Contemporary French in a Cozy, Downtown Setting

BY BETH KAISERMAN

La Sirene
558 Broome St. between 6th Ave. and Varick St.
South Village
lasirenenyc.com/212-925-3061

 

Escargot - La Sirene

Escargot – La Sirene

With fast-casual dining now ubiquitous, it’s nice to sit down to a proper French meal once in a while. La Sirene is tucked in a cozy pocket in an area called South Village, south of Greenwich Village and next to Chinatown. It’s a spot perfect for unwinding with a long meal of contemporary French cuisine.

 

Steak tartare - La Sirene

Steak tartare – La Sirene

At a press dinner last week, we had the chance to try a variety of menu items. While many of the dishes were a variation on classic French food, there are also many classics on board.

The best way to start any French meal is with
an order of roasted escargots in a garlicky, buttery sauce. The escargots at La Sirene were plump and bursting with flavor. The tools for escargots are actually very easy to use: one is for holding the hot shell, and the other simply for piercing the meat. Bread dipped in the buttery sauce was necessary and absolutely delicious. Another highlight was foie gras torchons, very decadent but actually on the lighter side in this case.

Hanger Steak - La Sirene

Hanger Steak – La Sirene

Each entree came with carrot puree, haricots vert, butternut squash and chayote squash. It was great having a variety of veggies to cut into the richness of the meat entrees. My entree was seared hanger steak with roasted garlic and parsley, and the meat had a nice char and crunchy crust. The showstopper though was the filet mignon entree, served with foie gras paté, shallots and a port and red wine truffle sauce. It boasts bold flavors while somehow remaining light and not overly filling.
That seemed to be the theme with a lot of the food at La Sirene – satisfying and incredibly flavorful without weighing you down.“French doesn’t necessarily mean heavy every time,”
Chef Didier Pawlicki said.

 

Chocolate profiteroles w- ice cream - La Sirene

Chocolate profiteroles w- ice cream – La Sirene

Of course there was room for dessert. All of the pastries are made by Pawlicki and are as fresh as they are in Paris. Nothing is made more than 48 hours in advance, with 48 being the absolute maximum. We had to have the tarte tatin dramatically flambéed, which always makes things more exciting. Unfortunately, that was the most disappointing dessert as it got too soggy in the caramel sauce. The chocolate profiteroles more than make up for it, filled with delicious homemade ice cream and topped with whipped cream. The choux chantilly were lovely and offered a lighter sweetness which I always love. Definitely do not skip dessert here.

Pawlicki opened La Sirene in 2007, his first of a few restaurants in the city. The restaurant has recently started serving lunch Fridays through Sundays.

French Bistro Serves Up Health-Conscious Fare – Review of Le Village

BY BETH KAISERMAN

Le Village
127 E. 7th St.
East Village
(212) 539-0231
levillagenyc.com

The Gotham Palate was invited to a menu tasting at Le Village, Chef Didier Pawlicki’s East Village bistro. Pawlicki, also owner of La Sirene and Taureau, highlights gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan fare here. Seeing any sort of nutrition information on a French bistro menu is a bit of a buzzkill. Luckily, the fat content wasn’t listed. The menu designates items as gluten-free, carb-free, low-carb (less than 25%) and medium-carb (less than 50%).

beet carpaccio resized

Beet Carpaccio at Le Village, NYC

Meat entrees include an angus burger, seared duck breast, and coq au vin, but most of the menu is more veggie-friendly.

Vegan Cassoulet at Le Village

Vegan Cassoulet at Le Village, NYC

My favorite savory dish was cassoulet with stewed beans, smoked portobello, shiitake and oyster mushrooms, and sliced potatoes. It was flavorful and hearty.

Brussels sprouts sauteed with balsamic-glazed strawberries offered a refreshing take on a dish that’s been done a million times. The same is true for the beet carpaccio, delicately sliced beets with wine-soaked raisins, almonds and fresh horseradish.

Overall, each dish offered a new twist on an old classic. Banana brulee was like a fancy version of one of my childhood favorites, complete with a Nilla wafer crust on the bottom. Rather than offering a regular creme brulee, Pawlicki added the banana element since his girlfriend loves bananas. Two vegan desserts are available: a seasonal tart with coconut sorbet and macerated prunes with coconut sorbet. Ice creams are made in house.

Le Village is cozy and casual with some fresh takes on French cuisine. The restaurant is BYOB with no corkage fee, so be sure to a grab a bottle on your way. Le Village accepts only cash and AMEX.

Le Village on Urbanspoon

Approachable Vegetarian with a Couture Twist – A Review of Table Verte and Upclose with Chef Ken Larsen

BY ELENA MANCINI

127 East 7th. Street
East Village
212.539.0231 / www.tablevertenyc.com/

Despite the sustained ascendancy of organic restaurants, forage-cooking and locavoric awareness in recent years, the notion of  a vegetarian meal still conjures up  images flavorless mock meats and boiled broccoli spears in the American mainstream imaginary. Table Verte’s Chef Ken Larsen vigorously puts these outdated stereotypes and biases to bed,  and brings a fresh and flavor-forward approach with a French-focus to vegetarian and vegan dining. A New York native of Norwegian extraction, Larsen was trained in the French culinary tradition. He recognizes Marcus Samuelsson, with whom he had the opportunity to work at Aquavit and Terence Brennan among his culinary influences.

Chef Ken Larsen of Table Verte, NYC

Chef Ken Larsen of Table Verte, NYC

A graduate of New York’s French Culinary Institute and with fifteen years of professional experience in kitchens of France and New York, including a stint in a steak house, Larsen’s journey to vegan and vegetarian cooking evolved along with developments in his own life and relationships. A former triathaloner, Larsen decided to embrace a vegan diet five years ago. During his training, he researched endurance diets and found that a plant-based diet to be the most effective in giving him the energy and vitality of an eighteen year old–Larsen is forty-one. Larsen has a vibrant and youthful complexion and his animated speech and spirited gestures quell suspicions of hyperbole.

Larsen’s approach to cooking is very grounded: “Food has to do more than deliver a health property; it has to nurture and have an emotional quality.” Presenting a healthy, nutritious way of eating without sacrificing taste is at the center of Larsen’s mission. He enjoys prepping and combining grains, greens and root vegetables to deliver delicious flavors, textures and vitamin and protein contents. Larsen’s philosophy was in perfect alignment with the concept behind Table Verte. Opened in October 2012, a few short weeks before the wrath of Superstorm Sandy descended upon the region, Table Verte is restaurateur-chef, Didier Pawlicki’s latest venture. A French transplant and seasoned New York entrepreneur, Pawlicki is also the owner of Taureau and La Sirène in Soho, Manhattan. Table Verte is Pawlicki’s first vegetarian venture. His foray into vegetarian food was in large part a response to his clientele’s request and way of honoring the local community of diners in the East Village, where Table Verte is located.

Pawlicki’s commitment to “creating a restaurant designed not only to satisfy people’s dietary requirements but to create happy people” found its synergistic match with Larsen’s culinary background and philosophy of bringing vegetarian flavor profiles forward and taking his primary resources from a state of rustic to refined without compromising their integrity. With Table Verte Larsen and Pawlicki intend to offer vegetarians and vegans alike with a refined vegetarian and vegan menu and to make vegetarian eating approachable for all.

Larsen describes the opportunity to work with Pawlicki as serendipitous as it allows him to grow and thrive as a chef by experimenting, push boundaries in creating delectable, gourmet vegetarian and vegan alternatives to beloved French dishes. He describes his work environment as his own “inner think tank box” to explore the endless variety of vegetables and things that can be done to them. Larsen is presently working on a vegetarian cookbook composed of recipes and anecdotes. His intent is to show how healthy eating can be rewarding to the palate and easily prepared at home  and accessible to adults and children alike. Larsen has two teenaged daughters who have chosen to embrace a vegan diet with him.

Offering a French bistro menu that is 50 percent vegetarian and 50 percent vegan, Table Verte is an intimate and casual space, cheerfully decorated with bright murals evoking sixties bohemian flair with table tops appropriately colored kelly green.  It seats approximately 40 people. Currently BYOB, it will be offering a list of select global wines and imported beers in the fall.

Whether you’re vegetarian or not, Table Verte will prove both interesting and worthwhile.
Dinner entrees range from $16 – low 20$ range. Appetizers and desserts are under $10.
There is also $40 three-course prix-fixe dinner menu — anything off the menu.

Sampled Dishes:

Table Verte 2

Poached Asparagus with Fennel Mayonnaise and Pickled Shallots

Poached Asparagus with Fennel Mayonnaise was the consummate spring dish. The asparagus was fresh and toothsome. Fennel mayonnaise was a light and refreshing complement to this dish. Pickled shallots added interesting texture and kick.

Table Verte - Plate Froid

The Assiette de Crudite is a root salad medley is a lovely dish that epitomizes the idea of nutrition and flavor delivery. Composed of shredded celery root with lemon juice, lentils vinaigrette and beets with horseradish prepared with fresh seasonal herbs, it is the ultimate consummate “feel good” dish with its low caloric content and delicious flavors.

 

Balsamic Roasted Strawberries with Brussels Sprouts

Balsamic Roasted Strawberries with Brussels Sprouts

While there can be no question about the nutritional value of a dish Balsamic Roasted Strawberries with Brussels Sprouts, Larsen’s preparation with roasted strawberries in a balsamic reduction makes this a fun, spring dish for the color and sweetness delivered by the strawberries and the contrast with the earthy, bitter Brussels sprouts. For those for whom “eating your Brussels sprouts” represents a chore, this preparation will cause it to feel less so.

Cassoulet Vegetalien

Cassoulet Vegetalien

 A dish commonly prepared with meat, Table Verte’s Cassoulet Vegetalien is a  deeply flavorful entree that evokes the earthy grounding flavors of meat while being 100% vegan. It’s ideal for a cold winter day or a rainy night.  Elegantly plated in a Creuset terrine, it is composed of a mixture of white and colored beans, thyme and sprigs of fresh herbs and a side of wild rice, it is deliciously aromatic and a satisfying entree.

Gnocchi Parisian au Gratin

Gnocchi Parisian au Gratin

Gnocchi Parisian is a rich and hearty option for the more bistro-oriented experience.  Feather like gnocchi come baked au gratin under a thick coat of white sauce, white truffles and Swiss cheese. 

Roast Yams

Roast Yams

On the lighter side of entrees are Roast Yams. Infused with star anise, they come served with sauteed watercress and raisin cous cous.

As a side dish (or a guilt-free dessert), try the yam cake. It consists of thin layers of yams–stacked in Napoleon fashion– and is generously seasoned with cinnamon and nutmeg and will conjure up Thanksgiving memories any time of the year.

Gateau De Semoule

Gateau De Semoule

Also showing no signs of compromise are Table Verte’s desserts, which are also prepared by Chef Larsen.

My favorite among these is the semolina cake, which is Chef Pawlicki’s grandmother’s recipe. Made from semolina wheat flour, the cake has a light and creamy texture and is subtly sweet. The cake’s flavors are enhanced by  rum-soaked raisins and a delightful coat of Creme Anglaise.

Banana Creme Brulee

Banana Creme Brulee

Banana Creme Brulee is a fun twist on Creme Brulee. Banana fibers alter the texture of the dessert favorably and bestows a dimension of natural sweetness upon this classic dessert.

Table Verte on Urbanspoon

Serving Locally Sourced World Cuisine with a Side of Neighborhood Vintage – Review of Trix

BY ELENA MANCINI

147 Bedford Avenue
Williamsburg, Brooklyn
http://www.trixnyc.com/

A stone’s toss away from the bustle and human bottle-necking of the Bedford and North 7th L train subway stop stands Trix, an original restaurant that pays  tribute to the vestigial industrial character of Williamsburg’s Northside.

Trix - Art

With original artwork that melds garage with lyrical, encompassing portraiture, industrial scultptures and craftsmanship by Minneapolis-based artist, James Johnson, Trix exudes unforced bohemian appeal. The aesthetic concept behind Trix is the result of  restaurateur, Veso Buntic (also owner of Anabale Basin in Long Island City) and Johnson’s close collaboration. A venture that began in 2011, both artist and entrepreneur wanted to incorporate visual artifacts that would evoke the restaurant’s previous occupant and a nod the the Williamsburg of a grittier era. Belinda’s Go-Go Lounge inhabited the site until 1987.  Belinda’s occupied the space until 1987, and is memorialized with stained-glass lettering on Trix’s storefront and tasteful portraiture in the restaurant’s interior.  

Trix -Bar Detail

 

Trix-Onyx Bar

Trix

As to the interior, sheets of gray metal span the length and breadth of the ceiling. Flamingo mosaics adorn the base of a sumptuously sculptured bar. A wave like structure in pewter forms the base and 100 year old lit alabaster spans the bar top. With arachnid sculptures hanging from the walls, the expansive bar weds Goth with Miami deco. If the visual effects of the bar will draw you in, Trix’s winning speakeasy-style cocktail list designed by  Dusan Zaric of Manhattan’s Employee’s Only and an eclectic wine list definitely want to make you stay a while.  The Amelia cocktail prepared with fresh blackberry juice, elderflower and vodka is a wonderfully smooth way to downshift after a long day at work or to spark a night out. For a more warming pick-up, opt for the Peach Smash, made with Makers Mark and Creme de Peche with lemon juice. Most cocktails are under $15 and closer to $10. They can be had at a discounted price in addition to $3 beers and $5 select wines during Trix’s  Monday – Friday (4-8) happy hour. $1 oysters with a complexly fiery harissa sauce complete this happy hour bonanza.

Pescetarians and seafood lovers will find themselves cheerfully rewarded with a locally-sourced French-inspired menu with global influences executed by Chef Ian Pasquer. However, the offerings hold ample selections for the meat-and-poultry-oriented as well. A great deal of Trix’s  fish and seafood is sourced by D’Artagnan in Manhattan. Small plates range from $6-$12. Entrees range from the low 20s to $25. Desserts are under $10.

Trix-3

Honey-tenderized grilled octopus salad was an enjoyable small plate. Optimally-charred and supremely tender, the octopus rested atop a bed of aged  balsamic dressed watercress making it a highly recommendable starter-choice. Mushroom polenta is a grounding and tasty vegetarian alternative. Perfectly crisp and delicate wedges of polenta are perched atop a bed of cremini mushrooms in a white wine reduction. Shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano tie the flavors and textures together.

Trix2

A felicitous adaptation of escargot was Chef Pasquer’s appetizer, Stuffed Icy-Blue  Mussels with Almond Escargot Butter. The fulsome and yielding mussels were deliciously stuffed with breadcrumbs and Mediterranean herbs in a piping hot Almond Butter sauce making a dish worthy of standing on its own and not in the shadow of its conch-housed cousin.

Scallops and foie gras delivered their own distinct flavor rewards. The scallops, soft as clouds furnished the unmediated flavors of the sea. The foie gras was predictably rich, but had an added dimension of tang that deepened its earthy flavors.

Seared yellowfin tuna came perfectly rare with a side of anchovy caper salad.

Chocolate suicide was a flourless decadently creamy triumph by Chef Pasquer, who is also Trix’s pastry chef.

Polite and knowledgeable service, expertly executed quality ingredients and moderate tabs make Trix a fun, low-key restaurant with flavor rewards, and a trip on the overly-congested L line well worthwhile.

 

Trix on Urbanspoon

Home of Manhattan’s Best Banh Mi Sandwich – Review of Sao Mai

BY ELENA MANCINI

203 First Ave.
East Village
(212) 358-8880 / Sao Mai 

East of the East Village bustle and trendiness, this family-run East Village Vietnamese restaurant serves traditional Vietnamese fare and the best Banh Mi Sandwiches on the Manhattan side of the East River.

Vegetarian Bahn Mi

Available in six varieties including pho, sliced pork, grilled chicken and vegetarian, these sandwiches make a quick, nutritious, flavor-packed meal that’s easy on the wallet (priced between $6-$7). The Bahn Mi are prepared on baguettes are consistently fresh and crusty with a soft and chewy middle. Independent of the filling you choose, the kitchen always strikes the right balance between bread and ingredients. Their vegetarian Bahn Mi is among my favorite comfort-food lunches. Prepared on two warm halves of choice baguette, they’re stuffed with toothsome strands of sauteed bok choy, straw mushrooms, seedless cucumbers, shredded carrot and abundant swaths of cilantro, the sandwiches and seasoned with lemongrass,  sriracha mayonnaise, that provides a subtle and reverberating pitch of complex heat. In sum, it’s a light, filling lunch that delivers high-flavor rewards.

Pho’ Sao Mai

Front: Summer Rolls; Far: Spring Rolls

Lest one think Sao Mi is just about Bahn Mi, flavor mavens and fans of traditional Vietnamese fare will find other  sections of its menu will prove well worth exploring. The Pho Sao Mai will not disappoint. A flavorful broth, rich in tender strips of brisket, sprouts, rice noodles and a medley of herbs will consistently hit the spot. Adding appeal to  Sao Mi’s attractions is its steal of a lunch menu, which includes the choice of an appetizer, entree and a soft drink, all for $10. Sweetening things further,  both the Bahn Mi and the Pho are included in this deal!

Ga Gary – Chicken Curry

With a wide variety of vegetarian options on its menu, Sao Mai is also a smart choice for a low-key dinner that guarantees value, quality and flavor. Pity that wait staff has not yet mastered the walk-in dinner crowd on weekends. During these times, the  friendly service  can turn into a source of frustration for those who do not suffer extended waits and uneven food delivery times lightly.

Sao Mai on Urbanspoon

Honoring Burgundy Roots with Amour – Chef Claude Godard and Jeanne & Gaston

BY ELENA MANCINI

Jeanne & Gaston
212 West 14th Street
West Village
(212) 675-3773 / jeanneandgaston.com

The cuisine of Burgundy occupies center stage at Jeanne & Gaston, a West Village yearling that breezily weds French country charm with urban understatement. The restaurant is refreshing addition to a neighborhood that in certain respects suffers from a glut of generically trendy and overpriced restaurants, and is a keeper for its inspired menu that features Burgundy specialities with a twist as well as a number of brasserie favorites in an elegant, unpretentious downtown setting and favorable pricing. Casting the spotlight on his Burgundy roots is chef-owner restaurateur Claude Godard. Godard hails from a long line of chefs, starting with his great grandfather. From early on, food played a central role in his life, and with Jeanne & Gaston, Godard pays homage to both the cuisine of his native region of his birth and to his restaurateur grandparents, after whom Jeanne & Gaston is named.

 

Chef Claude Godard

A member of the Maitres Cuisiniers de France and inducted into l’Academie Culinaire de France, highly prestigious culinary associations, Godard completed his formal training at the School of Culinary Arts in Paris and worked with a number of renowned chefs in France,including Alain Dutournier and Jean-Pierre Vigato. From these chefs Godard took away the emphasis on the freshness and quality of ingredients, and this constitutes the backbone of Godard’s culinary approach. Godard enjoys cooking with fish and seafood. He cites Paul Bocuse as a vital influence on him for his democratic approach to chefing and opening the kitchen doors to chefs of his generation with his lighter style of cooking.

In the late nineties, a combination of curiosity and ambition inspired Godard to leave his native France to come to New York City to ply his trade. Upon arriving to New York City, Godard dove right into his dream and opened his first Manhattan restaurant, Madison Bistro in 1998, which is still going strong today. In hindsight, the extremely shy and  humble Godard admits that going straight to opening his own restaurant might not have been the easiest way to go about establishing himself in New York City, but the exceptionally talented and multiply occupied chef (In addition to serving as Executive Chef at both of his restaurants, Godard is also the wine director and pastry chef of Jeanne & Gaston) has no regrets.

Following are a number of the dishes from Jeanne & Gaston’s seasonal menu that I particularly enjoyed:

Escargot a la Bordelaise

The Escargot a la Bordelaise (13.00) – plated in a traditional escargot platter and bathed in a rich coat of piping herbs and spices, the escargot were fragrantly fresh, yielding to the bite and seasoned to perfection. The flavors and textures reached a pitch that quietly transported me to the charmed corners of Western Europe.

Quenelle

Simply put: the Quenelle (20.00), prepared with Pike Mousseline in Nantua Sauce was outstanding. What I found particularly extraordinary about this dish, apart from the freshness of the ingredients and the harmony of the flavors was the fact that the perfectly executed cloud-like texture of the quenelle was so flavor-rich. It was geniously served in a thick wine sauce with cremini mushrooms. Executed in this way, would cause me to order this dish again and again and again.

Duck Magret

The Duck Magret was served with a side of tempura vegetables and a mango emulsion. The duck was hearty, moist and velvety tender. A perfectly crisp side of mushroom and asparagus tempura accompanied the duck along with a spoonful of mango chutney. The mango had a lovely cleansing effect and brightened the dish like a burst of summer.

Poached Anjou Pear filled with Chocolate Mousse

Poached Anjou Pear filled with Chocolate Mousse

The Poached  Chocolate Mousse Pear was a glorious fall dessert. The presentation of this dish alone was mirth-provoking. However, the real reward was delivered by the supple chocolate mousse filling couched into a firmly poached Anjou pear–resulting in a truly elegant and satisfying pairing.

A great way to experience Jeanne & Gaston is with a three course $40.00 prix fixe, which includes all menu items–an incredible deal not only for Manhattan, but for the caliber of the dishes.

In addition, a 3-course $29 pre-set prixe fixe dinner menu has been recently introduced.

A full bar and wine list offer specialty cocktails, and global wines by the bottle, glass and carafe with a focus on French wines.

Every night features Happy Hour from 4:00 PM until closing on specialty cocktails and select wines by the glass.

For Chef Godard’s recipe for Chicken Crepe Roulade, click here.

Jeanne & Gaston on Urbanspoon

 

Scotch maestro conducts single malt pairing – at Brasserie Beaumarchais

BY BETH KAISERMAN

Five fine scotches were paired with a custom meal at Brasserie Beaumarchais in the Meatpacking District this spring.

Scotch lineup at Brasserie Beaumarchais

Whiskey enthusiast Spike McClure worked closely with the brasserie’s chef to create the menu. McClure hosted the meal and instructed us to take a bite of each dish, swallow it, and then sip the designated scotch. McClure said it was acceptable for guests to water down their whiskey if they wanted to.

Single malts are the most individualistic of all Scotch whiskeys; each is produced at a single distillery, rather than being blended with whiskeys from other distilleries.

 

The meal began with an amuse bouche of boiled country ham cooked with hay and jumbo asparagus. The hay complemented the herbal notes of the light gold Glenkinchie, a 12-year malt from the Lowlands of Scotland.

Roasted quail with grapes in white wine sauce

Next came my favorite whiskey of the evening, Cragganmore Distillers Edition 18-year from Speyside, the epicenter of Scotland’s distilleries. Paired alongside roasted quail with grapes and white wine sauce, this amber-colored scotch tasted of prunes, raisins and fruit juice, with a toffee finish. With a cool spring breeze flowing in the restaurant’s door, sipping this whiskey was simply lovely and relaxing. This is light and mellow enough for the warmer months ahead.

Roasted halibut, onion rings with kale

My favorite dish of the evening was the second course: roasted halibut, onion rings and kale. The fish was cooked perfectly, and the kale was bursting with onion flavor. This was paired with Oban Distillers Edition 16-year from the Western Highlands. This salty single malt paired well with the salt from the onion rings and fish.

The third course was beef tenderloin, blue cheese, and English peas paired with the oaky Lagavulin Distillers Edition 17-year from Islay, which McClure called a good “special occasion” whiskey.

Chocolate, chestnut and coffee ice cream sundae

Finally came what McClure called the “most interesting” of the pairings. Talisker Distillers Edition 12-year from Skye offered a maple-glazed bacon taste, paired with a chocolate, chestnut and coffee ice cream sundae. It was certainly the most surprising pairing of the evening, aligning with the popular match-up of chocolate and bacon in the pastry industry the past couple years.

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French, Filling, and Flavorsome – Review of Balthazar

BY STEPHANIE HARRISON

Balthazar Restaurant –
80 Spring St, Soho
212-965-1414 :: www.balthazarny.com

courtesy of luxist.com

courtesy of luxist.com

Hungry couldn’t have described how I felt.  With a no-breakfast morning to begin with and noon rolling around, my stomach was half way done eating itself.  I arrived at Balthazar having no expectations of how the nourriture – that’s food in French – would be like.  This French inspired restaurant is staffed with the most polite hosts in New York City.  Their smiling faces and light voices convinced my cousin and I that a 40-minute wait for lunch was worth it.  Good thing we had no obligations for the rest of the day.  Our entire lunch lasted about two and a half hours, including the pre-lunch cocktail and wait, the meal and conversation, and the dessert that HAD to be ordered although we were stuffed to the bone.  This gorgeous eatery was crowded during our entire meal – from businessmen and women to young couples, Balthazar is the place to be on a Friday afternoon if you have a half-day off!

Duck Confit at Balthazar - courtesy of picasaweb.google.com

Duck Confit at Balthazar - courtesy of picasaweb.google.com

With two Johnny Walker Black and Cokes guzzled, we were finally seated at a booth served by a French waiter (or at least he had the accent, we will deem him Jacques).  After careful deliberation, I decided on the Duck Confit with crispy potatoes, wild mushrooms, and frisée salad, and my cousin choose the Moules Frites (the best $21 mussels I’ve ever had with skinny fries on the side served with a mayonnaise-based sauce – aioli perhaps?).  To accompany our meals, we were recommended with two beers, Chimay (darker, more bitter) and Duvel (more hoppy, light body).

Sir Jacques made rounds to our table at a comfortable pace, not too smothering.  The service was exceptional.  Normally, when I acknowledge that my jeans are getting a bit too snug, that means I’ve had enough.  Not that day.  We topped off our delicious entrees with the infamous Crème Brûlée.  Not too sweet, sugar perfectly browned, Balthazar offered a superb lunch spot for those who have more than 20 minutes to inhale their food.

They also offered their recipes for sale in a book entitled, The Balthazar Cookbook.  If you can’t afford the dish, then try cooking it yourself!

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Paris on a plate: A Review of Sel et Poivre

BY ELENA MANCINI

853 Lexington Avenue
(between 64th & 65th Streets)
Upper East Side
seletpoivrenyc.com

seletpoivre5

Nestled among Upper East side retail boutiques and Lexington Avenue mid-scale eateries stands Sel et Poivre,  a charming French bistro serving Classic French cuisine with contemporary flair. Established in 1989, by the dynamic and dedicated husband-wife team, Executive Chef/Owner Christian Schienle (originally from Austria) and welcoming hostess Pamela Schienle, Sel et Poivre is an elegant neighborhood bistro and a refreshing departure from the over-priced and pretentious, glamor-scenes in the Manhattan restaurant-scape.

The menu features a broad range of French bistro classics as well as a selection of pastas and Mediterranean-inflected dishes, most of which graze just above or below the $20 range.

A great way to begin the dinner is with the Fish soup ($7.75), a flavorsome tomato-based broth with deep seafood flavors harmoniously melding together and distinctive notes of mollusk and octopus. Although it was served with a platter of toasted slices of baguette, shredded Swiss cheese and rouille (red pepper aioli) I preferred to savor the delicious seafood flavors pure and without the accompanying condiments.

For a seasonal appetizer, the celery root remoulade with beets ($7.95)  is an excellent choice. A bed of ruby red beets  provided a meaty pedestal for a toothsome chiffonade of celery root with a cumin-seasoned remoulade sauce. The sauce was imaginatively seasoned with cumin.

The entree of skate was the pinnacle of this dining experience. The beautifully composed dish consisted of a wing tip of skate prepared with  lemon, beurre blanc, and a drizzle of capers.  The delicious and delicate skate was accompanied by a dome of steamed basmati rice. These high-quality ingredients combined for a symphony of bold, simple flavors on the palate ($17.95). This dish was well paired with a superbly dry German 2007 Weingut Himmel “Riesling Spatlese Trocken.”

A terrine of chocolate with raspberry coulis was a worthy coda to this symphony ($6.75). The rich, creamy chocolate lingered on the palate furnishing echoing the flavors of this delicious indulgence long after the deed was done.

Inspired cuisine, relaxed and intimate vibe and affordable prices make Sel et Poivre an obvious neighborhood choice and a worthwhile destination for everyone else.

Sel et Poivre has a full bar with an wide array of French and international wines. The staff is knowledgeable about pairings.

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Adventurous chef’s restaurant hits a high note – A Review of Les Halles

BY BETH KAISERMAN

Les Halles
411 Park Avenue South
Flatiron / Murray Hill
(212) 679-4111/
leshalles.net

Photo courtesy of citysearch.com

Photo courtesy of citysearch.com

Some foodies might begin their New York adventures by eating at a celebrity chef’s establishment, with secret hopes of running into their white-coated heroes in the flesh.

I began my New York life by running into a celebrity chef – literally.

Last June while watching the Stanley Cup Final at Milady’s in SoHo, my friend saw Anthony Bourdain walk by. Naturally, I had to see where my meat-loving soul mate was going for his nightly imbibing and feasting. His destination would surely be a place worth checking out.

Unfortunately, that plan was cut short when I ran straight out of the bar and into Bourdain. As passersby looked on, he responded with a cool “No problem” and moved on with his evening. I did my best fake-casual walk down the street the opposite way. A block later my face cooled off, and I returned to the bar to watch my Pittsburgh Penguins clench the Cup. Needless to say it’s one of my most bizarre (and treasured) celebrity interactions.

Over a year later, I finally landed in the right place: Bourdain’s French brasserie, Les Halles. [Read more...]