Every week, I document another dish that impressed and satiated me during my food adventures around New York City
For the first few years I lived in New York, I mostly hung out in the Theater District. I’d have auditions in the morning, see a show at night, and usually eat at restaurants nearby in Hell’s Kitchen. At that time, I would have said the best restaurants in the city were in this area. Now that I spend most of my free time exploring all the food the city has to offer, I rarely find myself in this tourist-laden neighborhood. I’d tell people visiting New York to hop a subway downtown to explore the best food options the city has to offer.
But there are certainly some gems worth trying before heading to see a Broadway show. Chez Napoléon is one of those worthy options. It’s a restaurant that truly transports you to another time and place. It’s been on this corner since 1960 and the Bruno family, who run the restaurant, enliven it with some old school French charm.
While the second and third generation tend to the front of the house, the octogenarian chef prepares all the usual French classics – not the ones you find at Americanized brasseries. Here you could sample veal kidney or calf’s brain with lots of butter, capers, and garlic. We opted for chilled leeks with a tangy vinaigrette, some buttery escargots and a homey cassoulet with lamb, duck confit, and garlic sausage.
But the pièce de résistance was the grande finale. We put the order in for the chocolate soufflé when we placed our savory order. The menu warned that it could take up to an hour to get this delicate French specialty just right. And it was just right. It was perfect.
After a decadent chocolate sauce is poured inside the soufflé tableside, we began to devour it. Forget modern molecular gastronomy, this was just like chocolate air. The lightness of the soft, puffy textures and the rich chocolatey goodness made it impossible to put the spoon down. Even after the bulk of the dessert had disappeared, I still managed to scrape up some bits and pieces. I’m afraid I put the dishwasher out of work for the night.
As much as I enjoy the trendy and innovative food options downtown, it’s classic places like Chez Napoléon with their simple and well-executed French dishes that make me yearn for Paris in the 1960’s. Or at least Hell’s Kitchen in the early 2000’s.
|365 West 50th Street (between Eighth and Ninth Avenue),