John Fraser’s New Gen Brasserie ‘La Marchande’ Opens at the Wall Street Hotel

Food images by Liz Clayman

Chef John Fraser‘s rise has been slow and steady, but nevertheless represents one of the most impressive trajectories of the last decade and a half. From his time honing his craft at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, to stints in Paris at Taillievent and Maison Blanche, to his own Dovetail on Central Park West earning a Michelin Star and three stars from the New York Times in 2011, to his then becoming a plant-based trendsetter at his rapturously reviewed Narcissa at the Standard East Village hotel, and at Nix (the latter which sadly closed due to COVID related financial pressures in 2020), he has consistently captured the imaginations of the culinary cognoscenti.

He actually bounced back quickly from the pandemic, opening IRIS in Midtown West in 2021, where he has been reinventing the essence of Aegean cuisine. And now with the virus receding from its more devastating effects on the worldwide hospitality industry, he is debuting yet another restaurant that seems poised to have a reverberating influence on the New York dining scene.

Located in the plush new Wall Street Hotel – itself resting on the site of the original 18th Century Stock Exchange building on its famous namesake street – La Marchande (which translates to “female merchant”) arrives with the mission of reimagining the very notion of the French brasserie – a tall task, considering its long history and beloved traditions. But Fraser has the savvy to recognize that New York City loves change and innovation, both of which the French tend to resist a bit more vigorously.

“Having worked and lived in France for several years,” he explains, “I’ve always wanted to open a French brasserie, but do it in a sultry, modern way with a fun New York sensibility. The fact that this historic building was the center of global trade for Manhattan was a point of inspiration. I thought, if I were a chef seeing new ingredients and ideas arriving at port, and wanted to incorporate that global pantry into my food, how would it influence our kitchen?”

His and Executive Chef Rick Horiike’s (Wild Ink, Morimoto) menu is shot full of revelations, opening with a dedicated raw selection, including pickled mussels, fluke crudo, blue crab, and even an asparagus, avocado & sweet potato w/ truffled vinaigrette creation. But they also fun it up with a program titled Boozy Amis (“friends”), one ounce, $8 mini-cocktails meant as raw dish accompaniments (example: the Rubis, an intriguing mix of vodka, roasted beets, horseradish and caraway).

Appetizers range from wok roasted eggplant to duck breast carpaccio to corn dumplings w/ truffles, gruyère & onion consummé – while for the main event, one is faced with such temptations as sweet rice in banana leaf, lamb prime rib, or the specialty dover sole w/ vermouth lime butter for two, a delectable $75pp splurge. Add a side of wok pea leaves, and you’ll never think of the word “brasserie” in the same way again.

Fraser also has the particular privilege of a beverage director / sommelier, Amy Racine, who is one of the absolute best in the business, anywhere. She lords over a French-heavy, 120-bottle selection that draws on 30 of France’s lesser known sub-regions – so Francophiles can visit again and again and be consistently surprised. The drinks menu is also rife with adventure, to wit the Domaine Perdu, a margarita-inspired tipple with green tea-infused shochu, mezcal, white peppercorn & grapefruit, and the Sérendipité, a Champagne cocktail variation with Calvados, cardamom, lemon, Champagne & slapped peppermint. A well-chosen offer of vermouths is also front and center.

La Marchande. Photo: Liz Clayman

But for all the forward-thinking concepts on the menu, designer Vicky Charles (formerly of Soho House) has imbued the interiors with a sort of Jazz-Age glamour and sophistication, including uncommon touches like palm frond shaped brass pendant lamps and a dandy-ish rattan wallcovering by Watts of Westminster depicting opulently plumaged birds and lavish foliage. The classy little bar area is done up in green marble, brass/antiqued mirrors, and shiny pink marble floor tiles.

There’s also an elegant ten-seat private dining room tucked away on the second floor.

For ardent traditionalists, some brasserie staples do remain, the quality selection of oysters, and the grand seafood towers, for instance. But La Marchande is most definitely a destination for those who actively seek out the opportunity to have their palate challenged, without the sometime absurdity of more “conceptual” cuisine. And as a number of Wall Street firms have long departed for Midtown offices, with FiDi becoming ever more residential and less stodgy, it is surely a restaurant for its place and time.

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