Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Shane McBride was tapped for Keith McNally's new incarnation of the old Pulino's space, although he unfortunately takes Fridays, the night I came in, off.  The room and the crowd is recognizable from its prior state, somewhat whitened and lightened up, but the arching ceilings, packed tables and teeming bar endure.  The reservation was tough to come by, procured over a week in advance and chosen only because it was the earliest available table not at 5pm or 10pm.  McNally has that kind of
 following, though, especially perhaps now that Pastis is shuttered (temporarily?  We will see.)  From what I assess, McNally opens a place and the masses will follow, but does the food measure up?

I'm more familiar with McBride running in meat-centric circles: our initial encounter was at his highbrow chophouse called 7Square, which was fantastic but short-lived.  The next time I saw him was at Craftsteak, which morphed into Colicchio & Sons, where its namesake owner took over and changed focus of the place.  With that, the dishes that shine from the broad-based French menu at Cherche Midi are the steak-ier ones.  The menu itself is diverse, and our waiter cute and friendly if a bit unpolished, had some daily specials to offer as well.  He stuttered nervously through them, but needn't have been so jittery: he got through with flying colors.  We chose one of them to try, a fat, fresh crabcake perched atop a summery succotash of juicy corn kernels and bright cherry tomatoes, enriched by a creamy sauce and a flounce of fresh-cut herbs.  It was crisp of coat, packed with fresh, mild crab, and big enough to serve as a light entree (perhaps with a selection from the side dishes), or as a substantial starter as it is intended.  It wouldn't be out of place at a steakhouse, so its success made sense.

A beet salad is a similar mainstay, but this version was less successful, although the locally sourced beets made a striking splay of color on the plate.  Oily to a fault, the thinly sliced rounds suction-cupped somewhat to the plate, although flopping the discs into parcels to include a pistachio, a frond of chervil and a flabby slice of bland brebis  made eating the dish a little more fun, if not very exciting.  Another appetizer, the pan-roasted fois gras was definitely not my style, but it was most definitely his.  The seared crust took on a salty, crisp bacon-like quality, the fat lobe oozing its melting fat into a delectable warm compote of
poached rhubarb, its tangy character absolutely crucial in cutting the voluminous fat of the fois.  A small buttery brioche vaulted this diminutively sized dish into a caloric monstrosity, but for afficionados of duck liver, there may not exist a finer presentation.  My tablemate pondered ordering a second: strictly against any sage doctor's order.

Had I recalled McBride's carnivorous resume, I might have opted for one of the four meatier entrees- our neighbor's burger next door looked enticing: a prime rib blend with bacon marmalade, roasted mushrooms and aged French gruyere, just to keep things from looking too American.  But it was a warm summer day, made all the more obvious by the blinding setting sun reflecting in a blaze though the unshaded windows (if you visit Cherche before the sun has set, either opt for a west-facing table or bring your sunglasses to protect your retinas until the couche de soleil.)  The sunlight alone was bright enough, but with all that white tile and signature McNally bistro mirrors, it threatens to burn green glowing floaters into your vision.  

As for my entree, my love of skate steered me toward his bone-in version, served with an onion-fennel soubise, which bordered on soggy.  The flavors were good, if muted, but the effect of the dish felt restrained, as if he was hesitant to put as much punch into a seafood dish as I know he does with his meats.  The wing pulled easily off the bone, and its edges feigned crispness, but instead most of the crunch came from delightful tiny croutons sprinkled about the dish along with a smattering of emerald chives.   It wasn't any bit a disaster, but it wasn't particularly astounding either.  We toyed between a side dish of shallot-roasted mushrooms and the whole roasted cauliflower, and were guided toward the latter.
Now this was an interesting dish:  from the picture, you can see it is smothered in its sauce gribiche- which would typically be extremely heavy.  But in a strange turn of whimsy, the sauce is vegan, formulated from lentils, but retains a rich enough feel to turn the humble vegetable into a  indulgent-feeling treat.   Sauce'll do that to you: a good sauce atones many missteps.

Speaking of sauce, our raspberry souffle was probably good enough without it, but the puffy, powdered-sugar dusted confection was cleaved tableside, and anointed with a cool douse from a small pitcher of cream.  The warm souffle enveloped the cream as it integrated into the fluffy custard.  I couldn't decide whether the best bites were the toasty, marshmallowy cap or the jammy  bottom, where tangy bits of raspberry swam in a  juicy syrup.

So despite the francophilic inclinations, I recommend thinking of Cherche Midi as a steakhouse.  It has all the makings of one if you order accordingly, and this is where you will find McBride's work at its finest.

 282 Bowery

New York City 10012
(212) 226-3055

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