The story of La Grenouille begins with “il était une fois,” once upon a time. Gisèle Collas and Charles Masson first crossed paths in Paris after World War II, during which Charles enlisted in the American army while Gisèle cared for her younger sister in Nazi-occupied France. When the two met again in New York, Gisèle had just moved to the city with only forty dollars “but a lot of passion.” The couple married in 1949, destined to open a door to bygone Paris in Manhattan.
Gisèle was sipping on a Triple Manhattan when she signed the lease to what had once been the Copenhagen restaurant. At the time, Charles had found work on independent cruises and Gisèle was eager to put an end to his long departures. It was through a wire message that Gisèle informed her voyaging husband that they were the proud owners of a building they would transform into their dream restaurant. Charles named it after his pet name for Gisèle, “ma petite grenouille.”
“It’s a fairytale story,” expressed current owner Philippe Masson, who carries on his parents’ legacy. He developed his culinary passion early in his childhood by “burning meringues to find out the right temperature of the oven” late into the night with his father. Today, he is able to design new dishes seasonally and deliver menu classics such as the Grand Marnier Soufflé — always perfectly sugared and fluffed in its small white ramekin. His work is fueled by “a lot of joy, a lot of Cuban cigars, and a lot of good music.”
On Mondays, however, all of Philippe’s energy is devoted to creating the floral arrangements for which the restau-rant is known. The exquisite arrangements began when Charles bought a “big, beautiful Baccarat vase” to temper the light shooting through the windows. The arrangements have since become one of the most renowned qualities of the restaurant, intermingling with the lush red banquets, original chandeliers, and a center-hung portrait of the stunning “grande dame” Gisèle.
Upstairs, artwork pays homage to French painter Bernard LaMotte who once lived and hosted guests there including Greta Garbo, Charlie Chaplin, and Antoine de Saint-Ex-upéry, who wrote parts of Le Petit Prince in that same space.
Jean-Paul Picot came to New York in 1969 and worked at what used to be La Crepe. When the woman who owned the restaurant decided to sell, Jean-Paul managed to scrape together the funds to purchase it. After a short amount of time, he reimagined the French restaurant and named it La Bonne Soupe, inspired by the French avant-garde movie with the same title. Most believe this translates to the “good soup,” but for Mr. Picot — as he was affectionately referred to by his staff — it means “the good life.” He was known to say, “Please come in, sit down, relax, and enjoy the ambiance and a bowl of soup.” A few years later, in 1976, Jean-Paul was able to purchase the building.After his death in 2013, Jean-Paul’s son, Yves, continued his father's legacy until 2019 when he sold the building to Gehad Hadidi, who, according to members of the longtime staff, has made a smooth transition. “No one skipped a beat.”
Benoit strives to embody the quintessential French bistro. A descendent of the original Benoit, which opened in Paris in 1912, restaurateur, Alaine Ducasse has preserved the traditional French dishes as well as a taste of early twentieth century French decor. Extensive mirrors on the walls, a chandelier from the ceiling, and red velvet banquettes against the light-colored wood meet together in a conscientiously elegant design.
Fig & Olive is Mediterranean-inspired dining in its most exquisite form. On my first visit to this location, I was drawn in by the collection of wine and olive oil bottles lining the walls and the chic rustic decor that feels reminiscent of eating in the Italian countryside. Never has there been a time when I have dined at one of the several Fig & Olives in Manhattan, that I did not have an excellent experience. I have feasted on fresh ingredients assembled into delectable creations. I was thrilled to take the Manhattan Sideways team here for lunch one day where they raved over the selection of crostini and devoured the mouthfuls of perfectly paired ingredients – goat cheese and caramelized onion, for example – heaped onto small squares of fresh bread. Another favorite that I introduced them to was the zucchini carpaccio served with lemon and olive oil. We accompanied the meal with a beautifully presented Cucumber Cosmos and Rossellinis, selected from the extensive cocktail menu.
McKinney Welding Supply has been a fixture in Hell’s Kitchen since 1943. This long-running business is family-owned and employs about thirty-five people, ten of them being family members. Allen Dickon, branch manager of the West 52nd Street store, told us "We are the only place in Manhattan where you can find all of your welding and compressed gas products under one roof.”