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Where O Where has my Celebrity Chef Gone?

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Where O Where has my Celebrity Chef Gone?

Earl Shay | Apr 21, 2003 11:13 AM

Based on Zagat and Reichl reviews of Terrance Brennan, the ambience and service at Picholine, and being in the vicinity for a Metropolitan Opera performance, I ventured down the 64th Street—all construction—to the sequestered haven of 35 West. With Reichl recommending the daily special, and Zagat calling it “impeccable)—with a 27 (out of 30) rating for food—and a menu full of ambitious favorites, I was seated “for the 11:45 seating” with reservations and mandatory jacket, prepared for an exemplary dining experience. The maitre’d seated me, and soon a bumbling waiter, who stuttered his way through the specials of the day, and took my order for a “Picholine Aperitif” a wonderful concoction of pomegranate and lovely champagne. Heeding Reichl’s advice, I chose the Tasting Menu of the Day, which, like all the menu choices sounded formidable. At a leisurely and friendly pace—indeed the service everywhere at Picholine is solicitous—a pleasant change from the chilly and gossipy service received at Chantarelle. An amuse bouche of gelee of beet, orange and herb with goat cheese arrived, a delight to eye and tongue. A superb offering of breads—memorable 7 grain and unforgettable rosemary mini-baguette—but why salt butter and not sweet? A first course of amazingly fresh, impeccably prepared green asparagus (with white) followed, with rubbery morels accompanied by a congealed paste of essence of morel, accompanied by a cloud puff of gnocchi which had been immersed seemingly in Morton’s salt. Second course was an excellently prepared foie gras, crusty and succulent, with a neon one-dimensional confit of rhubarb. The main course looked (on paper) highly promising. Shrimp, cuttlefish, and fava with seafood reduction on tiny rigatoni. A single large shrimp with head and tail on, seasoned expertly, but rubbery as were the cuttlefish. Improperly sauced, portions of the pasta were watery, the rest moderately congealed and not very flavorful. The dessert course a sampler of melted chocolate sorbet (when it arrived), a deep chocolate brownie, and a milk chocolate mousse covered with a thin wafer of chocolate. Three contrasting textures and temperatures of chocolate. The coffee was weak.
With Mr. Brennan expanding his horizons as celebrity chef, it’s a pity that in his absence, his home base , and chiefly his line cooks, lack the discipline to maintain expertise in saucing and basic technique. Jean-Georges has been able to succeed in his expansion and proclaims it’s all “taste” first. I can’t possibly imagine that the gnocchi, rhubarb confit and seafood had been tasted prior to service. This would never happen in Keller’s kitchen, where he tastes everything. Moments of glory, surrounded by a abysses. I was glad I had three aperitivos!

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