Tucked under a nondescript awning and down a small flight of stairs on East 60th Street, the humble Le Veau d’Or surprises first-timers in a most extraordinary manner. The 74 year-old ex-celeb place-to-see-and-to-be-seen is delightfully delish, affordable and welcoming. Despite its exterior simplicity and slight cookie-cutter bistro vibe, this Upper East Side staple bursts with warmth and hospitality and, most of all, offers a menu of luscious fine French food.
Most guests have been dining here for decades, perhaps even before current owner Robert Tréboux took over in the 1980s. Frenchman Tréboux, an octogenarian, lives above the restaurant and still works the floor, greeting customers and pouring wine.
Sadly, he was missing from his emblematic post last Saturday evening. (Perhaps it was past his bedtime, after all, it was 9 p.m. And for that matter, bedtime was approaching for most of Le Veau d’Or’s more “mature” regulars).
In his absence, guests were welcomed by his Franco-American daughter Cathy, who dutifully and graciously attends to her father’s legacy. Her cheerful and chipper presence instantly relaxes guests. Often she seamlessly transitions from English to French, only occasionally allowing her New York accent to surface.
By far the youngest diner among the one-third filled dining room, I took pride in also knowing the lyrics to the circuitous, but never insufferable, Edith Piaf album. Red banquettes line one part of the rosy hued dining room, large mirrors run the length of the wall, and a charming little bar, also in red leather, sits in the front room. A painting of a sleeping calf (Le Veau Dort) stares at lucky Le Veau d’Or diners as they ashamedly delight in one of the house favorites, the succulent Veal Kidney. The classy restaurant may seem aged, but it is this very quality that provides its old-timey, old-world charm.
Le Veau d’Or’s menu hardly strays from classic French mainstays like Coq au Vin, Steak au Poivre, Boeuf Bourguignon and Truite Meunière. Nonetheless, it has had three-quarters of a century to perfect these dishes, all of which are finished to perfection and sandwiched between agreeable appetizers and modest but decadent desserts. Diners can stuff themselves on the prix fixe menu which includes three courses (Priced between $22 and $40 depending on the main course). The small wine list, comprised of a handful picks from popular French regions (Bourgogne, Bordeaux), is straightforward and decent.
Hands down, Le Veau d’Or is no La Grenouilleor Le Cirque, but who needs that haughty frou-frou attitude anyways? The cuisine is still lovely in this unassuming and presque clandestine eatery. Most importantly, one can actually enjoy the dining experience instead of stressing about which flatware corresponds to the umpteenth course.
And though business seemed somewhat sluggish – possibly waning slowly but steadily, this French pillar has stuck around for a reason. After over 70 years of consistently dishing out Gallic classics and satisfying guests with its coziness, allure and rich cuisine, Le Veau d’Or has finally been honored by its community. In early March, it received the James Beard Foundation’s America’s Classics Award which honors a handful of deserving restaurants in the United States each year. According to the Foundation, “The America’s Classics award is given to restaurants with timeless appeal, beloved for quality food that reflects the character of their community.” Mr. Tréboux and his daughter Cathy will be recognized at the annual awards gala in May at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall.
The future of Le Veau d’Or is murky. Even Cathy admits she has yet to decide what will become of the place after the inevitable passing of her father. I hope Le Veau d’Or will stay alive until long after the buzz of this prestigious recognition wanes. In the meantime, I’m going back. You should too.