Friday, March 11, 2011

Les Halles, no reservations

I'm Chuck. I write, I travel, I eat, and I'm hungry for more.

Beyond and beneath the postcard New York lies are other ones, where consultants, investment bankers, accountants and marketing reps go. The salt of the earth people who improve your processes, invest your boss’ money, do your taxes and sell your ad space. Where do they go when the workday is over? What do they eat? So often they come from somewhere else and recreate their former homes in the city. They are from far away places like Wayne, NJ; Scarsdale, NY; Pittsburgh, PA; Reading MA; and Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. They are all expats, relocated to the melting pot that is the greatest city in the world and looking for a taste of home. You only need to know where to look.
I meet up with my old friend Matt, a traveler, musician, amateur chef and all around great guy. We discuss plans to grab lunch at an outpost at one of our hometown classics: California Pizza Kitchen. But we quickly decide it is too far and instead head to a nearby Vietnamese bahn mi shop. As we walk through Murry Hill my production assistant Megan points out that we passed by Les Halles, the French bistro  where Anthony Bourdain rose fame as executive chef. Long story short, the bahn mi place is closed and we wind up settling on Les Halles, only in New York is this a consolation prize.

Croque Madame

We were by no means expecting a celebrity sighting during lunch, we knew that Bourdain had long ago left the hot cramped kitchen for the greener pastures of the Travel Channel and New York Times best seller list. Although he retains the ambiguous title 'chef-at-large,' perhaps he calls in the daily specials while on location in Laos. We just hoped Bourdain hadn't cashed in on his fame and converted Les Halles into one of those gimmicky New York tourist traps like the Fashion Cafe, the All-Star Cafe or the Jekyll and Hyde Club (9 year old Chuck's note: that place was awesome, talking moose head enough said. 26 year old Chuck's note: every time I go to NYC I try to get people to go there).

The interior of Les Halles is what one would expect of a well executed French bistro. Thankfully, there were no head shots or copies of Kitchen Confidential adorning the walls. Even more thankfully, Bourdain's influence was clearly apparent in the menu. The French working class dishes followed his mantra of simple food served well. We ordered confit de canard, crispy duck leg confit, frisee salad and truffled potatoes; Croque Madame, classic French ham and cheese sandwich fried egg on top; and Merguez, Frites, Salade Moroccan lamb sausage. Everything was delicious. We especially liked the Croque Madame, Bourdain's broken-record-like rants describing his love of 'a runny egg on top of anything' during his guest spots on Top Chef now make total sense. Perhaps the best dish was served last, the check was much less than we anticipated and was the perfect pallet cleanser to a wonderful meal.

We set out that afternoon to grab some food from our homeland (a suburban mall food-court) but quickly came to our senses and decided to grab a sandwich with origins 9000 miles away in Vietnam. When that did not work out we wound up settling on the working class fare of Vietnam's former colonial masters crafted by a celerity 'chef-at-large.' What a city.

Les Halles on Urbanspoon

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