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The Self-Conscious Luxury of Frenchette

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If you can’t get a reservation at Frenchette, in Tribeca—and you probably can’t—you’re welcome to try your luck as a walk-in. But “walking in” here might be better described as “waiting in line.” On a recent Wednesday, before the restaurant had even opened, a couple of dozen people were already snaking down the block. A group of German tourists didn’t seem to know quite why they had queued up, but were happy to be there. Two carefully groomed young women toting toddlers pushed their way to the front, insisting that they were just checking on the high chairs they had called about earlier. By five-thirty, the tots were bouncing on a leather banquette, red-faced and shrieking.

It’s not clear why anyone would bring children to Frenchette, or why anyone would work so hard to have dinner at five-thirty. The restaurant, which opened in April, is exceptionally glamorous, perfect for mid-century “Mad Men” Martini cosplay and for people-watching—on another night, I saw an elderly woman in a pink pillbox hat and actual rose-colored glasses. The chefs, Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson, are impressively pedigreed—they cooked together at the Keith McNally restaurants Balthazar, Pastis, and Minetta Tavern. Natural wines—particularly fizzy pétillants naturels, or “pét-nats”—are having a moment, and Frenchette has seized it. But doth the froth machine froth too much? Do we need another self-consciously luxurious brasserie, in a city so full of them?

Certain of the menu’s dishes became social-media status symbols overnight, including the duck frites.

Photograph by Frances F. Denny for The New Yorker

Thanks to a boon of early press and virulent social media, certain dishes at Frenchette became status symbols almost overnight. Much has been made, especially, of the brouillade with escargot, a plate of vigorously scrambled eggs topped with buttered snails. The texture of the eggs, I’d read, was like that of polenta. My question both before and after eating them was: why? Duck frites, on the other hand, was more deserving of reverence, the duck as gloriously meaty as beef, with the added excitement of crispy, fatty skin and star anise. But N.B.: in what feels like a sadistic and surrealist twist, the knife that comes with the duck is a bit of a safety hazard, bizarrely designed so that the straight side of the blade, rather than the curved edge, is


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