FIRST REVIEW 4/10/2014
Thanks to new friend and fellow food blogger The Restaurant Fairy, I was recently hooked up with a restaurant PR person who is in charge of setting up press dinners for restaurants that are looking to generate detailed reviews and additional news coverage to build customers or put a spotlight on a new/special menu at their establishment. I’m hoping to attend more of these types of press dinners in the future. With any luck some wealthy benefactor will discover me and fund a new career for me in the world of food writing. The goal is to become a professional diner.
Anyway, my first press dinner in this vein was at French joint Sel et Poivre. For you proud, dirty American apes out there who don’t know or care too much about other languages, that means Salt and Pepper.
The restaurant has been in business here for decades. Owners Christian and Pamela are a husband and wife duo who take turns managing the place each night. They’ve been a team here for about 8 years, and for decades prior the restaurant was run by Pamela and her mother. This year Christian and Pamela are celebrating their 25th anniversary so be ready for some special menus coming this spring/summer season.
The atmosphere is very local and homey. Walls are adorned with old black and white photos of family travels. There’s a classic, clean French bistro feel to the place, and the 65-person seating capability is intimate without being stuffy or crowded.
So how’s the service? Amazing. Waiters here aren’t just people toiling away at their job. These are men with long careers. The newest employee other than the bar staff has been there for 7 years, and veteran waiters have loyalty in the 25-30 year range. The chef has been there for that long, and the staff still manages to keep the menu interesting and new while always retaining the classics that some people have been coming back to eat for years. Impressive, and that speaks volumes about the management and quality of the joint. Christian himself is a stand-up guy. A class act. He’s funny, talkative, approachable, kind, warm, inviting and a great host. Within moments of talking with him you feel as if you’ve known him all your life.
Located on Lex at 64th, the customers range from shoppers, to business people, to tourists. But their bread and butter are the locals, some of whom come in several times per week for specific dishes that they’ve been enjoying for generations. One family has been dining here for 4 generations. Even the landlord eats there, who has had the building property in his family since it was a cow grazing pasture in the 1600s. I’m serious.
Okay so on to the good stuff. Note that the portion sizes in my pics are all smaller than the actual menu items (except for the desserts). Press dinner portions are typically smaller so that more stuff can be tried. Here’s what we had:
First was a celery root remoulade with red beets. There was a distinctly Mediterranean flavor in this dish, likely because of the cumin spicing. I enjoyed it. It was a cool, refreshing way to open up the taste buds.
Next we had wild striped bass with artichoke hearts, fennel and black olive lemon oil. The fish was perfectly cooked with its crisp skin still intact. This was also very Mediterranean in its flavor profile. Light and fresh. And I must say that the artichoke was one of the best preparations I’ve ever had outside of mom’s home cooking.
Steak was next. An aged sirloin to be exact. It was juicy and flavorful, had a nicely seasoned crust, and was cooked to a perfect medium rare.
The beef was served with two sauces: roquefort and poivre.
I only took a pic of one because they looked and tasted similar to me, though one was clearly more peppery. Both were drinkable, however. They went especially well with the cone of crispy and savory fries that came with the steak. Delicious.
Next was a bit of offal! Veal kidneys with an amazing mustard sauce, boiled potatoes and spinach.
Kidneys aren’t for everyone. This was my first time eating kidney. It was a bit mealy and chewy in parts, but the flavor was delicate and nice. The sauce did a great job of bringing out the game flavors without letting them overpower you. I ate every bite!
For dessert we had classic French creme brulee and chocolate lava cake.
They were both very nicely executed, well-balanced, and not overly sweet. The cake came with some fresh whipped cream and vanilla ice cream, and the brulee had a nice consistency and great caramelized sugar on top.
Last, I should also note that the wine selection here is extensive. Having broadened the scope from French and California wines to include stuff from New Zealand and South America, Christian and Pamela have modernized their wine selection to stay on pace with an increasingly knowledgeable caliber of diners. This is probably because Christian is also a sommelier, so he knows what pairs well with the dishes outside of French-only wines.
I look forward to going back for lunch or dinner to try some of their other amazing menu items, like frog legs, or to try their classic French daily special dishes (Bouillabaisse Monday; Coq Au Vin Tuesday; etc).
If you like classic French food then this is a great place to go, and they also modernize and freestyle very well with some of their other dishes.
I went back to Sel et Poivre for another press dinner. We tried a few different items this time, and I was able to meet Pamela, the other half of the dynamic duo behind their French bistro (which is now coming up on its 28th year in business).
The celery root and beets were just as good as I remembered, this time more artistically plated.
The fish soup was really fun. It comes with a plate of toasted baguette slices, roue and shredded Swiss cheese. The idea is to spread the garlicky, spicy roue onto a slice of bread and they sprinkle the shredded Swiss on top. Then, you float it in the soup and let it all melt together and combine into a velvety consistency.
It was delicious. The fish was clearly present, yet subtle and not overly powerful. I could easily slurp down a few bowls of this.
The brook trout was really nicely cooked and had great flavors from the shaved almonds and tangy white wine and lemon sauce.
It was prepared skin-on, but I felt that it could have used a bit more crisp on the skin. Perhaps because it was plated skin-down, the skin lost some of the crisp it might have developed while cooking. Otherwise this was an excellent dish.
This lamb rib was perfectly cooked. So juicy and tender, with a nice mild game flavor. The outer edges were coated with peppery spices that penetrated deep into the meat. My favorite dish of the night.
I was excited to see the steak come out (sirloin). While I had already tried it in the past, this time I was able to see the full portion size – with a beautiful pre-sliced presentation – on a bed of mustard-based peppercorn sauce.
It was a perfect medium rare execution!
This baby still had all the same qualities as the last visit, only this time there was only the one sauce and a more pronounced peppercorn crust. Further, the last time featured an aged cut, while this one was not aged, as far as I could tell.
The fries that are served with the steak were golden and crispy.
Dessert was nice. We tried some profiteroles and a berry tart.
The berry tart was gorgeous, and was easily my preferred dessert between the two.
SEL ET POIVRE
853 Lexington Ave.
New York, NY 10065