The One Who Keeps the Book New York
How to Get Into Frenchette
This week on Resy we’re exploring the many facets of French restaurants in New York. We unpack why New York has always been obsessed with them, and we ruminate on the timeless joy they bring. We’ve got a soft spot for a classic Midtown bistro. We’ve compiled a list of French restaurants for every occasion. We tell you where you should go to drink French wine. We help you get a table at Frenchette.
While Frenchette first opened nearly five years ago (a short lifetime for restaurants New York), it remains at the top of our lists for a spot to dine out on any given day of the week, especially if you’re in the mood for French fare. Where else in the city can you get brouillade for lunch or dinner, topped with a rotating lineup of accoutrements like snails, mussels, or fresh truffles? You’d be hard pressed to find another spot that serves it.
That luxurious, velvety dish of perfectly scrambled eggs is a perfect example of what makes Frenchette well, Frenchette — and what’s kept so many diners coming back for more. Frenchette chefs and owners Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson (both of whom are also behind Le Rock, which opened in July at Rockefeller Center) worked beside one another at Balthazar for years before branching out on their own with Frenchette. In 2019, the restaurant won the James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant for its French-ish takes on classic staples of Gallic cuisine. Post-pandemic, the dining room and the new outdoor chalet remain packed on most nights.
As 5 p.m. becomes the new 8 p.m. in New York, and Thursday becomes the new Friday, tables are booked up across the board at Frenchette with each drop of their reservations. However, you needn’t worry; in this edition of The One Who Keeps the Books, we talk to Gabrielle Buffong, Frenchette’s maître’ d, who shares the inside scoop on how to snag a seat at Frenchette,
Resy: How long have you worked at Frenchette?
Buffong: I’ve been doing some version of maitre d’ing or managing for about a decade now in New York and have been at Frenchette since 2018, starting just a few months after its opening in April. Like most people in New York, I have many pursuits. I graduated from Savannah College of Art & Design with a degree in art history and a master’s in administration and moved here to be an archivist at the Brooklyn Museum, and quickly realized that wasn’t going to be the case. But I think as a historian, I can remember things. And it’s so funny because it applies to my role here as well. Guests are like, “How do you remember what I was drinking last time?” I keep notes, but I also remember having conversations with you. “Oh, you told me last time you were pregnant. Congratulations again.” Or, “You want a mocktail?” Remembering little things and forming relationships with guests, making friends, and meeting neighbors and new people is one of the best parts of the job.
How many seats are there?
The dining room seats about 75. And then we have the bar stools and bar banquettes which seat another 25. So inside, we can do 100. And then with the outside chalet we can seat 50 more people, which increases the size of the restaurant by half.
Can you tell us a little more about the outdoor expansion area?
In April 2021, we built a heated chalet outside of the restaurant and took all of the tables from the dining room and moved them out there, as well as having had a few tables on the sidewalk already. Our neighbors who live above us and nearby were all happy to see us up and running again and supported us. We kept the chalet up even after opening back up inside at full capacity and we’ll rent it out for larger or private parties. It has heating as well, which we put in during September 2021, and it’s a really nice spot to sit especially since it’s heated for the winter.
When do reservations drop on Resy?
Reservations drop a month in advance. We release about 80 % of our tables. I know a lot of people say that they can’t get a 7:30 p.m. or a 6:30 p.m. reservation which, apparently, according to The [New York] Times is the new go-to dinner time. It’s not because we’re holding them back; we release as many as we can. It’s just that we can’t be at 100% capacity a month in advance.
What You Need to Know
Plan Ahead: Reservations drop a month out at midnight.
Walk on In: The bar, banquettes, and outdoor area are easiest for walk-ins to snag, though you should aim to get there on the earlier side of dinner service to take your pick of what’s available.
Must Orders: Brouillade; do note that everything on the menu rotates seasonally, except for the poulet roti, but get the moules escabeche; salade de chicories; and the fromage selection for dessert if you can.
The Layout: Frenchette has approximately 100 seats indoors, and 50 outdoors. Seating options include the bar, banquettes adjacent to the bar, the main dining room, and an outdoor heated chalet.
Pro Tip: Many of Frenchette’s classic dishes are also served on its lunch menu, so if you can’t get a table for dinner, try stopping in for lunch and sit at the bar or a banquette to get a feel for the space (and ask the hostess to try and squeeze you in for a future dinner reservation).
How long is your Notify List on average?
At any given time, there are probably between 600 to 800 people on the Notify List. We open up the slots, people get those notifications, and then they’re gone pretty quickly. A couple of days out I’ll release tables where I see space as well, and I see people getting them off of the Notify lists, so don’t lose hope!
Reservation or not, you’re always welcome to stop in! People also don’t realize that behind our phone is a real person, usually me. You can text us about reservations and wait times if you have an existing reservation with us on Resy.
Are any of the seats in the restaurant held for walk-ins? When’s the best time to walk in?
We try to keep the barstools for first come, first serve, and same with the sidewalk tables. If you really feel discouraged, try stopping in on a Monday or Tuesday near the beginning of service, which is a little bit more flexible than on Thursday or Friday night at 7:30 p.m.
What do you think keeps Frenchette packed night after night?
I think our success is owed to people knowing our notorious chefs, Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr — the starting CDCs [chefs de cuisine] of Balthazar and Minetta Tavern. People eagerly anticipated them starting their own venture separate from Keith McNally [the owner of Balthazar and Minetta Tavern]. Perhaps they heard about us because we won best new restaurant in the country from the James Beard Foundation in 2019 as well. They are curious as to what the food and wine will be like for a restaurant with that level of recognition.
I think they return because they realize this is a neighborhood place filled with regulars and a staff that loves being here — it’s a home away from home. It’s got a menu that changes, with spins and takes on classic French bistro dishes with influences from several other countries and cuisines. Everyone gets to experience something new, whether it is their first time or their 20th time.
When’s the last seating for dinner?
So, our last reservation is usually at 9:30 or 10 p.m. and we try to stop taking walk-ins around then as well. The kitchen stays open as long as folks are seated, so people walking in at 10 p.m. get the same experience as people who sit down at 5:30 p.m. We usually do last call at the bar at 11:30 p.m., depending on who’s in the house. If everyone’s hanging out and having a good time, we may push it to midnight on a Friday or Saturday.
How many covers do you do on an average night?
We usually start off with between 140 to 160 covers and end up hitting about 200 by the end of the evening.
For someone going to Frenchette for the first time, what are the must-try dishes?
Our menu changes every day, but the chicken will always be on the menu, though the sides change. Some cut of steak will always be on the menu, but sometimes it’s the steak au poivre and sometimes it’s a petite tender, you know? It’s always going to change.
When people come in and they have their hopes set on ordering the duck frites, I try to tell them, “Well, try the duck confit. Our chef knows what he’s doing each day. He’s going to the farmer’s market in the morning and getting Rick’s beans and produce. We have our heritage farm pork — we have, as our chef de cuisine, Charlie Izenstein — and we’ll serve the entire pig, or cow gizzard; we’re using every part of it. That’s a big part of what sets us apart from other bistro-style restaurants, as well as our wine list curated with all biodynamic wines.
What’s the vibe like on a Friday night? What’s music is playing? Who’s dining in?
Average customers are usually our neighbors from Tribeca who live close by, or members of the creative community involved in art, fashion and, of course, food and wine from all over the world that intersects beautifully in our dining room.
We are always busy and bustling, but I try my best to accommodate all walk-ins, sometimes with a bit of wait but never with an exclusive or unwelcome vibe. We play a mix of the decades and genres all curated by chef Riad’s wife, Dava Nasr, a member of Cycle Sluts from Hell — who toured with Motörhead — mixed with selects that she picks herself.
Can people request specific tables? Which is the best in the house?
I make note of where I notice regulars like to sit and will try to keep them in that general area. If someone requests a table or section, I’ll try my best to put them there, of course. There’s really no bad seat though; there are some pillars in the dining room that actually create some nice privacy where the two tables might be close together otherwise. The tables in the center of the dining room allow guests to really feel immersed in the ambiance and the full scale of the space but, of course, everyone loves a booth.
Are there any other tips or tricks you have for getting a table?
We don’t have a phone line that is answered continuously but our Resy notifications, if you already have a reservation, are answered by me in real time. If you already have a reservation and need to make an adjustment, I will be answering via text message through Resy. That is always the best way to get in contact with the restaurant.
We don’t have a phone line that we answer during service, but we have email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org if you don’t have a reservation or if you can’t get through via text.
The biggest thing I can stress is to just hit us up if you have an existing reservation, even if it’s just a text. Every day I spend time answering text messages when I get in and throughout service. I’m checking in with you 15 minutes before your reservation, and after that 15-minute grace period, I’ll check in with you again. After you confirm your estimated time of arrival you can text me and tell me what’s up.
If someone is running super late, maybe I can put them up at the bar; we have our full menu there, so you’ll still have a great time — just communicate with us! And if you can’t get a table for dinner at the time or day you’re looking for, come in for lunch to try out the menu and chat with us about it. We’ll see what we can do.
Frenchette is open from noon to 10 p.m. Mondays through Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Sundays.
[Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Frenchette’s chef de cuisine. His name is Charlie Izenstein.]
Magdalena O’Neal is a freelance writer, food stylist, recipe developer and editor living between Los Angeles and New York. Follow her on Instagram. Follow Resy, too.