In October, Superstorm Sandy flooded one of my favorite restaurants in New York, The River Café, which was built on an old barge anchored in the East River just under the Brooklyn Bridge. According to owner Buzzy O'Keefe, it will be long months before the restaurant is able to reopen. Now that it's gone, even if temporarily, my sense of loss makes me value even more the other restaurants in my life that are classics in their longevity, their quality and their ability to evoke the culture of the places they embody. Here are three restaurants that I would recommend to anyone who values fine dining and rich history.
321 W. 46th St.
New York, NY 10036
New York's Barbetta opened more than a century ago, in 1906, in a townhouse in the so called Hell's Kitchen neighborhood, near Times Square. It is still there, ably overseen by Laura Maioglio, daughter of the founder. The block is now filled with lively bars and casual restaurants; it's a shock to pass through Barbetta's small bar and into the expansive dining room, as formal and elegant as an aristocratic palace of a bygone era.
Specifically, it's a palace in Piedmont, furnished with 18th-century Piedmontese antiques. The cuisine, too, centers on Piedmont; Barbetta was the first restaurant in New York City to offer the region's white truffles and Barbaresco. The sense of the past alive in the present persists in the menu, where dishes are annotated with the dates they were first served, stretching all the way back to 1906 (Minestrone Giardiniera; Risotto alla Piemontese; Zuppa Inglese). The wine list, which holds a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence, shows impressive depth in classic Barolo and eclectic breadth as it explores the byways of Piedmont and beyond.
209 Bourbon St.
New Orleans, LA 70130
Galatoire's, on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans, has been in business since 1905, and on Friday afternoons the party that kicked off more than a century ago is still going strong. That's when the locals gather—to celebrate weddings, family reunions or just the coming weekend—around large tables groaning with fresh seafood and laden with glasses filled with old-fashioned cocktails and fine wine.
The menu pays tribute to Creole classics. I favor shrimp remoulade and sautéed Gulf fish, pompano or snapper, with sauce Meunière and a lagniappe of crabmeat. The wine list has improved considerably over the past few years. It now offers more than 400 selections, ranging from great Burgundies to classic California Cabernets to eclectic producers from around the world, and holds a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence.
La Tour d'Argent
15 Quai de la Tournelle
75005 Paris, France
+33(0)1 4354 2331
Parisian classic La Tour d'Argent may seem like a restaurant whose time has passed. Its Michelin stars have melted away, and the celebrities who used to throng its tables have been largely replaced by tourists.
I last ate there in 2010; I recall stories from my parents' dinner there in the 1960s. Both meals included the famous Duck Tour d'Argent, a staple for more than a century. (Each duck is numbered; my most recent was No. 1,084,700.) It is delicious; much of the food is, both the traditional and the modern dishes. But the menu is trumped by the wine list. The 400,000-bottle cellar is one of the glories of France, overseen by longtime sommelier David Ridgway; its 14,000 selections represent an unparalleled history of French wine. It has held a Wine Spectator Grand Award since 1986.
The elegant dining room, the formal service and the incomparable view over Notre Dame embody all that's beautiful in French culture. In my opinion, the restaurant remains one of the most important, and most appealing, in Paris and all of France for those who value the culture and traditions of haute cuisine.