Brasserie Les Halles of Anthony Bourdain (of Kitchen Confidential fame) has always served a taste of Paris in the heart of New York. What started out as a modest, unassuming brasserie at 411 Park Avenue South, has apparently blossomed into big business with branches in downtown Manhattan, Washington, DC and Miami. I remember Les Halles from its â€œsimplerâ€ days and we returned for lunch recently to see if things had changed dramatically. Besides a doubling in the size of the brasserie, the physical premises at the original Park Avenue South location still seemed dark, dingy and underlit. But the food was still very, very good and surprisingly reasonably priced.
Not on the current menu but a favorite way back when was a dish of braised leeks with lots of butter. We asked the waiter if the chef would oblige and he got the kitchen to cook up a plate for us â€“ it was absolutely delicious. We also ordered some escargots (snails) which arrived out of their shells, swimming in butter and served with slices of superb freshly baked bread. For the main course, my daughter surprised us by ordering a gorgeous (and large) dish of moules marinieres with a wine based tomato sauce (she had snails and mussels in one meal!) served with a large plate of frites. My wife ordered a tartiflette which is a gratin of fingerling potatoes, reblochon cheese and bacon that was very rich but very good. I opted for a confit de canard served with diced potatoes fried crisp in duck lard and served with a salad.
Some of the waiters at Les Halles have an air of Paris haughtiness or certainty that Anthony Bourdain seems to exude himself. When we first got to the restaurant, without a reservation, it felt as though we were being treated like wayward Japanese tourists that were out on a tour. That attitude soon softened however when we asked about the braised leeks and ordered escargots. Our main courses confounded the waiter further and there was a visible lightening of mood. As the brasserie filled up, it became apparent whyâ€¦ 90% of the lunchtime crowd ordered steak frites (steak with French fries) so ours was one of the few tables that was eating more adventurously. The overall experience was extremely good, and at USD75 (+tip, no wine) for 3 people, a relative bargain. Brasserie Les Halles is open 7 days a week, offers non-stop meal service from 8 am to 12 midnight and is located at 411 Park Avenue South, New York. They have a take out menuâ€¦