La Silhouette Jumps in la Time Machine


Quite frankly, La Silhouette isn’t cool. Its ugly stretch of West 53rd Street, in the no-man’s-land between Midtown and Hell’s Kitchen, does little to attract scenesters. Salt and pepper are both seasonings here and the most common hair color. The décor is 1990s chic even though the restaurant opened just months ago. And price points reflect an era of expense-account dinners fueled by Jeroboams and maybe some Colombian marching powder. That said, chef David Malbequi’s upscale, mostly French fare generally charms the tastebuds, while a superb front-of-house staff actually seems to care—gasp!—about the well-being of its customers. Old school is new school.

An awkward front bar and hostess station greets diners before opening onto a windowless central dining area. Nicest is a sunken back room that looks out onto a rear patio. This boxy, banquette-filled space resembles a fancy cruise ship, with stairs leading up to the lido deck (actually a private event area). Red-and-white horizontal stripes adorn one wall, and the carpet sports a wavy, swirling pattern. All that’s missing is the seasickness.

But wait. Dinner begins with paper-thin bagel chips and creamy herbed goat cheese drizzled with olive oil—addictive nibbles while you peruse the menu. And the freebies keep on coming: A waiter soon approaches your table, offering not one but three types of bread. Really, what greater pleasure exists than a warm, buttered, crusty roll? Answer: nothing.

Among the appetizers, savor the torchon of foie gras ($24), presented naked on the plate, flanked only by Melba toast and a quenelle of slightly sweet quince and pear chutney. Outdated, maybe, but tasty. Leeks vinaigrette gets an upgrade, artfully composed with duck prosciutto and slivers of Manchego for $14. But the baked potato and black truffle soup ($16) needs work. A hollowed-out spud encases salty, overly chicken-stock-y broth, with grilled-cheese “soldiers” (finger-size sandwiches) alongside—basically what Louis XIV would have served at Versailles had he been an Applebee’s franchisee.

Take comfort in a juicy roast chicken entrée ($26), skin crackling and golden brown, escorted by Brussels sprouts and a porcini marmalade—Mom’s version will never taste as good. An excellently prepared baked halibut ($30) pairs with caramelized cauliflower purée and comes dotted with tiny florets, sliced red grapes, and capers. And pappardelle ($26) finds a bedfellow in wild boar and kale ragout, a pillow of ricotta completing the love nest.

As for desserts, cheesecake ($10) has little flavor and an odd texture—was it made in a dish-sponge factory? The pretty chocolate crepe cake ($10), while visually striking, still can’t beat Lady M’s party of a pastry.

Perhaps because it’s near the Theater District, La Silhouette offers a three-course, $38 prix fixe between 5 and 6:30 every evening, featuring about half the dishes from the regular menu (though the New York strip is swapped out for hanger steak). Dining here at full-fare leaves your wallet $95-per-person emptier, after booze, tax, and tip. Would I rather spend my dough elsewhere? Probably, though I’ll take the set dinner option any day. After all, I have a 1990s expense account—it just hasn’t been adjusted for inflation.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 27, 2011

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