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On a sunny, cool afternoon at Chanterelle, the pale dining-room's apricot walls are aglow. Every white-cloth-covered table is filled with the lunch crowd, mostly businessmen from nearby Wall Street. There is a quiet assurance to this room, an understated, almost Spartan elegance that serves as a solid undertone to David Waltuck's French-inspired cuisine. The room, the crowd and the food are all reasons to venture downtown into Tribeca for a meal.
Even though Waltuck relies on a classic French style in the kitchen, he has also translated that into some rustic dishes with echoes of peasant cooking. Hearty offerings are almost always present on the menu, mixed in with elegant fare like terrine of foie gras coated with black peppercorns and raw tuna with gingered vegetables.
Among Waltuck's signature appetizers is a grilled seafood sausage, a delicate mélange of scallops and lobster bound together with a bit of fish mousse and pine nuts--beware: this dish may seem undercooked to shellfish neophytes. Other outstanding appetizers include Pemaquid oysters with sauerkraut and caviar, and, on a recent wintertime visit, there was a delicious soup with red beans and duck confit that was almost a meal in itself.
One of Waltuck's special talents is with sweetbreads. A recent dish included the entire gland, and it lay on an incredibly rich veal stock lightened with Sherry wine vinegar and served with wild mushrooms. Venison and lamb are always superbly prepared here. Seafood also is expertly cooked, usually with a special seasoning twist or presentation.
The cheese cart, which is not normally available at lunch, is one of the city's finest. The waiters are knowledgeable about the numerous selections that include cheeses from goat, sheep and cow's milk from the major European cheese-producing nations: France, Italy and Spain. At lunch, a waiter will prepare a plate for you of six cheeses including a Montrachet goat cheese, a triple-cream Gratte Paille and an aged Spanish cheese.
If there's a shortcoming, it's the desserts. While sorbets and an offering called a tropical fruit soup are light, delicate and flavorful (and, in fact, an easy way to end a big meal here) the lustier chocolate desserts and tarts fall short. Stick to the cheeses.
The wine list is an eclectic mix. It has a strong Champagne roster with everything from 1983 Roederer Cristal Rosé ($300) to 1980 Krug Clos de Mesnil ($250). White Burgundies include a 1989 Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet Clavoillon ($125) and a 1989 Louis Latour Montrachet ($285). White wines from lesser-known regions are lower priced; a 1992 Sancerre from the Domaine de Martigny is $28 and a 1990 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, Chateau de la Nerthe costs $50.
The red wine selection includes top American labels from Robert Mondavi and Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon to Calera Pinot Noir. Red Rhône wines also take up a page, with top producers like Jaboulet Hermitage and Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Beaucastel. There are some older Bordeaux from average vintages, with first growths represented in 1985 Mouton-Rothschild in half bottles ($70), 1983 Château Margaux ($165) and 1983 Château Latour ($165). Red Burgundy is well represented with bottles ranging from a 1990 Chorey Côte de Beaune by Tollot-Beaut ($40) to a 1978 Romanée-St.-Vivant from Arnoux for $325.
The after-dinner list also covers all the bases from Cognac, Armagnac, marc, Calvados, eau-de-vie and a small selection of single malt Scotches and American Bourbons.
Chanterelle allows cigar smoking in an alcove off the entrance. While a bit small, it is the perfect place to study the restaurant's cigar menu--that's right, a cigar menu. Recent offerings included Avo, Macanudo, Hoyo de Monterrey, Partagas, Pleiades, H. Upmann and Dunhill. There was a range of sizes, including robustos, double coronas and panatelas. Although the humidity level in the humidor needed a bit of adjustment, the cigars were well kept.
Prices at Chanterelle are high, even by New York standards, although the prix fixe lunch at $30 is a true bargain. Dinner for two here can easily reach $150 a person, with wine and tip. For that, however, you'll be treated to a simply elegant evening amid the restaurant's quiet luxury.
2 Harrison Street
Phone: (212) 966-6960
Lunch: prix fixe: $30
Dinner: prix fixe: three course, $67; six course, $87
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