Frenchette is probably the hottest name in New York City’s dining world right now, and for good reasons. Chefs Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson, who helped built the Keith McNally empire in the city (first at Balthazar and then at Minetta Tavern), decided to call their own shots with a new restaurant in TriBeCa that opened this spring. Thus far, critics have come back with almost unanimously positive reviews for the kitchen’s ability to reinvent the old-school French classics into something much more exciting, and the restaurant has quickly become one of the hottest tables in the Big Apple. Having recently come back from southern France for my honeymoon/summer vacation with my wife Jun, I was initially hesitant whether it made sense to visit a French restaurant in the city so soon. After hearing that one of Jun’s friends made a reservation for four, I figured might as well take advantage of this opportunity to see if Frenchette is actually worth the hype before it becomes even more impossible to secure a table. When Jun and I stepped into the restaurant (we were the first ones to arrive), the first thing we noticed was a deafening noise at the dining space. When Jun’s friend and her husband (a chef working at a private restaurant in the city) joined later and we started ordering, the noise got even worse and it was hard to keep a decent amount of conversation without shouting to one another. Despite this inconvenience, the food at Frenchette delivered mostly, and there were some outstanding dishes.
The menu at Frenchette is based on a standard a la carte menu, from appetizers to main dishes to desserts. What I liked the most about Frenchette’s food is the level of consistency the kitchen shows. This is not one of those Joel Robuchon/Alain Ducasse type places with three-hour, multi-course haute cuisine formats employing all sorts of fancy techniques and ingredients. If you look at the menu, you see mostly classical dishes with incremental tweaks to stop you from thinking this place is just another boring bistro. Once the dishes start coming out and you get a taste of each, though, you realize that Frenchette is so much more. You don’t see blowfish tails often at a restaurant in the city, and you definitely don’t want to miss the ones at Frenchette; each bite of this delicacy was wonderfully complex in flavor and the texture was also spot on. Because Jun typically shies away from terrine, I was somewhat worried when our chef friend ordered the guiena hen terrine with celery remoulade but Jun gladly took a chunk of this surprisingly light and balanced pate. Brouillade (a type of soft scrambled eggs dish that, according to New York Times critic Pete Well, takes a lot of efforts and time to make) displayed soft texture that was mouth-watering, although I wish the kitchen were a little bit more generous with the use of escargots.
The main dishes also displayed careful attention to execution. I didn’t expect to like the summer lamb stew with courgettes (zucchinis), fennel and artichokes with as enthusiasm as I have now while writing this review, but the hearty feel of the dish without going overboard in seasoning was very satisfying. While Jun thought rotisserie lobster could use more curry beurre fondue underneath, I still liked the robust texture of the lobster. Have you ever seen a restaurant substitute duck meat for steak frites? I certainly haven’t, and after eating the duck frites at Frenchette, I started to wonder why other restaurants haven’t thought of this idea. The duck was more or less perfectly cooked to give that juicy, tender texture, and it worked shockingly well with the expertly prepared fries. For all the outstanding savory dishes I have sampled, I thought the desserts could use a bit of work. Not that they were bad, but I certainly expected the pavlova with summer berries, crème fraiche and vanilla Anglaise to be a bit more memorable. Paris-Brest with pistachio flavor was slightly better but it didn’t provide the type of pure decadence that I’ve tasted at other outstanding French restaurants.
As noted above, good luck securing a table at Frenchette; the online reservations are one month out so plan ahead. You can try the bar room that is available for walk-ins but the decibel level is even higher than the dining space, so I can’t say I recommend trying your luck there. I know that the restaurant is the “it” place at the moment in New York City that is perpetually crowded, but a little bit more efforts toward noise control would make the dining even more pleasant. Frenchette made a headline for serving exclusively natural wines, which was another bummer for Jun and I who despise these varieties. After our first cocktails, I decided to take a shot at a glass of red that was supposed to be the most full-body one in the list; it was not terrible (and also worked well with food) but I certainly missed a glass of good old Napa cabernet at that point. I can’t say Frenchette’s dining experience was perfect for these ancillary reasons, but there is no denying that the kitchen is onto something special here, with soulful cooking of French classics that are not behind the time but rather reinvented with all the right moves here and there to bring the cuisine forward to modern taste. I would love to come back after the hype surrounding the restaurant dies down a little (or maybe that is a too wishful thinking?).
KenScale: 8.5/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.25/10)
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 8.5/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
- Value: 8.0/10
Address: 241 West Broadway, New York, NY 10013
Telephone: (212) 334-3883