Brasserie Cognac is one of several classic French restaurants that have opened in the last year. I am not quite sure where the idea comes from. I haven’t seen any great demand for the genre, and the city’s major critics routinely remind us that no one wants it. Still, it persists, and I’m one of those who hopes it always will.
I had high hopes for Brasserie Cognac based on a promising early visit six months ago. Last weekend, I went back with the whole family. The restaurant isn’t exactly drawing crowds. It was practically empty at 6:00 p.m. on a Saturday evening—not a great sign for a place that ought to be pulling in pre-theater diners.
Alas, I can’t say the pre-theater folk are missing much. Brasserie Cognac does a few things well, but it’s too inconsistent. Those of us who favor classic French cuisine can do better elsewhere.
A tomato tart with goat cheese (above left) was the best thing we had, with a crisp, thin crust like pizza. My girlfriend and my son both had the French onion soup (above right), which came out not quite warm enough.
For the main course, my son and my girlfriend both had the Blanquette de Veau, or veal stew (above left). Like the onion soup, it came out cold, and had to be sent back. Pot-au-feu, or beef with vegetables, was the daily special (above right). The beef was tender and rare inside, but there was a certain laziness about both this and the Blanquette de Veau. Both dishes seemed dull. The broths and vegetables had a cafeteria quality to them. My mom had the Moules Frittes (mussels with fries), and the kitchen at least got that right.
The bread service was mediocre, with butter so hard it was practically unspreadable.
Brasserie Cognac undermines itself in other ways. The space is gorgeous, clearly the result of a not inconsiderable investment. Why, then, do they play generic pop elevator music out of the loudspeakers? If they’re trying to create the feeling of an authentic French brasserie, why not take it seriously?
There’s a wide range of prices, but there are plenty of appetizers and salads under $15, entrées under $30, and wine bottles under $50—though, of course, you can spend more. If the food were more reliable, Brasserie Cognac could easily be a go-to place for the neigborhood.
My girlfriend had a good summary of the meal: “You know, these dishes may be classics, but it’s still hard to get them right.”
Brasserie Cognac (1740 Broadway at 55th Street, West Midtown)
Service: Would be fine, if only the food were warm enough
Ambiance: Nice looking, but no buzz; needs a new soundtrack
Overall: Satisfactory (no stars)