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Note: Click here for a more recent visit to Chanterelle.

In mid-January, I had a business dinner at Chanterelle. My only prior experience at the restaurant was a lunch in 1990, which is too long ago to be relevant.

Chanterelle is now just over twenty-five years old, with a ten-year stint in SoHo, followed by a move to the present TriBeCa location in 1989. The restaurant ranks high in New York’s culinary scene, but just where is a matter of some dispute. Chanterelle earned two stars from Mimi Sheraton (1980) and Marion Burros (1984), four from Bryan Miller (1985) and Ruth Reichl (1993), before William Grimes took the restaurant down a peg with a three-star review in 2000.

I have to wonder about the two-star jump from 1984 to ‘85—can any restaurant really improve that much in a year? By 2000, Grimes clearly thought that Chanterelle had lost a step, a view many of the web reviews confirm. However, since the Grimes review, the James Beard Foundation has twice lauded Chanterelle as best restaurant in America (2002, 2005). Yet, Michelin failed to award even a solitary star. My own experience puts Chanterelle close to the top of the three-star range. I cannot say that it is four stars.

The menu at Chanterelle changes every four weeks. Many famous artists have designed menu covers for Chanterelle, but if that was the case on our visit, it wasn’t drawn to our attention. Inside, we found calligraphy worthy of the Declaration of Independence. On the left was the table d’hôte three-course dinner at $95, on the right the six-course tasting menu at $115 (with wine parings, $60-85 additional). You can add a cheese course to the table d’hôte for $19. One of the entrées carries a truffle supplment of $20. Otherwise, it’s just $95 per person, plus alcohol.

As my host was buying, I didn’t examine the wine list, although it is notoriously pricey. He found a wonderful Australian red, with which I was quite satisfied.

We were served double amuses of chilled squash soup in a shot glass and a small crab cake (shaped like a ping-pong ball). Both were superb. While we awaited our appetizers, our server brought out two different butters for us to try with warm, home-made bread rolls.

I started with the seafood sausage, which is well known to be one of Chanterelle’s signature dishes. It’s a sizable portion, and the explosive taste made it the meal’s highlight. Might this be the best appetizer in Manhattan? My companion ordered the foie gras terrine, which he pronounced excellent.

Almost five years ago, Bob Lape’s review for Crain’s New York Business complained that Chanterelle’s kitchen doesn’t always send out the advertised product. Both my companion and I ordered the “Loin of Lamb with Moroccan Spices, Gateau of Eggplant Lamb Shank.” I couldn’t, for the life of me, detect any Moroccan spices in the dish that came out. There were four or five beautiful slices of rare lamb loin with a crusty exterior, but they were not Moroccan in any way that I could perceive. The braised lamb shank in an eggplant jacket was clear enough to the taste, if slightly bland.

For dessert, I ordered the “Pineapple Fruit Soup with Passion Fruit Soufflé Glace.” This was an unusual concoction, but I am positive that there was also grapefruit in it. Now, while I love pineapple and passion fruit, I am not a fan of grapefruit. I finished the dish, but had grapefruit been part of the description I likely would have chosen something else.

After dessert, our server brought out two trays of petits fours. At this point, they were just showing off. A table of eight would have had trouble finishing the quantity of sweets that were presented to us. They looked wonderful, but my companion and I were too full to touch them. Our server also brought out a tray of small, freshly-baked cream-puffs, which I couldn’t resist.

Chanterelle takes a team approach to service. The dining room is small, and it appears that all of the staff perform all of the functions interchangeably. This leads to some service glitches, such as two separate servers coming around to take our bottled water order. Some of the plates weren’t cleared quite as rapidly as I would have liked. These are minor complaints, which I would put in writing only because, at Chanterelle’s level, I believe service should be practically flawless.

I went home happy, but still feeling that Chanterelle is operating a step or two shy of its full potential.

Chanterelle (2 Harrison Street at Hudson Street, TriBeCa)

Food: ***
Service: **½
Ambiance: ***½
Overall: ***

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