Okay, so Keith McNally doesn’t always get it right. And Pulino’s, which served pizza on the Bowery in a city with more pizza than you can shake a paddle at, didn’t work out. McNally pulled the plug on Pulino’s vibrant exterior neon signage last year (auctioning part of it for $1,000 at an event held inside the space in December), and set about transforming the pretty tiled and mirrored interior into Cherche Midi, which opened in June.
And we love it. Or at least most of it.
First off: what we’re not sure about. We think the typography on the exterior and menus looks like a placeholder, as if the real branding is going to arrive at some point soon. And those toilets… the doors are so heavy they could bring on arthritis. Also, they lead from designated gents and ladies to a communal interior. Which most ladies, in particular, aren’t thrilled by.
And then there’s the lighting. Which is very… yellow.
But there’s a lot we do like. “It’s a feminised version of the Minetta Tavern,” said Keith when we asked him what he was aiming for on the opening week. We hadn’t quite made that leap by looking at the brassiere tiling and bar details; we’d got a bit more Pastis, and a touch of Balthazar. But we do love those red leather booths. A McNally restaurant isn’t complete without a booth. And, predictably, the room is buzzy, with a smart mix of ultra high-heeled women with black lipstick, and men with interesting hats. The ambience is appealing indeed. It looks and feels the part. And the burger is excellent. If there’s one thing McNally always gets right, it’s the burger. We think this one might be as good as the one at the Minetta Tavern, which has been one of the best burgers in town since McNally reopened it in 2009.
As for the rest of the menu – everything we’ve tried since the opening has been uniformly excellent. The steak tartare, the pan-roasted foie gras with rhubarb compote, and the frog legs in verdant green garlicky velouté are all superb Gallic flourishes. You could happily shift the parmesan custard from appetizer to dessert if you fancied, and the hamachi crudo with yuzu, radish and shiso is a weird and lovely surprise – wandering in from a totally different restaurant, and bringing a touch of Tokyo to Paris. As for mains: the filet mignon is as good as at any steak house in the city, and the steak frites, fish dishes and lobster ravioli are all knock out. Oh, and the bread. The bread! So good.
It’s easy to forget that for all McNally’s obsessive attention to design detail and concept, he’s a restaurateur who understands that no matter how cool the room looks, if the kitchen doesn’t do its job with elan, no one worth having back will be coming back. We’ll be going back to Cherche Midi a lot. And we’re getting the roasted cauliflower every time. C
Cherche Midi, 282 Bowery, New York, NY 10012, USA
+1 212 226 3055; cherchemidiny.com