Why Come Here? French classics rarely still seen in NYC, perfect for a meal with the family or a date
This June, Sel et Poivre will mark it’s 25th anniversary. It certainly doesn’t feel old, but it does represent something that’s become much more of an anomaly since it first opened it’s doors. It’s a traditional French bistro with a warmth that make you feel as if you eating a friend’s house in the countryside.
The entrance looks like something straight out of Paris with chestnut panels and large windows that open onto the street in warmer months. In the dining area, you’ll find walls adorned with dark wooden beams, antique sconces and black & white photos from family trips to Europe. There’s no funky lighting or music playing, just the sound of conversation. Classic and classy.
Now you may be concerned given this traditional setup and the fact they’re serving the food of the most pretentious country in the city’s most pretentious neighborhood that this is the type of place where people under sixty are made to feel unwelcome. While the crowd does skew older than most places downtown, Sel et Poivre is anything but stuffy. This is due in no small part to owner Christian Schienle, who charismatically works the tables and make everyone feel like a regular. His charm has clearly been a success not just in creating a loyal customer base (many of whom eat there at least once a week, including his landlord) but a loyal staff with such low turnover that the most recent hire was seven years ago.
As for the food, well there’s a reason the French are synonymous with fancy dining and these are guys are damn good at making it. My father, who lived in New York during the golden age of French dining, often bemoans the lack of places doing the classics well today. For those like him, Sel et Poivre serves up the likes of Frogs Legs a la Provencal, Duck l’orange and weekly specials like Coq au Vin. You find can find the whole list of specials here.
Those looking for something more modern (or less rich) will find the food is part of the “updated” bistro as well. I had some outstanding dishes including a celery root remoulade and wild striped bass with artichokes. The menu is sizeable and includes everything from fish to meat to offal ensuring everyone can find something to enjoy. In the fall, they also feature a wild game menu for several weeks. My calendar is already marked. Entrees are generally in the mid- to high- $20s with a three course prix-fixe available for lunch for $14 or $18 and dinner for $28.
So think of Sel et Poivre as somewhere between modern casual dining and the places your parents like. In fact it may be the perfect place to take them next time they’re in town. No need to wait though – it’s also great for a date or casual meal.
As I was here for a press dinner, I got to sample a number of items on the menu. My thoughts are below:
Celery Root Remoulade w/ Beets Prepared like a tart with curry flavored strips of celery topping fresh, tender chopped beets. The spice is nicely balanced by the refreshing slight sweetness of the beets. A great start to the meal.
Wild Striped Bass A meaty hunk of bass perfectly cooked with crisped skin under Mediterranean accents of olives, tomato and basil. As good as the fish was, the tender artichokes actually stole the show for me and I’m going to go on the record saying they were the best rendition I’ve had.
Aged New York Sirloin Sirloin is not usually the cut I go for, but this was a beautiful piece meat. Cooked medium rare, it was surprisingly tender with a great almost sweet flavor. Sauce options include a creamy au poivre with a nice fresh pepper taste and an equally rich Roquefort sauce that’s milder and not too heavy on the blue cheese flavor.
Veal Kidneys w/ Mustard Sauce I’m admittedly not generally a consumer of offal and this was my first foray into this particular organ so I don’t have much basis for comparison. These were firm without being tough and only a hint of that bite you often find in offal. While I’m not sure kidneys are my thing, I can tell you that the creamy slightly spicy mustard sauce was fantastic.
Sel et Poivre
853 Lexington Avenue (64th & 65th Sts.)
New York, NY