New York City is home to some of the best French restaurants in the world outside of Paris

Le Bernadin

Le Bernardin—the city’s original temple of haute French seafood—survived the shake-up unscathed. Siblings Gilbert and Maguy Le Coze brought their Parisian eatery to Gotham in 1986, and the restaurant has maintained its reputation in the decades since.

Le Bernardin is still a formal place, with white tablecloths, decorous service and a jackets-required policy in the main dining room. But a recent overhaul (executed by design firm Bentel & Bentel) modernized the room with leather banquettes and a 24-foot mural of a tempestuous sea by Brooklyn artist Ran Ortner.

Delicious at both lunch and dinner, the prix fixe menus range from caviar, snapper and tuna to langoustine, white tuna-kobe beef and skate. Head here if you're looking for prim, proper and perfectly executed dishes with as much pomp and circumstance as Ripert's training and thoughtful innovation deserve.

Guests who find the $190 tasting menu or $120 four-course prix fixe out of reach can still experience the kitchen’s finesse in the lounge area, via stunning bar snacks: raw kanpachi topped with beads of wasabi tobiko ($18), for example, or gorgeous scallop ceviche ($18) resting in a pool of grassy olive oil. Beverage consultant Greg Seider’s cocktails, meanwhile, are alone worthy of a special trip: The baroque creations include a Pisco Gaudi ($16)—a lush drink made with the Peruvian brandy, a smoked paprika and saffron tincture, and egg whites.

This hotspot is in no way rustic or low key–but it may just be the best plate of food to hit a table in all of New York City.

Daniel

Even in the worst of times, a world-class city needs restaurants offering the escape of over-the-top coddling and luxurious food, with a star chef who's not just on the awning but in the kitchen and dining room, too—in short, a place like Daniel.

Though the seasonally changing menu always includes a few signature dishes—Boulud's black truffle and scallops in puff pastry, introduced in 1987, remains a classic—it's the chef's new creations that keep the food as fresh as the decor. The early-spring menu showcases a global sensibility, exceptional pedigreed proteins anointed with flavors from across Europe and Asia. Wasabi-kissed hamachi tartare in a raw starter, as striking as the modern art on the walls, comes paired with hamachi sashimi marinated in a beautifully subtle tandoori rub. Another fine appetizer, built around an exceptionally sweet lobster tail, borrows a little from Spain (a bright streak of piquillo pepper coulis) and a bit more from Italy (pine nut gremolata, light batter-fried broccolini).

Sure, Daniel is still a big-ticket commitment of time and money, but—from the waiters who sweep up to the table like synchronized swimmers, to the whole fish filleted on an old-school cart—you won't find such lavish attention to detail without springing for a ticket to Europe. And with New York's fine-dining restaurants increasingly under siege these days, Boulud and his team make a powerful case for keeping the genre alive.

Claudette

This is the type of chic yet easy dining room where it's ok to put your elbows on the table from time to time, and where you can kick back and share a bottle of very good wine with friends, without the fuss. Thoughtfully curated décor joins an equally exciting menu in this Provençal eatery, where Chef Ari Bokovza's Tunisian upbringing is also centerstage. Expect dishes that pair Southern French cooking with Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors here–like a lamb tagine and a squid dish topped with housemade harissa and served with sweet potato falafel–as well as classic options like a bouillabaisse, cheese selection and fresh salads that call to Provence-style farm to table cooking.


Buvette

Over the past decade, Jody Williams has established a serious food-industry following. Mario Batali, with whom she worked at the Clift Hotel in San Francisco, has called her one of his favorite American chefs; in 2007 restaurateur Keith McNally tapped her to open Morandi, his first trattoria.

The food is just as thoughtfully curated, served on tiny plates and in little jars and crocks, receptacles tailor-made for the restaurant's very tight quarters. Williams packs an awful lot of flavor into these dishes. They arrive all at once as a bountiful spread, designed to be shared like an indoor picnic. There's exceptional fluffy brandade (house-cured salt cod emulsified with garlic-steeped milk) and rustic hand-cut steak tartare anointed with a sprightly mix of frise, capers and cornichons. There are rich shredded goose and pork-butt rillettes, too, studded with prunes plumped in red wine.

Visit for any meal–it's almost hard to pick which service serves better options here–and prepare to queue; Buvette doesn't take reservations but is well worth the wait. Williams describes this spot as "part restaurant, part bar, part café" on the restaurant's website, and her self-awareness is spot on. Pop in for an espresso or glass of wine at the petite bar and then stay for a meal, no matter what time of day it is.


Lafayette

Everything in Lafayette glows: the blue-flamed rotisserie and wood oven, the soft lamps and candles, and the gently backlit bar. The large room enjoys a proper bustle, not a din. Lithe young things tilt their heads over glasses of Sancerre in that golden light at tables, and over at the bar, clutches of suits strain their necks to get the bartender’s attention.
The menu, cooked by longtime Craft executive chef Damon Wise, is suffused with all sorts of food you’ll want to eat, starting with hunks of pain de campagne that have a beautiful rye sourness and chew. Spend some time with the dishes in the “French Market” section: egg Lafayette with smoked sable and trout roe, a sort of Russ and Daughters take on deviled eggs; and scallop cru (as in crudo), served cool not cold, so the briny sweetness has nowhere to hide.
The baked oysters are also a worthy snack, with seaweed butter to temper the salty liquor and toasted bread crumbs for crunch. Beef tartare trades its classic raw-yolk cap for a quivering orb of poached bone marrow; with a dry-aged beef vinaigrette dribbled around, it’s nearly too much for the tamely seasoned meat to take.
Mango-and-lime parfait—with toasted coconut flakes set against soft, brûléed mango—looks unassuming in its little coupe glass, but tastes anything but. Even better is her strawberry delice, sweet crémeaux tempered by a tableside pour of tart strawberry consommé, and just-bitter blond-chocolate lace for a shattering crunch.
Lafayette has created a place where you want to be, but where the food doesn’t ignite much ardor.