Photos in their original context are here: http://www.donuts4dinner.com/2011/02/...
After reading a short blurb about La Silhouette and its owner, Sally Chironis’s, connection to Le Bernadin in the New York magazine food blog, I checked out the menu and found that I wanted to try every single thing on it. Well, except for maybe the Mixed Baby Lettuce salad, but the inclusion of a snail risotto made up for that. So my boyfriend and I booked a reservation for last Saturday, a mere two weeks after their opening.
Their liquor license wasn’t in place yet, so we brought a bottle each of Eins Zwei Dry 2008 and Chateau Padouen Sauternes 2006 with us, which were immediately put on ice beside our table. Our server joked that everything on the menu was the house specialty at that point, and when we expressed interest in the chef’s tasting menu, he recited its typical dishes. The dishes, to be honest, weren’t any of the ones I really thought sounded exciting–like the scallops, the snail risotto, and the monkfish–but I was nonetheless impressed with everything we were served.
• bagel chips
So thin and crispy we marveled at them. Was there possibly a knife that could cut bread so wispy? Or did the kitchen have a bagel mold that they filled only the tiniest bit?
• goat cheese spread with herbs
Spread this on the bagel chips, and the chef calls it “France Meets New York”. We called it onion and chive potato chips. My boyfriend thought it was a little gimmicky, but I think being able to take two entirely different foods and make them taste like a really familiar one is a neat little feat.
• Hudson Valley foie gras torchon, quince and pear chutney, melba toast
You feel kind of wimpy ordering a foie gras torchon, because this particular preparation takes away all of the down and dirty imperfections of the hunk of fattened liver. Unlike with other preparations (like the grilled slab at The Modern or the roasted version at Colicchio & Sons), a torchon is all one homogenized texture, like eating sausage instead of a fatty steak. I can see how a true foie gras champion would love the authenticity of a straight up unprocessed chunk, but I really love the added creaminess of a torchon and take comfort in knowing I’m not going to run into a stray vein.
The course salt on top added a nice little crunch, and the sweetness of the quince really took away the slight bitter edge organ meat has. (However, it did also take away from the sweetness of our wine and made for a bad pairing.) The melba wasn’t the usual thin, brick-like kind you find in plastic packaging but was thick, soft, and flaky.
• crudo of daurade, celery root puree, hearts of palm, grapefruit kumquat dressing
I’ve had dorade before and just assumed the menu had a misspelling, but our server informed us that dorade is the the farmed version of the fish, while daurade is wild-caught. Either way, I truly had heart palpitations at my first bite of this dish. The sliver of heart of palm was fresh and crunchy and exactly the opposite of the kind you find canned on grocery store shelves. The section of grapefruit gave it a wonderful citrus bite. The mustard seed added spice. The white cream was this wonderful celery root (think celery, which I love, but with the flavor multiplied by ten) spread, and the whole thing was swimming in a puddle lemongrass.
Chef David Malbequi came out to talk to us at one point, and when I complimented this dish, he said he was trying to learn to be more restrained with it so as to not drown the flavor of the daurade. As someone who doesn’t need a lot of fishiness in my fish dishes, I wouldn’t have changed anything about this, but Kamran wanted to taste even more of the daurade.
• slow baked halibut, caramelized cauliflower puree, sunchokes, grapes, warm caper vinaigrette
This was one of those dishes where the sum of the parts was much, much greater than the parts themselves. I saw this and thought, “Hey, know the only way to make halibut even more boring? ADD CAULIFLOWER.” But the cauliflower puree was heeeeeavenly and added a saltiness to the halibut it would’ve lacked otherwise. The grapes added a nice crunch on top of the firm texture of the fish, and caramelizing cauliflower, it turns out, makes it much less boring. This still wasn’t the kind of dish that makes me want to eat a whole school of fish.
• classic veal cheek blanquette (a preparation where the butter and meat aren’t browned), Meyer lemon spaetzle, black trumpet
Maybe I should take back the heeeeeavenly I used in my description of the cauliflower puree, because if you imagine the most comforting dish you can think of, it doesn’t begin to touch this one. More tender than any steak, the rounds of veal practically fell apart just by my looking at them. The spaetzle, a soft little doughball of a noodle, was right at home with its hint of fresh lemon to contrast the deeper, developed flavors of the white cream sauce.
My boyfriend thought it needed more salt, but I was convinced he had just gotten used to the richness of the dish too fast. It’s like the way the first bite of a good ice cream makes you want to slap someone, but by the end of the scoop, it might as well be McDonald’s soft-serve; the first bite of veal made his tastebuds so delirious that they forgot how to function.
• chocolate soufflé for two, hazelnut chocolate sauce, espresso ice cream
I had seen a photo of this soufflé on the La Silhouette website and was convinced it was just a normal-sized soufflé that they’d slapped for two onto to justify the $18 price tag. But it turns out the ramekin was as big as a cantaloupe and brimming with inches and inches of fluffy not-quite-cake/not-quite-pudding. Our server poured chocolate sauce on top of the mound, which soaked all the way down through the center and made the insides warm and gooey while leaving the outside edges slightly crunchy. The bitterness of the espresso ice cream was a welcome sharp contrast.
• La Silhouette cheesecake, pineapple mango salad, coconut milk glacé
This was the only miss of the night, though I’m almost sad to call it that, because I think a lot of skill went into making it. The cheesecake was hands down the lightest I’ve ever had. It was cloud-like, as if pastry chef Vivian Wu had baked some whipped cream. Perhaps on its own it would’ve seemed like a substantial dessert, but next to the souffle, it was like a side dish. The best part of it was actually the sweet fruit salad, which complemented the wonderfully fresh coconut ice cream.
• meringues, marshmallow, crisp rice
My rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
My boyfriend and I were at odds about this rating. He thought the service was exceptionally slow (it took us more than three and a half hours to finish the meal), and he thought the design of the restaurant made it seem claustrophobic. I can’t blame a kitchen for not being uber-efficient in its first two weeks of service, though, and while it’s true that we were seated in a tiny room with only a handful of tables, the main dining area was beautiful. So putting those two things aside, I can’t in good faith give La Silhouette any fewer than 4.5 stars based on the inventiveness, deliciousness, and technical skill behind its dishes. Although I’d like to see some slight changes to the halibut and cheesecake courses, I’d much rather eat here than at any of the restaurants I’ve rated 4 stars.
9 West 53rd Street, New York, NY 10019
Colicchio & Sons
85 10th Ave, New York, NY 10011
362 W 53rd St, New York, NY 10019