In July 1793, Jean Gilbert Julien opened what some consider America’s first restaurant. Located in Boston and different from the many taverns that dotted the city, Julien’s The Restorator was intended to restore health. The menu, just like its proprietor — the self-described “Late Steward to the Honorable Monsieur Letombe, Consul of the French Republic” — was decidedly French, and included items like broths (presumably consommés), pastries, and wine, among other things.
Today, French restaurants in America appear in many different variations, from corner cafés that serve moules-frites and plates of charcuterie to mid-priced bistros with great roast chicken and country pâté to cathedrals dedicated to the preservation of French tradition that offer torchons of foie gras and seared and confit duck.
We recently published The 101 Best Restaurants in America, and many French establishments were both considered and included in our ranking. You’ll find six on this list that made the cut on that one, and then four more that just narrowly missed making it in. Where are they, you might wonder — read on to find out.
#10 Thomas Henkelmann, Greenwich, Conn.
Born in the Black Forest of Germany near the Alsatian border, chef Thomas Henkelmann acquired his extensive culinary training around France, Germany, and Switzerland, working in places ranging from his family’s restaurant to the world-renowned Hôtel Le Richemond in Geneva to the three-Michelin-starred Auberge de l'Ill in Alsace. The contemporary French menu in his dining room at the Homestead Inn follows the seasons, and can include dishes like pheasant quenelles crowned in puff pastry served with pheasant consommé, foie gras, Périgord black truffles, and porcini mushrooms; grenadin of veal with a Maine lobster risotto and Parmesan-Reggiano lace; and roasted loin of venison with bow-tie pasta gratin, red cabbage, poached pear, red wine venison sauce, and watercress.
#9 Little Bird, Portland, Ore.
Little Bird is two-time James Beard Award-winning chef Gabriel Rucker’s French bistro, located in downtown Portland (the birthplace of James Beard), and is the more wallet-friendly sibling of his other acclaimed Rip City restaurant, Le Pigeon. Despite the slightly more affordable prices, the quality is still top-notch; in the daytime, it is a popular lunch spot serving des plats français classiques like roasted marrow bones with ham, cheese, onions, and smoked honey and a savory brioche bread pudding comprising corn, green beans, morel mushrooms, and summer truffle. Come dinnertime, the eatery transforms into one of the most romantic, date-friendly restaurants in town, serving dishes such as seared foie gras with chicken skin, lentils, lovage, and strawberry chutney and duck confit with green beans, hazelnut, pickled cherries, and a smoked foie gras vinaigrette.