I haven’t been to Paris in many years, but stepping into Steak Frites in Hell’s Kitchen instantly conjured up memories of Parisian cafés lining the Champs-Élysées. The bistro setting is amplified by elegant patterned wallpaper, tin and wood elements, knickknacks and rows of wine bottles giving the space a lived-in feel, like it has been there forever and not just a few short months.
The French bistro fare is also exemplary. A bowl full of pristine mussels, some the size of your thumb, swim in a rich, buttery broth with hints of wine and lots of garlic, leeks and chopped parsley. Sprigs of fresh thyme add to the liveliness of the dish. By now we were sopping as much of that delicious broth we could get with thick slices of rustic bread served with lightly whipped butter.
Herb butter also makes an appearance atop a thick slab of hanger steak braised to perfection in the steak frites which arrived with a healthy serving of frites, not the thick-cut type, shoestrings with a glorious crispy crust. There is also a Dry Aged NY Strip with maître d’hôtel butter, Cote de Boeuf for two weighing in at 28 ounces, and Chateaubriand (also for two) with béarnaise sauce. As we were seated a huge sizzling steak whizzed by in a cast iron pan. As the waiter arrived at his destination audible oohs and ahhs could be heard.
If steak is not your thing, there are many alternatives including jumbo shrimp cocktail, escargots in parsley-garlic butter, as well as a hearty bowl of French onion soup gratinée with layers of gruere melting onto the sides of the bowl. The wine list, created by Alexis Percival, is designed to be approachable. Guests will also find some hidden French gems.
But it’s not just about the food, drink and décor. It’s the energy you feel when you grab a seat at the bar and are very likely to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Where the bartenders and wait staff dote over guests like they are a longtime friends. That is what we experienced at Steak Frites, making it one of the few places in the city we would gladly squeeze into for a welcome taste of Paris.
By Thomas Rafael