Saturday in New York means two things:
1)nursing the hangover from having too many of these:
2)having a delicious brunch, hopefully from somewhere like this:
Ah yes, Les Halles. Famous for being associated with the celbrity chef, writer, television host, and former chain smoker, Anthony Bourdain.
He wrote this book called Kitchen Confidential in 2000, and totally kicked off the bad ass chef tour de force that Gordon Ramsey and others would later join. Bourdain exposed the drug use, foul language, and questionable freshness/cleanliness practices going on in kitchens at the time. To this DAY I don’t order sushi on a Sunday or a Monday. The book is kinda raunchy, VERY funny, and simultaneously grosses you out and makes you hungry. Kinda like eating a fast food meal in your car at 3:00 in the afternoon
So GOOD yet so bad for you!
Anyway, after he became a big success, he opened up the first of his Les Halles restaurants, named after the famous open air market that serviced Paris for many years. He is no longer affiliated with the restaurant, but it still operates with the same menu, and (presumably)the same standard of cooking. It is now a mini chain serving delicious and reliable bistro fare.
As we walked into the John Street location, we noticed it was hot. Reeeeallly hot. This location has no air. Luckily, it has about 20,000 fans that keep the air from being too still. Don’t get me wrong, it was still so hot I secretly started siphoning ice cubes out of my water to put in my bra. But the management was trying, at least.
The restaurant is surprisingly large for a New York City space, with a medium size front room opening up into a long and narrow second dining space (where we ate), and upstairs seating area, and a small room in the back for private affairs.
We were seated at a spacious circular table, and before our orders were even taken, this beauty was dropped off.
BREAD. LOVE IT! There was a nutty whole wheat bread that was a little too fluffy and textureless for my taste, and a PERFECT baguette. This is almost as good as what you would have in Paris. Crusty but not crunchy exterior. Tangy but not sour insides. Perfect hole structure. Excellent foundation for LAYERS of sweet unsalted butter. Yeah this carbolicious start promised great things to follow!
The attentive and speedy waiter soon brought my dad’s appetizer:
Betterave rôtie au fromage de chèvre (Roasted red beets topped with goat cheese). Though I didn’t try this, my sister and dad both swooned over it! They said there were some lightly sauteed shallots in with the sugary beets, and that the goat cheese on top was earthy and creamy (ok, ok, they didn’t use those EXACT words, but i am telling you, that’s what my dad meant when he said “yeah, it’s great!”). I have had this appetizer before at Les Halles, and while I don’t think it is particularly a revelation on beet preparation, beets and goat cheese were just made to go together, and this is an excellent execution.
I got the Salade de poulet grillé (Grilled chicken salad with arugula, parmasean cheese, and basil oil). Boring and seemingly a waste of a lunch out? Sure! Delicious, light, and perfectly prepared? You bet your life it was! The chicken was 3 white meate fillets, grilled until just perfectly cooked, juicy, and redolent of woodsy and earthy rosemary. The tomatoes were also roasted with thyme, rosemary, and marjoram that made the them take on a richer more savory taste than plain tomatoes tend to have. With these deep flavors, the fresh, slightly bitter arugula dressed in lightly fragrant basil infused olive oil and lemon was perfect. Not all foods must be new or thrilling. Some can just be perfectly rendered dishes that fulfill your body and your spirit,and that is totally what this was.
Sandwich de Poulet, frites (Roasted chicken sandwich with herbed mayonnaise and French fries). Most of the brunch party ordered this, and that’s because I told them to, because this sandwich would turn a PETA member into a meat eater. It’s that outstanding.
This is what I order almost every time I come here. Roasted white and dark meat, yielding delicious juices onto supple yet crusty baguette. Freshly made mayonnaise dotted with parsley, tarragon, and other fresh and zesty herbs. Meaty roasted tomatoes dripping sweet seeds onto the delicate balance of meat, mayo, and bread. This is simply the BEST CHICKEN SANDWICH I HAVE EVER HAD OUTSIDE MY OWN KITCHEN. Or maybe even in my own kitchen…damn it. The homemade mayo is really what puts it over the top. It’s just gently lush with a yellow appearince and a lemony, herby taste that hits all the tastebuds. The sandwich is served warm and tastes like heaven. Just get it already.
With it is a fresh but nondistinguished side salad and some truly FAB fries. Those tender little sticks of potato were creamy and fluffy inside, crunchy and golden outside. They were liberally salted-just how i like them-and to dip them into some tart ketchup, then feel the salty, oily, earthy potato slide down your gullet is one of life’s true pleasures. These are some ASS KICKING fries. And they made me feel better about wasting a whole meal on salad. Eating a salad means I must eat fries as well.
The meal was around $75 for 5 people ordering entrees, with one appetizer and a large bottle of sparkling water. It is moderately priced, well prepared food in an elegant and servicable dining space. It is not as exotic as the food Anthony Bourdain eats on his tv show “No Reservations”
…but it is at LEAST as delicious!