Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Drink (and eat) French at Brasserie Les Halles
I first learned about Brasserie Les Halles when I read Anthony Bourdain’s riveting memoir, Kitchen Confidential. While Bourdain has moved on to bigger things (his TV show No Reservations), the Brasserie where he got his groove on, cooking-wise, is still a staple of the New York restaurant scene.
I dined at the Park Avenue location (there’s also one downtown) on a recent Friday night and was immensely pleased. The large wine list is printed on laminated, broadsheet-sized paper: whites and by-the-glass menu on one side, reds on the other. The bar is beautiful white marble and, trés français, there is a silver punchbowl filled with icy water chilling bottles of champagne on it. Their menu includes some wonderful wines that aren’t usually featured in single pours. I choose the 2003 Louis Latour Puligny Montrachet at $17.50 a glass. This goes on record as the most I’ve ever paid for a glass of wine. However, compared with buying an entire bottle (an extravagance I couldn’t justify at the restaurant-markup price), getting a glass for under $20 was a relative bargain. They’ll also pour you a glass of Taittinger Brut or Prestige Rosé Brut for $16.50 or $19.50 respectively. Other treats include a Pessac-Léognan Chateau Larrivet-Haut-Brion, a red Bordeaux, for $19.50, and branching out beyond the French stuff, Californian Cabernet from Provenance for $17.50 and a Chardonnay from Hanzell for $19.50. Yes, there are much cheaper pours, but I was tickled to see such exciting by-the-glass options.
But, back to my wine. I remember well that 2003 was the year of France’s deadly heatwave. When I was in Burgundy in 2007, I tried a lot of red 2003s, which were richer than normal due to the tremendous ripeness of the fruit that year. But when I tasted the Puligny Montrachet (a white Burgundy) there was no overabundance of fruit. It was very well balanced: the fruit was there, but restrained, and the influence of the oak enhanced it beautifully. It had the fragrance of candied walnuts. Two of my friends who joined me that night were dyed-in-the-wool red wine drinkers, and even they were wowed by this expressive white wine.
Our dinners were wonderful—steaks are heavily featured on the menu, and my friends and I all ordered different cuts. My hanger steak with shallot sauce was delicious, and the Bernaise sauce that my friends enjoyed with their steak was perfect. We naturally had a bottle of red wine with our meals, and I choose a 2003 St. Emillion “Les Halles”, bottled for the restaurant from Chateau Toinet Fombrauge (a reasonable $38). This was a big wine (once again the heatwave vintage) dark in color (although difficult to judge in the dimly lit restaurant) with lots of tannin and fruit. A delicious accompaniment to the juicy steaks.
The red wine section reads like a wine map of France: Alsace, Bourgogne, Beaujolais, Provence, Languedoc-Roussilon, Sud-Ouest, Vallée de la Loire, Vallée du Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and Bordeaux are all represented. A few other countries have wines listed, too, but honestly, with so much delicious French wine to choose from, and while eating all the classic French food from the menu, I don’t know why you’d bother. This restaurant has all the French brasserie specialities: steak and moules frites, cassoulet, a house paté, and much, much more. If you long to eat and drink French, and are in the mood for brasserie fare (rather than break-the-bank gourmet cooking), Brasserie Les Halles fits the bill.