Dining in New York’s Meatpacking District can be rather hit-or-miss. In a neighborhood known for being a “scene” more than anything else, restaurants can be places to see, be seen, and spend a ton of money more than places to, you know, eat good food. Bagatelle, a spacious French bistro on Little West 12th Street, is thankfully one of those restaurants where you can have a swanky evening and also enjoy some tremendously good food.
The South-of-France-inspired restaurant, which also has locations in the most glamorous corners of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Sao Paulo, St. Tropez, and St. Barths, has both brunch and dinner service down to a science. At the New York flagship, which opened in June 2012, brunch is an incredibly lively and lavish affair, with the sun filling up the all-white room and guests downing copious amounts of champagne (brought to the table complete with blazing sparklers) and dishes like croque madame, a béarnaise-topped burger, and eggs Benedict rounding out the menu.
Come dinnertime, the lights dim down to near-zero, multicolored (yet non-tacky) recessed lighting appears from the ceiling, and the party continues. The bar and tables fill up quickly, but guests are given individualized service and while the restaurant is certainly loud, the high ceilings prevent it from becoming unbearably so.
The menu, helmed by chef Sebastien Chamaret, who took over the kitchen in July after spending time at Daniel, La Goulue, and his own Le Comptior, contains plenty of French classics (caviar, beef tartare, charcuterie and cheese, steak au poivre, and filet mignon with sauce béarnaise), as well as several new additions, including a crispy roasted artichoke salad, and Maine scallops “Au Pistou” (with a basil, almond pesto, and green pea puree). There are also several dishes for just about any mood, like a bright and citrusy crab salad with fennel and avocado, decadent pan-seared foie gras sliders topped with tomato confit and white cheddar cheese, seared halibut filet with Provencal vegetables, and their classic coquillettes au jus, elbow macaroni with French ham, Emmental, and veal jus. If you’re with a date, though, we’d recommend sharing one of their dishes “Pour Deux,” which include a fish du jour, center cut beef tenderloin Chateaubriand with truffle potato puree and red wine and pepper sauce, a 26-ounce bone-in cote du boeuf ribeye, and a whole roasted chicken, which in our opinion was the menu’s centerpiece.
To prepare the chicken, chef Chamaret brines the whole bird for several days, then rubs truffle butter under the skin. It’s then roasted, presented tableside before being taken back into the kitchen, where it’s cut into 8 pieces and served with diced potatoes and button mushrooms that have been roasted with chicken and duck fat. It’s juicy, the skin is crispy, and it’s up there with the best chickens in the city.
For a restaurant with a reputation as a bit of a party scene, the folks behind Bagatelle know that while eating at a restaurant should always be a fun time, it’s the food that really matters.