One-dish restaurants are all the rage, so why not all-fondue, all-the-time? As of three months ago, you can have it at Taureau in the East Village.
When we say “all-fondue,” we’re not kidding. To paraphrase W. S. Gilbert: fondue for starter, fondue for entrée, fondue for dessert—to have it supposed that you care for nothing but fondue, and that you would consider yourself insulted if anything but fondue were offered to you—how would you like that?
Well, you might expect fondue’s charms to wane over the course of a meal, but chef Didier Pawlicki mines enough from the theme to keep it exciting—at least for one visit. I cannot imagine it becoming anyone’s neighborhood go-to place, but for occasions ranging from romantic twosomes to large parties, it is already a hit. There’s nothing like cooking raw meat in a shared pot of boiling oil to bring people closer.
Like the same chef’s La Sirène, it’s the barest slip of a space, seating only 38. Each table has a built-in convection burner, leaving very little room to spare.
It is also BYOB, and at least for now, cash-only. If you don’t know the policy or forget the wine at home (as I did), the liquor store and Citibank are only a few blocks away.
The most straightforward ordering strategy is to choose one of two prix fixes, at either $37 or $57 per person, with a minimum of two. (Practically everything served here requires at least two people.) Either way, you get cheese fondue to start, meat fondue as the main course, and chocolate fondue for dessert. There’s still a dizzying array of choices (more offered at the higher price)—which cheese? what kind of oil? what chocolate? You could certainly eat here half-a-dozen times without exhausting the menu.
All of this (and a lot more) is available à la carte, although if you order three courses it will cost you considerably more than the prix fixe. We ordered the $57 menu, which comes with enough food to sate almost anyone.
We started with Perigord Cheese & Truffle Mushroom fondue, which comes with a choice of four “sides” for dipping. We chose the white asparagus, hot chorizo, slab bacon, and fingerling potatoes. It also includes a forgettable green salad and croutons, also for dipping. (The lower-priced prix fixe offers only the salad and croutons.)
The melted cheese itself was rich and luscious. The bacon was the best side dish, and the potatoes also worked well. The asparagus didn’t really pair with the cheese, while the chorizo (cold and clammy) simply wasn’t that good.
For the main course, there’s a choice of oils—we chose peanut—plus four house-made dipping sauces. Our prix fixe came with two meats: we chose pork tenderloin and filet mignon. You can probably guess the drill: dip the meat into the oil, where it cooks in about twenty seconds. Dip in sauce, and repeat. Simple pleasures.
The main course comes once again with the same forgettable green salad, which the chef might want to consider omitting. We didn’t touch it the second time.
Dessert is similar: your choice of chocolate, with a tray of fruits for dipping, and on the side, bowls of shredded coconut, almonds, and walnuts. It’s a can’t-miss dish, but we especially liked the frozen bananas (above, foreground).
The service team consists of the chef himself and two very busy servers, who manage to keep things moving briskly. It helps that the kitchen has very little actual cooking to do. The whole production takes around two hours, though you might spend the first twenty minutes of that just puzzling over the unfamiliar menu.
Pawlicki’s mission here may not be complicated, but he does it very well, and in New York he has the idea all to himself. It’s not food you can eat every day—it’s too rich and too monotonic for that—but it’s loads of fun and thoroughly worthwhile.
Taureau (127 E. Seventh St., West of Avenue A, East Village)