Entries in David Waltuck (6)



Note: Elan closed in February 2016. The restaurant was in a high-rent neighborhood, and it never really caught on.


For David Waltuck, it has been a long walk in the desert. His beloved Chanterelle, once a four-star restaurant, closed abruptly in 2009, in the depths of the Great Recession. Who’d have thunk he’d spend the next five years on forgettable consulting projects, before finally opening his own place again?

His new restaurant, élan, is a double palimpsest, with echoes not just of Chanterelle, but also Veritas, the last restaurant in this space, also felled by the financial crisis. Give Waltuck at least this much credit: he closed Chanterelle with his reputation intact, instead of spoiling what he’d achieved with a failed re-vamp, as the Veritas owners did.

If you remember Chanterelle at its best, it’s hard not to be melancholy that such a wonderful place can no longer exist. But its charms came at a price: $95 prix fixe, and that was in 2006, the last time I visited. You needed an occasion to go there. Heaven knows what it would be today for comparable quality—certainly not the kind of restaurant where you could just pop in for a quick bite after work.

At élan, there’s no amuse bouche or petits fours, no cheese cart or service brigade. But you could drop in a couple of nights a week without breaking the bank. The cuisine is ambitious for the price, carefully prepared, and like no other in town. Waltuck’s French technique borrows liberally from Asia (“General Tso”), Greece (moussaka), and middle Europe (sauerkraut). Some items are just unclassifiable (foie gras lollipops). Starters and appetizers are mostly in the $14–19 range, main courses $27–33, side dishes $8.

If you hoped the owners bought out the Veritas wine list, you’ll be disappointed. The list here runs to about 100 bottles, with no particular viewpoint, most of them priced eccentrically at $20 increments: $45, $65, $85, $105,etc. Among the reds, $65 seems to be the sweet spot, but in the ten days since we visited, the 2008 Margaux we tried has apparently been replaced (on the online list) by the 2010 at the same price.

The bread service (above right) consists of warm, house-made “everything” pretzels with mustard butter. Finish them, and the server brings more. They’re so good, you might be tempted to skip dinner, and just eat these.


Waltuck’s guacamole ($16; above left) is like no one else’s, topped sea urchin. The seafood sausage was perhaps Chanterelle’s best dish, and the version served here ($18; above right) is every bit as good as I remember.


Duck fat appears in multiple dishes, here with fettucine and grilled scallops ($15 the small portion shown, above left). Salmon is usually the most boring dish on any menu, but Waltuck makes this version exciting, with tamarind spices and a crisp skin ($30; above right).

The space has been totally remodeled, with no remaining vestiges of the last, failed re-design at Veritas. There’s now a dining counter at the front window, where we sat (see photo at the top of the post). This is a comfortable place to perch on a warm evening, but random passersby may walk up to you, and chat you up while you’re eating.

As we had our backs to the dining room, I didn’t get a feel for how full it was, but in its opening couple of months, the restaurant has been solidly booked at prime times. Service was in line with comparable upper mid-range establishments.

For those who missed Chanterelle, David Waltuck’s return has been a long time coming. Welcome back!

élan (43 E. 20th St. between Broadway & Park Avenue South, Flatiron District)

Food: French technique; American chef; global influences
Service: Just fine
Ambiance: Upscale casual

Rating: ★★


The Payoff: Macao Trading Co.

Today, Frank Bruni bestowed one star on Macao Trading Co., once again cementing the perception that the rating means “mediocre,” not “good,” as the Times claims:

One of my companions put it best. “This…is a deeply silly restaurant.”

That’s what makes it sort of fun, and that’s what keeps it from being anything more than that. In the right mood, with the right stretch of the menu, lubricated by the right cocktails, and with the right tolerance for ear-decimating decibels, you can definitely enjoy Macao, in a minor way….

I think fewer New Yorkers these days are looking for restaurants that “ooze sex and decadence,” which is how the publicist explained the aim behind the erotica. But if New Yorkers are looking for croquettes that do that, Macao’s their place.

We and Eater both took the one-star bet, winning $3 on our hypothetical one-dollar bets.

Eater   NYJ
Bankroll $123.50   $144.67
Gain/Loss +3.00   +3.00
Total $126.50   $147.67
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Won–Lost 56–25

Rolling the Dice: Macao Trading Co.

The Line: Tomorrow, Frank Bruni reviews Macao Trading Co., the new Sino–Portuguese cocktail bazaar in West TriBeCa. The Eater odds are not yet posted as of 5:23 p.m., but we’re going to go ahead and bet anyway.

ETA: The Eater oddsmakers have set the action as follows (√√ denotes the Eater bet):

 Zero Stars: 4 - 1
One Star: 3 - 1 √√
Two Stars: 15 - 1
Three Stars: 10,000
Four Stars: 250,000 - 1

The Skinny: Bruni waited a while to review this place, which has been open since late November. If his reaction was anything like ours, when we visited in mid-December, then Macao Trading Co. is a mortal lock for one star. There were too many things wrong with it to justify two stars, but a David Waltuck menu and a strong cocktail program will keep it out of goose-egg territory.

We don’t entirely rule out a repeat of the Double Crown Affair—a similar restaurant that inexplicably got the deuce—but one star seems like a safer bet.

The Bet: We are betting that Frank Bruni will award one star to Macao Trading Co.


Macao Trading Co.

[Horine via Eater]

Note: This is a review under chef David Waltuck, who is no longer at the restaurant. His replacement is Josh Blakely. We also note that Macao now has a prominent sign—which it didn’t when this review was written.


Most restaurants want to be found. Macao Trading Co. takes the opposite approach. It’s on a crazily obscure block in TriBeCa, without so much as a sign to let you know it’s there. The door looks like a service entrance. Even if you’re looking for Macao Trading Co., you’re liable to miss it—as I did the first time. If you just happen to be walking by, you’ll keep on walking.

That’s not stopping people from patronizing Macao Trading Co., which was doing a brisk bar business even at 6:00 p.m. last night. They serve food and drinks until 4:00 a.m. in an allegedly “semi-private lounge” downstairs called the Opium Den. There’s a built-in clientele, thanks to the same owners’ acclaimed cocktail bar cum restaurant, Employees Only, another peculiar place that makes virtue out of the perception of inaccessibility.

The story is completely different at the perpetually-empty Dennis Foy next door, as it was at Foy’s short-lived predecessor, Lo Scalco, which not even a star from the Michelin Guide could rescue. There aren’t any “bad blocks” in Manhattan, but some are bad for certain types of restaurants. In this place, Macao Trading Co. fits right in.

The restaurant is named for Macao, a former Portuguese colony on the Chinese mainland. The décor is tricked out like the 19th-century trading warehouse of our dreams. If Disney had a Macao ride, it would look like this. The spectacular back-lit bar is the visual highlight, and it’s the culinary highlight too. The cocktail list is impressive; the food feels like snacks that are meant to dilute the alcohol.

David Waltuck of Chanterelle is responsible for the fusion menu. Many dishes are shown in pairs, where you can choose either the Portuguese or the Chinese version of the same ingredient, such as meatballs, prawns, or ribs. Each table is set with a knife and fork, and chopsticks.

There are appetizers and entrées, but the menu seems to be evolving more towards small plates and snacks. The server steered me in that direction, suggesting I order two of the small plates. That wasn’t quite enough for a meal, so I later ordered a third, followed by dessert.

Mackerel Escabeche ($8; above left) was like a deconstructed ceviche, served cold. It tasted fresh and mildly tart, but slightly bland. Portuguese lamb balls filled with cheese ($8; above right) were tender, but overpowered by a flood of tomato sauce. The identical green-flecked leaves seem to be the default seasoning for both dishes.

Mushroom croquettes ($12; above left) benefited from a generous helping of truffle oil, but I thought the barren plate needed something to dip them in. Fried milk ($7; above right) was one dish that didn’t need any more help. A dusting of cinammon and a light honey citrus salad on the side worked perfectly together.

The cocktails are impressive, though expensive at $14 apiece. I’ll leave it to the cocktail specialists to describe them. The wine list seems to be an afterthought. There was just one token red available by the glass, and they served it in a water glass.

Service was attentive, though I was there quite early and had their mostly undivided attention. I especially appreciated the server’s modest ordering advice, as restaurants that specialize in small plates usually try to sell you more than you need.

All four of the items I tried struck me as enjoyable complements to the cocktail menu, but I wouldn’t come here for the food alone.

Macao Trading Co. (311 Church Street between Walker & Lispenard Sts., TriBeCa)

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



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: ***