We spent last weekend in New York City in a whirlwind (literally and figuratively) of dining out, with brief digestifs of theater. The rain kept the NY taxi fleet busy, and the wind produced a sea of discarded umbrellas on every sidewalk. We only get to visit the city a few times each year, and take advantage of the opportunity to visit favorite haunts and try a few new ones. As is our inclination, we favor neighborhood bistro style restaurants, but also enjoy ethnic delicacies of pretty much any persuasion. We found time to grab a bowl of noodles at Mechanko-Tei on East 45th Street, a breakfast of lox and bagels at Russ and Daughters on Houston, and some sandwich material for the ride back – corned beef, pastrami and a salami – from Katz’s right down the block. The “official” dinners were scheduled for Solera, a favorite tapas bar on east 53rd, and Le Veau D’Or, the iconic French bistro on East 60th.
LeVeau D’Or traces its lineage to the thirties, although the exact date is a matter of some debate. The current owner, Robert Treboux, a/k/a/ Monsieur Robert, who bought the restaurant in 1985, told me that LeVeau D’Or opened its doors in 1937, which predates the fabled LePavillon, which Henri Soule opened in 1941. The two restaurants were both French, but could not have been more different. Soule’s focus was on the haute cuisine that his crew (including Pierre Franey) brought to the states at the 1939 World’s Fair at the French Pavilion. LeVeau D’or was one of many French bistros in New York that served up rustic favorites – cassoulet and marrow bones, beef bourguignon and kidneys, sweetbreads, and tripe.
Monsieur Robert first earned his spurs working under Henri Soule at Le Pavillon, then bought and sold two other French restaurants before settling in at Le Veau D’Or twenty five years ago. He still greets every customer, but he shuffles now more than he walks as he shows you to your table. The place looks every bit of its seventy five years, and the menu is, I suspect, exactly as it appeared in 1937. To change anything would be sacrilegious. A simple wine list offers a few classics – a Chateau Talbot, a Gevrey Chambertin, and of course a Chateau Simard, the house wine at the French pavilion in 1939, and at Le Pavillon when it opened in 1941. The reason, according to Soule, was that he wanted a wine that his customers could pronounce without embarrassing themselves. So much for marketing studies.
Le Veau D’Or and Monsieur Robert would still be enjoying a well deserved slow and steady semi – retirement pace, hidden away on East 60th Street, were it not for their being “discovered” – again – by Anthony Bordain, who wrote about the place in Nasty Bits in 2006, and then featured them on his show. Monsieur Robert’s daughter Kathy was pressed into service to help run the place, and Le Veau D’or is now enjoying a new generation of fans.
Over the years we have sought out these wonderful neighborhood bistros, offering up traditional French family fare at reasonable prices. I highly recommend the following:
LeVeau D’Or, 129 East 60th (btwn Park & Lex), 212 838-8133
Gascogne, 158 Eighth Ave. (btwn 17th & 18th) 212-675-6564
La Mediterranee, 947 2nd Avenue, (btwn 50th & 51st) 212-755-4155
La Mirabelle, 102 West 86th, (near Columbus) 212-496-0458
Demarchelier, 50 East 86th, (btwn Madison & Park), 212-249-6300
Café D’Alsace, 1695 2nd Ave, (btwn 87th & 88th), 212-722-5133
Les Halles, 411 Park Avenue (btwn 28th & 29th) 212-679-4111
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