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Lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice. The same restaurateurs, however, are a completely different story, particularly when you’re Mario Carbone, Rich Torrisi and Jeff Zalaznick, the ball-swinging trio who’ve turned Major Food Group into a hit-making machine, captivating critic and layman alike with their red-sauced swagger at Torrisi Italian Specialties, Parm and, most strikingly, Carbone.
The team’s lofty ambitions have always been evident—the Mulberry Street deli serves a $100 prix-fixe menu, and a swell’s worth of ink has been spilled on Carbone’s $50 veal parmigiana—but they hit the apex with this showy Ludlow Hotel venture, the chain-smoking Parisian cousin to Carbone’s three-card-monte–dealing paesano. And though it shares an affinity for sticker shock and tableside fanfare, the team’s first non-Italian outfit is a different beast entirely.
The set piece here hits less on-point than at Carbone, where everything from the Sinatra tunes to the hard-voweled servers has been collected with a Tarantinian eye for detail. A vaguely ’80s thread weaves through French’s dining room: Hot pink powers the Dirty Dancing–esque neon sign bookending the entry, a popping hue that recurs on waiters’ button-downs and later on the engraved lucite handles of the restaurant’s Laguiole knives. Ivory busts, bleeding from the nose, peer from the vaulted ceilings like leftovers from an Annie Lennox video.
It’s a thematic shakiness atypical of such a plugged-in crew, but they find more stable footing in the cocksure menu, a mélange of bistro bona fides dabbed with North African color. A gratis starter of fluffy naan-like flatbread will prove to be a favorite even before dinner begins, brazenly buttery and herb-licked with a dollop of creamy fromage blanc.
A server lugs a silver tub spotlighting the oysters du jour, but skip the haughty slurps for velvety lamb carpaccio ($17) kissed with cumin, eggplant and fig. Frisée salad ($18), pierced with a skewer of sizzling giblets, is an effigy of the brasserie classic but pales when Carbone’s monumental Caesar salad creeps back into memory.
Then there’s the powerhouse côte de boeuf ($150 for 33oz) served in two stages, a distinctly over-the-top Torrisian feat of tender rib eye lush with béarnaise and a ground fat-cap brochette. You’ll only be able to eat a few bites, but those are nearly enough to make up for the lack of spark that Dirty French has in the grand scheme of the empire. For a second, you’ll almost forget about Carbone. Almost.