Perhaps you’ve seen 13 Going On 30 or the 1983 Steve Martin vehicle The Man With Two Brains. Both involve some body-swapping hijinks, and you’re probably wondering why we’re talking about them right now. Well, we have a hypothesis, and it’s this: Le Crocodile - the French place in the bottom of the Wythe Hotel - is a little restaurant in a big restaurant’s body.
The food at this Williamsburg spot is what you’d expect from a wine bar in Paris with a handwritten menu and minimal seating, not a hotel restaurant within walking distance of the East River. It’s satisfying and unpretentious, which is just about the opposite of what you anticipate from a grand space at the bottom of a hotel with tiled floors, a massive menu, and waiters in white jackets strolling around like they just finished catering the PGA tour in 1930.
The menu at Le Crocodile is nearly 50-items long, which might lead to a paralysis of whichever part of your brain chooses food - but here’s a cheat code: get the chicken. It’s the best thing here, and it’s all you really need to order. That isn’t to say that everything else is a waste of time, it’s just that this roasted half-chicken is both incredibly delicious and extremely filling. It has crispy skin, juicy meat, and a heap of fries the size of a Type A seagull’s nest. The only downside of ordering it is an inevitable moment of existential panic when you wonder what your life would have been like had you gone with a few of the other 40-odd dishes. The answer is: still very good.
Aside from a few more-involved dishes like the escargots with fennel in a tangy butter sauce, the food here is appealing in a straightforward, low-maintenance sort of way. The coarsely chopped steak tartare, for example, tastes like an ideal version of most other steak tartares you’ve encountered at places with French articles in their names, and the patés are just clean rectangles of creamy meat on plain white plates. Overall, you get the impression that you’re at a casual dinner party with a host who’s confident enough to forgo any fancy plating - which makes sense, considering this place is from the people behind Chez Ma Tante, a homey neighborhood spot we love in Greenpoint.
But this isn’t a dinner party, a wine bar, or a homey neighborhood spot - it’s a cavernous restaurant in the bottom of a trendy Williamsburg hotel. The space (formerly home of Reynard) has high ceilings, arched windows, and the exposed brick walls of a 17th-century castle inhabited by talking footstools and candlesticks. In case you’re considering eating a heap of profiteroles alone here, there’s a long marble bar with space-age light fixtures and mirrors the size of jumbotrons, and there are also several large round booths that are perfect for when you’re being interviewed for a cover story on your life’s work, your dining habits, and your preferences regarding Aspen vs. Vail.
Le Crocodile is one of the most charming hotel restaurants in the city, and - with its borderline-palatial space - it’s also one of the most impressive. If it were a little less pricey and a bit more casual, we’d spend exactly two hours here every week - but until that unlikely body-swapping takes place, we’ll save this place for our next big night out that calls for a mound of French fries, half a roast bird, and some ceilings so high you can whisper your least probable hopes and dreams into them.
Ordering food can be a stressful task, especially when a menu is as long as the one at Le Crocodile. Fortunately, the only question you’ll have to ask yourself when it comes to this dish is, “Do I like anchovies?” If the answer is yes, get this as a snack to start your meal. The peppers are a little tangy, and the tiny basil leaves add some nice pops of flavor.
These room-temperature leeks come absolutely doused in a tarragon vinaigrette and topped with what seems like half a jar of toasted hazelnuts on top. They look like the sort of thing you’d pick at while almost falling off a barstool the 11th Arrondissement, and they’re an ideal way to start things off. But unless you live for leeks, split them with at least one other person.
Another small plate that’s more of a snack than appetizer is this “hot mayonnaise egg” (that’s the literal French translation) that's neither hot nor especially mayonnaise-y. The sauce is surprisingly light and pleasantly acidic, and the trout roe on top brings a little smokey flavor. We’re fans, and if you’re in the market for some jammy egg yolks, you will be too.
These escargots are served shell-less floating in broth that’s mostly butter, with strips of fennel that almost make this feel like a vegetal bowl of pasta. This isn’t your standard plate of escargots, but you want it nonetheless.
Your typical French salad with frisee and poached egg usually comes with chunks of fatty lardons. This one has smoked eel, and it’s consequently lighter, more refined, and highly enjoyable until the smoked eel (which is pricier than lardons) runs out.
In case you weren’t listening the first time around, allow us to reiterate: this juicy chicken and mountain of fries alone could constitute a very good (and extremely filling) meal here. But if you want to take a deeper dive into the menu, split it with someone.
Not in the mood for chicken? Go for the steak frite au poivre. It comes with the same pile of salty, perfectly crispy fast-food-style fries, with a peppery sauce that doesn’t overpower the beef.
For some reason, there are 12 desserts at Le Crocodile - but if you’re looking for a crowd-pleaser, go for these well-executed profiteroles. None of the ice cream, pastry, or dark chocolate sauce will be present on the plate when you stand up to leave.
Wonderful as the profiteroles are, we slightly prefer this banana date pudding. Sure, it looks like a ball of mud your three-year-old child would try to feed you on your birthday, but it’s warm and just a bit salty with a moat of gooey caramel sauce.