Jean Claude II
1343 2 Ave (71st & 72nd Sts)
City: New York, NY
Phone: (212) 249-3400
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Area: East 70s
Payment: Cash only
For pretty authentic French bistro dining minus the airport hassle and cigarette smoke, you could drop into Jean Claude II, the sister restaurant of the original one in Soho, now closed. This charmer is very popular with the neighborhood and deserves to be --it’s so authentic, it wouldn’t feel shocking if the bill came in Euros. Perhaps the horrors of the Second Avenue subway helps depress the prices but since this works to the diner’s advantage, enjoy it.
The relatively gentle tariff here is exemplified by a recent check for $45 plus change that included two glasses of a decent Cabernet Sauvignon, a generous duck breast entrée accompanied by wilted lettuces and my share of very good chocolate mousse. My dinner companions both opted for the skate which was a large portion of fish atop couscous with Portobello mushrooms. My duck breast could have used more sauce, (which, judging from other meals, would have been brought instantly had I bothered to ask); was cooked medium rare as requested and was exceptionally tender. Don’t look for unusual dishes here—this is a place for bistro classics along the lines of deliciously gooey onion soup, a roast beet and goat cheese salad, escargot and a good take on steak frites with generous portions of both meat and fries. The coffee is excellent as are several of the desserts, particularly the crème brulee and TarteTatin topped with a dollop of cream. I’ve had the fois gras hors d’oeuvre, (appetizer on this side of the Atlantic), which is a generous portion served grilled with a sauce of reduced sauternes and have also enjoyed the salad with goat cheese croutons that practically speak French. There are usually daily specials to keep customers, who tend to be in their late thirties and up, coming back. It’s a solid, appreciative, unflashy crowd that would be quick to decamp if either service or food didn’t meet their expectations.
The restaurant serves beer and wines both by the glass and the bottle, neither outrageously overpriced. The space is small seating only forty diners so peak hours can get noisy especially if the restaurant is entirely booked. If you chose to eat slightly on the late or the early side the noise problem doesn’t exist, but, if a seven- thirty pm diner is what you have in mind, it’s a good idea to make a reservation. Dinner is served from five pm to ten-thirty. From eleven to four pm, Jean Claude II serves lunch that makes a truly delightful experience and is typically uncrowded. Among the lunch offerings, the Croque Madame with pommes frites or the mussels steamed in white wine are fine examples of these sure-fire hits.
I’ve eaten at Jean Claude II a number of times and the service is unfailingly pleasant and attentive with the owner, who doubles as host, working very hard to give each customer a good experience. This is a charming, very unpretentious spot totally lacking in attitude that offers both more than decent food and an attractive setting.
Review By: Mari Gold