Raoul’s: A Soho Legend Keeps it Hot
Raoul’s got it going on. It’s the type of place with a certain special something that you only find on rare occasions. From the outside, it looks dark, like a sultry bar for those in the know. Inside, it’s a quirky French restaurant with stand-out food, risque decor, a poppin’ bar scene, and a resident psychic.
Soho has its fair share of hotspots, most of which fall sadly short on either the food front (Mercer Kitchen? Delicatessen? yikes) or in terms of atmosphere (Kittichai? Blue Ribbon Sushi?). Raoul’s hits the sweet spot; it’s got the whole package. Dark and buzzing, the restaurant is separated into three areas. At the front is the bar, and boy, is it your classic New York bar; banquette tables against the wall face out, affording some pretty fantastic people-watching; bar stools are grabbed by early revelers and as the night chugs onward, crowds begin to gather; a twisting and narrow set of stairs wind up to the bathroom, where, surprisingly, a psychic also sits, lurking, waiting.
Separated slightly from the bar is the front dining area with black-white leather boothes, complete with coathooks and hatracks, tables covered in white paper, a corner booth where groups can hold court. Raoul’s charming eccentricity is exemplified by the massive painting of an anonymous nude woman, hung front and center, and the neon blue glowing fish tank (yes, with a few lone fish) standing tall at the entrance. In the back, through the kitchen, is the patio and garden, secret to those not curious enough to inquire. Part-external and part-internal, the year-round garden area is quiet, almost idyllic, a spot protected from the spirited shenanigans of the front rooms. Raoul’s is a feast for the eyes, not only in terms of the incredibly attractive clientele, but also because of the endlessly interesting paintings, photographs, and postcards that cover the walls as a standing art collection.
Raoul’s food is classic French comfort food, and it’s amazingly good. We’re talking butter, butter, butter, fat, butter, and salt – how could you possibly go wrong? Steak abounds with a tender wagyu option, a luscious steak tartare, and a steak au poivre. All three options wow with an all-steak no-funny business tartare, topped with an oozing quail’s egg and served with crusty baguette. In my experience, this tartare is only surpassed by that at Quality Meats, a top-notch steakhouse. The steak au poivre came bloody pink, crusty with black and white pepper, hulking, and flanked by a mound of salty french fries; it was a steak-lover’s dream, a francophile’s bit of nostalgia. The wagyu, an American cut of Kobe beef, came more refined, slinky and tender, on a bed of thinly cut fingerling potatoes, chevrettine, and lemon: a modern steak for a modern woman.
Aside from the steak, Raoul’s just kept the good times coming with beautifully-seared sea scallops, sweet and juicy from the crusty caramelization and paired with flavorful wilted greens, with a generous disk of moist pate de maison atop walnuts and crisp baby spinach, with a quirky asparagus and leek starter made unusual by funky quinoa and a smooth English pea puree. Desserts were rich and uninhibited, ranging from a well-executed profiteroles, drenched in melted chocolate, to a wicked chocolate trio, made special for my mother’s birthday by an enormous sugar cage (pictured below). One dish after another showed not only the skill in the kitchen but also the range, the inspiration. The food at Raoul’s seems cooked with passion, with care – each offering came perfectly seasoned, decadent, borderline gluttonous.
Raoul’s is classic New York: a hidden garden, most popular at late seatings, a bar for locals, a shh-shh reputation. Despite it’s touristy location, it is notably devoid of lost-looking visitors. Most diners look like regulars, sons and daughters of regulars, those who heard by word-of-mouth. A true gem in the heart of Soho, Raoul’s shines brightly in a neighborhood known for cookie-cutter eateries.
Perfect For: hidden trysts, pre-gaming the game, the sport of people-watching, late night meals, being part of the in crowd