08
Jul

CHERCHE MIDI

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CHERCHE MIDI

KEITH McNALLY IS SURELY NEW YORK’S MOST SUCCESSFUL OFF BROADWAY PRODUCER.  BALTHAZAAR, WHICH OPENED ON SPRING STREET IN 1997, HAS BEEN PLAYING TO PACKED HOUSES EVER SINCE.  THE LONDON PRODUCTION IS CURRENTLY SELLING OUT IN THE WEST END.  BEFORE BALTHAZAAR WAS ODEON (1980), CAFE LUXEMBOURG (1986 AND STILL GOING STRONG), LUCKY STRIKE (1989), AND PRAVDA (1996).  SCHILLER’S ON RIVINGTON STREET (2003) WAS FOLLOWED BY McNALLY’S ITALIAN BLOCKBUSTER, MORANDI.  MINETTA TAVERN, AN AMERICAN REVIVAL, IS A BIT HIT.  LUIGI, A TWO-HANDER ABOUT A PIZZERIA, FLOPPED, BUT NOW, IN THE SAME LOCATION IS CHERCHE MIDI, McNALLY’S HOMAGE TO THE BISTROS HE HAUNTED IN MONTPARNASSE.  CHERCHE MIDI SHOULD FEEL RIGHT AT HOME IN ITS CURRENT LOCATION, A STONE’S THROW ACROSS BOWERY AND HOUSTON FROM DANIEL BOULUD’S DBGB.

McNALLY IS THE ULTIMATE HANDS-ON PRODUCER, DEEPLY INVOLVED IN VETTING NOT ONLY THE CAST AND CREW, BUT, FAMOUSLY, FOR COLLABORATING ON THE SET DESIGN.  AND WHAT BEAUTIFUL SETS THEY ARE!  McNALLY SCOURS SALVAGE YARDS AS WELL AS ANTIQUE STORES AND THE INTERNET FOR MATERIALS WHICH CREATE THE ILLUSION THAT YOU ARE ENTERING ANOTHER TIME AND PLACE.

OF ALL HIS RESTAURANTS, CHERCHE MIDI MAY BE THE MOST JOYFUL.  WITH ITS HIGH TIN CEILINGS PAINTED THE COLOR OF NORMANDY BUTTER, HANGING GLOBE LIGHTS, CURVED RED LEATHER BANQUETTES, BENTWOOD CHAIRS, BACKLIT CASES OF WINE, AND MOSAIC TILE FLOORS, THE PLACE GLITTERS.  WE COULD BE AT LE DÔME OR BENOIT OR A SCALED DOWN LA COUPOLE.  WAITERS IN LONG-SLEEVED SHIRTS WITH BLACK VESTS AND TROUSERS AND WHITE APRONS COMPLETE THE ILLUSION.  FRIENDLY AND ENTHUSIASTIC, THEY EXPLAIN THE MENU AND GUIDE US THROUGH THE WINE LIST WITH FLAWLESS AMERICAN ACCENTS.  IT’S A GREAT CAST.

AND THE FOOD?  I ALWAYS ENJOY EATING AT McNALLY’S RESTAURANTS.  DISHES ARE SOLID AND CONSISTENT AND RARELY DAZZLING.  BUT AT CHERCHE MIDI, CHEFS SHANE McBRIDE (BALTHAZAAR AND SHCILLER’S) AND DANIEL PARILLA (MINETTA TAVERN) HAVE BLESSED FRENCH BISTRO CLASSICS WITH THEIR PERSONAL TOUCH.

THUS AT CHERCHE MIDI, THAT PERENNIAL FAVORITE, FROGS LEGS, WHICH EVEN IN PARIS OFTEN TASTE MORE OF GARLIC THAN FROG, ARE CRISPY, PETITE DRUMETTES, BOBBING IN A POOL OF GREEN GARLIC AND PARSLEY, EVERY LAST DROP OF WHICH I SOPPED UP WITH HUNKS OF BALTHAZAAR BREAD.  TART RHUBARB SERVED A SUPPORTING ROLE FOR LYNN’S PAN ROASTED FOIE GRAS.  SOPHIE’S POT DE FROMAGE, A PARMESAN CUSTARD, WAS UPSTAGED BY ANCHOVY BUTTER.  BUT ALL WAS FORGIVEN WITH THE ENTRANCE OF THE MOIST AND CRUNCHY SKATE WING WITH AN ONION AND FENNEL SOUBISE.  LYNN MAINTAINED HER GIRLISH FIGURE WITH A SALAD NIÇOISE, IN WHICH EVERY ELEMENT – RARE TUNA, BRIGHT LETTUCES, SLIGHTLY RUNNY HARD-COOKED EGG, AND HARICOTS VERTS — WERE JUST RIGHT.  MY LOBSTER RAVIOLI COULD HAVE BEEN A TOUCH MORE YIELDING, BUT THE FILLING WAS GENEROUS WITH LOBSTER, ACCENTED BY A GINGER BUERRE BLANC.  WITH DINNER WE DRANK AN AUSTRIAN GRŨNER FROM THE WACHAU, A WINE I KNEW SINCE WE’D RECENTLY HAD IT IN VIENNA.

TWO DESSERTS:  THE PISTACHIO FINANCIER DELIVERED A DISAPPOINTINGLY SACCHARINE PERFORMANCE, BUT AN ADORABLE LEMON TART WITH PUCKERINGLY SOUR LEMON SORBET PUT A SMILE ON MY FACE.

I THINK KEITH McNALLY HAS PRODUCED ANOTHER BLOCKBUSTER.  I, FOR ONE, WILL CERTAINLY RETURN FOR A REPEAT PERFORMANCE.

CODA:  THE NOISE LEVEL AT CHERCHE MIDI ROSE FROM BEARABLE AT SEVEN TO CLAMOROUS BY EIGHT-THIRTY.  LYNN REPORTED THIS TO A MAITRE D’ AT BALTHAZAAR AT BREAKFAST A FEW DAYS LATER.  WHEN WE GOT BACK TO THE APARTMENT, THERE WAS A MESSAGE ON THE ANSWERING MACHINE FROM SOPHIE AT CHERCHE MIDI:  “WE’RE SORRY ABOUT THE NOISE.  WE’RE INSTALLING SOUND BAFFLING NEXT WEEK.  IT SHOULD BE QUIETER ON YOUR NEXT VISIT TO THE RESTAURANT.”  NOW, THAT’S GREAT PRODUCING!

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