“There are a lot of assumptions about Midtown Manhattan,” says Michael Stillman, co-founder of national food empire Quality Branded. “And not all of them are good.” At its best, the bustle and glamour of Midtown embodies that indescribable quality of New York City that continues to lure people to visit — and live — here. At its worst, that strip of land between 34th and 59th Streets can feel “expensive, corporate, fussy, and stuck in time,” Stillman says.
It’s with this in mind that the restaurateur pursued his newest project Quality Bistro, an irreverent take on French brasserie fare that debuted this week at 120 W. 55th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues. At every corner, Stillman says the multi-room restaurant is attempting to subvert stereotypes: about Midtown, about French cuisine, about what it means to be higher-end restaurant in New York City right now. Here, tartare arrives with brûléed bone marrow, shrimp cocktail comes with passionfruit hot sauce and saffron aioli, and trees grow out of the banquettes.
It’s a formula that Stillman has proven with Quality Branded, the company he runs with his father, Alan. The restaurant group has a knack for taking old-school, stand-by restaurants — like steakhouses (Quality Meats) and red sauce restaurants (Quality Italian, Don Angie) — and turning them into the types of places that have weeks-out reservations and a busy calendar of company holiday parties.
For Stillman’s first foray into French fare, he turned to chef Antonio Mora, who previously worked at Daniel and Frankie’s. Under Mora, classic and contemporary French dishes are remixed with reckless abandon. Menu items like French onion soup are made with a blend of comté, gruyere, and duck fat croutons; tarte flambée is squared off like Detroit-style pizza and topped with pepperoni cups; and lobster toast is presented as a one-pound lobster served in-shell over a baguette. See the full menu below.
Mora’s spin on French cuisine is accompanied by a cocktail menu from barman Bryan Schneider and a 400-bottle wine list featuring American and French wines. Like the food, cocktails are rooted in classics, with Schneider’s own spin; an old fashioned comes au poivre, earning its name with the addition of peppercorn bitters.
The menu is purposefully playful — at it’s core, Quality Bistro is a restaurant “designed for celebration,” Stillman says. “It’s not your weekly neighborhood spot.” He expects meals to net out around $85 to $90.
With its sprawling floors, multiple rooms, and 18-foot ceilings, the restaurant might better be described as a series of grandiose ballrooms, atriums, and French salons. The restaurant, designed by creative agency AvroKO, is intended to evoke the French Belle Époque era with custom low-light fixtures, fireplace mantels, a greenhouse worth of plants, and a color palette that tends towards gold.
When diners enter Quality Bistro, they’re presented with a spacious 30-seat bar and, beyond that, a conservatory-style dining room whose centerpiece is a 60-year-old rubber tree. The restaurant also has two private dining rooms, which overlook the building’s adjoining park and can accommodate up to 40 seated people each. In warmer months, Quality Bistro plans to extend dining to 75 cafe-seats outdoors.
“The restaurant unfolds like a Russian doll,” Stillman told Eater the morning after Quality Bistro opened. “We want people to feel surprised when they come here.”
Quality Bistro, the 12th restaurant from Quality Branded, is now open in Midtown.