L'Espinasse is a gem of a restaurant with perhaps the best French food in New York City. It is a formal, requiring a jacket and tie, and has the usual French reserve which is even rare in France these days. One does not come here for the warmth or the show, though the service is excellent and the dining room elegant. One comes here for the food.

The flavors are pure and intense, with every note set off clearly, even as it merges with every other in the dish. This purity and intensity is shown off well in their soups. The celeriac soup conveyed the essence of the root, set off by the carrots, giblets and fresh coriander.The main courses follow suit. The` beef parmentier was a beef daube, a rich beef stew with red wine, that fairly screamed with flavor, and was set off by the truffled mashed potatoes. Their version of the country dish, cassoulet was built on a pork confit, further intensified by the pork cracklings, against a background of white beans and tomato.

The prices are a bit on the high side, but you can arrange to get Starwood points, and it does save one a trip to France.

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