Diner Week Critique Special: Les Halles (Manhattan, N.Y.)

Review | Written and photographed by Nathan Mattise

Directions | Web site | Overall Rating: 5

I love Anthony Bourdain.

He is the most popular incarnation of all my major interests rolled into one person (music, food, travel, writing, people). I’ve read his book, I watch his show religiously and I’d preorder tickets if he ever made an appearance within four hours of me. So when in NYC, regardless of whether it’s a true diner or not, I’m eating breakfast at his establishment.

Meet my hallowed grounds of all that is culinary, Les Halles.

You may recognize the establishment from the cover of Bourdain’s famous book Kitchen Confidential. This is where Anthony Bourdain hit his cultural prime and blossomed into the multi-faceted individual he is today. The truth of the matter is Les Halles won me over before I ever stepped foot inside. It would take something catastrophic to ruin the experience for me.  As you’d expect… I’m still raving about brunch that day

The first thing about Les Halles is that the atmosphere is less formal and intimidating than you’d imagine. In fact, it’s actually shockingly welcoming – feels like a nicer Irish pub. We sat for brunch as two college-aged folks in dirty clothes (equally dirty people unshowered from the night before) and didn’t feel out of place one bit. Waitstaff was even super professional to us and tended to our table at a nice pace (even if we ordered just water to start).

Breakfast at Bourdain’s is a limited menu brunch where you can order any entrée with freshly squeezed orange juice and a croissant for $17.89. We opted for that but decided on getting a fancy appetizer (brie w/ honey pepper glaze on croutons) to ensure we got to experience the high end taste you’d expect at Les Halles.

As for the food, how my girlfriend put it: “This is the best omelet I had in my life.”

She went with the salmon and sour cream omelet served with fresh fries and greens. The waiter even warned her some folks find it “too fishy,” but maybe our palettes weren’t developed enough. The egg was so flavorful, the sour cream and salmon provided a rich but not overpowering flavor.

From the bites I took I’d say she was right –  easily the most rich, delicious, flavorful omelet I’ve ever sampled. Even the fries were perfect (great texture, not greasy at all, didn’t even need ketchup) and this was a Sunday brunch. Bourdain himself warns about the lack of care to meals in this setting (fish on a Sunday brunch), so I couldn’t believe the quality of that dish.

That said, I also don’t blame myself for forgetting the cardinal Bourdain breakfast rule… eggs. There’s never a bad time or place for eggs.

I instead ordered the house crepe, the Les Halles Crepe. It’s a Chantilly creme with rum raisin-filled crepe covered in caramel glaze. It was very sweet, the crepe crust was warm and tender, and the whole shebang was surprisingly filling. I can’t lie – after sampling a bit of that salmon/sour cream I will eat the eggs benny in that style – but the Les Halles crepe was still a dessert like treat for breakfast. It’s certainly a deserving house brunch dish.

If through miraculous events I end up working in NYC media some day, rest assured I found a place to take friends who visit when I need to impress.  I hope Breakfast at Bourdain’s doesn’t end up as a one-time event for me, but if it does, it’s absolutely worth the experience.

The Final Tab

Pros: Unbelievable food, Bourdain aura, surprisingly casual atmosphere for high-end dining, large space for NYC

Cons: Pricey for diner standards

Overall: 5-bacon1

Five out of Five (Robust breakfast platter | Go early and often to the point you can say, “I’ll have the usual)

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