It seems like an absurd quest these days, to open a French restaurant without a well known chef at the helm. This is in contrast to Italian restaurants, which proliferate in such excess that it is impossible to try them all.
It wasn’t always this way: French cuisine was central to the Western canon, as obviously essential as Shakespeare’s plays and Beethoven’s symphonies. It’s not so much that new French restaurants are rare these days, but they aren’t common either, and the few we have are drowned out by baser fare.
Todd English hasn’t opened an important restaurant in years, and two weeks ago the Times featured a glossy photo of him pumping iron. The accompanying article didn’t even attempt to assert any culinary importance, even though it appeared in, you know, the DINING SECTION. Heaven forbid they should actually focus on, you know, FOOD.
So of course, when two former Le Bernardin managers and a former Boulud chef open La Silhouette, does the critic-in-chief even bother to review it? No, he sends an underling, who pooh-poohs it, while he reviews his eighteenth hotel restaurant cum lounge, with which he is, of course, unimpressed. For once it was Adam Platt and Gael Greene who got it right, awarding two stars (or “hats” in Greene’s case).
The chef at La Silhouette is Frenchman David Malbequi, who arrives via Daniel, BLT Steak, BLT Market, and the Standard Hotel. Entrées are mostly in the $30s, which the Times describes as “quite expensive,” but these days you’ve got to hit $40 (which La Silhouette doesn’t) before I would say that. For anything beyond a bistro or its non-French counterpart, this is the going rate.
There’s a luscious Porcini Cappuccino Soup ($16; above left) with smoked foie gras and a dreamy Wild Burgundy Snail Risotto ($16; above right) with Hen of the Woods mushrooms and a garlic parsley sauce.
I heard nothing but praise for Mustard Crusted Lamb Loin ($34; above left) with stuffed artichoke and tomato confit, and Pan Seared Striped Bass ($30; below left) with spring peas, asparagus, mint, and vinegar jus.
It was, perhaps, lazy of me to order the New York Strip ($39; above right). If it wasn’t steakhouse quality, it was nevertheless better than most non-steakhouses serve—rare, rich, and beefy, with a satisfying marrow and porcini crust.
The kitchen offers neither an amuse bouche nor petits fours (although one review, curiously, mentioned the latter). But there is a solid bread service: toasted bagel chips with a sour cream and chive spread, and an assortment of baked breads afterward. The staff are on top of their game, although an uncrowded Sunday evening might not be the acid test. Laminated menus sound the only off-key note.
The one cocktail I tried was very good: A Little Hell ($13), with Rittenhouse rye, sweet vermouth, and whisky marinated morello cherries, on the rocks. The seven-page wine list is slightly more than half French. There aren’t quite enough bottles under $60, but there’s a reasonable selection under $75, along with pricer bottles. Right at $60 is a 2002 Château La Vieille Cure (above right), which the sommelier decants at the table. After a few minutes, it opens up nicely.
Almost every reviewer has harped on the remoteness of the location. Is it really that unusual, today, to venture west of Eighth Avenue? It is less than ten minutes’ walk from Columbus Circle, not even all the way to Ninth Avenue. You could easily miss the entrance, though: a small, barely-marked door on a side street. The owners got a sleek, modern design from Richard Bloch, the starchitect whose work includes Masa, 15 East, Dovetail, and Le Bernardin.
This is an enjoyable place to eat.
La Silhouette (362 W. 53rd Street, east of Ninth Avenue, Hell’s Kitchen)