Note: Chanterelle closed in 2009, after plans to remodel and update the restaurant fell through.
On a recent celebratory occasion, my friend and I chose Chanterelle. Though I’ve dined there a couple of times in the past, I’d forgotten the magic of this restaurant’s quiet, refined atmosphere. With its widely spaced tables, its luminous chiffon shades, and high chandeliers, Chanterelle offers an elegant escape. On a Sunday evening, it was never more than half full. It was delightful to note that we could speak barely above a whisper, and have no trouble hearing each other.
Chanterelle offers a three-course prix fixe at $95 or a tasting menu (which we had) at $125. Both are written in an extravagant longhand on one of the famous artistic menus, which change about monthly. Although Chanterelle may seem old-fashioned, it is one of the few restaurants at its level that keeps its website up-to-date with the latest menu, which was as follows:
Green Gazpacho with Chesapeake Bay Crabmeat & Black Caviar
Foie Gras Sauté with Pickled Farm Peaches & Baby Lettuce
Sautéed Speckled Sea Trout with Sorrel, Tomato, Mussel Broth
Niman Ranch Beef filet with Sweet Onions and Cracked black Peppers
Vermont Goat Cheese and Purple basil Soufflé with Tuscan Melon Sorbet
Petits Fours, Coffee/Tea
We started with a double amuse bouche, a warm gougère and an oyster on a spoon. The gazpacho was (to borrow the cliché) so thick you could almost eat it with a fork. The foie gras was heavenly, and I loved the crisp sea trout. The beef filet was the only dud; it tasted like pot roast, except that pot roast would probably be better.
The cheese course made up for it. A server brought a cheese tray to the table and patiently explained more than a dozen choices, of which I had five—all superb. A cheese course never looks like much food, but by the time you’re finished you feel stuffed. (On the prix fixe menu, the cheese course is a $25 add-on, which makes the tasting menu look like an even better deal.) The selection of petits-fours after dessert was awesome, but I counted something like 15 bite-sized pieces, which is way beyond what two humans can consume at the end of a long tasting menu.
I’ve been to only two other restaurants in the city (Per Se and Alain Ducasse) that make a point of presenting two contrasting butters, with the server explaining the characteristics of each. I particularly liked the unsalted butter, which I believe came from Vermont (the other was from France). Bread rolls were served warm, but I would have liked a choice of breads, to go along with the choice of butters.
Chanterelle’s renowned wine list is a tome that looks like a telephone directory. I believe $55 was the least expensive bottle that I noted, and most were well over $80. I settled on a $95 bordeaux, which was near the bottom of the list, but was nevertheless superb. The staff decanted it without prompting, a service few restaurants offer any more.
The restaurant takes a team approach to service. I had noticed this the last time I was here and wondered if it was an anomaly, but they did it again. Every server seems to perform every function, and no particular server seems to be assigned specifically to your table. On my last visit, this arrangement led to some minor glitches (e.g., being asked twice whether we wanted bottled or tap water), but this time it was seamless.
Service, indeed, is first-class, but without the stuffiness of some high-end places. There is the occasional mistake (a roll dropped on the floor; a spoon forgotten), but it hardly detracts from a delightful evening. Unlike the tasting menu at Bouley, which I had just a couple of weeks ago, this performance was leisurely (taking nearly three hours), and never seemed hurried. The preparations are generally first-rate, but platings are classic, without the wild swishes of colored sauces and the widely varying plate shapes at Bouley.
If the overall performance is a step shy of extraordinary, Chanterelle is nevertheless one of New York’s restaurant treasures.
Chanterelle (2 Harrison Street at Hudson Street, TriBeCa)