Millesime is the French seafood restaurant that will take over the old Country space in the Carleton Hotel. The fine dining room on the gorgeous second floor is slated for a vague “fall” opening (which means anytime in the next year). The former Café, now called “Salon Millesime,” is open now.
The challenges here are enormous, starting with a name nobody can pronounce (roughly, it’s MEEL-eh ZEEM-eh). And these aren’t the best times for high-end French food, which most of the city’s critics don’t understand, especially coming from a chef (Laurent Manrique) who made his name on the left coast. New York is tough, tough, tough, on outsiders.
The location is problematic too, a dead-zone for foot traffic. With enough buzz, you can attract an audience just about anywhere; getting noticed is the hard part. The “Salon” was sparsely populated at 6:30 p.m. on a Friday evening. Perhaps it gets more lively later on. Then again, maybe the word simply hasn’t gotten out.
The spectacular bi-level space that David Rockwell designed for Country is mostly intact, except that the bar in the middle of what was the café, has been removed in favor of a raised platform with a piano, where live music will be heard many evenings. (The space still has two other bars.) On Friday night, the band was just getting set up at around 7:30 p.m., when we were getting ready to leave.
The menu downstairs consists mainly of sandwiches and bar snacks, none more than $16, and they are much better than one has any right to expect. We tried five items, and there wasn’t a dud among them.
Crispy bacon ($4; left) was one of the best bar snacks I’ve tried all year, baked like a hard cracker, loaded with spices, and served in a basket.
Tuna tartare ($15; above left) comes with Moroccan spices, dates, almonds, and lemon, which the server mixes tableside. It was just fine, but probably the most pedestrian dish we tried. Pork Belly Lollipops ($14; above right) come on skewers with a bracing red pepper relish.
The menu didn’t identify the mix of seasonings and spices that elevated a Foie Gras Terrine ($16; above left), well above most others served in town. It was served with warm, toasted country bread and the two craziest spreading knives you’ll ever see. Profiteroles (above right) were wonderful, and at $7 the bargain of the evening.
The wine list is nothing to write home about, as the Salon no doubt expects to make most of its money on mixed drinks. A recent vintage VdP Syrah was fine, but at $58 over-priced for the space. Service was much more attentive and polished than I expected in lounge environment.
The menu at Salon Millesime is too limited to warrant a full review, but everything we tried was top-notch, and that does not happen by accident. If the staff can do as well in the main dining room, Millesime ought to be excellent. The question is, who will notice?
Salon Millesime (90 Madison Avenue at 29th Street, Gramercy/Flatiron)