“Phi-leeeeeep! Phi-leeeeep!” trills the Julien Farel’d blonde in J Brand jeans, Cucinelli cashmere and Verdura Maltese cuff, waving a well-tanned arm across the table, past the chunky mound of foie gras and chilled flutes of Veuve Clicquot. Not even the restaurant’s signature dish of avocado and crab is going to stop this one: She’s determined to get Philippe Delgrange’s attention. But then, who isn’t?
Once upon a time, New York was run by velvet-rope impresarios—think Schrager and Rubell at 54 or Sirio at the height of Le Cirque. Delgrange is, in many ways, a throwback, a driven, charismatic, opinionated 61-year-old Franco-Belgian who is behind the hottest—or rather, the only really hot—restaurant on the Upper East Side. The New York Post went a bit further, calling it “the snobbiest restaurant in New York.” And what does Delgrange think? “Whatever!” He’s seen, heard it before. Tonight Hugh Jackman is at table number one, Revlon kingpin Ron Perelman holds court at the big round table to the left, Eric Clapton is due momentarily, “and I had Bill Clinton here last night,” says Delgrange, jumping up to embrace an army of Eurofashionistas in full haute-brand-labeled regalia.
Le Bilboquet, now six months old (the original of 27 years closed in 2012, when its lease expired), is one of several boîtes to have opened on this nondescript stretch of East 60th—Rotisserie Georgette is my other favorite—and it’s certainly not for everyone. Delgrange does not mince his words about whom he chooses to seat…and doesn’t. As he might say, nothing professional, just purely personal. Insatiable Critic Gael Greene wrote on her blog after one visit, “I can survive knowing that I am not Le Bilboquet people, so I won’t be back.” Ouch! And I, who really loves this joint, keep telling Delgrange that he has to fire The Rudest Staff Person in the World, whom he, maddeningly, inexplicably insists on keeping gainfully employed. (When I confronted The Rudest Staff Person in the World on just how singularly unpleasant he was, TRSP turned to me and smiled, saying, “Well, when we are rude, we are really rude.”)
So why do I, an otherwise fairly well-adjusted person, keep coming back, I’ve been asked? After all, New York is full of restaurants, super restaurants—why this one? To begin, there’s the effortless chic of the room. It’s convenient (Barneys is a block away), and most importantly, there are perfectly executed classic dishes by Julien Jouhannaud, who worked with Alain Ducasse: moules marinière, steak tartare, the curiously American-named Cajun chicken…and those frites!
And as for TRSP in the World? I’m headed there this evening with my friend Shirley. I’ll let you know what she thinks. At 20 E. 60th St.; 212-751-3036.