Author Topic: French Bistro Viable in Jackson Heights?  (Read 9825 times)

Offline Chuckster

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French Bistro Viable in Jackson Heights?
« on: March 31, 2008, 01:14:06 PM »
I recently had an exciting conversation with an existing Jackson Heights restaurateur whom has expressed serious interest in possibly opening a French Bistro in the Jackson Heights community.  Unfortunately, at this time, I am not at liberty to name the interested parties, as this seems to be a plan that has yet to be put in the works.

Given the interest conveyed by JHL forum members in previous posts about having a French bistro, I thought I would attempt to create an informal poll whereby we can post our thoughts on the subject and perhaps offer some encouraging ideas.  In turn, the restaurateur and his associates can try to gauge the community's interest in such an establishment.  If we have a good response to this thread, maybe we can have an influence on their decision to set up shop.

From my conversations with one of the associates, it appears that the interest is to possibly open a French bistro offering an affordable menu consisting of soups, salads, sandwiches and pre fixe menu items as well.  I think it would be interesting and helpful to suggest specific menu items that we would enjoy.  I was not informed of a specific location in the neighborhood, so street location may still be up for grabs.

The restaurateur would appreciate your ideas and suggestions.  How often would you realistically visit a French bistro?  What would you look for that would be most likely to make you into a return customer?  What other advice do you have for ensuring success in the Jackson Heights market?
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Offline John Prester

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Re: French Bistro Viable in Jackson Heights?
« Reply #1 on: March 31, 2008, 02:11:40 PM »
"If you build it, he will come"

I'd certainly give it a try, and if it's decent, affordable, good food, would be a repeat customer.

I'm no expert on French food, but would expect it to be a "middle of the road" type place, similar to Les Halles in Manhattan:

http://www.leshalles.net/

The audience isn't really present in Jackson Heights for the esoteric French food - truffles or foie gras.  The kind of dishes at a typical brasserie (beef, chicken, seafood), and a decent wine list (moderately priced, I don't think Petrus would sell too well!), and have the decor be somewhat "authentic" in terms of a typical brasserie, maybe even some French music (Charles Aznavour?), and I'd definitely check it out!

But it definitely has to be "mainstream French food" - if it's too outlandish, it probably won't appeal to anyone but Chowhound nerds!  (I say that as one myself!)  I think if they stick along the lines of say Armando's or La Portena, they would do well - I see those places as providing a decent, affordable meal, in an unpretentious environment. 
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Offline 80thstreet.observer

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Re: French Bistro Viable in Jackson Heights?
« Reply #2 on: March 31, 2008, 05:28:17 PM »
I would certainly welcome a French bistro to the neighborhood!

If any local restaurateurs are interested, I suggest they check out "26 Seats" (www.26seats.com), a French bistro in the Lower East Side or Tartine in the West Village.  The menu isn't off-the-wall crazy...example: sliced duck breast, sweet potato puree with a cherry reduction; caramelized onion tart; steamed mussels, etc., The menu is not huge, but is well executed and consistent.  The consistent execution at these two restaurants come in part because of its rather small-ish scale and unpretentious atmosphere...literally, 26 seats at "26 seats", but those seats are always filled!   

I think the scale of a successful French bistro in Jackson Heights is an important consideration.  For example, I think one reason for Expresso 77's success is how cozy it feels (yes, some people will probably think the space is suffocating).  For an example of what NOT to do, I would point to Novo.  Novo may be somewhat successful with its recent renovation, and the food isn't even half bad, but in my opinion this restaurant missed the mark because its atmosphere and scale just doesn't appeal to the crowd in Jackson Heights.  In its cavernous location, Novo seems to want to appeal to a hipper crowd that would fill up restaurants in Soho on a Friday night, but instead, night after night, Novo's few customers congregate at the bar and a long row of tables stay for the most part empty.  Instead of trying to be too hip, Novo perhaps would have done better if it appealed to the casual diners (retired crowd and parents of young families) that live in the neighborhood, looking for unpretentious well executed food at a reasonable price.  A little bit of soul for this seemingly pretentious, but not quite upscale enough restaurant wouldn't hurt either!  Realistically, I don't see a huge crowd coming from Manhattan to try out a hip French bistro in Jackson Heights when they can easily find a dozen similar places in Manhattan.  Also, I think a French bistro in Jackson Heights would be more successful if it didn't pattern itself after the more family-friendly style dining of, for example, Armondo's or Jahn's.  I do think Jahn's is great at what it does...just look at those lines forming for Saturday brunches...but it isn't right for a French bistro.

So, I would suggest a French bistro for Jackson Heights that is on a smallish scale that is intimate but low key, serving well-executed bistro fare that is recognizable to most casual diners.  These diners already exist and live in the neighborhood, have a reasonable amount of money to spend, and don't want to have to go to Manhattan or even Astoria.  These diners flock to Cannelle on a saturday morning.  These diners want to come home from work, walk to the neighborhood French bistro, have a casual meal, maybe stop by a coffee shop after dinner, knowing that their apartment is but a few minutes away.  They don't mind that they waited 10-15 minutes on the sidewalk for a table to become available because friends and neighborhood acquaintances are constantly walking by, and they didn't have to jump on the subway and schlep home from the 74th street station at 9:30 pm. 

That's what I want in a neighborhood French bistro... 

Offline toddg

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Re: French Bistro Viable in Jackson Heights?
« Reply #3 on: March 31, 2008, 06:27:14 PM »
If Ditmas Park is ready for a French Bistro, then surely we are, too!

I don't have much to add to John Prester's and 80thstreet.observer's thoughtful comments.  80thStO makes a good point about size, but I think there are some alternative options here.  There are some other locations where a larger restuarant may be a better fit, especially on 82nd Street or near the 74th Street subway hub.  I think there's a sizable potential customer base along our subway lines in Queens who would be willing to travel a few stops for an exciting new place located near a station in JH.  Also, 82nd Street north of Roosevelt has tremendous foot traffic but no places to stop and eat... a restaurant could help to re-energize this area in new ways.  Or, if you're willing to entertain an oddball location suggestion, a house on 76th Street between 37th and Roosevelt could provide a refreshing alternative type of venue (unfortunately, a zoning waiver would be needed).

I would be most attracted to a place that kept its menu interesting and changing, and included an emphasis on salads and fresh produce.

I used to eat out a lot, but given my kids' ages, I've been ordering in more frequently.  A menu that accommodates take-out options would be a plus for me.

Finally, here's another oddball suggestion.  Our neighborhood has a fairly large Muslim population, and the restaurants that serve halal food are always crowded.  If it would be possible to develop a halal French menu, I imagine you'd increase your potential customer base signficantly.  Given that French cooking relies so heavily on pork and alcohol, I don't know if this would simply be a culinary challenge, or an outright impossibility.  But given the large Muslim population in France, it would be interesting to know what types of accommodations and innovations are being made to address this.  It could be an opportunity to create a new (for NYC) offering that is distinctively "Jackson Heights."

Offline buddy

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Re: French Bistro Viable in Jackson Heights?
« Reply #4 on: March 31, 2008, 10:13:33 PM »
A casual french bistro sounds wonderful.  Anyone for chicken coq au vin?
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Offline abee

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Re: French Bistro Viable in Jackson Heights?
« Reply #5 on: March 31, 2008, 10:59:06 PM »
You'd get me for a repeat customer if there was a (good) weekend prix fixe brunch (with mimosas or bloody mary's!). Breakfast is my biggest weakness. I've been to Jahns for brunch- it was good, but it was a diner. Getting diner brunch nearby isn't really my problem...


Offline orzabelle

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Re: French Bistro Viable in Jackson Heights?
« Reply #6 on: April 01, 2008, 09:37:59 AM »
they would make a killing on brunch alone.  Banania or Luluc in Carrol Gardens rocked my world when I lived there.

Salads, sandwiches, steak frites, burgers, cassoulet, Belgian or American beers on tap. I may even open a separate bank account just for something like this.

Offline cybgrand

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Re: French Bistro Viable in Jackson Heights?
« Reply #7 on: April 01, 2008, 10:19:31 AM »
I agree. A good french onion soup, steak frites. something like l'express on park ave would be amazing.
If it was really good, I'd spend a lot of money there.

Offline Tigoillo

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Re: French Bistro Viable in Jackson Heights?
« Reply #8 on: April 01, 2008, 10:39:26 AM »
I think a French bistro or other type of more euro centric restaurant would be a great compliment to JH's rich epicurian culture. We the best ethnic foods of South Asia and South america in the city here so why not expand into more cuisine's of the world.

I know my partner and I would frequent a french bistro often if it was in the nabe. We love to eat locally when we can, and it certainly would be a great amenity here.

Offline eddiestjohns

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Re: French Bistro Viable in Jackson Heights?
« Reply #9 on: April 01, 2008, 11:22:45 AM »
I think a French bistro or other type of more euro centric restaurant would be a great compliment to JH's rich epicurian culture. We the best ethnic foods of South Asia and South america in the city here so why not expand into more cuisine's of the world.

I know my partner and I would frequent a french bistro often if it was in the nabe. We love to eat locally when we can, and it certainly would be a great amenity here.


I agree we have a plethora of South Asian and South American restaurants and we need to add to the diversity.  French, Continental, Pub Grub and other European restaurants would be a welcome addition to our current selection.

Offline ShinjukuBaby

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Re: French Bistro Viable in Jackson Heights?
« Reply #10 on: April 01, 2008, 12:50:11 PM »
When does it open?  I'm there!

Offline Bonito Flakes

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Re: French Bistro Viable in Jackson Heights?
« Reply #11 on: April 01, 2008, 01:14:34 PM »
 :smitten: I would most definitely eat there 2x week with my SO if one opened in the Heights. Personally, I'm looking for a real nice atmosphere that's quaint, cosy, and has some style. 26 Seats looks like a nice spot although I've never been - nice wine list, reasonable prices.

It would be nice if if they offered some healthier French options on the menu. Oh, and please open on 37th Avenue - near 78th Street would be great!

Offline michaelb

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Re: French Bistro Viable in Jackson Heights?
« Reply #12 on: April 01, 2008, 07:06:30 PM »
You can't call yourself a French Bistro without foie gras and duck on the menu.  I simply won't allow it. 

Put eggs and steak frites on the menu if you must but be sure to keep the gore and gristle for the serious diners.

Offline sixj

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Re: French Bistro Viable in Jackson Heights?
« Reply #13 on: April 01, 2008, 11:14:50 PM »
Let me be the next in what is sure to be a long line of people saying PLEASE bring a place like this to JH. Although, personally, I would say that something that is more of a "gastropub" and less of a "french bistro" would be fine by me. What do I mean? Well, some place with dark wood furniture, low lighting, cozy booths as well as some larger tables, a bar in the front, and a casual, comfortable, welcoming feel that is not too fancy, but a couple notches above a bar. (I agree with a previous poster, in that I find NOVO to have absolutely zero ambience).

Such a place would have a decent (even if modest) brunch menu, decent wine, decent tap beers, and a dinner menu that would include a great burger, a few interesting sandwiches, a good steak, duck, cog au vin, a fish special, and a smattering of other options. It might even serve food late, or even just stay open late as a low-key place to grab a beer, thus serving yet another purpose that I think the neighborhood has (a place to grab a quiet nightcap or two).

Again, while I appreciate NOVO, I find it to be lacking in some undefinable "vibe" that makes it seem kind of dull for me -- I think it may actually be a little TOO "nice" and I'm envisioning something slightly more casual, though still with great food.

If our mysterious restaurateurs want some examples to check out, I'd suggest Quaint in Sunnyside, Sidecar on 5th Ave in Park Slope, and Alchemy (also on 5th Ave in Park Slope). None of these places are perfect, but each does many things well, and taking cues from each of them would not be a bad thing. A step up in refinement than Le Flor in Woodside but with a similar comfortable casualness (and a bar) is another useful comparison.

In my humble opinion, a successful new joint in JH does not need to be fancy, but it would be great if it had:

Good food at a range of prices (from a $10-12 burger to a $25 rotating special)
Good beer and wine (microbrews and mid-to-higher priced bottled wine)
Weekend brunch

I may be a snob, but I think something like this would be great.


Offline michaelb

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Re: French Bistro Viable in Jackson Heights?
« Reply #14 on: April 01, 2008, 11:39:11 PM »
Again, while I appreciate NOVO, I find it to be lacking in some undefinable "vibe" that makes it seem kind of dull for me -- I think it may actually be a little TOO "nice" and I'm envisioning something slightly more casual, though still with great food.

I believe the word you're looking for is "soul."  Novo has no soul.  I concur completely.

Novo seems to be a success in that it charges a lot, is generally full, and may be a good place to take a date.  That said, the food left no impression on me at all.  I don't remember what I or the other 3 in my party ordered which is rather unfortunate because I certainly remember the bill was about $200.  I guess since I'm not angry about the experience (just indifferent) the food wasn't bad, so maybe that's praise enough.

(What a snob right?)

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Re: French Bistro Viable in Jackson Heights?
« Reply #14 on: April 01, 2008, 11:39:11 PM »