Daniel Boulud’s just-opened Le Gratin has rescued the Financial District from its French-food famine. It might even save Wall Street itself if power players decide it’s worth the trouble of coming back to their under-populated offices. The festive, romantic bistro, situated in the former site of Keith McNally’s Augustine in the Beekman Hotel, is downtown’s best news since Condé Nast moved to One World Trade Center in 2014.
Le Gratin is the latest restaurant from a great, multi-Michelin-star chef with even better French food than Augustine had. Even so, it’s impossible to separate it from its sorely missed predecessor.
Boulud’s new places typically boast highly original contemporary designs. Le Gratin is a rare, wise departure. Resembling a second coming of pretty-as-a-picture Augustine, it has the exact same tiled floors, leather booths and banquettes, vintage mirrors and art nouveau details, all bathed in mellow, flattering light from ceiling-hung globe fixtures.
No thought was given to replace them. “It would have been a crime to rip it out,” Boulud explained to us.
Like McNally’s larger Balthazar in Soho, Augustine was a favorite of Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour. Not surprisingly, Vogue proclaimed it the city’s “most coveted table.” It also drew Wall Street dealers, meandering uptown chefs and newlyweds just married at City Hall.
Along with the neighboring Temple Court from Tom Colicchio, Augustine had made the Beekman Hotel the closest thing FiDi had to uptown glamor nexuses like the Carlyle Hotel, the Four Seasons and Michael’s.
But its pandemic-driven closing in June 2020 left a gaping hole in the neighborhood’s culinary scene — and its heart. Boulud swooped in to take over the lease last fall, as The Post first reported.
The menu, executed by chefs Guillaume Ginther and Jean François Bruel, is described as a “Bouchon Lyonnais,” but it’s more inspired than governed by the city of Lyon’s sometimes heavy cuisine.
Lyon-style dishes such as pike quenelle with gruyere-mushroom bechamel share the menu with modern Manhattan salads such as sparkling gem lettuce with haricot verts and shaved foie gras, and lighter-handed seafood dishes of the kind found at Bar Boulud and Boulud Sud.
Despite the name Le Gratin, breadcrumb crusts are few — although a must-have dish, which the menu states is inspired by “DB’s mom,” is the gratin dauphinois comme Marie. The creamy, baked cheese-and-potato affair under a light crust is a $14 side dish that must contain one million calories, each one of which alone is worth the trip.
Le Gratin offers traditional dishes that are surprisingly scarce in New York, including light-on-the-palate boudin blanc sausages made with veal rather than pork. I also had excellent steak frites featuring a black angus hanger cut — nine ounces for $42 and enough for two people — and the most dreamily supple Scottish salmon I have ever had. The specimen is poached in olive oil until its consistency is such that it could almost be drunk through a straw.
Like many FiDi-area restaurants, Le Gratin is currently open only for dinner, which has quickly drawn neighborhood residents thrilled to see the dining spot back in business, albeit under different branding and ownership, and young singles at the bar flirting up a storm.
But Le Gratin’s full clientele won’t come into focus until it opens for lunch around Labor Day. Look for the power crowd—maybe even Anna—to be back in full force.