In addition to artists, writers, and that guy who walks around with a cat on his head in Nolita, downtown Manhattan is and has been home to a handful of truly legendary French bistros. They’re the kind of places that get 12-page Vanity Fair oral histories, and which go into the history books as neighborhood-defining and decade-describing. There’s Florent (1985-2008), which basically made the Meatpacking District a thing. There’s The Odeon (1980-present), which basically made Tribeca a thing, and where Andy Warhol and Basquiat hung out, and where a lot of celebrities apparently did drugs in the basement in the 80s. And there’s Balthazar (1997-present), which hit Soho in the middle of its transformation from a place artists lived to a place where tourists take pictures in front of a Prada store.
And now there’s Frenchette (born 2018), located just a few blocks up from The Odeon, operated by owners who worked at Balthazar when it opened. While it’s tough to say whether Frenchette will be talked about decades from now, this is definitely a downtown French bistro that’s emblematic of its time. Because rather than doing cocaine in a bathroom, people at Frenchette are discussing obscure natural wines from the Jura and eating blowfish tails.
Welcome to New York in 2018, where the food is delicious but pricey, and the wine has names like “Le Groll and Roll.”
Frenchette’s food is a mix of modern and traditional French. Things definitely don’t veer into the fusion or experimental category at all, but you also won’t be eating a tuna tartare or an onion soup or a burger here. Instead, you’ll find dishes like escargots served with soft scrambled eggs or spaghetti with shaved bottarga or a tortilla espanola with trout roe. We’d recommend springing for the truly exceptional lobster, and going for the duck over the steak if you want something that involves frites. You should also be sure to try a few of the smaller “amuses,” or one of the rotating seafood appetizers listed on the left of the menu. These options get changed up seasonally, and the dishes we’ve had, like a little mortadella brioche sandwich or razor clams, have been great.
To go with your food, there’s the wine, which you should know a bit about before coming here. The list focuses on natural wines produced without sulfites, mostly from France, frequently involving obscure grape varieties, and as a result tends to require both some guidance and an open mind. If you’re used to ordering your go-to big Napa Cab or Chianti Classico, don’t expect to see anything like that on the long list here. On the other hand, if the words “funky” and “chilled red” are already in your wine vocabulary, you’ll be right at home.
Alternately, if you don’t know much about wine other than that you like it, just smile and nod when the server suggests something that sounds like “Pinot Denise” and wonder if that’s a wine label your aunt’s book club just started. The servers’ recs can lean pricey in our experience, so feel free to be firm in stating you don’t want to spend as much, because there are a handful of bottles under $60 too. Maybe you’ll discover you really enjoy these often light and tart wines, maybe you’ll think they taste like hay and kombucha.
You should come to Frenchette for the food (and maybe the wine, but that’s going to have to be your call), but you’ll want to stay and come back because of the classic French bistro energy. It’s loud and crowded, but you definitely get that “yep, we’re in New York” feeling that very few places manage to nail. While Frenchette can quickly get expensive and feel like a scene, it never feels too formal. You might have people in suits on one side of you, people in jeans on the other, and someone wearing a designer cape elsewhere in the room.
Will there someday be a magazine feature about Frenchette? Probably not, and that’s partially because magazines won’t even exist. But in the meantime, if you want to get in on the action and eat some pretty excellent food, this is a very good place to do it.
Wait, isn’t this a French restaurant? Well, this Spanish tortilla topped with caviar is still really good. Sit at the bar (where they accept plenty of walk-ins) and get one of these.
This pasta from the appetizers section is solid, but we’d advise spending more time in the regularly-changing column at the left of the menu, which features smaller bites and rotating seafood.
If these are available, get them. It’s hard to imagine that these actually come from an animal that looks like the porcupine of the sea.
This has appeared on the menu as a duck leg confit, and as a sliced duck breast. It’s nice both ways, and we prefer it to the bavette steak, which also comes with fries.
We almost didn’t order this, because it’s expensive and who orders lobster in a restaurant really? But skipping it would have been a big mistake, because this is quite possibly the best lobster we’ve ever had. It’s incredibly soft and tender, and you probably just shouldn’t think about what impact the curry butter sauce will have on your longterm cardiac health.
For the uninitiated, gnocchi Parisienne is made with pastry dough rather than potato, and the result is crispy, pillowy puffs that may cause you to question why more things aren’t made this way. This is a side dish that must be on your table.