Frenchette Chefs Will Run Le Veau d’Or, a Veteran Bistro

Le Veau d’Or, an Upper East Side bistro that has been a dining mainstay for more than 80 years, has new owners: the chefs behind one of Manhattan’s most in-demand restaurants.

Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr, who own Frenchette, in TriBeCa, said Monday that they took over Le Veau d’Or in April. The restaurant is now closed for renovations, and the two hope to reopen it in late fall.

They’ll keep its name and French identity, they said. The menu will change seasonally, though many classics — like frog’s legs, snails and the earthy Normandy-style tripe casserole that Mr. Nasr loves — are likely to remain.

“We love the idea of taking over a legacy restaurant, keeping it alive,” Mr. Hanson said. It’s a significant promise in a city where the Four Seasons Restaurant closed last month after nearly 60 years in business.

“Le Veau d’Or is part of the history of dining in New York,” the chef Daniel Boulud said, adding, “I thought of possibly taking it over myself.”

Since opening in 1937, the bistro has changed hands several times. Its most recent owner, Catherine Treboux, has run it in a very hands-on fashion since 2012, when her father, Robert Treboux, who had bought the restaurant in 1985, died at age 87.

In a recent interview, she said she finally decided to sell it because, at 62, she was tired. “I was a one-woman show there,” she said.

The kitchen required updating, but she did not want to deal with the New York City bureaucracy. “I also did not want to just close it down,” she said. “I was lucky to find Lee and Riad. The Veau d’Or is in the best hands it could possibly be.”

When it comes to dining, New York has little patience for tradition, unlike Paris, where venerable restaurants are tightly stitched into the fabric of the city and maintained either by family members, as at La Tour d’Argent, or by other willing restaurateurs, as with Benoit and Drouant.

In New York, Le Veau d’Or (the Golden Calf) still lives on. It opened in a post-Prohibition era when French chefs and restaurateurs were flocking to the city. Many of them came to cook at the French pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing, Queens, stayed during World War II, and went on to open their own places.

“It was the start of a golden age for French restaurants in New York that continued for decades,” said Ariane Batterberry, who founded the magazines Food & Wine and Food Arts with her husband, Michael Batterberry.

Le Veau d’Or’s Mr. Treboux, who began working in New York French restaurants like Le Pavillon in the early 1950s, was part of that generation.

For Mr. Hanson and Mr. Nasr, Le Veau d’Or was not an impulse purchase. Both chefs spent their early kitchen days in New York at Upper East Side French establishments, including Daniel, before they began working for Keith McNally at Balthazar and Minetta Tavern.

They said they first thought about buying Le Veau d’Or when Mr. Treboux died. “We were still with Keith, but were circling to find something new,” Mr. Nasr said. Then they began developing Frenchette, and shelved the idea of taking on Le Veau d’Or. A year ago, Frenchette was awarded three stars by the New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells.

Charles Dale, a Francophile chef based in Santa Fe, N.M., knew Ms. Treboux and reached out to the two chefs, suggesting they think again about Le Veau d’Or, Mr. Nasr said. “Last fall, Cathy called us back, and we began to consider it more seriously,” he added.

Though they have not decided whether to keep the white tablecloths in the 60-seat room, the partners said they plan cosmetic changes, like installing a new floor. And they’ll refresh the menu, which has barely changed over the decades. “We won’t stray too far from its French core,” Mr. Nasr said.

Back in 1968, when Le Veau d’Or had a reputation for great bistro food, Craig Claiborne gave it four stars in “The New York Times Guide to Dining Out in New York,” calling it “the ultimate restaurant with bourgeois cooking in Manhattan.”

It kept a loyal clientele happy, but gradually lost its culinary luster as young chefs like Mr. Boulud, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, David Bouley and Gilbert Le Coze began to rework the city’s French menus. In 1980, the New York Times critic Moira Hodgson rated the restaurant “fair.” The Michelin guide has never touched it. Ten years ago, in a segment of his “No Reservations” television series, Anthony Bourdain said the menu was a journey through the past, with dishes that were old even when he was a boy.

The new owners plan to maintain the restaurant’s attentiveness to customers, an important aspect of Le Veau d’Or’s character, thanks to Ms. Treboux and her father before her.

“This is not entirely a restaurant project,” Mr. Nasr said. “It’s as much about the atmosphere and the comfort as the food.”

Le Veau d’Or, 129 East 60th Street.

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