Entries in Picholine (3)




Note: Picholine closed in 2015 after 22 years in business, due to a rent increase. The announcement was bittersweet, coming the very day that Picholine was awarded a star in the 2016 Michelin Guide. The chef, Terrance Brennan, said he would re-open it in a new location to be determined.


Picholine is 15 years old, and to “celebrate” they were offering a $50 gift card via the website. That’s a nice chunk of change, even for a restaurant this expensive. And I suppose the offer (which is no longer available) shows that it’s getting harder to find customers in these recession-challenged times. Sure enough, when my mom and I dropped in for a pre-opera meal, Picholine was as quiet as I’ve ever seen it—not deserted, but nowhere near full.

Apparently, chef–owner Terrance Brennan is not yet tempted to lower his prices. Since our last visit, earlier this year, the three-course prix fixe has risen from $85 to $92, while the tasting menu has risen from $110 to $125. A game tasting menu, offered only in the fall, is $145. I wouldn’t mind giving that a try at some point, but this wasn’t the night for it.

The mauve décor made a better impression than it did last time; perhaps it’s more successful in the front room than in the rear. Just about everything about the service and ambiance seemed pitch-perfect, though it helped that the restaurant was less crowded than I’ve seen it before. My mom couldn’t get over how many servers and runners were buzzing around.


A quartet of amuses-bouches was more impressive than the trio we were offered last time. I didn’t note them all, but the one on the right (above) was a tempura mushroom on a skewer.


A Tuna Cru “Napoleon” (above left) with olive oil ice cream was just fine, but unmemorable. My mom had the Sea Urchin Panna Cotta (above right), which is one of the best things on the menu.


The server recited a choice of four Scottish game birds—partridge, grouse, quail and Mallard duck. (He did not mention the $8 supplement.) I had the duck, which was really terrific—tender and gamey, along with a crunchy leg confit. My mom had a fish, which I believe was the John Dory (above right). From the small taste I had, it seemed pedestrian. My mom didn’t use that word, but she agreed the duck was better.


The palate cleansers were served in an odd order. As I was having the cheese course, but my mom was not, hers came before the dessert (above left), but mine came after it. Anyhow, the cheese cart (above right) is always the highlight of a meal at Picholine. I told the fromagier that I wanted three cheeses with sharp tastes, soft to medium in texture, and at least one blue cheese.


And that’s exactly what he gave me (above left). My mom’s dessert was a chocolate something-or-other (above right).


My palate cleanser (above left) came after the cheese course, and that was followed by petits-fours, which we did not touch (above right). They sent us home with a complimentary bottle of olive oil, which I do not recall from previous visits.

The wine list here is wonderful, though it seemed shorter than I remembered it. Anyhow, I found a perfectly drinkable Guigal Côtes du Rhone for $45. After you figure in the $50 gift card, it basically means we had a great dinner at Picholine and drank for free. Not bad.

Picholine (35 W. 64th St. east of Columbus Avenue, Upper West Side)

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



Note: Click here for a more recent review of Picholine.

picholine-logo.gif Picholine has redeemed itself. Two years ago, we were ripped off on New Year’s Eve, spending $800 for two on a meal that might charitably have been worth a third of that. Last night, we spent $400 on an excellent meal that was worth every penny.

I’m not the only one who thought the “old” Picholine needed some attitude adjustment. Before a September 2006 makeover, Frank Bruni chose Picholine for his sister’s birthday, and it was so lackluster that he had to apologize. For the Times restaurant critic, not being able to find the right restaurant for a family celebration must have been acutely embarrassing.

Post renovation, Bruni found it “arguably the nicest restaurant surprise of this disappointing season,” re-affirming the three-star rating two previous critics had awarded. The 2008 Michelin Guide upgraded Picholine to two stars, making it one of the city’s top ten restaurants.

picholine-inside.jpgThe revamped décor has impressed no one except, perhaps, some Upper West Side dowagers. Even the china looks like something your grandmother would use. La Grenouille, a restaurant that is thirty years older, is far more lively.

There is nothing the management can do about the narrow space, but when you enter you hit a traffic jam around the host station/bar/coat-check area, a drawback I recall from two previous visits. The aisles in the two dining rooms are narrow, and servers sometimes seem to be pirouetting around obstacles.

Fortunately, there is nothing old-fashioned about chef Terrance Brennan’s rejuvenated cuisine, which is reason enough why Picholine remains popular, and one of this town’s toughest tables to book. Even with several weeks’ notice, 8:45 p.m. was the earliest I could get on a Saturday evening, although we showed up at 8:20 and were seated immediately. (Picholine does a lot of pre- and post-Lincoln Center business; it was still more than half full when we left at almost 11:00.)

With the best cheese selection in town (shared with sister restaurant Artisanal), the cheese course at Picholine is practically obligatory. It is therefore curious that the menu does nothing to alert you to this fact. If you choose either of the printed prix fixe options—three courses ($85) or four courses ($95)—it apparently does not include cheese. (Both of the tasting menus, at $110, do include cheese.)

picholine01.jpgWhen we told the server we wanted an appetizer, an entrée, and a cheese tasting, he offered us an option not shown on the menu—two courses for $65—and then we were charged separately the odd price of $33.50 for a six-cheese tasting. I am not sure how a first-time visitor would be expected to figure this out. And why is the menu still captioned “Autumn 2007”?

The opening trio of amuses-bouches was slightly pedestrian. A codfish cake (9:00 in the photo) tasted like a smaller version of a cafeteria fish stick, and lobster salad (1:00 in the photo) didn’t taste very lobster-y. A smooth mushroom panna cotta  (5:00) was the best of the group.

picholine02a.jpg picholine02b.jpg

Chef Brennan loves his panna cottas. Sea urchin panna cotta (above left) with caviar had an ethereal silky texture. My girlfriend ordered the foie gras terrine (above right; $8 suppl.), which was on a par with the better examples of the genre around town.

picholine03.jpgHeirloom Chicken “Kiev” — the quotation marks suggesting a riff on the classic dish — was a tour de force. It is still January, but for now this is the dish of the year.

Brennan wraps chicken around chanterelles and foie gras, covers it in a cornflake batter and deep fries it, melting the foie gras. After the dish is brought to your table, a server lances the chicken with a silver spear, and the liquid foie gras oozes out. (The photo was taken after this surgery had been performed.)

Frank Bruni loved it too.

The frommagier brought the cheese cart to our table and gave us an overview. We told him our general preferences and asked him to choose six. There was not a weak selection among the group. As always, he handed us a printed cheese guide to take home, with the ones he’d selected for us identified by number. The meal ended with a broad selection of petits-fours.

The wine list is long and expensive, so I decided to let the sommelier choose for us, giving him a ceiling of $100. He came up with a luscious burgundy at $95 that went perfectly with the chicken. We also accepted his offer of a taste of sauterne to go with my girlfriend’s foie gras. We were charged only $10 for that, and he comped a white wine to go with my Sea Urchin appetizer.

Our captain, a veteran no doubt of many dinner services, provided helpful ordering advice and stayed on top of things. Both the frommagier and sommelier followed up to ensure we were happy with our meal. The junior staff that served the bread and amuses-bouches were a little hard to understand—a problem at many New York restaurants, as these positions are often taken by non-native speakers. Although we were seated side-by-side at a table with ample space, the cramped quarters meant that servers had to reach awkwardly to set and clear the silverware.

The space at Picholine will always seem twenty years too old, but the food, wine and cheese are the stars.

Picholine (35 W. 64th Street between Columbus Avenue & Central Park West, Upper West Side)

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



Note: Click here for a more recent review of Picholine.

It seems that when I roll the dice with fine restaurants on New Year’s Eve, I keep getting snake eyes. Restaurants tend to offer a limited menu—something they can serve to hundreds of people quickly and easily—at an inflated price. I was disspointed in Ouest last year (although I’d had a good meal there on another occasion), so I suggested to my friend that we take a step up the food chain, to Picholine, mainly because it’s the best restaurant of that calibre near Lincoln Center, where we were starting our evening.

Let me be clear: I did not have a bad meal at Picholine last night. But my friend and I paid almost $800 (incl. tax & mandatory 20% tip) for a dinner that, to put it charitably, just might have been worth about a third of that. A New Year’s markup is fair, and to be expected, but a 200% mark-up? I am not so sure about that.

Picholine was serving a six-course prix fixe at $195. We began with a quartet of amuses bouches, consisting of: (1) Cauliflower Panna Cotta with Caviar; (2) Peekytoe Crab Tartelette; (3) Goat’s Cheese Gougère; (4) White Bean-Truffle Soup. These were all small, but together made a respectable first course.

There was a choice of two appetizers. We had the Sauteed Foie Gras and Wild Game Pate with a Kumquat Chutney and Port Vinaigrette. (I haven’t noted what the other appetizer choice was.) This was a superb, thick lobe of foie gras, and certainly the best dish of the evening.

For the fish course, the choice was Maine Diver Sea Scallops or Wild Striped Bass with Truffle Toast, Salsify and Oyster Jus. We both had the striped bass, which was skillfully prepared without ever rising to excellence.

For the meat course, the choice was rack of lamb or Scottish Pheasant with Crosnes, Dried Fruit, and Foie Gras Sabayon. On this dish, the accompaniments were better than the main event. One imagines Picholine’s assembly line of scores, and perhaps hundreds, of pheasant breasts, and it isn’t a pretty thought. Is high-quality pheasant available in such quantities? I found mine dry and tough.

Picholine’s cheese course is possibly the best in New York. We received a generous serving of six cheeses, none of them likely to be encountered anywhere else. We were feeling rather bloated by this time, but we did give a try to each of them:

(1) Fleur de Maquis, a sheep’s milk cheese from Corsica, encrusted in dry herbs.
(2) Roncal, a sheeps milk cheese from Navarre, Spain. This was a hard cheese, and our least favorite of the bunch.
(3) Le Moulis, a cheese from the Pyrenees, described as “semi-firm, lingering, earthy, and fecund,” whatever that means.
(4) Winnimere, a wonderful raw cow’s milk cheese from Greensboro, VT.
(5) Sprintz, a cow’s milk cheese from Switzerland that was described as “hard, majestic and profound,” whatever that means.
(6) Stilton, a cow’s milk cheese from England that had a “mineral tang.”

All quotes are from the cheese menu, which (as always at Picholine) they give you to take home, with your choices circled and numbered.

Finally, there was a dessert tasting, which consisted of four small mini-desserts on one plate. At this point my stomach was yelling “No mas!”, but I gave most of them a try. I found them unremarkable, but perhaps I wasn’t the best judge of things by that time. Mignardises, which I didn’t touch, came with the bill.

I’ve saved the most serious complaint for last. Picholine has a wonderful wine list, but we took our chances on the recommended wine pairing, at $115 per person, i.e., $230 for the two of us. At that price, we could have had two terrific half-bottles or a blow-the-doors-off full bottle, and had money left over. Instead, we put ourselves in Picholine’s hands, and went home both poorer and disappointed.

We were served just four glasses each, with no wine for the amuse or the cheese course. A little math tells you that they were charging $28.75 per glass, and for that price you expect the best, especially at a restaurant noted for its wine list. We were optimistic when we tasted the excellent sauterne that accompanied the foie gras, but what on earth were they thinking when we were served a red wine with the striped bass? I know it is not impossible to drink red wine with fish, but for a wine pairing it was bizarre. Moreover, the server advised that it’s “something new from Oregon.” For that we were paying $28.75 a glass? My friend aptly characterized it as “flat” and “lacking any body.”

For the pheasant, our server turned up with another red, which she assured us was “something bolder.” We couldn’t taste any difference at all. Several hours later, as we were reliving the meal, my friend and I concluded that they give us the same wine for both courses. We are not wine experts, but we think we can tell when something allegedly “bold” is in fact no such thing.

A mildly fizzy dessert wine came with the final course, and this was more suitable, but by now we were rather offended at what we’d been given for our $230. I’ve ordered wine pairings at a number of restaurants, and normally you get a range of provocative choices that present some strong contrasts, and really enhance the meal. Instead, we were simply ripped off. In addition, several of the wines were mis-timed (i.e., arriving well before the food they were supposed to go with).

The space at Picholine is of course lovely. Naturally, the restaurant was packed. Our reservation was at 10:30 (after the New York Philharmonic Gala), and there were still people getting seated after us. Service showed the potential for being first-rate, but on such a night, naturally there were slips. On another day, I think Picholine would do a lot better.

We paid $195 apiece for the food, $115 apiece for the wine pairing, 20% for service, and tax, for a final bill $795.93. At that price, the restaurant should be going the extra mile—nay, the extra light year—and they did not.

Picholine (35 W. 64th St. btwn Central Park West & Broadway, Upper West Side)

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