Posts Tagged ‘Bistro’


Thursday, October 27th, 2011 by virginia

For my birthday, Jess and Jack got me tickets to see a Times Talk featuring Eric Ripert and Jennifer Carroll. It was part of the NYC Wine and Food Festival, and Josh and I were excited to see one of our favorite chefs in person. We absolutely love Le Bernardin, and I have a not-so-secret crush on Chef Ripert.

The talk was during the afternoon at the Times Center on 41st St. so Josh and I decided to get a late lunch on our way over. We couldn’t really decide on where we wanted to eat, but Josh mentioned that he was craving croque monsieur – specifically the croque monsieur from L’Express. Since we were nowhere near L’Express, I suggested we check out Marseille, which was on the way and is owned by the same people. I was hoping that the croque monsieur would be similar since we both loved the version at L’Express.

Turns out that Marseille didn’t offer croque monsieur, but they did have croque madame, which is basically the same thing, with the addition of a fried egg on top. We decided to share that and a chicken sandwich. While we waited for our food, they brought us a basket of breads and muffins to munch on. There was slices of marble rye, a crusty roll with raisins, and mini muffins that tasted a bit like carrot cake – I enjoyed the variety.

Assorted breads and muffins

The croque madame arrived and looked extremely promising. There was a thick layer of cheese on the outside that was nicely browned, and the fried egg on top looked like it was perfectly runny. While the egg was actually cooked well, when we cut into the sandwich, we could see immediately that it was pretty different from the L’Express version. For one thing, there was no cheese in the middle of the sandwich, only ham. All of the cheese was on the outside, and what looked deceptively brown and bubbly was actually lukewarm and kind of congealed. The bread itself was soggy, not crispy, and there was mustard in the sandwich that was unevenly distributed. Some bites were all mustard flavor, and other bites had none. We were both pretty disappointed.

Croque madame

The chicken sandwich fared slightly better in terms of execution, but we also found it a bit disappointing. It featured grilled chicken breast, roasted peppers, arugula, bacon and aioli on a brioche roll. The combination looked good on paper but it was kind of boring in flavor. The chicken was tender but bland, the roasted peppers almost non-existent, and not even the bacon could help boost the flavor. Plus it was actually a pretty small sandwich and didn’t do much to satisfy us.

Grilled chicken sandwich with roasted peppers, arugula, and bacon

Both of the sandwiches came with small salads on the side, just a simple mix of greens and halved cherry tomatoes. The salad that came with the chicken sandwich was pretty bad – there was no dressing on it, plus the lettuce was sandy. I don’t know what happened there since the salad that came with the croque madam was fine. We were also disappointed that the sandwiches didn’t come with fries as they did at L’Express. We added a side order, which was a good call because they were hot and crispy and probably the highlight of our meal.

French fries

Overall we were both disappointed with Marseille, especially since we enjoyed L’Express and Nizza so much. I guess the same owners doesn’t necessarily mean the same chef/recipes. The restaurant itself is nice, with an upscale bistro feel to it, but the food was pretty lackluster for us, and kind of pricey to boot. The sandwiches at L’Express were much better, both in flavor and execution, plus they came with fries in addition to the salad. I don’t really see us going back to Marseille unless we’re in a pinch, but there are tons of restaurants in the area along 9th Ave. that serve much tastier fare.

As for the Times Talk, Chef Ripert was delightful to listen to, and very easy to relate to as well. He has a great sense of humor that you wouldn’t really expect from such an esteemed chef. As for Chef Carroll, we were fans of her from Top Chef and Top Chef All Stars, but she didn’t add too much value to the talk. She did provide some color commentary and anecdotes, but the real highlight for us was definitely Chef Ripert. He is clearly very passionate about food and takes great pride in the dishes that he puts out in his restaurant. His passion is infectious, and I hope that I will always strive for the same kind of perfection, both in my own cooking and in my life.

630 9th Ave. at West 44th St.
New York, NY


Saturday, August 20th, 2011 by virginia

Josh and I were recently in the Union Square area because we were looking for some hiking backpacks at Paragon Sports. For my 30th birthday, Josh got me a 3-day hiking trip over Labor Day weekend in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, since I’ve always expressed interest in climbing Mount Washington, the highest peak in the northeast. We decided to get brunch before trying on all the different packs, and I suggested going to L’Express because I had read that they serve a really great croque monsieur.

L’Express has a French bistro vibe to it, with mirrors on the walls and lots of dark wood paneling, but it’s a massive restaurant. It’s owned by the same people who own Nizza, Five Napkin Burger, Marseille, etc., and I tend to find these restaurants to be just a bit commercial in appearance. Nevertheless, I love the food at Nizza so I had high hopes for L’Express. It was fairly late for brunch so the restaurant wasn’t crowded, and we were seated immediately.

Josh and I decided to split the croque monsieur and the merguez sandwich. Our food came quickly, and everything was piping hot. The croque monsieur looked gorgeous, with a cheesy top that was perfectly browned.

Croque monsieur, frites, petite salad

I cut the sandwich in half so that we could share, and the cheese inside just oozed out. The sandwich itself was made on perfectly grilled white bread, and there was a thin layer of ham and cheese on the inside. The ham was salty but not overly so, and the combination was just perfect. This was by far the best croque monsieur we’ve ever eaten in NY.

Autopsy shot

The merguez sandwich was comprised of two sticks of merguez sausage on a baguette with tomato concasse. The merguez was very flavorful, with lots of Moroccan spices in the sausage. There was some spicy harissa on the side that I slathered on the sandwich, giving it a nice but not overwhelming kick. Both of our sandwiches came with thin cut french fries and a small salad. The dressing on the salad was classic vinaigrette, which I love, though this version was maybe not as good as the dressing from Les Halles. The fries would have been amazing had they been fried just a tad crispier, but I liked how thin cut they were.

Merguez on a baguette with tomato concasse

Overall Josh and I both really liked L’Express. That same night, we were both craving another croque monsieur. It seems like such a simple sandwich to make but it’s surprising how many places just don’t do a good job. The version here was cheesy and crispy, exactly as it should be. I enjoyed the merguez as well, and service was fast and efficient. It was a hot day so we were both guzzling water like crazy, and our waitress patiently refilled our glasses at least a half dozen times. Portions are big and prices are very reasonable, with all sandwiches coming in under $15. It’s definitely a place that we’ll come back to, especially for the croque monsieur.

249 Park Ave. South at 20th St.
New York, NY

Jacques Brasserie

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009 by virginia


Josh has been traveling a lot for work recently so my meals lately have consisted mainly of leftovers from our weekends of gorging, easily prepared foods such as sandwiches and salads, or pre-made soups and frozen pizzas. Sad, yes, but a lot of my joy from cooking and eating comes from sharing the experience with someone. If I made what I thought was the most fantastic meal ever and no one else was there to taste it, would it still be the most fantastic meal ever? It’s kind of like hitting a hole in one with no witnesses. It’s still a great feat but no one can fully share in your excitement.

Ok maybe I’m just making excuses for being lazy. Regardless, one mid-week night while Josh was away, I was thrilled for the opportunity to have a girls’ night dinner with Josh’s mom and his cousin. We met up on the Upper East Side at Jess’ apartment and went off in search for food. None of us are all that familiar with restaurants in the area still so we basically chose a place based on where we could find street parking. We ended up at Jacques Brasserie, a lovely restaurant with a menu that offers all of the standard French bistro classics.

We started off with some delicious slices of baguettes with salty butter. The bread had a decent crust, nice chew, and good flavor. My only complaint was that they had a bread man doling out one slice at a time, and he couldn’t come around fast enough. We were starving and couldn’t get enough of the bread!

Very good baguette

Yummy baguette

For our appetizers, both Josh’s mom Alice and I opted for the soupe a l’oignon, classic French onion soup. The broth was deep and rich and full of onion flavor, and there was plenty of cheese melted on top. However, the soup wasn’t quite as hot as it needed to be, and all that cheese quickly congealed into one big lump. I ended up trying to break pieces off with the spoon and using my fingers, so it got to be quite messy, but it was a delicious soup nonetheless.

French onion soup covered in a thick layer of gruyere

French onion soup covered in a thick gooey layer of gruyere

Jess ordered the salade de bettrave, which was beet salad with chopped endives and manchego. She asked the waiter if they would substitute goat cheese for the manchego, and he easily acquiesced. The resulting salad was a mix of complementary flavors, textures and colors, with the sweetness of the soft red roasted beets, the tanginess and creaminess of the white goat cheese, and the bitter crunchiness of the yellow endive leaves. We all ended up stealing bites from Jess’ plate and loved every bit of it.

For my main course, I chose the steak frites, which came with a choice of béarnaise sauce or au poivre sauce. I selected au poivre and was disappointed with the watery and greasy sauce that I received in a ramekin with my steak and fries. The sauce had no discernable peppercorn flavor to it. Fortunately the steak was fabulous, a thick and meaty piece that was cooked rare per my request. It was actually almost black and blue, with a dark, flavorful crust on the outside and still pink and bleeding in the middle. Just how I like it! The steak had a good amount of flavor and just needed an additional sprinkling of salt to boost it up.

Perfectly cooked steak with a nicely formed outer crust, but disappointing au poivre sauce on the side

Perfectly cooked steak with a nicely formed outer crust, but disappointing au poivre sauce on the side

The fries were freshly cut and nicely fried so that they were hot and crispy on the outside and soft and potato-y on the inside. It came in a separate cone that I didn’t mind sharing with everyone else.

Freshly cut and fried french fries

Freshly cut and fried french fries

Jess had the coquilles St. Jacques, which were seared sea scallops on top of wild mushroom risotto with manchego and cranberry reduction. Neither she nor I have ever tried coquilles St. Jacques before, but Alice said they were not what she knows of as coquilles St. Jacques. The scallops were cooked well but the risotto was slightly gummy, and the manchego appeared to have been melted on top of the risotto, which was kind of weird. Jess ended up scraping that off to the side and focused mainly on eating the scallops.

For her entrée, Alice had the poulet roti, which was roasted chicken with garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach. The chicken was cooked perfectly and had surprisingly crispy skin. The mashed potatoes were nicely garlicky and the spinach wasn’t bitter. It was a simple dish but very well prepared.

Of course with this being a girls’ night, we couldn’t pass up on dessert. First up was an apple tart that had a nice thin layer of apple filling and creamy vanilla ice cream, but the crust was an absolute disaster. It appeared to be made of a piece of flattened puff pastry, so that the layers of the pastry dough were stuck together in a tough and unwieldy way. We couldn’t cut through the crust with the side of our forks, and even when we busted out a knife it was still extremely hard to get through. After a few attempts that ended up rattling the plate and the table, we sadly had to give up on most of the tart.

Beautiful apple tart but with a terrible, hard-to-eat crust

Beautiful apple tart but with a terrible, hard-to-eat crust

Our second dessert, the crème brulee, had an evenly browned crackly sugar crust on top but the custard itself wasn’t properly cooled before it was served and as a result it was too warm and liquid-y. Even though it had a nice vanilla flavor, the dessert lost all the silkiness and lusciousness of a properly prepared crème brulee.

Creme brulee with an evenly browned sugary crust but a too warm and liquidy interior

Creme brulee with an evenly browned sugary crust but a too warm and liquidy interior

For the most part, we enjoyed our girls’ night meal at Jacques Brasserie. The meal got off to a good start with delicious French baguettes and continued from there. Although desserts weren’t quite up to par, pretty much everything else we had was tasty and well prepared. Service was fine, and the restaurant has a laid back atmosphere that allowed us to have nice conversation. It is a bit on the pricey side though, so it’s not somewhere we would go very often. It looks like the brunch menu is pretty reasonable though, which I might have to check out next time. But overall it was good company and good food – what more can you ask for?

Jacques Brasserie
204 East 85th St. between 2nd and 3rd Ave.
New York, NY