Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Gabe Stuhlman pushes northward, expanding his outstanding Little Wisco empire outside of the boundaries of the West Village, where all of his other restaurants are situated.  And of those I've visited (which is all but Chez Sardine), yes, I love them all.  Montmartre is no exception.  Ideally, one would venture here on a crisp, warm summer night to take advantage of their vaunted garden, but the weather was not cooperating with that strategy.  What's become a chronic New York summer condition of  sultry, swampy, thunderstorming, third-night-of-a-heatwave weeknight would make dining our there torture.  Anyways,  I think it is charming: as Gascogne ( the wonderful restaurant that formerly inhabited this address, who's greedy landlord so predictably jacked up the rent to insurmountable) the backyard space was my favorite in the city.  But the weather had it inaccessible, so we settled indoors, content with a breezy a.c. and the lively bustle inside.

The restaurant looks similar as Gascogne did upon entering, past a boisterous bar, black lacquer and brass fixtures.  The square footage of the restaurant as it appears from street level is doubled via the staircase leading to more seating downstairs, where the boisterous noise level of the bar subsides somewhat despite the tables being packed in tightly.  The wine list is cosmopolitan and tends pricey: there is but a single forty dollar bottle option for each of the reds and whites, and the numbers  escalate from there.  There are reasonable by-the-glass options, though, and we lucked out with a Corbieres from Languedoc featuring my favorite grape (Picpoul de Pinet... so fun to say) at only $9.  And it harmonized exquisitely with our  food to come.

Chef Tien Ho prepares a menu that while titled entirely in French, follows the wine list in its global influence.   There's nothing rigidly French, and nuances of Mediterranean and southeast Asian pop up shamelessly.  A duo of radish slices garnish a creamy dip of truffle puree, but you'll have to employ a crust of bread to finish the rest when the radishes quickly run out.  Yes, there are a few more traditionally Francophilic selections like duck confit and pork rillettes, but the escaragots have been scooted onto croutons and lightened upwith tomatoes along with their traditional garlicky
 cream.  Thinly julienned wax beans sub for haricots verts, tossed with mache but then benefit from a glimmer of Ho's native Vietnam (and his former employer, David Chang at Ma Peche) with a saucy vinaigrette of tahini and soy, topped with a small, wobbly poached egg and a scatter of crushed peanuts for crunch.  From the raw bar, only half is actually raw- the oysters and a ceviche-esque fluke.  King crab legs are steamed, served with a kicky green tabsco mayo, and four impeccably fresh, large poached shrimp nestle into a matignon cocktail, which turns out to be a basic, hyper-horseradished cocktail sauce.

There's a  roast chicken which finds its novelty in walnuts and herbs, but remains otherwise simple and unfussy.  Tartare Maison is partnered with the requisite bone marrow component (these days, seems you can't have a menu without marrow!) and NY strip a fairly classic steak au poivre, but punched with miso.    A delicious branzino, too, played things pretty safe, crispy skinned and
atop tender steamed broccolini in an umami-rich slurry of black garlic,  a garnish of preserved lemon twisted artfully atop.   Monkfish was delightfully tender, chunked into three sizable pieces and seared to a golden bronze, anointed with a slick of chorizo oil riddled with bits of the sausage in a miniature dice.  Sweet, pillowy cipolle onions anchored the plate, scattered with slivers of maitake mushroom and steamed tips of white asparagus.  And while the vegetable components of all the entrees is significant enough, I still wanted to try the cumin-spiced cauliflower, a dish easily big
 enough to split between two.  Its spice was nuanced enough to enhance the  roasted florettes, but not so much that it fought our flavorful mains.  Punched up with sliced cherry tomatoes and pale yellow favas, it could easily function as a light, vegetarian lunch for one on a not-too-hungry day.

And while we couldn't even entirely finish the cauliflower along with our generous entrees, I couldn't snub a rhubarb crumble.  I can't say I wasn't a little disappointed with its appearance when it first arrived in front of me: it looked a bit.... minimalist.  But that misconception evaporated with the first bite, verified by the second, third and beyond. Plate licking ensued.  The saucy fruit had been condensed into compact pucks, concentrated flavor and texture.
They were intensely fruity, succumbing easily to a spoon but holding form against the tangy lime creme fraiche underneath a crumble of oaten goodness atop, just sweet enough, buttery and nutty.  And, ahh, my hero Little Wisco must have a thing going with Duane Sorenson, because all his restaurants feature the exquisite Stumptown coffee, and for some reason, it just tasted even better here than it usually does (hard to even think that's possible, good as these beans are).  Theirs is a seamless collaboration: both are inarguably at the top of their respective games.  So while I technically didn't follow the chef here, I followed the guy who hired him.  And I'll continue to do so.  Like
 everything else that Stulman touches, Montmartre feels special: he totally has that Midas thing going on.

      158 Eighth Avenue at 18th street
       tel  1.646.596.8838

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