Images by Melanie Dunea
Frenchette, the innovative French bistro from Keith McNally alums Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson, just turned one, and we couldn’t be more excited to celebrate. For 16 years, the pair were the dream team behind McNally’s predominantly French empire (Balthazar, Pastis, Minetta Tavern, Schiller’s), and their inaugural venture has more than a few insiders wondering why they didn’t break out sooner. (Though we do understand the loyalty factor.)
Located in the low-key culinary mecca of Tribeca, Frenchette has all the ingredients of an exceptional restaurant – a sometimes daring but approachable menu, clever but unpretentious cocktails, and a very lively scene. But what really sets it apart is the way in which it has reimagined the quintessential French bistro, by infusing it with the intrinsic luxury and sophistication we’ve come to expect from NYC’s most exclusive restaurants.
McNally, of course (much like Danny Meyer), was a master of balancing trendiness and amicability – and we love that Nasr and Hanson have carried over the delivery of exceptional hospitality – often lacking at fashionable hotspots – to Frenchette. Even a year in, it remains one of the toughest reservations in Gotham; yet we noticed the convivial hosts extending patience to even those spontaneous arrivals who are praying that the walk-in gods are smiling upon them. In this way, Frenchette redefines the bistro as a luxe, yet accessible space.
It’s so compelling, in part, because it’s more than a restaurant – it’s an experience. The atmosphere is somewhat surreal, expertly juxtaposing the expected with the unexpected. Foregoing a large, open format, the space is divided into two distinct sections separated by a wall with curved archways – and the buzzy bar area is styled in an Art Deco fashion. While waiting for our table, we ordered up a couple of the signature cocktails: the Rayuela and Eponine Collins – but one might easily be tempted by the list of more than a hundred natural wines.
We were then led through the doorway into the more formal dining room, bathed in a soft, incandescent light. This incredibly intimate space featured only 100 tables, that are so close together you might find yourself picking up a bit of tasty gossip from your temporary neighbors. The understated décor features simple flower silhouettes on the walls, a distinctly feminine touch contrasting the otherwise masculine dark wood and leather motif. For a romantic night out, we highly recommend lingering in one of the cozy red booths, just soaking up the dreamy surrounds.
And then, of course, there’s the food. Although Frenchette is unmistakably French, the menu is anything by trad. One of favorite appetizers, the brouillade, is escargot bathed in garlic butter and served in scrambled eggs that are whipped until they reach the consistency of polenta. We also love the smaller “amuses,” that give you plenty of opportunities to sample some of the more imaginative dishes, to wit, couteaux casino, the jamon blanc, and the Spanish tortilla with trout roe. For the main, we’d recommend the duck frites, which is done so well that we wonder how we’ll ever go back to eating steak frites again. Those with a reason to splurge, should definitely splash out the the $136 Masonic Farm côte de boeuf.
Another excellent option is the homard a la broche, or rotisserie lobster, quite possibly the most tender we’ve ever had, immersed in an exceptionally decadent curry butter sauce. And if you’re wondering about that side dish on every single table, it’s the gnocci parisienne, ham and cheese gnocci wrapped in pastry dough rather than potato, resulting in pillowy, otherworldly goodness.
And otherworldly, yet down to earth in all the right ways, might be the perfect way to describe the place. So, happy first birthday Frenchette – we’ll make sure to have an extra slice of your decadent coulant au chocolate to celebrate.