By Hillary Latos
While the world often looks to the Parisians as barometers of style, one import that has stood the test of time is the classic French brasserie, which hasn’t changed since its inception in the late 1800s when these locales rose to prominence. Step back in time to the Paris at the turn of the century when Art Nouveau really was nouveau, where revered figures from the arts and literary worlds spent hours pondering this new age of thinking at literary cafes like Les Deux Magots or Café Flore in Paris’ Rive Gauche. Recreating the romanticism of that bygone era is the Upper East Side’s Orsay and 1920s inspired Brasserie Ruhlmann at Rockefeller Center.
Designed by Jean Denoyer, Orsay was inspired by the Parisian cafes and brasseries frequented during the Belle Epoque. Art nouveau chandeliers from Paris were imported and recreated to give the amber lit hue, dark mahogany walls are balanced by brass fixtures and a mosaic fan patterned tiled floor, and French doors with the same curved lines of the era lead to a sidewalk terrace that’s de riguer for a classic French brasserie.
Even if you can’t hop on the next flight to Paris, Orsay’s brasserie classics are as authentic as sitting at a café on Blvd St Germain. Customers swear by the famous French cheese soufflé from their sister restaurant La Goulue, which is the specialty of the house. Their soupe a l’oignon gratinee is one of the best in the city as well as their steak tartare “la Goulue” that is perfectly seasoned with shallots, capers, cornichons, mustard, chive and parsley. Francophiles will delight in their house made velvety foie gras served with apple chutney as well as their Marseilles based bouillabaisse with fish and shellfish served in a rich fish stock. Each evening a daily special graces the menu ranging from osso buco, tournedo Rossini- a succulent cut of beef tenderloin with seared foie gras and a port reduction, roasted duck a l’orange, or poached seafood with a garlic saffron aioli. While French brasseries are known for their raw bar menu, Orsay features an extensive selection choose from little necks, oysters, crab claws or jumbo shrimp all delivered daily. Other exceptional choices that French Chef Antoine Camin is known for include the Japonais tuna tartare, Noix St Jacques with sautéed scallops and pancetta risotto, slow braised lamb shoulder, veal sweetbreads with a morel and Sauternes reduction, steak frites, and guinea hen breast roasted with foie gras.
Fast forward to the next revolution in French design to the Art Deco inspired Brasserie Ruhlmann located in the heart of Rockefeller Center. Named after Emile- Jacques Ruhlmann, the legendary French furniture and interior designer who epitomized the glamour of the 1920s art deco era. To recreate the casual yet sophisticated elegance of the classic French brasserie, Chef Laurent Tourondel of BLT fame has taken a modern approach to his beloved French bistro fare reminiscent of his homeland.
Enjoy the bustling city views from its expansive street side terrace overlooking the iconic Rockefeller Center or dine inside the warm and inviting room reminiscent of yesteryear. Feel the romance of Paris in their stylish dining room bathed in a soft golden hue stemming from brass lighting fixtures against dark mahogany walls, red velvet chairs and white table cloths. The dinner menu spans from an extensive raw bar of shellfish and sashimi style raw fish and sushi to casual bites, and fine dining options with carefully prepared fish and fine grilled steaks which are the hallmark of Laurent Tourondel.
A specialty of the house is the big eye tuna tartar laced with a yuzu soy sauce, the Parisian steak tartare, and the perennial French croque Monsieur made with jambon Paris with melted gruyere and a savory béchamel sauce. As Chef Tourondel has a flair for fish, the sushi selections are on par with the best in the city. Layers of flavors come through their modern takes on classic rolls like the textural crispy rock shrimp and spicy tuna roll, coconut shrimp tempura roll coated with macadamia nuts and avocado, and the yellowtail with jalapeno, ginger and avocado. The beef short ribs bourguignon has been slowly braised to caramelized perfection in a rich red wine reduction, while the delicate dover sole meuniere is crisped and balanced with a tart lemon caper soy browned butter. For lighter bites try the shrimp and lobster roll with the unexpected Asian inspired flavors of kaffir and curry and aromatic tarragon or the spicy Asian chicken salad. Of course the drink of choice is a glass of Provencal rose.
As the French are known for being perfectionists, especially in the worlds of food and fashion, Orsay and Brasserie Ruhlmann are prime examples of their how the beloved French cuisine just gets better with age.
For more information: orsayrestaurant.com