Chef-duo Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr didn’t expect their new French brasserie Frenchette to be slammed from the beginning.
“That was the biggest surprise, how [much] people cared,” Nasr says. “It’s pretty incredible. We got a lot of love.”
The French-leaning restaurant — which won the Eater NY Award for Restaurant of the Year in 2018 — was packed from the moment it opened in Tribeca last April, and continues to be now. And even though the chefs have experience building quintessential Keith McNally restaurants like Balthazar and Minetta Tavern, a full dining room is not always a guarantee.
But this was their first independent, solo venture; this was their time to do them. “It gave us a lot of freedom to do what we wanted to do,” Nasr says.
In practice, that has meant Frenchette’s menu regularly changed and has now grown to include up to 40 dishes, compared to the initial 29 or so. Options like duck frites and brouillade with escargots still reign supreme, but other more adventurous dishes like veal kidneys and calve’s brains have won their own piece of menu real estate. Diners have responded well to these additions, specifically those off-cuts of meat, the chefs say.
One time, a solo diner ordered tongue, tripe, and brain dishes — three options that were never originally planned to share the same menu. They gifted him a kidney.
“Brain could be challenging, but we were surprised at how much we could sell,” Nasr says.
The next step: turning Frenchette into the all-day affair they intended it to be. This weekend, the restaurant will introduce a new weekend lunch menu that for the first time will include a breakfast section, sporting dishes like a black truffle quiche and a wild mushroom omelette, plus a levain pancake and a buckwheat English muffin with chocolate butter. (See the new menu in full below.)
These new dishes will be available from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. starting Saturday, and although it’s being called “weekend lunch,” it sounds a lot more like brunch. Some of those new egg dishes are expected to appear on a separate weekday breakfast menu arriving later this spring, too, the chefs say.
“We’ll have a lot of fun with it,” Nasr says of that weekday menu.
Frenchette only began serving lunch in September, which was later than expected. Quality control and staffing challenges caused that delay; the chefs say they were busy perfecting dinner as well as trying to find enough people to work a lunch shift. And though the later start “didn’t help with our bottom line that much,” they needed the extra time to ensure things were running smoothy, Hanson says.
Now, they’re focused on making sure the lunch menu changes regularly just as the dinner one does. More egg and vegetable dishes are expected to come out this year, as the chefs say they want to place more emphasis on vegetables to round out the meat-heavy menu.
Another thing diners can expect in 2019: a quieter dining room. Sound absorption panels will be installed in the restaurant next month to tone down the decibel levels, something the chefs admit to overlooking.
It’s just one of several challenges that Hanson and Nasr have dealt with over the past nine months — like the fact that the incandescent lights they chose for the ceiling are no longer available, forcing them to search for new bulbs that will produce the same orange-y, warm glow as the originals. Or the fact that today’s restaurant workers tend to have more than one job, which makes scheduling difficult.
All of it is in hopes of making what was 2018’s hottest opening of the year into something that stays around for a long time. The restaurant’s crowd has evolved as hours extended, with a mellower lunch scene. And even if the restaurant is booked at dinner, the chefs encourage diners to come by anyway. They take 50 walk-ins a night, not including bar stools.
As Hanson once told Eater, “We want this place to be around for a while. Part of your routine, a cornerstone of your dining repertoire.”