Bar Les Frres

A petit expansion adds elbow room and even more elegance.

 

WITH HER RESTAURANT’S NEW DINING ROOM—dubbed “the Salon”—Zoë Robinson cleverly puts history on her side. The nickname is a perfect fit for a female-led, French-themed bar where conversation flows freely. Even more notable is the way Robinson has managed to double the size of Bar Les Frères without diluting the whimsical spot’s charm or bogging down food production.

She scores a coup with the ambiance—and even more of those famous antlers (this time they’re attached to full heads). It’s a testament to her interior designer, David Kent Richardson, that it’s so easy to bask in the French decadence while dedicating equal focus to the food. Then again, dishes like cured salmon with riesling and dill, filet mignon au poivre and chocolate mousse flavored with Grand Marnier are pretty tough to ignore.

LA NOURRITURE Both rooms share the same menu, but the Salon tends to fill up with reservations first. This is the room for a leisurely meal: an appetizer of delicate potato blinis with caviar and crème fraiche, the much-talked-about lobster bisque, coq au vin with pureed potatoes and a classic crème brûlèe for dessert. If you’re extra hungry—or looking for lunch leftovers the next day—the cassoulet is a frequent special that’s well worth seeking out.

The gruyere soufflé has just enough cayenne to make it memorable, we recommend trusting Executive Chef Ny Vongsaly’s knack for seafood, like scallops, mussels, trout or salmon.

The bartenders leave the fancy stuff to other establishments, focusing instead on classics like kirs, martinis, manhattans and sidecars. This is a good place to experiment with French-style aperitifs like a well-chilled Lillet (wine with citrus liqueur) before the meal or a digestif afterward, either a cognac or its more aromatic cousin, armagnac.

L’AMBIANCE Robinson’s first move toward expansion was to annex the space next door. Then she created a visual contrast to the rich reds and intimate table arrangement of the original room by adding lighter, chartreuse walls. Small tables are still scattered here and there, but she used the central dining space for larger tables that, depending on the arrangement, seat anywhere from six to 24 guests.

Credit for the decor goes to both Robinson, a voracious collector, and Richardson, who has been a longtime collaborator. Among the standout pieces is a curtain from the old St. Louis Theatre, adorned with a golden image of St. Louis himself.

When Bar Les Frères opened in 2012, Robinson envisioned it mostly as a cozy place to wait for a table at her restaurant across the street, I Fratellini. Two years later, she and her staff make frequent runs back and forth, but most of the customers stay put. After you’ve settled in and started experiencing the attentive service, it’s hard to leave. Add a glass of wine—this is the kind of place where a vague order for “something red and full-bodied” gets you a very nice Bordeaux blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot—with a few bites of Morbier from the excellent cheese plate, and it’s impossible to say adieu.

 

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Photo credit: Jennifer Silverberg

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