Cuisine Classique dominated the world of gastronomy for a century; as far as "gourmet" food went, there was France and then no place. Things have changed a lot, and even French food is almost unrecognizable. A few old stalwarts persist in cooking the old stalwarts, from escargot to ill flotant.
What can you say? It never changes, it never falters, and it's always jammed. If it wasn't such a slavish tribute to Paris brasseries, you could even call it the ultimate New York restaurant. Certainly, it's a hell of a lot better than the places in Paris that it emulates.
"Old school French" usually translates to "classy - stuffy" but there was a time when New York had a lot of working class Frenchmen around, particularly sailors. This squalid but loveable French greasy spoon eventually morphed into a full-blown restaurant but it still maintains some of its original grit and je ne sais quoi.
There aren't many restaurants left like L'Absinthe, a survivor of another age when French meant class, and the customers never tired of tripe a la mode de caen or blanquette de veau. L'Absinthe largely exists on the strength of a few surviving gourmands, still manfully donning their pants and going back for one more plate of escargot, but there a few new converts too, youngsters falling in love with a kind of food that was dead before they were born.
Le Grenouille, in many ways the consummate French restaurant, still maintains much of its airy, elegant charm, like an octogenarian dowager in flawless, vintage Chanel. Its flowers are as towering as ever, its waiters as suave, and its execution of old-time French standards pretty much on point. Still, the food isn't really the point.
Very old, very French, and very good, Le Perigord is one of the city's last bastions of traditional French cookery, a once dominant genre now gone to seed. The standard savory dishes are notably well-done here, but the real glory of the place is the pasty cart, which is practically a mobile museum of classical French dessert-making. Go easy on the navarin of lamb. You're going to need room for your sweets.
Ancient, canonical, and a veritable museum of classic French restaurant cookery, this midtown restaurant received an unexpected rejuvenation when Christian Delouvrier, one of the greatest chefs in the city's history, decided to return to the stoves in his emeritus years. So if you ever want to have this food done the way it's meant to be, now would be the time and this would be the place. Once he goes back to retirement all bets are off.
If you've never had the traditional cuisine classique, the old-rite French food of the past, you better hasten over here tout suite. All the great, heavy, unfashionable dishes that compose the canon are here: blanquette de veau, pot au feu, ill flotant, quenelles of pike....the surprising thing is that these old dishes, executed with meticulous care, don't taste old. The prove that history can still throw a punch, and that the new isn't necessarily the best, in French food or anything else.
Theater District restaurant serves ‘60s-style French food.. Nobody looks to Restaurant Row for culinary innovation, and Le Rivage may have the distinction of being the most outdated place even in that gastronomic backwater. In fact, the place is a time machine--a glance backward at what French restaurants were like in the ‘60s and ‘70s, before the first whiff of nouvelle cuisine made its way to New York. The food, like the decor, is heavy--but also delicious. All the old warhorses are here--frog legs, escargot, coq au vin--back like hall of famers at an old timer's game, and still packing a wallop. Just don't come counting calories: There's enough cream and butter in each dish to supply a dairy.
Pastis is Balthazar's Meatpacking cousin, and while it has the same classic brasserie menu as its sister, the vibe and feel is completely different. Where Balthazar is all noise and excitement, Pasis, even when busy (and it gets really busy) is leisurely and low key. A perennial brunch favorite, it's also great for late night dinners.
Solid, stolid, and not especially exciting, Brasserie Cognac nevertheless fills a valuable niche in midtown, serving affordable French food of the most traditional kind in a dressed-down setting, a place where you can get a salade aux lardon or a steak frites at lunch, and maybe something a little fancier at dinner.