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Robb Report Vices

Better Bistro Experiences

Gloria Dawson

The City That Never Sleeps and the City of Lights are a good pair, mixing Paris’s je ne sais quoi with New York’s straight-shooting style. There are plenty of French bistros in New York City, but not all are worthy of mention. In classic New York style, we’ll get right to the point: Here are the five bistros worthy of your attention during your own domestic Tour de France.

Into the Fryer

Sure, you can get steak frites most anywhere, but very few establishments carry a full-time french-fry attendant. Les Halles does. These days, the bistro has two locations, but we prefer the original on Park Avenue, where Anthony Bourdain famously did time and now serves as the chef at large. According to Bourdain—who references the restaurant in his book Kitchen Confidentialsteak frites is the backbone of Les Halles. The french-fry guy “spends his entire day doing nothing but peeling potatoes, cutting potatoes, blanching potatoes, and then, during service, dropping them into 375-degree peanut oil, tossing them with salt, and stacking the sizzling hot spuds onto plates with his bare hands. I've had to do this a few times, and it requires serious calluses.”

But ask any diner and they’ll tell you that it’s well worth it. To top it off, these spuds are paired with meat fresh from the butcher, which diners walked past on their way to the dining room. You can’t get any better than that.

A Curative Approach

The specialty position at Bar Boulud is charcutière, and the honor belongs to Aurelien Dufour. His team breaks down more than 4,000 pounds of locally sourced pork each week, which makes the charcuterie board the must-try dish here. In fact, we recommend that you sit at the bar that displays the goods. Pay close attention to the jambon de Paris, which is cooked for five days, deboned, and then reassembled, as well as the saucisson sec—pork sausage with red wine that is cured for three weeks then smoked just before being served.

Healthy Alternatives

Contrary to what we’ve covered to this point (and what most people envision when they think of the cuisine), French dining  isn’t just about eating rich, meaty dishes. To balance the steak and sausage, we suggest you tuck into the classic red banquettes at Benoit and try the classic dish of the month (for July), a day-boat cod poached in a milk and garlic and paired with summer vegetables and quail eggs. According to chef Philippe Bertineau, “The dish is nourishing yet refreshing, and a perfect post-workout meal.”

Musseling Up

Seafood is also the specialty at Fada in Williamsburg. A dozen styles of mussels grace the menu at this Marseilles-style bistro. Order a heaping bowl of the beer- and bacon-laden Quebec-style mussels served with poutine, and enjoy them alfresco in the backyard garden.

’Tis the Saison

Another refreshing way to enjoy your French fare is with a cold beer. Café d’Alsace, an otherwise classic-looking bistro, employs Gianni Cavicchi, a beer sommelier, to help guide diners through the 120 beers on offer, proving that you need not uncork a bottle of wine to imbibe like the French. Cavicchi suggests pairing the goat-cheese Tatin, which he calls “a neighborhood favorite and a personal obsession,” with a local brew like Barrier Saisoff Farmhouse Ale from New York.

Don’t forget to ask him about his aged beers in the wine cellar. He’s passionate about cracking them open right at their peak. Currently, Cavicchi is pouring bottles of Dark Horse’s Reserve Special Black Ale from 2012, which is rich with caramel and coffee notes.

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