Caity: This restaurant was like a restaurant J.Lo would work in for the first forty minutes of one of her movies.
Rich: It was several layers of drag. It was a restaurant masquerading as a train car, and also, a train car restaurant masquerading as a fancy restaurant.
Caity: It was the kind of restaurant where, when you walk in for the first time, it's exactly like you remember it. It was very easy to invent a fake memory of my grandmother taking me there as a kid, even though I had never been to Bloomingdale's before.
Rich: Yeah, and this was your FAVORITE restaurant. Now I'm in your memory.
Caity: Are you a grown man in my memory, or are you a fellow child?
Rich: I'm a man, who's laughing at you.
Caity: Oh, I don't like that. Let's get out of here.
The best restaurant in New York is
Le Train Bleu, located on the 6th floor of Bloomingdale's.
À la carte.
Cost, before tip
Rich: This train-styled restaurant is kind of a little-known restaurant but it isn't exactly a "secret." There were signs for it in the elevator. I was hoping we'd have to actually FIND it, and that it would be hard. I was hoping for an adventure. It's kind of New York's best-known secret.
Caity: It was a little hard to find. We had to ask for directions in the luggage department.
Rich: We didn't HAVE to, you just did immediately.
Caity: Well, anyway, we found it and thank God. To enter the restaurant, you walk behind a coffee display and up some plushly carpeted stairs. All of a sudden—BOOM—you're in front of an old-timey train car, and it feels really special. It feels like a New York Treat.
Rich: Just like that! It's like the Hogwarts Express or the Polar Express or something.
Caity: A magic, quasi-old train is basically everyone's childhood dream, right? Imagine if Harry Potter had pulled up to Hogwarts in an airport taxi. That trip is like two hours, door-to-door if you fly. A protracted, scenic train ride lends a dreamy tone to any kids' story.
Rich: You need time to think about how different you are from the other children.
Rich: We are immediately greeted by the woman who would be our waitress. She is wearing a lab coat. Her name is Gloria. She kind of looks through you, in a way that Whoopi Goldberg or Jackie Christie from Basketball Wives L.A. might.
Caity: Yes, all the servers (all both of them) were wearing white jackets embroidered with the restaurant logo in blue thread. The effect was more pharmacy than luxury locomotive, but I appreciated that they took a swing.
Rich: Gloria was into her job. Very Disney.
Caity: If Bloomingdale's is the best tourist attraction in Bloomingdale's and Le Train Bleu is the second best, Gloria takes home the bronze, and there's no shame in that. I liked her a lot. She was helping us to make real New York memories. Before she brought us our waters, she asked "Would you like some New York iced water or do you prefer bottled?"
Rich: Good old New York iced. Class is making cheap people feel like they're indulging.
Caity: Then she told us the specials for what I'm going to conservatively estimate was 41 minutes.
Rich: After she finished, she assured us she would "go over them again a few more times."
Caity: At a certain point, Gloria, a promise becomes a threat.
I think she promised to repeat herself because she thought we were morons who Were Not Getting It. You had a lot of questions about the chicken content of specific dishes: "Is it chicken stock? Are there pieces of chicken in it? Is it chicken stock with pieces of chicken floating in it? What is a chicken? Which came first: the chicken, the egg, or my questions?"
Rich: I eat fish, but that's it in terms of animals. I will turn a blind eye to chicken stock, even a WILLFULLY blind eye, as long as it's stock and not pieces. That's where I draw the line. This is complicated and I roped Gloria into my mess of a life. She went back into the kitchen and we could hear her asking each question. "I don't know, that's what they said, 'Chicken or the egg?'"
Caity: Yes, sound carries because it is a VERY small restaurant. In a good way. It's cozy. And you have a nice view into some strangers' sunny apartments.
Caity: I ordered the French Onion. It was DELICIOUS. A perfect French onion from start to finish.
Rich: I got a Caesar Salad. The California roll of salads. The Caesar dressing was not perfectly mixed; I like when it's so evenly mixed that I think it's just a very special lettuce that has cream coming out of its plasma membrane. But it was good!
Caity: After our appetizers, Gloria came around with some bread in a little metal basket. Le Train Bleu does that schtick where they use fancy tongs to place ONE roll on your bread plate, which is fine—I love glamor, I love tongs—but, when it comes to bread: I can handle it. Leave the basket. I'll take it from there.
When it came time to pick our entrees, I tiptoed through the anxiety minefield that is placing an order for Mussels Marinière. I didn't want to be THAT GIRL ordering mussels MAHREENYAIH, so I went with "mussels marynair," like an American mom in Paris. And then Gloria was like, "The moules! The moules are wonderful!" She used French that wasn't even on the menu!
Rich: I got the Puttanesca (or as Gloria pronounced it using every muscle in her face, "Putin NESKA"). It was great, definitely the best entree I've gotten in our journey through New York's most absurd eating spaces. The seafood—scallops, mussels, clams—was fresh. Or if it was frozen, it was really good at pretending not to be. The sauce was perfectly salty thanks to the olives and capers. And the portion was big! It was a giant bowl! If you put this bowl on my head to cut my hair with, you'd fail! You'd be a giant fucking idiot.
Caity: My moules were disappointing.
They were a good size, but tasted like air, and two of 'em hadn't opened. The accompanying frites were like McDonald's fries with sea salt on them (no complaints!). I wished I had gotten the burger instead.
Dessert was also a little disappointing for me. We ordered the Crème Brûlée, which the menu indicated was this train's signature dish. It was OK. It was the signature equivalent of an X.
Rich: It wasn't a wow. It was a "Well…"
Rich: I think the thing about Le Train Bleu is that the food is just good enough to not ruin the experience, which is one of environment and atmosphere. Although the atmosphere was kind of weird, too, because the music was standard old timey and French fare (Édith Piaf; Frank Sinatra; more accordion than I've ever heard in one place in my entire LIFE) plus...James Taylor?
The following things were adorable:
1. The overhead compartment for your bag.
2. The Vacant/Occupied switch on the bathroom door at the rear of the train/dining room.
3. The ancient woman with pink hair who was a waitress since the time that the train car we were dining in was actually in service. (It was never in service — this woman was infinity years old.)
Caity: This really felt like a restaurant run by and for grandparents. When we got back to the office, I looked up Le Train Bleu online and saw someone had left it a one-star review. That hurt my feelings.
Rich: That is hurtful! They try!
It really was a cast of weirdos, though. People kept doing mild, awkward things around us. Gloria said to the table behind you, "OK, you're not eating, what's going on?"
Caity: That was a foreign woman eating alone. She explained that she was full. There was a high percentage of people eating alone. The clientele consisted primarily of very old New Yorkers reliving the luxury travel accomodations of their youth, and very young foreign tourists who had decided to eat lunch inside a gigantic, expensive souvenir shop.
Rich: There was also a girl wearing giant Beats by Dre headphones who was dining with what looked to be her grandparents. She kept them on the whole time. What an ingrate.
Caity: The check took about 25 minutes to arrive from the time we asked for it. When it finally arrived, it did contain a nice surprise: Free soda refills! So hard to come by in New York City. If you are extremely thirsty and in no hurry, this is the restaurant for you.
It was also odd. The check was odd.
"I'm a little slow. I add two or three times," Gloria said. Get this woman a calculator, or I don't know, if you wanna be old fashioned, get her an abacus.
And then the credit slip was on carbon paper! (Just kidding. Just a little old timey humor to go with your accordion score.)
Caity: Agreed. It didn't seem fair that Gloria had to do all the math herself, longhand, considering we were not actually on a train car in the 1890s. But I guess that's just life on the rails.
Is Everything Okay?
Questions about the Dining Experience
Would you go back?
Caity: While the American Girl Café remains the gold standard by which I judge all New York restaurants, I would definitely go back for some onion soup and a nice big glass of New York's famous iced water. I want to take an extended sojourn through the land of memory on that quasi-old timey fake train. I want to order a different entree.
Rich: As you said, going there already feels like going back, so going back to going back is some Inception-type shit. I guess if I went back I'd bring Marion Cotillard. The Édith Piaf would help her feel right at home.
Is it a good first date spot?
Caity: No. I would not feel comfortable going there with someone I didn't know well. It's a very off-kilter experience, but not in the over-the-top kitschy way of drinking champagne in a weird dolltopia for millionaires. You want this place to succeed, but you also want to be able to acknowledge its weirdness. The emotions are too complex for a first date.
Also, the walk to the restaurant through the luggage department would kill the mood, I think.
Rich: That makes sense. I would take a train conductor or MTA worker or Under Siege 2 enthusiast there for a first date, but no one else.
Is it a good place to have an affair?
Caity: It is an excellent place to have an affair: secluded, sparsely populated, AND if someone spots you at Bloomingdale's—Big deal I'm at Bloomingdale's! I had to buy something! I ran into my divorced neighbor, Alain, here! Big deal!
Rich: Trains are kind of sexy. See Madonna's "Justify My Love" ("I wanna...make love in a train, cross country"). I say yes to railway affairs.
Is it a good place to bring a doll?
Caity: I think Gloria would have had a lot to say to a doll, and every doll should have a chance to pretend to travel the world. So yes.
Rich: No. I think Gloria would have no time for such nonsense! There's only room for one doll on this fake train and it's Gloria.
There are a bunch of restaurants in the world, including some in New York City. But in a city of over 24,000 restaurants, how do you find the best? You begin your search in places that are already popular: New York's hottest tourist destinations. In The Best Restaurant in New York Is, writers Caity Weaver and Rich Juzwiak attempt to determine the best restaurant in New York. Photos by Caity Weaver and Rich Juzwiak