by Andrew Giambrone, Yale University
For Francophiles around the world, however, le quatorze
juillet presents a chance to revel in French culture, French
history, and French food. Perhaps with a hint of irony, several
friends and I booked a table at Brasserie Les Halles, the former
home of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. The brasserie is named
after the old market district of Paris. (The original market—know
as le ventre de Paris, or “the belly of Paris”—was demolished in
1971 and replaced by the Forum Des Halles, a modernized underground
shopping center.) Filled with Bastille Day balloons, the dimmed
atmosphere of Les Halles offered a welcoming contrast to the
extravagant Gansevoort Hotel across the street. When I heard music
by Alizée—a French pop star known for her Lolita-like
image—emanating from the inside of Les Halles, I was hooked.
We began with an appetizer of terrine maison ($8.50), a pâté made of ground pork, beef, and liver. The mixture spread on pieces of bread like butter. Slightly salty, with a taste of onion, the terrine formed a large oval, like a facemask made of meat. Happy to oblige, I put it in my stomach instead.
After a bit of a wait (understandable in a French restaurant
on Bastille Day), my order of Saumon Bordelaise ($22.50) swam to
the table. What struck me immediately was the unpretentious
simplicity of the dish; a substantial piece of grilled salmon
brushed with red wine shallot sauce, along with a side of
vegetables and potatoes. In an age where many restaurants try to
compensate for poor ingredients by “modernizing” them into one big
concoction, the salmon was a welcome repas. The dish passed my
litmus test for good grilled salmon: not dry! The subtle sweetness
of the red wine sauce kept the salmon moist without overpowering
its natural flavor, brought out all the more by how skillfully it
was grilled. The vegetables were unremarkable; in the dimmed light,
I couldn’t tell exactly what they were, but they tasted like
pickled cabbage. However, the lightly buttered potato
medallions almost reminded me of my grandmother’s potatoes au
Finally, for dessert, I ordered the crème brûlée (how could you not like a dessert that gets blowtorched?) The rich custard base came in ramekin of considerable size, topped with a single blackberry and powdered sugar. Served cold, à mon goût, the soft vanilla cream (do my taste buds detect a hint of lemon zest?) complimented the sweet crunch of the caramel rather nicely. A sweet finish to a delicious meal!
Apart from the food, Les Halles excels in creating an authentic brasserie experience, relaxed yet chic (and right on Park Avenue!). The crowd was definitely on the younger side, talking vivaciously to hear each other over the energetic music. Though the seating was tight, the service was solid, and the prices were budget-friendly.
If you can’t make it to France this summer (quelle dommage…), try Les Halles; the exquisite simplicity of the dishes and the waiters’ gracious “bon appetite” will be following you long after the meal is over.
Brasserie Les Halles
411 Park Avenue South (at 29th Street)
New York, NY 10016