Throughout the year, Restaurant Editor Bill Addison will travel the country to chronicle what's happening in America's dining scene and to formulate his list of the essential 38 restaurants in America. Follow his progress in this travelogue/review series, The Road to the 38, and check back at the end of the year to find out which restaurants made the cut.
A slim woman, wearing a red dress and perhaps slightly inebriated, leaned toward us over her Grand Marnier soufflé. Her table was nine inches away. "You guys must be foodies, the way you talk about what's in front of you," she said.
"Don't curse us with that label," replied Robert Sietsema, my colleague. "But we do enjoy eating," added my other comrade, Ryan Sutton.
The three of us, Eater's trio of critics, were dining at La Grenouille, Manhattan's last remaining bastion from the heady days of French haute cuisine. The restaurant opened in 1962 and outlasted gilded contemporaries like Lespinasse (which closed in 2003) and Lutèce (it shuttered in 2004). Its sumptuous room—a trademark extravagance of towering flower arrangements, white tablecloths, scarlet banquettes, heavy mirrors, and the dining room's flattering, drawn-butter glow—remains a sanctuary for the wealthy, attended by tuxedoed servers with thick Gallic accents.