I should be careful what I wish
for, I guess: when I turned up unannounced on Friday night and asked for
a table for four at Chubo, we were told that the restaurant was booked solid.
So instead we hopped in a cab and went uptown, to another great yet underappreciated
NYC restaurant, LCB Brasserie Rachou.
When my friend Simon was looking for a nice romantic place to celebrate his
wife’s 40th birthday a couple of weeks ago, I thought of LCB Brasserie; he went,
and came away raving about it. Maybe slightly more expensive than a typical
upscale French bistro, he said, but with vastly better food and service.
Frank Bruni gave
it two stars back in 2004, and I’d recommend that he return, since it’s
certainly better now than it was then. Cheaper, too: the choucroute he complains
about paying $30 for is now $24. The main courses are just as wonderful as the
ones Bruni had and raved about, but the desserts, which Bruni was unsure about,
are now divine – especially the soufflé. The words "the best
dessert I’ve ever had" were uttered. And I’m not going to forget my pike
quenelles any time soon – they were just gorgeous. Better, I have to say,
than the ones I had at La Caravelle just before it closed.
LCB Brasserie, just like its stuffier predecessor La Côte Basque, specialises
in traditional French cuisine. So while it’s always fun to be adventurous in
a restaurant, I’d highly advise the opposite here: the more old-fashioned the
dish, the better it’s likely to be. It doesn’t need to be posh – the choucroute
was amazing – but it certainly can be: I can’t imagine going anywhere
else for Dover sole meurniere.
And while the wine list is predictably heavy on the Bordeaux, it’s also reasonably
imaginative and surprisingly low-priced: at the high end, bottles can go for
hundreds of dollars less than they would cost at, say, Veritas, while at the
low end there’s a lot of interesting stuff in the $30 to $70 range, including
some fantastic Bordeaux. We had a stunning New Zealand pinot noir which, I was
gratified to see, came with a screw top: the more that grand restaurants serve
great wine from screw-top bottles, the less of a stigma will be attached to
them, and the sooner we can do away with anachronistic and unreliable corks
for the vast majority of our wine.
LCB Brasserie is not as popular as it deserves to be, which is a shame. Certainly,
anybody who loved La Côte Basque or who never got around to going there
or who was put off by its prices or its dress code should head to its successor
forthwith. The food is just as good, and the interior, the biggest change in
the restaurant, is in many ways improved. Plus, you don’t need to wear a tie.
If there were any justice in this world, a large chunk of the lunch crowd at
Michael’s, on the same block, would move a few doors down the street and start
getting much better food at much lower prices. But Jean-Jacques Rachou will
never emphasize healthy, low-calorie dishes, even if his salads are excellent.