Out With the Old and In With the New: Nicolas Cantrel Dishes on Why Bagatelle Shuttered and is Now Beaumarchais


For some people, Sunday afternoon in the Meatpacking District means one thing: a raucously boozy brunch (complete with dancing on the banquettes) at Bagatelle (if you’ve never been, here’s a recap). So it might come as a surprise that the restaurant quietly shuttered its doors last week and is reopening Friday as Beaumarchais, a meat-centric bistro. We called up chef Nicolas Cantrel to learn more about this new venture.

First of all, tell me about the new concept.

We’re adding a bigger selection of meats because we’re in the Meatpacking District and we’re going to focus more on the traditional. We have a leg of lamb and we’ll sell it with bean cassoulet. We’ll have T-bone, and a veal chop with a side of chanterelles and baby romaine. There’ll be steaks and duck à l’orange. It’s a very traditional French preparation served with romanesco and a sweet orange duck sauce. We’ll have rib eye for two …

So why change? Bagatelle was quite popular.

We were popular for brunch but we wanted to focus more on dinner. We’ve tried to change it to the maximum.

Is the space going to look the same?

No, we’re doing a redesign, changing the banquettes and the color. We closed last Sunday and we’re reopening Friday night. For now we’re going to focus more on dinner. Maybe we’ll do lunch later, but we’ll wait until the temperatures go up.

The menu is very meat-focused. What’s your favorite type of meat/cut to work with?

For me, I like hanger steak. It’s a very tasty piece of meat.

Will boozy brunches be a fixture?

I don’t know the politics of that. I’m just in the kitchen.

Do you think French food is still relevant in America?

I think it’s popular but we need to adapt the food to the American people. We should make it more of a French touch.

Do you eat a lot of French food at home?

My wife is Filipino so it’s not very easy to have French food. Sometimes we make veal stew or sometimes a salad of frisée and bacon. We both do the cooking. It’s very hard to cook at home, though, when you cook all week at work.

What are you most excited for at Beaumarchais?

I’m excited because I love opening a place. It gives you a lot of work at the beginning, but the execution of opening a place, setting up everything, and explaining the new food is great. And you know, I travel a lot. I was living in Monte Carlo, so I wasn’t too far from Italy. I travel in the Caribbean and Brazil, so my food is a little “travel food.” Like, the tuna tartare is with guacamole and plantains, so it’s South American influenced. And I’ve got some dishes with some Asian and Italian touches, and then some dishes heavy on the butter from Northern France.

Do you have a favorite place that you’ve visited?

I had a great time in Brazil with the produce and with some products I had never seen fresh before, like fresh cashews. You know, cooking is one of the only jobs in the world where you learn every day. There are such different techniques and produce everywhere. You never stop. Never, never, never.

Check back tomorrow for Part Two of the interview when Nicolas reveals what it was like being on Iron Chef.