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 Streetall constructionto 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 foodand 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 maitred 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 Reichls advice, I chose the Tasting Menu of the Day, which, like all the menu choices sounded formidable. At a leisurely and friendly paceindeed the service everywhere at Picholine is solicitousa 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 breadsmemorable 7 grain and unforgettable rosemary mini-baguettebut 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 Mortons 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, its 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 its all taste first. I cant possibly imagine that the gnocchi, rhubarb confit and seafood had been tasted prior to service. This would never happen in Kellers kitchen, where he tastes everything. Moments of glory, surrounded by a abysses. I was glad I had three aperitivos!