November 30, 1992 | Vintage Insatiable
Perfection is Still the Word at Chanterelle (Closed)

        Chanterelle wants to feel more friendly, too. It can get lonely on your high horse. “Well, we are expensive,” chef-patron David Waltuck observes. Tonight’s prix fixe is $68, and the gala tasting with flutters of white truffle is $95. But we are here to sample the $40 Market Dinner, a nightly improvisation culled from what purveyors are pushing at a discount. It could be Muscovy duck on sale or a sudden abundance of lobster or raspberries. But tonight’s dinner will have to be sublime to win us over and cool the choler from waiting 45 minutes for our nine o’clock table, with only a very belated flute of champagne to blur the trauma.

        In one lobe of my brain I understand Chanterelle fans come to celebrate, and there’s no polite way to evict them. In the other lobe, hunger and fatigue fuel indignation. If looks could kill, the homicide squad would be clearing a space for us. So score it a triumph for the house and for tonight’s seductive poetry of flavors. The exquisite ravioli of wild mushrooms afloat in a puddle of cream under a haze of white truffle erases the pain.

        It’s not that tonight’s Market menu is totally dazzling. Yes, the monkfish on caramelized onion and cabbage is delicious, but for me, even an impeccably turned-out duck terrine is somehow boring, not what I want to eat today. But everything from the $68 menu is wonderful. The ennui – frozen-in-amber quality I felt a year ago – is gone. Flavors hit the high notes.

        And even the room, a bit stiff after the move from Chanterelle’s beloved store front on Grand Street, feels livelier. Explosions of flowers against autumn leaves seem more lush and extravagant. There was always pride in the details – the perfect bread, the small offering (tonight, curried onion fritters), great cheeses kept as they should be kept, jewel-like éclairs and truffles, the sculptor’s bronze the check arrives on. How nice to discover perfection is still the faith.

        Caviar-and-cauliflower flan accompanies fat Pemaquid oysters. Fast-grilled foie gras with currants and caramelized onion sits on a bed of boutique greens. A tangle of seaweed and gingered vegetables elevates this raw tuna. Even a weary classic like seafood sausage – a signature here – has new zest. Rack of lamb and roast venison seem somewhat tame next to a powerful salmi of mallard braised in red wine with wild mushrooms and a spectacular broth of cod and succulent manila clams enriched with mysterious gelatinous bits that could be the most voluptuous cépe but are actually pig’s feet.

        For some, only the chocolate medley (fallen soufflé cake, chocolate sorbet, hot chocolate soufflé) will do. Deeply intense sorbets, marmalade of tropical fruit with citrus ice cream, and a millefeuille of fresh pineapple napped with dark rum sabayon are what lull you into blissful languor.

        For some reason, lunch has never caught on here. The room is even more glorious and starched by daylight. That makes it a perfect hideaway for clandestine trysts, spiritual, sensual, or monetary.

        Chanterelle, 2 Harrison Street, off Hudson, closed in October, 2009.

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