New Yorkers have a tendency to believe there’s always some secret they’re not in on. We tend to believe there are VIP tables we’ll never be given and secret reservation phone lines we don’t know about, or that our neighbors must be slipping the super 20s to look the other way about the fact that they let their dog pee on the roof. New Yorkers enjoy a minor conspiracy theory, sometimes just for sport. To that end, people occasionally ask us if The Infatuation keeps some unpublished list of hidden gems. There must be, people seem to believe, some little black book of perfect neighborhood wine bars or speakeasy pasta places that we keep to ourselves.
There is no such clandestine list. Because unlike the pet owners from the second floor, we’re 100% honest. We go somewhere, we tell you about it. Whether it’s good or bad.
But if such a secret document ever did exist, Le French Diner would be on it.
Le French Diner is a small bistro on the Lower East Side, and from the moment we discovered it, we simultaneously wanted to tell everyone about it and to also keep it to ourselves. In all respects, Le French Diner is a hidden gem. From the outside, it looks like it would be a random place that makes crepes or something, and on the inside, the setup is simple: three tables, about 10 bar seats, and two people behind those bar seats cooking in a kitchen only slightly bigger than the one in your apartment.
And they really do make some magic happen in that tiny kitchen. It’s not the kind of magic that happens with foams and obscure ingredients, but rather the sorcery of a perfect hanger steak topped with tiny crumbles of blue cheese or a crispy octopus with the most flavorful aioli you’ve ever had. The short menu is full of bistro classics: there are escargots, duck rillettes, scallops, mussels, and maybe a grilled rabbit if it’s the right season. Visit after visit, each plate of food here is both exactly what you expect and better than you expect. Does that make any sense? Hang out at Le French Diner and you too will start thinking like a French philosopher.
In the background, French hip hop may be playing, and wine will definitely be flowing. Speaking of wine, bottles are listed on a chalkboard simply as “Bordeaux” or “Chablis,” but tend to be all good picks from small French producers. To sum up all of the above, you’re going to leave here depressed this place isn’t in your neighborhood, and you’ll be torn between bringing every person who’s ever wished you a happy birthday on Facebook here, and keeping it completely to yourself.
Remember that secret hotline? By knowing about Le French Diner, you have access. All (three) of the tables here are for VIPs. And yes, your neighbor is definitely paying off the super.
When is the last time you ate escargots in New York City? Go to Le French Diner soon, order these, and then tell everyone about how recently you ate delicious snails.
If you name yourself Le French Diner, you better have a great steak tartare. This one is roughly chopped and quite tangy.
This piece of crispy grilled octopus is served with an aioli-type sauce that tastes like one of those very expensive olive oils you try at a fancy supermarket. It’s perfect.
These small crepes made from chickpea flour are a great little snack to start off with. We wouldn’t count them as a full appetizer though.
Cooked just right, this steak has little crumbles of blue cheese and onions on top, and comes with a side of crispy, cheesy potatoes. This is the essential LFD order.
This entree-sized plate of grilled squid with spicy aioli is very nice, but if you’re only trying to eat one cephalopod, we’d opt for the octopus. Sorry if we weirded you out by calling it a cephalopod.