Entries in Chanterelle (2)



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
  • Cheese Course
  • 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)

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



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: ***