Brasserie Cognac East is a new little gem among the landscape of French restaurants and bakeries on the Upper East Side.
Tucked in a small building on 70th Street and Lexington Avenue, the restaurant is co-owned by Vittorio Assaf and Fabio Granato of the Serafina Restaurant Group, and executive chef Florian Hugo. Here, traditional French fare with a modern twist is served. Hugo lends his artistic talents to each dish while preserving traditional French culinary techniques.
Cognac is about classics, friends, and understanding the locale, Hugo said.
“Here, it is not about innovation, and my challenge here is to train the kitchen staff to recreate the classics the way we used to make them in France. Here, the flavor could be the way it was 200 years ago,” Hugo said.
“If the food is too much from the head and not from the heart,” he said, “I cannot enjoy it.”
Unfortunately it is rare to find this type of philosophy among chefs currently. Indeed, the delicious dishes that come from the restaurant’s tiny kitchen are proof of Hugo’s discipline, efficiency, and passion. It is amazing that such fabulous breads and desserts are also baked in the same kitchen. Fresh supplies of baked breaded are instantly replenished, straight from the oven.
Hugo said he started out wanting to be a diplomat, but somehow, and with no regrets, he ended up in the kitchen. Hugo has worked in many renowned places, including at Alan Ducasse restaurants for eight years, and as a personal chef to the French minister of defense.
Although it recently opened, Cognac is buzzing and always seems packed. The guests are mostly from the neighborhood. Some of them visit a few times a week and some even twice a day. In the meantime, Hugo is paying attention to his clientele and their demands.
The menu encapsulates timeless classics and Hugo’s personal creations—like the Cheese Soufflé, Niçoise Salad, Lobster Bisque, Blanquette de Veau, and the Chocolate Soufflé. One can also enjoy teatime at Brasserie Cognac East. “Le Goûter” is available every day from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. with a fine selection of tea, sandwiches, scones, and house-made pastries sure to please grown-ups as well as children.
You may wish to begin your meal with the classic Lobster Bisque ($15). For me the Lobster Bisque is connected to the sea and the earth; what holds it all together is the broth. It gives it life with a superb concentrated taste, inspiring me to meditate over every spoonful. For a lighter fare, you may wish to have a very simple and healthy salad—the Crab Meat and Avocado Cocktail ($15). A drizzle of fresh lemon will enhance its flavors.
The gently seared Sea Scallops ($27) were perfectly cooked, resting on a layer of squash puree with wild mushrooms. They were impressive. It was like a melody feeding the soul. The scallops melted in your mouth like butter. The sauce was definitely prepared the classic way, with good butter and exciting flavors.
The slow-cooked Beef Bourguignon ($28) is a great main course. I love slow-cooked foods. To me, they show caring and patience. The short ribs are marinated in red wine and cooked with a mixture of spices, herbs, and vegetables for a long time over low heat. It was accompanied by creamy, fluffy mashed potatoes.
For me, the desserts were the highlight of the evening. They were revelations.
The Dark and White Chocolate Soufflé ($9) arrived warm, served with Grand Marnier and pistachio cream in the center of the layered soufflé. The Coconut Shell ($9) was a thin shell of bitter chocolate in which a combination of different berries and coconut sorbet sat. It was as vibrant in color as a box filled with jewels, and it yielded an avalanche of flavors that my friend went crazy over.
Brasserie Cognac East, also named for the region in France known for its cognac production, has an extensive cognac selection with up to 50 labels, as well as three distinctive French beers on draft, as any reputable brasserie is known to offer.
The restaurant also presents an interesting, predominantly French wine list, offering a combination of renowned labels and delicious affordable finds from little-known regions.
Brasserie Cognac East
963 Lexington Avenue (at 70th Street)
Breakfast: Monday–Friday, 7:30 a.m.–11 a.m.
Lunch: Monday–Friday, 11:30 a.m.–5 p.m.
Le Goûter: Monday–Sunday, 2:30 p.m.–5 p.m.
Dinner: Monday–Sunday, 5 p.m.–midnight
Brunch: Saturday–Sunday, 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m.