FiDi’s newest brasserie is far from your typical French restaurant. At La Marchande, pull apart brioche bread is served with a scallion creme fraiche. Beef tartare is rolled into rice paper wraps, with perilla leaf and pickled cucumber. Pommes frites are paired with fermented tomato aioli, for dipping or slathering. The food is recognizable in its origins, but completely distinct in flavor and presentation.
The concept came to life before the pandemic, when acclaimed chef John Fraser partnered with The Wall Street Hotel to open a new destination restaurant. “I’ve always wanted to open a brasserie, but NYC doesn’t need another one,” Fraser says. Instead of repeating what local French chefs already excel at, he took his French training and inspiration from the historic site—the address of the original New York Stock Exchange—to create his own version of a sophisticated, multicultural eatery.
Situated just a few blocks from South Street Seaport, La Marchande, which is French for “female merchant,” takes cues from the centuries-old exchanges of international flavors and ideas that occurred at this location. “I thought about using the building as a frame, and painting with different colors inside,” Fraser says, describing the thought process behind his menu. “I wanted to move from tradition into something slightly surreal.”
Fraser is also ready to help diners—and staff—have some fun. “I want to have a great vibe and respond to how people want to eat and drink in this moment,” he says. To him, that means shareable dishes, an open raw bar with dramatic flair, and rum- and vodka-infused “boozy amis” tinctures inspired by mignonette to sip alongside plates of seafood.
“Our goal is to pay homage to French technique and French vernacular, and pull it left and right,” Fraser says. A vermouth program, to be enjoyed throughout the meal, complements an extensive cocktail and wine list. Dishes such as sole, drowned in vermouth lime butter scented with fresno chile, celery, and vermouth are priced per portion so diners can share with a group or experience it solo as a showstopping entrée.
A Global Pantry
Executive chef Rick Horiike (formerly of Wild Ink & Morimoto) helped reinvent entrées in La Marchande’s distinctive, dreamy style. The grilled lobster with scallop mousse is served in a revamped sauce américaine, made with coconut milk instead of heavy cream. Steak au poivre is cooked in a wok for the ultimate sear and a side of fried rice pilaf is mixed with chile crisp, haricots verts, and lamb bacon. For Fraser, dishes such as the lamb prime rib, which is deboned and re-wrapped with a fat cap to mimic a beef tenderloin, is especially emblematic of the creativity that pulses through the menu.
“We’re amplifying [French] cuisine with pantry ingredients,” Fraser says. “I hope it inspires people to turn their brain off and say, ‘this tastes great’, and settle in. It’s a funky, funny time to be opening a new restaurant, we’re just super inspired.”
Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner is a writer based in Brooklyn, where she lives with her wife and rescue dog. You can follow her on Instagram @melissabethk and Twitter @melissabethk