Chanterelle, NYC

March 23, 2009

Chanterelle has been a solid presence on the New York fine dining scene for thirty years, the last twenty at the same location near the Financial District in the old Mercantile Exchange Building. Its Zagats rating is the second highest category. It was awarded the top four-stars by the New York Times in 1985, but now only has three with the lovely comment: “But the once fresh face in TriBeCa is well into middle age now. Admittedly, it’s a Catherine Deneuve sort of middle age.”  

The financial crisis is obviously having its effect on Chanterelle, perhaps even more than at other upscale New York restaurants because of its downtown location. When Linda and I went for dinner on March 18, 2009, there were quite a few empty tables. This had the unfortunate effect of making the excellent service seem obtrusive with different staff members trying to top up our wine glasses too often. The dining room was very quiet and we were able to converse easily, which would not be the case if it were full. The thirty-year-old policy of only offering a prix fixe menu had just been abandoned; there was also an à la carte menu.

On entering, we immediately sensed the aroma of enormous arrangements of lilies with forsythias on three sides of the otherwise plain, but elegant, dining room. We asked to be seated on the fourth side. We understand that co-owner Karen Waltuck insists on the lilies despite many complaints. She was not there that evening so we wrote to her the next day about the negative effects of the lily odor on the cuisine and the wine.

We ordered a glass of a Rhône Viognier for Linda and of a Viré-Clessé for me; I did not note the names, but they were very good. Two little plates of canapés arrived: quail eggs with caviar and popcorn shrimp with remoulade. 

Despite the attractiveness of the à la carte menu, including the famous grilled seafood sausage which chef David Waltuck created before he first opened Chanterelle, we decided to order the month’s Tasting Menu at $95. (We declined the wine pairings  offered at $75.) We ordered a bottle of 2001 Domaine de Trevallon which the excellent sommelier, Roger Dagorn, put into a carafe.
It was very good, a fine blend of different grapes by this pioneering winemaker.

The first course was
Marinated Maine Day Boat Sea Scallops with Grapefruit & Ginger.
This was good. The scallops have to be very fresh to retain their texture when served raw. In effect, this was a cevice with grapefruit juice instead of lime juice and ginger instead of chilis. The acidity and spiciness were restrained to just the right small amount.

The Second course was
Potato “Pot Stickers” with two Truffle Sauces.

A truffled brown sauce is on top of a white truffle cream. Pureed potatoes fill the Chinese style fried dumplings. Potatoes are a good choice to be enhanced by the subtle flavors and aromas of truffles.

Prosciutto Wrapped Lotte with Butternut Squash “Risotto.”

Lotte is a fish which can stand up to rough handling and strong sauces. It is not the right choice for this uncomplicated recipe where it comes out dry and boring. Halibut or striped bass would have been better choices as they have more elegance in themselves. The butternut squash had been very finely diced before cooking and so had a “risotto” texture rather than the traditional purée which I think I would have preferred.

Loin of Lamb with Green Olives, Cumin and Mini Falafel.

This was nice. The cumin-flavored, deep-fried, chick-pea falafel balls were light, delicious and a good foil for the lamb.

We were offered a choice of dessert. Linda chose the
Trio of Pear Desserts.

These were nice. The one on the left was surprisingly spicy, but the roasted pear and the pear sorbet were straightforward.

I had the regular dessert of the Tasting Menu
Kumquat Mascarpone Torte with Mandarin Sorbet.

It was well done, although not unusual.

A generous offering of petits fours followed.

Those we didn’t eat were boxed up for us to take home. 

The meal was very enjoyable, but I didn’t come away with the warm glow of having had a special meal which should have followed this type of evening. I am sure that the Waltucks will have to make some hard decisions during this difficult economic period. I hope that they make the right ones and that we will be able to go back in a few years and find that Chanterelle has continued to mature gracefully.

One Response to “Chanterelle, NYC”

  1. John Says:

    Chanterelle is a great favorite of my wife and me. Last time we ate there, I think in January, we had fabulous bay scallops for the main course. Chanterelle also has the terrific Trevallon blanc and sometimes the great and very rare Grange des Peres rouge and blanc.

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