stools parked at window counters. Partnering with Experimental Cocktail Club co-founder Benjamin Sormonte and baker-event planner Elisa Marshall, classically trained Arnal pulls recipes from the trio's respective families and honors his own Montpellier childhood with dishes like quiche lorraine, chickpea galettes and Nice's take on pizza, focaccia pissaladière. Pastry maven Marshall spearheads the sweets, including cakey madeleine cookies, baba au rhum and flan-like clafouti, served alongside Toby's Estate coffee.