Eating + Drinking

Inside the New Wave of French Dining Dominating NYC’s Restaurant Scene

A tableful of innovative chefs is sparking a citywide nouvelle vague—and changing the way New Yorkers eat out.

Photo courtesy of La Mercerie

Let’s face it: French food has been a big deal in New York ever since the French pavilion opened at the 1939 World’s Fair. While Le Veau d’Or and La Grenouille are the only remaining restaurants from that gilded era of soufflés and salmon en croute—go while you still can!—the influence of French classics is stronger than ever in the city. Maybe we’re seeking a return to complexity after the sauce-free straightforwardness of farm-to-table. Or perhaps we’re craving something familiar during these disruptive days, a nod to a more genteel time. One thing is for sure: The chefs behind this nouvelle vague did their research, eating their way through France and researching forgotten cookbooks, but, like all New Yorkers, they’re intent on putting their own spin on things.

1) La Grenouille Nouveau

When Charles Masson, who made his name at his family’s La Grenouille, left to open his own place a few years ago, it was a shock to the UES. He has since landed at Majorelle, a much more modern space inside the Lowell Hotel. Tableside service is still de rigueur—try the baba au rhum, lit at a respectful distance—while the menu is also influenced by the garden in Marrakech for which the restaurant is named (think: elegant snapper tagine alongside Dover sole). As always, the food is perfectly light for those long lunches. 28 East 63rd Street (between Madison and Park Avenues), Upper East Side

Majorelle best French restaurants in NYC
Photo by Elizabeth Lippman/Courtesy of Majorelle

2) The Crème de la Crème

At Frenchette in Tribeca, longtime Balthazar and Minetta Tavern chefs Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson have forged their own path—to great success. While the dining room and buzzing bar are more evocative of turn-of-the-century Vienna, the menu is unapologetically French (with, of course, a twist). A decadently rich appetizer of soft scrambled eggs is topped with garlicky escargot. Rotisserie lobster is dipped in melted butter…with curry. And veal sweetbreads are spiced with exotic vadouvan. The wine list is just as rebellious: You won’t find any Burgundies here for the expense-account locals. Instead, it’s 100 percent packed with natural winemakers241 West Broadway (between Walker and White Streets), Tribeca

Frenchette best French restaurants in NYC
Photo courtesy of Frenchette

3) A Cordon Bleu in SoHo

In SoHo, the still-impossible-to-get-into Le Coucou showcases the chops of American-in-Paris Daniel Rose. While his fish quenelles might be textbook classic, right down to the champagne beurre blanc, that grilled lobster is lightened with grapefruit and asparagus, and the oysters are refreshed with a dollop of seaweed ice. The quiet playfulness even translates to the breakfast menu, from which you can order Le Californien, aka avocado toast. 138 Lafayette Street (between Howard and Canal Streets), SoHo

Le Coucou best French restaurants in NYC
Photo by Corry Arnold/Courtesy of Le Coucou

4) Le CouCou’s Counterpart

Not far away, Daniel Rose’s wife, French-born Marie-Aude Rose, is dazzling diners at La Mercerie with her all-day take on her childhood favorites from the countryside—albeit with the modern technique of a Michelin-starred chef. (She and Daniel ran the awarded Spring in Paris.) Her buttery buckwheat crepes, topped with a perfectly fried egg, are a marvel. Even her salade Niçoise is a work of art. For something more substantial, there is coq au vin and boeuf bourguignon. And those croissants? The best in the city. 53 Howard Street (between Mercer Street and Broadway), SoHo

La Mercerie best French restaurants in NYC
Photo courtesy of La Mercerie

5) Harold’s West Village Pied-à-terre

In the West Village, chef Harold Moore has drawn upon his training at French-y restaurants like Daniel, Montrachet, and Jean-Georges to create the all-day menu at the cheerful Bistro Pierre Lapin. You’ll find all the terrines, pâtés, and tableside flambés you’d expect, with seasonal touches like a greens-filled crepe and a platter of chilled salads and veggies. 99 Bank Street (between Greenwich and Hudson Streets), West Village

Bistro Pierre Lapin best French restaurants in NYC
Photo courtesy of Bistro Pierre Lapin/Facebook

6) The Déjà Vu

Downtown isn’t having all the French fun. There are new classics in the making on the Upper East Side, including the revival of La Goulue, that favorite of the quilted-vest set, which has returned after an extended hiatus. The excellent staff is back, and the menu hasn’t changed. That’s a good thing, as its steak frites, salade folle, and famous cheese soufflé have aged as beautifully as its devoted regulars. 29 East 61st Street (between Madison and Park Avenues), Upper East Side

La Goulue best French restaurants in NYC
Photo courtesy of La Goulue/Facebook

7) French à la Mode

At Vaucluse, Marea chef Michael White has tuned in to Upper East Siders’ palates. Let’s rephrase that: This is very rich cooking. A $56 steak frites is served with béarnaise sauce. The house pâté even adds bacon. And ravioli (yes, there’s pasta and risotto—he didn’t change his name to Michel) is filled with rabbit and creamy Reblochon cheese, and goosed with black truffle jus. What the French would have to say about that is open to debate, but regulars are saying “Mon Dieu!” as a compliment. 100 East 63rd Street (between Park and Lexington Avenues), Upper East Side

Vaucluse best French restaurants in NYC
Photo courtesy of Vaucluse

Psst! We also know where all the best restaurants in NYC are. Bon appétit!