Sunday, July 10, 2011

Review: Les Halles Park Ave, NYC

With his cavalier attitude, his love of food, travel, wine and smoking it can be no surprise to anyone that Anthony Bourdain is someone I look up to (and am incredibly jealous of). So after years of watching his shows and reading his books I finally bothered to go and eat at the restaurant that made him so famous - Brasserie Les Halles in New York City.

So named for the Les Halles marketplace in Paris the Brasserie is designed to bring good quality simple French bistro food using American ingredients to the New York crowd and it does this well. This being the US the majority of service staff I encounter are Latin but nonetheless the feel of the restaurant is murky European style and devoid of the washed clean Americana they seem to love in the US.

The Brasserie Les Halles has long been a New York favourite and evidently makes a roaring trade of 'event meals' with custom artwork for the restaurant in the art deco style to celebrate major events. I was rather enamoured of the display of them on show.

I was in town for the Memorial Day long weekend and after a lovely day site seeing with some friends we decided to round it all out with a meal here. I'm rather used to public holidays incurring some kind of service levy - but not in the land of the free where penalty rates don't exist! Not only was their no additional service cost, but to my surprise the wine is always 50% off on a Monday - including long weekends.

Pommery “POP Earth” Brut $125USD ($62.50 on Mondays)

That of course meant to I had to start with a champagne - this is the eco offering from staple Champagne house Pommery which was the first champagne house to obtain ISO 14001 environmental certification for their efforts in sustainable farming and waste management. You can feel good about yourself as you drink what is a classic glass of Pommery; crisp and fruity with a long finish.

Sour dough bread and Terrine Maison $8.50USD

If there's anyway I like a meal to start it's with champagne, pate and cornichons. Prior to this meal I had just spent 2 weeks in French canada being stuffed to the gills with exotic pates so it's nice to be presented with a simple French classic made well and in house.

Soup of the Day - Carrot Soup $8.75

Often in the US I am a little afraid of the vegetables - factory farming is the norm and many ingredients travel long distances. Brightly coloured vegetable soups such as these speak of local high quality produce and a respect for the food that I am thankful for.

Betteraves rôties au fromage de chèvre (red beets with roasted goat cheese) $7.75USD

The Australian obsession with beets is fairly well known (and somewhat abhorred by foreigners) however I am a little surprised that my friends have not encountered this classic combination of beets and goats cheese. Good quality French Chevre is used and the presentation is simple but modern.

From Les Halles

2008 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Télégramme $80USD ($40USD on Mondays)

Les Halles is famous for its beef, and I do love a Grenache Mourvedre with a steak, so with such a discount I immediately reach for the best Grenache I can find on the menu this 2008 Telegramme. It has the familiar notes of any French Mourvedre blend and is of a good enough drinking age to be appreciated, it sits extremely well with the French style food and I would easily order this as a staple in French restaurants.

Planche de Grillade $29USD for 1 or $58USD for 2 to share

Very happily taking his place as the protein fanatic my friend orders the mixed grill - lamb chop, hanger steak, merguez, steak, thick cut bacon, provençal dressing served with rustic French style chips. I don't dare try and sample from his plate for fear of losing a hand but he looked very pleased with the results.

Coq au Vin $23.50USD

It is the start of Summer and I could not stomach this kind of comfort food in the heat but - when in Rome, why not order a Roman dish? So this French classic is chosen and consumed with glee. This was a daily special and may not be readily on the menu

Noixde St. Jacques Poêlées au Champagne $24.50USD

One member of our party is a pesco-vegetarian and so I am a little surprised that Les Halles is considered the most palatable of the choices I had presented. Nonetheless she did find more than enough to eat and was delighted with these pan seared scallops with champagne cream sauce.

Filet de Boeuf, Béarnaise $31USD

For my meal I eat a tried and true staple of any brasserie - grilled filet with chips and bearnaise sauce. Simple food for me really highlights the quality of the restaurant - simple things done well are so much better than complex food made for the sake of its creator and not its diner. I am not disappointed; the beef is grain fed and dry aged just as I like it. It's slightly less flavourful than Australian beef but it is excellent quality and cooked to perfection. The bearnaise sauce is a classic done well, there is little else to say but that I can see how with such good quality simple food Les Halles could gain the notoriety it has.

Assorted sorbet/glaces $7.50USD

By the time we're done its 36 degrees celsius and we are now all full of wine and rich food - it's time for something a little icy to cool off. Both sorbets and ice creams are on offer all made on premise and recently scooped. They are served simply in a very cold bowl, but they don't last long enough for the bowl to warm up!

Creme Brulee - $8.50USD

Following a meal full of well prepared classics another is brought out - the creme brulee with cracking caramel and rich custard this is another classic recipe prepared with care.

To sum up Les Halles I would say this - when someone cares enough about the food to select classic recipes and excellent ingredients it shows. The entire meal was good quality from the salad to the wine and prepared with care and concern.

Even the service staff seem to have a pride in what they do, they try and stear us away from cooking the meats beyond a certain level (in the most polite of ways), they seem happy to have us choose good matching wines. We are brought extra bread, cold water, special coffee orders without a blink of an eye or a pause for concern. More importantly for myself sometimes I find that well established restaurants can react in an unflattering manner to someone who dresses in an alternative fashion the way I do - regardless of the price of the food or the fact that I am the customer. This snootiness doesn't just affect the alternative dresser though, sometimes you feel as though a restaurant is there to serve the chef's ego and not the customer - and Les Halles is not that place.

I leave feeling sated, well served and not badly out of pocket; the same meal at home would have cost twice the price. There's a standing steak and chips special at $20 and 3 course event and prix fixe menus at $65 a head - A steal by Sydney standards. This is a place you could easily bring your partner on a date or your family for a birthday to feel warm and well fed and leave satisfied. There aren't many places I've seen in New York that fit this bill and I can see why this Brasserie made such a name for itself in its time.

I have seen unflattering reviews of the service at Brasserie Les Halles, I will not say I support them but I will say that the common theme seems to be that those disappointed attended for a Friday or Saturday evening dinner. My honest opinion is that if you're expecting immaculate service on a weekend in a busy New York restaurant you're fooling yourself. Pick a quiet night or an early seating, order a nice simple meal and an excellent bottle of wine and you won't be disappointed. I can only assume I will be back.

Brasserie Les Halles, Park Avenue

411 Park Avenue South (at 29th Street)
New York, NY 10016
Ph: +1-212-679-4111 (or book online)

Open 7:30am – Midnight 7 days - continual service throughout with Brunch on weekends
Fully licensed, upmarket casual atmosphere

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  2. Nice dishes! Some of these my favourite. You make me hungry. hmmmmmmmmm...

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