In 1997, great French or Italian bread wasn't so easy to come by in New York City -- at least not the stuff you traveled for like the bread that you'd find in Paris. Chefs like Jean-Georges Vongerichten fled to the bakery. The trend has spread across the country -- more and more bakeries are producing great versions of French bread.
New York is also now loaded with French brasseries, bistros, and cafes, including McNally's own Cherche Midi, Pastis (which will re-open next year), Schiller's, and Augustine. There are others, scores of them in New York, Brooklyn, Chicago, LA, London (which now has its own Balthazar outpost), and around the world. The accessible French food, the easygoing ambience of a restaurant that's open both for the early-rising breakfast crowd and swill-sipping late-night revelers, and the décor have made the Balthazar style a romantic obsession. In the greatest irony of all, one restaurant in Paris ripped off Keith McNally's décor at Schiller's, his bistro on Manhattan's Lower East Side.
High French food is on its way back into fashion, too, with the cream sauces and dishes of another era, among them the three-Michelin-star-rated Le Bernardin. Open since 1986, it's often considered the best French restaurant in the country. Now a legendary (and celebrity, thanks in part to Tony Bourdain) chef, Eric Ripert himself is a regular at Balthazar.