The Absolute Best French Restaurants in New York

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Le Bernardin. Photo: Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine

We’ve already discussed the best French bistros in New York City, so now it’s time — after much tasting of pastries, tartares, and flambées — to focus on what my dear grandmother used to call “the real fancy ones.” Here are the places to visit for grand, old-style Parisian service, elaborate sauces (and flower arrangements), and puffy dessert soufflés.

The Absolute Best

1. Le Bernardin
155 W. 51st St., nr. Seventh Ave.; 212-554-1515

To the staunchly conservative Francophiles who dare suggest that this seafood-themed, fusion-tinged, quintessentially New York restaurant is not really French at all, the chef and co-owner, Eric Ripert, has a stock reply. “It’s so silly,” he says. “Look at our technique.” He’s talking, of course, about the first-class kitchen, which is stocked with sauciers, fish cooks, and pastry chefs, all of them skilled in the delicate and ancient art of haute cuisine. He’s talking about the dining room, which — both in service and style —remains as close to the Parisian three-star ideal as any dining establishment in this increasingly one-star town. And he’s talking about the ever-evolving menu, which still contains some of the finest examples of grand French cooking (sautéed Dover sole, lobster à l’américaine, truffled squab with red-wine sauce, the desserts) that money can buy.

2. Le Coucou
138 Lafayette St., at Howard St.; 212-271-4252

Chicago’s own Daniel Rose comes to New York by way of Paris, where he runs two of the most distinctly “French,” distinctly “Parisian” restaurants in that diverse dining city. For New Yorkers who wish to reintroduce themselves to the iconic glories of classic specialties like celeri rémoulade, fried veal head, and pike quenelles poured with gouts of pink lobster sauce, there’s no better venue in town.

3. Daniel
60 E. 65th St., nr. Park Ave.; 212-288-0033

The great Jean-Georges Vongerichten may have elevated into the stratosphere of global fusionism, but like Le Bernardin, Daniel Boulud’s famous canteen remains at heart a neighborhood joint in a neighborhood filled with devotees of grand French cooking. Go for the roasted pigeonneau, the fricassée d’escargot, and the veal sweetbreads, which — the last time we checked — was served with a radical garnish of pickled kumquats.

4. Bâtard
239 W. Broadway, nr. White St.; 212-219-2777

The chef, Markus Glocker, is Austrian, it’s true, but the prix fixe menu at Drew Nieporent’s elegant Tribeca establishment is peppered with numerous French classics (steak tartare, braised porcelet shoulder, pear tarte Tatin); and at four courses for $85, you won’t find a better gourmet deal in the city. If you have the funds, Nieporent’s collection of Burgundies is as impressive as ever.

5. La Grenouille
3 E. 52nd St., nr. Fifth Ave.; 212-752-1495

The Masson family may be in a state of quiet turmoil, and the quality of ageless specialties like lobster bisque, grilled sole, and crêpes flambées may go up and down with the passage of time. But as long as the proprietors own their midtown townhouse off Fifth Avenue, the gilded, rose-scented, fin de siècle Frenchness of this landmark restaurant will endure.

Honorable Mentions

Buvette
42 Grove St., nr. Bleecker St.; 212-255-3590

Jody Williams’s beautifully calibrated, little West Village restaurant is a madhouse if you don’t time your visits right, but there’s no arguing with the small, perfectly plated bistro specialties, which are designed — like hands on the clock — to satisfy your cravings for a croque monsieur, or a croissant with jam, or a warming crock of cassoulet, morning, noon, and night.

Gabriel Kreuther
41 W. 42nd St., nr. Sixth Ave.; 212-257-5826

The elaborately styled dining-room delicacies of this ambitious midtown establishment have their charms, but if it’s real “Frenchness” you’re after, the barroom is the place to be. Kreuther’s famous tartes flambées are worth a special visit, along with his upmarket versions of Alsatian pork sausage and tripe gratin.

Le Coq Rico
30 E. 20th St., nr. Park Ave. South; 212-267-7426

Antoine Westermann is known for his facility with what is, next to cheese, that most Gallic of proteins, the barnyard chicken. The roasted, broiled, and fricasséed birds are great here, but the old ancien régime desserts — l’île flottante, baba au rhum, the profiteroles, a giant “to share” mille-feuille — might be even better.

Le Turtle
177 Chrystie St., at Rivington St.; 646-918-7189

There are more diverse, trendy, brasserie-style menus in the city, but the dishes Greg Proechel chooses to focus on — chicken-liver mousse with a great chunk of country bread; braised oxtails feathered with breadcrumbs; a superior country chicken for two — are done exceedingly well.

Vaucluse
100 E. 63rd St., at Park Ave.; 646-869-2300

Michael White’s extravagant Park Avenue establishment makes this list on the surprising strength of simpler, more classic dishes — like the fluffy, crusted, lunchtime quiche Lorraine; the roast chicken; and a superior steak tartare, which is served in proper uptown style, with a silver cup brimming with frites.

*A version of this article appears in the March 6, 2017, issue of New York Magazine.

The Absolute Best French Restaurants in New York