Just when you thought you’d seen the last of my family in Rome–at least for a while–here they are again, back in New York, to celebrate my mom’s big 5-0 (never tell a woman’s age!) by which I mean she’s turning 30. Because dad had to work and Michael had some other goings-on through Thursday night, mom came by herself a day early–Wednesday morning–and she and I ate three big, exciting meals together. Usually I do these as big, massive posts but after doing that list of my first year restaurants I realized it’s nicer to have individual posts for individual places. At least for now, we’ll see how I feel by the end of the weekend.
Originally, our reservation was at Town for Wednesday night. I’d never been there and I knew mom liked it. But then she said, “Are you sure you want to go to Town? We can go anywhere you want, honestly Adam, think of something you really wanted to try but that dad wouldn’t like….”
Isn’t my mom cool? So I racked my brain and suddenly it dawned on me that I’d never been to Chanterelle. I’d read all about it—it’s always listed as a great dining destination—and yet I’d never seen it our seen pictures of it. I told my mom to ask the conceirge at her hotel about it and they responded, “It’s wonderful….a beautiful restaurant, you’re going to love it.” In Zagat’s the review is equally gushy. Mom gave a big thumb’s up and so we switched our reservation.
Chanterelle is in TriBeCa and we could only get in at 9:30, so I had the idea of arriving early (at 8:30) so we could walk around. Our cab dropped us off right there at the corner of Hudson and Harrison:
“Let’s just see if they can take us early,” suggested mom and in we went. A cute woman with glasses sat at a desky looking desk at the front. She looked suspiciously important and later we learned she was the co-owner, Karen Waltuck. (The other owner is her husband, David.) You can read the history of their restaurant here. [Wow, I just read that and it opened in 1979 and moved to TriBeCa in 1989. That’s a long time to run a successful restaurant!]
Our table was a pretty one in the corner. Actually, mom had this to say about the tables at Chanterelle: “I have to say this,” she said, “there’s not one bad table here.”
The room is a big, spacious rectangle that looks like you could be eating in a wing of the White House or a corridor of a museum. There are large chandeliers and pale walls and two rather green floral displays (skimpy on the flowers)–one at the far end, near the door, and one in the middle. On two of the sides are windows covered with sheer white curtains. Mom didn’t love the decor or the room itself but this encouraged us to focus on the food.
Focusing on the food got off to a rockin’ start with this amuse of a parmesan crisp and chilled cucumber soup:
The soup was heavy on dill and other flavors and I loved it. So did mom. “Mmmm,” she said in agreement.
Then we were presented with this hand-written menu, written–I believe–by Karen:
“I’m going to need help with this menu,” said mom. “I can’t read it.”
I helped her with a slight twist of manipulation. “Well,” I said, “We can order from the left side which is $95 for three courses or we can just get the tasting menu–and really, that would be easier–on the right side for $115.”
“Let’s do the tasting menu,” she said, “because I can’t read this and I don’t know what to order.”
Woohoo! A tasting menu! I am so devious!
[Oh, and by the way, about that menu—the Waltucks have a local artist design the cover every couple of weeks, which I think is pretty cool. This was the menu cover:
Kind of nifty, no?]
Our meal began with Beef Carpaccio with Mushrooms & Summer Truffles:
This was light and refreshing (even though it was beef) with the arugala pairing well with the beef and the truffles heightening the intensity of the ‘shrooms. I still don’t feel like I’ve experienced a real truffly truffle yet because even though I’ve eaten some meals now where truffles are shaved on top of things, those shavings rarely taste as pungent and miraculous as truffles are supposed to be. Anyone want to send me a white truffle so I can compare and contrast?
Next up was “Tomato-Lemongrass Consommé with Steamed Zucchini Blossoms filled with Lobster and Shrimp” except they were out of zucchini blossoms so they were replaced with won-ton dumplings:
This was really nice, with the dumplings truly stuffed with lobster meat–no skimping here–and the soup smacking of cool, citrusy lemongrass. We both liked this.
Then there was “Grilled New Zealand Pink Snapper with a Purée of Shell Beans; Vidalia Onions and Basil”:
The presentation here looks blander than everything tasted. The fish was perfectly grilled—just like those grilled fish we ate in Europe, especially Croatia. The onions gave it all a sweetness and the bean puree was like a healthier version of mashed potatoes. It was an interesting dish.
After that, lamb came on stage and did its litttle dance. That’s “Loin of Lamb with Rosemary & Polenta ‘Fries'”:
And yet, like the aging diva who does a cop movie with precocious child actor (“never work with kids or dogs!” we’re taught) this lamb was upstaged by the more boisterous polenta fries. These were the highlight of the meal for me—-they were crispy and oily with undertones of rosemary and yet they were made of polenta. I really want to learn how to make this. Anyone have the recipe?
After that, it was the cheese course. A knowledgable waitress pushed over this cart and proceeded to describe all the cheeses on it:
We found ourselves overwhelmed and mom asked her to choose some cheeses for us, and this she gladly did: (the service at Chanterelle, by the way, was pretty great)
So if you study that plate, you can pretty much guess what things taste like–the cheeses on the bottom were subtle and “hard” and much like other cheeses you’re used to. But then there’s that gloopy stuff at the top, do you see it? I put a big heaping spoon of that in my mouth and oh my lord….
a new paragraph must start. Lauren, my old roommate, was a big fan of stinky cheese and this was the friggin’ stinkiest, strongest, most pungent thing I’ve ever put in my mouth… Not to be gross, but if this cheese had been extracted from between the toes of a sleeping football player or some kind of giant and then mixed with spoiled milk and left in the hot sun for a week I’d believe it. It made my stomach turn. And yet, I must say, I wasn’t completely 100% repulsed—there’s intrigue there. Maybe you have to build up a tolerance for this kind of stuff.
As for dessert, I had this plum sampler:
which was pretty great, but I was too full to appreciate it. Mom had chocolate creme brulee which she liked too. They brought us these little tasties to cap things off:
and these were also delicious.
Look, I’m not going to lie, we weren’t in love with our meal at Chanterelle but we really enjoyed ourselves. If you’re someone on a budget who’s saved up lots of money to eat at a nice restaurant, there are about five or six places I’d send you to spend that money before I’d send you to Chanterelle. Jean-Georges and Daniel and, as you’ll see with the next post, Le Bernadain are far superior restaurants and they’re in the same price range. However, if you’re a jaded fine-diner living in New York and you want a new experience, definitely check out Chanterelle. It’s quite an experience and I like the spirit of the place, the enthusiasm of the wait staff (who, apparently, get fed quite well because the Chanterelle cookbook is called “Staff Meals” so clearly they care what the waitstaff eats) and the dedication of the owner who writes the menu and leads you to your table. That’s all really sweet, and though Chanterelle isn’t my first choice to ask to the prom, if I saw it sitting in the corner I would dance with it.