Some people at the United Nations remain in mourning since Matisse shut down in February after serving as the corner cantine to hungry diplomats and their friends and neighbors for nearly nine years.
If you are still feeling a void in your lunchtime routine, there’s good news: a sister restaurant called Rose Hill opened recently less than a mile southwest of UN headquarters, in a beautiful 1905 Beaux-Arts building on East 32nd Street.
Tucked off the lobby of the boutique HGU Hotel, Rose Hill looks and feels like a sophisticated Parisian neo-bistro, from its lipstick-red and tan banquettes to its carefully composed gallery wall of contemporary artwork. Black- and brass-colored light fixtures with a refined industrial profile hang from the high ceilings. A tower of fresh flowers at the entry adds to the dining room’s charm.
The art alone makes a meal here worthwhile. But while you’re at Rose Hill, be sure to also visit the small bar on the other side of the lobby, not to mention the sprawling lounge at the rear — its walls also hung with striking paintings and photos. A rooftop lounge is scheduled to open in May.
In keeping with bistro tradition, the tables are lined up in the long narrow dining room like dominos and topped by white tablecloths and stiff white paper. The French-accented welcome is warm, the service attentive, the noise level comfortably low and the menu a helpfully tailored list of New York standards like an oversized burger-and-fries along with more classic French fare. Waiters ferry fresh silverware with each course, and dishes as simple as chunky tomato soup (accompanied American-style by a mini-grilled cheese sandwich — in this case, Gruyère) elevated by tableware with a handcrafted air.
Also in keeping with French tradition, your best bet is the $19 two-course prix-fixe, allowing you to choose either a soup or salad to go with a gussied-up sandwich, which might be adorned with aioli, wilted kale, caramelized onions or marmalade and accented with tangy fries, perhaps served in a flower pot. But the menu’s star attractions must be ordered à la carte ($15 to $22). Recent choices have included a Niçoise salad with thick slices of rare fresh tuna; and a chicken paillard — pounded, sautéed chicken breast, served with Brussels sprouts hash.
The restaurant also boasts on-trend small plates ($14 to $17), like crispy chicken, octopus and pork belly, with a bigger selection at dinner than at lunch.
We particularly liked the burger, made with ground aged brisket and topped with a fragrant cheese and a very proper Caesar salad. There’s also an unctuous croque-monsieur, the Niçoise salad and a roast beef sandwich accented with watercress, blue cheese, a thick slice of tomato and crunchy fried onions. The fries, which accompany most sandwiches, are broad-beam rather than long and skinny, and dusted with Parmesan, parsley, crusty salt and a dash of cayenne.
An additional $10 brought us the perfect Paris-bistro dessert: a mini tarte Tatin, its thin crust and crown of deeply caramelized apple slices bearing a scoop of vanilla ice cream drizzled with pan juices. If you can’t get away from your desk long enough to walk over to Rose Hill for lunch, check out its happy hours, which offer $10 cocktails, $7 glasses of wine and $5 beers from 5 pm to 8 pm Monday through Friday.
So why the name “Rose Hill”? Until just a few decades ago, the neighborhood was dubbed by real-estate agents as Nomad (“North of Madison Square”), but its authentic name was Rose Hill. The area, stretching roughly from 25th to 30th Streets and Third Avenue to Fifth, took its identity from a farm that anchored it in the 18th century. A Rosehill Community Association is still listed among neighborhood groups and served by the local community board.
Rose Hill is open Sunday through Wednesday from 7 am to 1 am, and Thursday through Saturday from 7 am to 2 am. It is located in the HGU Hotel at 34 East 32nd Street, between Madison and Park Avenues. A small separate bar is open daily across from Rose Hill in the hotel from 7 am to 2 am. A large lounge to the rear of the lobby is open daily from 3 pm to 3 am (212) 448-1302.
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Irwin Arieff is a veteran writer and editor with extensive experience writing about international diplomacy and food, cooking and restaurants. Before leaving daily journalism in 2007, he was a Reuters correspondent for 23 years, serving in senior posts in Washington, Paris and New York as well as at the United Nations (where he covered five of the 10 years that Sergey Lavrov spent in New York as Russia’s senior UN ambassador). Arieff also wrote restaurant reviews for The Washington Post and Washington City Paper in the 1980s and 1990s with his wife, Deborah Baldwin.
Deborah Baldwin is a veteran editor and writer, most recently for This Old House; previously, she was an editor for The New York Times, working on the Style section and other parts of the newspaper. She and her husband, Irwin Arieff, wrote restaurant reviews for The Washington Post and Washington City Paper in the 1980s and 1990s.