A few dishes from La Brasserie
Photo courtesy of La Brasserie

Resy SpotlightNationalNew York

The Timeless Joy of French Restaurants


I’m seated in the far-right corner booth of the recently opened La Brasserie on a particularly gray late afternoon in New York. Save for the Amy Winehouse playing in the background, deafening any noise from outside, or the large glass display case of Staub mini cocotte dishes on the back wall, I could be sitting in any number of French bistros or brasseries in the U.S. But it’s not just the white tablecloths, tiled floors, the patina finish on the walls, or the aroma of French onion soup that feel so familiar. It’s simply how you feel when you’re dining in a French restaurant — like you’re primed for a meal, an experience, you know you’re going to enjoy.

I also happen to be sitting next to Francis Staub, the Frenchman who made his fortune in the 1970s by reinventing enameled cast-iron cookware, and who has now dedicated his life’s work to being a restaurateur. I’m here to talk to him about his newest restaurant, La Brasserie, as well as why New Yorkers (myself included) love French restaurants so much. What is it about French restaurants that keeps us so enthralled?

Photo courtesy of La Brasserie
Photo courtesy of La Brasserie

It’s a question I’ve pondered a lot within the last year, especially with so many French (or French-influenced) restaurants and bars emerging, and with so many of my fellow New Yorkers still clamoring for hard-to-get tables at Balthazar, Pastis, or Raoul’s.

It was a lunch I won’t forget — for a variety of reasons — but also one that reminded me so much of the French restaurant meals I’ve had in New York over the years. The long, leisurely bistro lunches. The candlelit dinners. The solo café breakfasts. Moules frites and martinis at the brasserie. Shared glasses of wine and orders of pâté at the bar. Each of those meals was about savoring the moment, to take pleasure in it all.


The last time I was here, sitting roughly in the same corner nearly 15 years ago, this space was Bistro Les Halles, the same restaurant on Park Avenue South where Anthony Bourdain once led the kitchen, before he’d become the celebrated television host and author we knew him to be. Les Halles closed in 2017, and last year Staub reopened it as La Brasserie.

But it wasn’t just about dining at La Brasserie or even Les Halles before it that felt so familiar; the same feelings bubbled up when I sat at the counter at Claud or Place des Fêtes last fall, too. Ditto for when a friend and I grabbed a prime sidewalk-facing corner at Le Dive in the summer. Or when I popped into Le Gratin for drinks after work one day. And when I convinced a friend to leave the office a bit early to meet me at Raoul’s so we could snag one of their inimitable au poivre burgers.

It was the singular timelessness of dining at a French restaurant that I was feeling. For all the clichés about French restaurants or culture that exist, there’s just something truly special about them — in New York especially — that I can’t seem to shake. It’s the anticipation of a meal that simultaneously offers comfort and sophistication in the form of tender and tart leeks vinaigrette, creamy quenelle de brochet, satisfying steak haché, and flutes of crisp Champagne. And in a city where you always feel like you’re on deadline for pretty much everything, they’re one of the few places where you’re encouraged to take your time.

For all the clichés about French restaurants or culture that exist, there’s just something truly special about them — in New York especially — that I can’t seem to shake.

At lunch, Staub orders for the both of us, and he sticks to the classics. We start with a savory soufflé au Comté “retourné” au caviar, in addition to steak tartare, paired with an entire bottle of one of his favorite vintages. For our mains, it’s steak frites for him and poulet frites for me. The whole Cornish hen is served in its very own Staub cocotte, no less, and Staub carves the bird for me, leaving no frite or piece of poultry uncovered by the accompanying béarnaise. He generously pours sauce on his own steak and fries, as well as sprinkling an entire tiny ramekin’s worth of whole black peppercorns over his dish — so much so that even a few errant peppercorns land in his water glass (though he doesn’t seem to notice). For dessert, he insists on Champagne, plus espresso with a touch of cinnamon, and an assortment of pastries, including a passionfruit crème brûlée.

When I ask Staub what made him want to be a restaurateur in New York, and why he chose to open French restaurants here, his responses are, well, what you might expect. He talks about “the energy” of New York. He says he sometimes thinks the French food here is better than it is in Paris. He quizzes me on my opinions of other bastions of French food in the city, like Balthazar and Le Bernardin. He asks whether I’ve stopped by Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s new Tin Building yet. He rhapsodizes about Robuchon and Bourdain, lamenting that both are no longer with us.

It’s a conversation that stands out even more at a time when so many new French restaurants are opening: wine bars (so many of them!) like Place des Fêtes, Le Dive, Deux Chats, and Claud; French Japanese spots like l’abeille and House Brooklyn; and bistros, bouchons, and brasseries like Le Gratin, Koloman, Le Rock, and the soon-to-open Libertine. The arrival of Brasserie Fouquet’s New York, all the way from Paris. Outside of New York, there are places like Camphor, Mes Amis, Bar Chelou, and Perle in Los Angeles; Routier, La Société, and Le Fantastique in the Bay Area; and L’Avant Garde in D.C. And at the same time, so many fellow New Yorkers still flock to nostalgic stalwarts like The Odeon, Café Luxembourg, or L’Express, too. After all, haven’t we earned this after the past few years we’ve endured post-pandemic?

Later that afternoon, when it’s finally time for me to leave La Brasserie and head back to the office, Staub rises from the table. After the requisite thank-yous and goodbyes, his last words are: “Don’t forget to be happy.”

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Deanna Ting is Resy’s New York Editor. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter. Follow Resy, too.