Sometimes you just feel like steak frites. A mouthwatering piece of grilled meat, a mountain of thin, crispy fries, and a decent glass of vin rouge. Happiness.
There’s a restaurant on the Left Bank in Paris called Le Relais de Venise. They serve the classic French steak frites. But don’t look for it on the menu for there is no menu. There is no menu to speak of because none is required. None is required because steak frites is all they serve. All you are left to decide is how you want it cooked. And don’t be afraid to go rare.
In Paris, there is always a line of people waiting to get in. I know. I have waited on that line. Here are the reasons so many people wait on that line: The steak is very good. The secret sauce that comes on top of it is great. The fries - or should I say frites - are fabulous. The house salad with Dijon vinaigrette is a thing of beauty. And the price for all of the aforementioned goodness is $29.99 prix fixe.
There are two branches of Le Relais de Venise in New York City, one at the corner of 52nd & Lexington Avenue, to which I was invited. It’s a single convenient block from the ‘6’ train stop, and across the street from The Grill, the former home of The Four Seasons.
The concept is exactly the same, i.e., “how would you like your steak cooked?” A scrumptious salad of tender lettuce with walnuts will arrive perfectly dressed in that vinaigrette. French bread and Dijon mustard will be placed on the table too. Order some perfectly decent house red wine or perhaps the French Champagne Pommery.
Then the steak appears, thinly sliced entrecôte, cooked precisely as you had ordered it. The famous sauce comes atop. Don’t bother asking what’s in the sauce; they’re not going to tell you. But it’s delicious enough so that some of us will end up scooping up whatever remains of it with a piece of baguette. Your plate will also include an inviting mound of frites, which you can accent with that strong French mustard if you so desire.
Aside from the sauce recipe, there are other things not to ask for: ketchup, mayo or butter. They are not available. And you won’t miss them either. You will eat meat, chomp on fries, and be happy, only lamenting when it’s over. But it’s not over. Because a server will return to your table with a bit more steak and fries. A welcome touch.
The variety of classic French desserts will not hurt you either. Profiteroles doused in chocolate sauce. Assorted ice creams with caramel sauce. Etc. All good, as they say.
There is one apparent difference, however, between this branch and the Parisian operation. There is no line of hungry diners eagerly waiting at the entrance. So you get the same experience without the wait or bustle. You might even consider using that time you save by popping across the street for a proper pre-dinner “pop”, so to speak, at The Grill, the restaurant and bar in the space that used to belong to the legendary Four Seasons. Blessedly, the dramatic decor and big city vibe that made it a classic New York institution remains.
“Never waste a meal.” (“Ne jamais gaspiller un repas.”) ~ RR