In March 2004, New York Times interim restaurant critic Amanda Hesser made a stir when she demoted Montrachet, the long-time three-star standout in TriBeCa, to two stars. Whether Montrachet deserved the slap-down may be debated, but the review stood out for its soul-lessness.
I had a chance to find out for myself last week. Hesser’s comments about the décor seemed to me completely wacky. She wrote:
Entering the restaurant is a bit like stepping through the looking glass. There is no coat room in the tiny foyer. A small portable heater set on top of a wine cask buzzed at the coat checker, who took my coat, hung it on a metal rack in the dining room, then looked up my reservation. She was polite, warm even.
Before me stood a dining room with sponge-painted walls and self-consciously modern paintings. It felt like a scene from “Wall Street.” I could picture Michael Douglas sitting at a red banquette, bellowing into a first-generation cellphone the size of a shoe.
I hadn’t been to Montrachet in years, and I suddenly felt the disappointment of returning to a childhood home and finding that the backyard is not so big as you remembered, that the curtains are kind of shabby. Montrachet even smells old.
I can’t comment on the coat rack and space heater—it being high summer, these accoutrements were entirely unnecessary. But the space itself seems elegant and refined. It didn’t smell old.
I was there with a party of three. Two of us chose the appetizer of Marinated Sea Scallops with Gazpacho Sauce. This was a bit disappointing, as the gazpacho overwhelmed the scallops, leaving them flabby and dead to the taste. The third member of our party ordered a Wild Mushroom Bisque, which he pronounced a success.
We had three different main courses, which all were pleased with. Between us, we tried the Magret of Duck with Pistachios and Cherry Endive Compote, the Chilean Sea Bass “en Barigoule” with Parmigiano Reggiano, and the Grilled Rib Eye Steak with Morels, Texas Sweet Onions and Truffles.
Montrachet has one of the most revered wine lists in the city, and it takes a connoisseur (or the sommelier’s guidance) to make sense of it. One of my companions knows his wines, and he chose a PlumpJack Cabernet Sauvignon — a brand previously unknown to me — that I found superb.
For the record, appetizers at Montrachet are $11-22, mains are $24-32, desserts $10-11. A cheese course runs to $16 per head. All three of us tried that, and I was gratified to find that it included good-sized samples of five contrasting cheeses, which is more than you get for the money at many restaurants in town.
Montrachet also offers four fixed menus. There are two three-course prix fixe options at $30 or $46, a six-course tasting for $79, or an eight-course tasting for $95. The latter is available only Monday to Friday.
Montrachet certainly seems to me superior to most two-star restaurants in New York. While one cannot judge fairly on a single visit, on this showing I would say that Hesser’s demotion to two stars was an injustice.
Montrachet (239 West Broadway between White and Walker Streets, TriBeCa)