Le sigh. What is it about French food? Though I’ve never been to France, I can’t get enough of the timelessness of a soul-warming cassoulet, or escargot dripping in garlic butter, or crunchy and light baguette. French food is, at its core, simple and life-affirming. In honor of the numerous yumgasms I’ve experienced courtesy of the French people, then, I give this by-no-means complete list of some of my favorite French spots in New York City.
Le Barricou: Located in a quiet(er) corner of Williamsburg, this French bistro is a relaxed dining option for the otherwise hipster ‘hood. Mismatched wicker chairs, patina’d copper fixtures and walls decorated with aged newspaper clippings create a relaxed atmosphere with a touch of French flair. The dinner menu features classic French fare (various styles of moules frites, coq au vin and steak au poivre), while a well-curated wine list keeps things interesting. The major draw, though, is Le Barricou’s brunch offerings. A favorite special is the lobster omelet: dripping in butter and tossed with light-as-a-whisper eggs, served alongside mixed greens, and you’ve got your Sunday Funday served straight-up. Or you can go with the slightly heavier duck confit hash, which pairs perfectly with the Pomponette rose from Provence. Dare I say it: “Oui, oui.”
Zucco Le French Diner: This Lower East Side diner and greasy spoon has character in spades. French New Wave cinema posters plaster the walls, while the seemingly de rigueur tin ceiling and shelves stocked with French wines lend a cozy, dark je nais se quoi to the small-ish. A large counter and the range beyond it take up the majority of the space and offers the feel of classic diners, though you’re more likely to hear hip-hop than a Muzak playlist. While a full menu features cassoulets, mussels and lamb, I opt for the simple sandwiches. Served on crusty baguette, the sandwiches are great to grab and go. Try the spicy merguez sausage, made with red peppers and a harissa hot sauce. For something simple, the jambon beurre cornchon sandwich (literally: ham, butter and cornichon) is a classic. Though they are served with frites, don’t expect diner prices. It is the Lower East Side, after all; expect a range from $6 to $18.
Laduree: As Marie Antoinette exclaimed, “Let them eat cake!” Actually, let’s amend that to “let them eat macarons!” Laduree is your best bet, but first, a lesson: it’s pronounced “mac-a-roHn,” the delicate, lovely pillow of a sandwich cookie crafted from almond flour and a jam, not the coconut behemoth that is the American “macaroooooon.” Don’t even come at me with a macaroon; I’ll probably slap it out of your hand. Nope, when I want to indulge in something classically French (read: delicious), I go to Laduree, the Upper East Side outlet of the famed Parisian macaron purveyor. The sugary little shop is near Central Park, so pick from any of the rainbow of flavors offered daily (the floral rose, the delicate black currant, to any of a number of other simple delights) and head to the Park for what is probably the most perfect day one can ask for.
Bisous, ciao: See those macarons up top? Yep, that’s Bisous, ciao, a Parisian-inspired shop on the Lower East Side serving up a Pantone-swatchbook of modern macarons rivaling the established Maison du Laduree. Truly, Bisous, ciao’s flavors are stunning, with seasonal “collections” always offered. The tiny shop is modest and modern: minimalist walls and a bright window-view of Stanton Street play second-fiddle to the colorful display of daily offerings. Made from fresh ingredients like lemon zest and vanilla from Tahiti and Madagascar, the classic macarons are the perfect accompaniment to a walk down NYC streets. Or opt for the perfume-y, floral and contemporary flavors of the Fleur collection. My personal favorite is the lavender and honey, topped with a candied lavender petal. Tell me my opinion is wrong. I dare you.
Beni’s Delice: Should e you ever find yourself in Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill neighborhood, definitely stop by Beni’s Delice. This humble little patisserie will fill all of your Franco-carb cravings. Freshly baked croissants disappear into puffs of air and butter upon hitting your tongue, while savory quiches and mini-baguette sandwiches make for simple, light fare. You shouldn’t skip the brightly colored jewels that are their tarts, even if you only want coffee. The lemon tart is acidic, citrusy and light, with a crumbly crust and airy curd. On the other hand, the strawberry tart seems to shimmer, as if made of magic. Biting into the custard beneath the picture-perfect berries doesn’t dispel this thought. And while Beni’s offerings are top notch, you will have to err on the side of patience: A line forms quickly, but isn’t exactly quick.