March 14, 2011 | BITE: My Journal
Le Parking at La Silhouette (CLOSED)
Crème fraiche, foie gras, this pappardelle is rich even sans truffles. Photo: Steven Richter
Discreetly, unremarkably, unobtrusively in the austere streetscape, La Silhouette has parked itself inside what was a garage on West 53rd Street. Inside, carpeted rooms unfold like a telescope, with a certain sedate elegance and sudden burst of red and white stripes on one wall. “I wanted it to feel French,” says co-owner Sally Chironis. Seated in the sunken back room, I feel ambition and a certain innocent Franco-American flair from the kitchen making me smile and think about returning.
I’m mad for the grilled cheese “soldiers” and I’ll eat the potato skin too. Photo: Steven Richter
Perfect bagel thins, clearly sliced in house, are meant to schmear with Boursin speckled with trout roe, as an amuse. The thrill of creamy truffled potato soup served in a potato shell is outdazzled by the accompanying stack of lush grilled cheese finger sandwiches with bacon. (“Soldiers,” it says on the menu, a translation from the French.) Pappardelle with wild boar, braised kale and ricotta is rustic and excessively rich in one fell swoop.
House made pappardelle with wild boar, kale and ricotta is a favorite. Photo: Steven Richter
It takes a certain confidence to plant big ambition on a grimy side street. Equitable sought instant class for its new headquarters in l986 by installing Maguy and Gilbert LeCoze’s Le Bernardin on a then dim stretch of West 51st Street. Did that inspire Le Bernardin veterans Chironis and Tito Rahman, when economic reality led them to a one-time parking garage on 53rd Street? Architect Richard Bloch – they met while working on Le Bernardin’s private dining rooms - agreed to work within their budget.
On Tuesday night action centers in the back room with its swirled carpet. Photo: Steven Richter.
They invited him to chime in too, when they auditioned a tasting by David Malbequi – veteran of six years as banquet chef at Daniel and chef de cuisine at BLT Market. When construction stretched longer than expected, Malbequi might have gone home to France for inspiration, but it never occurred to him. He’s too thoroughly a converted New Yorker.
The open face terrine toasts wear a stripe of Dijon mayonnaise. Photo: Steven Richter
“I don’t look to France,” Malbequi responds. “I really didn’t want it to be French. I feel comfortable in the States. Everything is possible in New York. We can find anything we want.” On Ninth Avenue he found Amy’s Bread and Sullivan Street Bakery, where he buys the country bread he toasts to go with the rillettes and for the open face “soldiers” layered with a creamy terrine of chicken liver, foie gras, pistachios and raisins striped with mustardy mayonnaise. It’s a bar favorite that he might also send to repeat customers in the dining room.
The first white asparagus from Holland gets crunch and sheen. Photo: Steven Richter
But he makes the brioche himself. “Every chef has a different taste for brioche,” he explains. Shards of that brioche add crunch to tonight’s special starter: the season’s first white asparagus from Holland, topped with a soft poached egg in a kind of cream-enhanced Hollandaise. “Surprisingly sweet for early asparagus,” he notes. It’s a miraculous bouquet of flavors and textures, unlike the appetizer of gently seared scallops with caramelized endive, where sweetness in the blood orange reduction overwhelms the cardamom yogurt sauce. Slow roasted leeks get a crunch and flavor boost from duck prosciutto and shades of aged Manchego in grilled red onion dressing.
Halibut with sunchokes, grapes, a swirl of smoked cauliflower puree. Photo: Steven Richter
Our companions tonight already consider themselves regulars. I’ve been recognized too, so we’re soon overwhelmed with extras, including a pasta giveaway for each of us. I don’t get the point of rabbit with pappardelle in a soupy vegetable broth. It’s more of a stew than a pasta and lacks the flavor oomph of the wild Burgundy snail risotto with garlic parsley sauce, or the outrageously rich mushroom pappardelle, where Banyuls white wine cuts into the sweet overkill of crème fraîche and a shaving of black truffles completes the seduction.
My guy said he wanted just the dark meat and that’s what he got. Photo: Steven Richter
I don’t have appetite left for my pan seared cod, though it’s rarish as I requested. Clam and potato-leek croquettes lose in the war with listless foam. Slow-baked halibut with caramelized cauliflower purée, sunchokes and grapes fares better in the saltiness of a warm caper vinaigrette. I’d be happiest with roasted Amish chicken with smoked cippolini onions, baby Brussels sprouts and porcini marmalade, or the New York strip à la plancha with irresistible pommes noisette crisp-browned in butter. Does it sometimes sound like too many ingredients in search of a fork? Once in a while that may be so, but mostly the cast of characters come together. With starters $12 to $24 entrees $26 to $34, and a bottle of wine, expect to spend $100 or more per person. The five course chef’s tasting is $85, with wine pairings, $130.
The strip steak is sliced, served with excellent pommes noisettes. Photo: Steven Richter
Nobody in our pampered quartet really wants dessert, but we agree we’ll give the brown butter-apple cranberry crumble with crème fraîche ice cream a chance for research’s sake. It’s a minor deconstruction of a crumble in my book. Instead, we are reduced to hunger again – or something close to it – being forced to submit to the midnight dark chocolate soufflé for two that arrives unbidden. The waiter craters it to accept a pour of hazelnut chocolate sauce as we taste and taste again, sharing the just-made espresso ice cream alongside.
Chocolate dessert soufflé for two is just right for our over-indulged four. Photo: Steven Richter
They could have called it Le Parking. That would have been fun. I actually suggested it to Sally myself several months ago when I called to interview her and the project was moseying along. Months later she said it would be La Silhouette. What a lame idea, I thought. I couldn’t see our town’s voracious first yelpers rushing to La Silhouette. Is it a spa? A hair salon? A brassiere? A Plus-Size dress? Google it, you’ll see. But word is getting around. They’re finding it. They’re schmearing those bagel chips.
362 West 53rd Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. 212 581 2400. Monday through Friday lunch 11:30 am to 2:30 pm. Brunch Saturday 11:30 am to 2:30 pm. Sunday 11:30 am to 3 pm. Dinner Sunday through Monday 5 to 10 pm, Tuesday through Thursday till 11 pm. Friday and Saturday till midnight.