Decadent French dining in Manhattan

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Picholine, in midtown Manhattan, exudes the sort of New World elegance conjured up by old books like The Great Gatsby or The House of Mirth. The classic, canopied front gives way to a plush dining room in which chandeliers pour from the ceiling and ornate cheese carts traverse the carpet.

We were seated at a large corner table amid hushed groups already embroiled in one of Chef Terrance Brennan’s impeccably composed tasting menus. Picholine’s culinary offering is French with a slight and subtle American leaning. Brennan, keen for us to sample an array of the restaurant’s dishes, crafted a bespoke tasting menu for us that evening. We started with cocktails which arrived in generously sized martini glasses – a candy-shop sweet pear creation for me, and an appropriately bitter negroni for my companion.

Among the wildly varied dishes first to arrive at the table, the smoked sturgeon panna cotta topped with an inky beret of wild American caviar was one highlight. Initial tastes made one nostalgic of the city’s most traditional delis, but the soft, creamy consistency transformed it into something much more complex and contemporary. The caviar on the top served to intensify the taste – and elevate the entire dish to a place of unabashed luxury.

Other dishes had a similar effect; the white and green asparagus salad, though seemingly simple, came with innovative textures of parmesan that rendered each bite a wholly different experience. On top, sun-bright pieces of trout roe nodded once again to those old New York institutions like Russ & Daughters wherein bagels are liberally filled with the stuff. Large, sweet-tasting scallops came next, and these were equally pleasing with a comparatively sharp white wine sabayon and more asparagus (it was in season).

A glass or two of wine in – the sommelier had the seemingly magical power to pick a glass that would match the on-coming dishes perfectly – and we had reached the main course. For me, squab cooked two ways – one part soft and delicate, the other confit and crisp. It needed little accompaniment, the taste as impactful as it was, and came only with a subtle buttermilk curd and nettle. For my companion, thin and rose-pink slices of rib-eye with gnocchi and crisp petals of onion – a reimagined classic with an exuberant, extravagant twist – a sentiment that really characterises Picholine; it’s unapologetically opulent, but doesn’t shy away from the raw, real tastes of the city it calls home.

The cheese cart was impossible to resist, despite its abundant prelude. The cheeses, hard, soft and everything in-between, were from the States. A blue goat’s cheese was of particular interest – the colour added an almost citrusy sharpness, but it didn’t overwhelm the soft, creamy taste at the base.

Dessert followed shortly afterwards. It was nearing 11pm and all but one other table had left into the warm night – we had almost forgotten that the bustling, light-filled city existed outside this beguiling anachronism. The banana caramel mousse – a sort of update on the banoffee pie – was a favourite at our table. As was the chocolate textures, which combined a creamy dark chocolate with white chocolate ice cream; like the dishes that came before it, it sang of classic and warmly familiar French decadence.

Beyond the French fancy, though, there’s something so quintessentially Manhattan-esque about Picholine. Maybe it’s the men in tailored trousers and sports jackets at every table; maybe it’s the smiling, American hospitality of the waiting staff; either way, this is an essential culinary experience for those in the city.

by Becky Zanker

Picholine, 35 W 64th St, New York, NY 10023, United States
Tel: +1 212-724-8585


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Glass Online dining and culture writer

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