Midweek Distractions 8/11/23: What even is a French restaurant?

Oeufs Mayo at Libertine

Last week, I wrote about Libertine, a hot new French restaurant in the West Village that has become the new impossible-to-get reservation in NYC. In my review, I discussed the resto’s attempt to appear low-key and accessible, a rather funny conversation with our server, and one of the best duck dishes I have ever had the pleasure of eating.I’ve thought a lot about the concept of the French restaurant over the years. In fact, the first feature I ever did for Frenchly was about how restaurants in France have been looking to other countries for their inspiration, making French cuisine a more nebulous construct than ever. As the French lean more into plant-based and gluten-free dining options, and young French people opt for sushi over steak frites, the definition of French food (as in, literally, what French people eat) has expanded. Meanwhile, the American perception of it has fossilized a limited, Julia Child-inspired version of it as canon.

The overlap between French restaurants and fine dining complicates the issue, as both came back in full force last year, only to falter as folks got tired of the same old “safe” dining fare. (There was actually a fascinating piece in Eater about this last week.) Many restaurants call themselves French, without seeming to understand what that means. A recent visit to The Consulate in Midtown Manhattan, which calls itself a French restaurant, proved perplexing when I noticed that many of the French words on the menu were misspelled, and there didn’t seem to be many French food items on the menu. (Though they did have an excellent tuna tartare with yuzu, and a sandwich with seared tuna steak on stellar bread that I have not been able to stop thinking about.)

But I hold out hope to be surprised. Last year, I wrote about Le Dive, a Lower East Side spot with impeccable vibes and excellent food, which has a prix fixe group dining option that, at $60 (raised from $45 at the time of writing), is truly an excellent deal for the amount and quality of food you get. And they offer a mixture of classic French items, plant-based riffs, and dishes that draw on North African and other culinary influences common in France.And there are always the reliable neighborhood staples, like Claudette in the Village, where you can get a Lamb Tagine and Bouillabaisse that will take you straight to Marseille. Or Juliette, arguably the most Instagrammable French restaurant in Brooklyn.

Since my knowledge of the U.S. French food scene is largely NYC-centric, I’d love to hear about your favorite French restaurants in the U.S. Bonus points if they offer anything a little more adventurous than Salade Niçoise.

Things I found on the Internet…

A Frenchie’s top French restaurants in NYC. The hidden benefits of learning a language. And a joke about French people always being late.

Catherine Rickman
Managing Editor, frenchly.us

Stay in touch! I’d love to hear from you: [email protected]







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