For those seeking an artsy, upscale French bistro with classic Manhattan charms—and a few surprising twists—Brasserie 8 ½ should fit the bill nicely. The midtown restaurant, located on 57th Street just off Fifth Avenue, set among art galleries and high-end retailers, is easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it. This is mainly due to the fact that the restaurant itself is below street level. You enter by way of a striking spiral staircase, ensuring every guest makes a dramatic entrance.
At the bottom of the stairs you will find yourself at the lounge area, full of comfy chairs and chattering guests. It’s an ideal spot for afterwork drinks or a pre-dinner cocktail (I was a big fan of the Buffalo Old Fashioned with Bulleit, honey, and apple cider, though the Gold Standard has plenty to recommend it for fans of Tito’s, brown sugar, and mint).
The main dining room offers all the trappings you’d hope for in a fine restaurant—white tablecloths, attentive servers, and pleasant music—but what sets Brasserie 8 ½ apart is the impressive art that lines its walls. Most notable is the large work at the back of the restaurant that anchors the entire dining room: Marco Del Re’s Chasse I, a colorful canvas that is lit up to appear almost like stained glass but on closer inspection is a mosaic-like painting on paper. Though the most prominent, it’s hardly the only eye-catching piece of art in the restaurant. Works by Matisse, Leger, and others dot the walls, furthering the atmosphere of a stylish French bistro.
But what really creates that sense is the food itself. Devised by Executive Chef Franck Deletrain, the menu offers a refined take on classic French cuisine. Appetizers such as grilled octopus with butter beans and Brussels sprouts or a salad of baby gem lettuce and walnuts perfectly balanced their ingredients and made for enjoyable opening courses. Or diners might consider ordering from the restaurant’s extensive seafood bar (on weekday evenings, you can enjoy $1 oyster happy hour at the lounge or at the restaurant’s curved bar).
But the real standouts of the menu were the entrees. While the loin of veal with wild mushrooms sauce and “Duck Two Ways” (roasted and confit) were difficult to resist, I opted for the filet mignon with savory bordelaise sauce. It came atop a smooth butternut squash mousseline with a few well-cooked stalks of broccolini, altogether a pretty terrific main course (those feeling extra hungry can add a half lobster to the dish, I just went with a side of wild mushrooms, which were excellent).
The whole meal paired nicely with a glass of Bordeaux (8 ½ has an impressive list of French wines), leaving me feeling like I’d just spent a pleasant evening in France, before ascending the staircase and returning to the busy streets of midtown Manhattan.
9 W 57th St
New York, NY 10019