Monday, January 4, 2016


'Tis the season to get fancy.  And Chevalier provides precisely this experience, housed in the glitzy Baccarat Hotel  and helmed with a truly followable chef, Shea Gallante.  He is our knight (the meaning of chevalier) but he wasn't in the kitchen on the evening of my visit, which I suppose I found a little surprising given the  fact that they earned only one star in the Times review.  It was a premature analysis, I'd say, but still, I guess I wonder if the quality couldn't be elevated were Chef Gallante attending more personally to the cuisine.   The food was excellent, but a place like this, it is hard not to hope for some dreamlike, culinary revelation in
 such high falutin' surrounding.  Cut crystal glitters in the soothing low lit room, soft greys and ivory a muted backdrop to focus your attention on the meal, but I wish some of the grandiosity of the decor migrated into the food.

That's not to say it didn't at time.  A lovely amuse of exquisite lump crab meat bedded in butternut squash puree was a minuscule delight. 
savory petits-fours offered similar promise for the meal to come, a harbinger of excellence to which I'm not sure the rest of the meal lived up.   Certainly a salad of mixed chicories could've been improved: its leaves were tough, and their natural, gentle bitterness was barely countered at all by an almost undetectable hazelnut vinaigrette.   Small cubes of chilled pear offered the only respite, but not enough to save the dish.  A warm scallop appetizer was better, the plush seafood caramelized to a lovely bronze and a scatter of gem-like beet slices and deeply colored greens imparted a holiday-like decadence. 

The wine list, curated by Betony tranfer J. Taylor, is good enough to lessen some of the blow of its own sticker shock, but be forewarned: this is a Baccarat-caliber list.  Glasses averaged about $25, so one must approach Chevalier with a disregard to frugality, or else a strong sense of discipline.

Speaking of luxury, a mid-course of truffle-dusted gnocchi seemed precisely in keeping with the theme of Chevalier: even its muted color profile mimicked the shades of the dining room.  And when I say dusted, I mean a Dust Bowl caliber flurry
 of truffles.  They were piled atop the delicate pillowy gnocchi like Donald Trump's comb-over.    But at $105 a portion (added to any dish), you'll need his bank account to be able to afford them.  Even so, the gnocchi alone were stellar examples, truffled or un-.  A filet of sea bass was hardly so sumptuous, verging on sparsity rather
than decadence. Although the fish itself was fresh and expertly cooked, it benefitted immensely from  a mossy green slurry anointed tableside.  A cool salad of fennel and tomatoes seemed too summery and light for mid-December, but was pleasant enough.   So for a heartier option, the American Wagyu with a confit matsutake mushrooms had its allure, but it too seemed a little barren.  It lacked the signature butter-soft tenderness of Japanese Kobe, but it was intensely beefy and robust,  negating the need for much accoutrements anyways. Tiny grilled mushrooms and charred cauliflower sprigs adorned the meat, but I couldn't help wanting a bit more panache.   And while rare for a menu of this echelon, there are side dishes to choose from for (a whopping) $12 each.  Roasted
 brussels sprouts with bacon boasted 50/50 proportions of the components.... maybe even 60/40 bacon.  For the porcophilic, this might be an attractive ratio, but I was really disappointed by the paucity of sprouts.  The ones I could rustle up were nicely cooked and tasty, but there was proportionately
 far too much bacon- although perhaps that helped justify the price.  Couldn't help but wish I'd've gone with the fricasseed mushrooms instead: at least these were full-boar fungi.

We ended strong, with  a lusciously moist orb of sticky toffee pudding, playfully encased by a lacey halo of crisp almond-studded cookie.  A dollop of gingery ice cream and another of blood orange granita sat atop delicate wafers of meringue, connected by a squiggle of thick, syrupy caramel.  The best bite combines daubs of all the components, destroying the architectural loveliness of the plate- but it is well worth the demolition.   I wish that was all it took for the other dishes to succeed so effectively, because the service and ambiance of Chevalier is truly without par.  I wanted to prove Pete Wells emphatically wrong with his single star review, for while I could give the overall experience, bells and whistles included, as many as three stars, the food itself does really merit just one.

28 West 53rd Street

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