The scent of smoldering wood is unmistakable. But in this posh slice of midtown real estate — an artful composition of wood beams, soaring platinum-hued ceilings, understated flower-print wallpaper, and stork motifs — its source is a mystery.
Then a server glides by carrying a tapered glass cloche swirling with a crystal ball’s worth of hazy applewood smoke. With a lift and a twirl, the campground aromas waft through the dining room. The fog fades to reveal a dome of pale yellow mousseline — the whipped-cream-bonused hollandaise inset with a liberal quenelle of American sturgeon caviar. Soft planks of smoked sturgeon hide beneath the egg-rich blanket, tangled with a buttery sauerkraut and supported by a burnished pastry crust. The concentrated sensory immersion is meant to evoke the choucroute garnie of Alsace, birthplace of chef Gabriel Kreuther.
At Kreuther’s new, namesake restaurant (41 West 42nd Street, 212-257-5826), set within the ground floor of the W.R. Grace building across 42nd Street from Bryant Park, a staff in formal dress disperses the smoky perfume with great frequency, thanks to the sturgeon tart’s popularity. Warm and sweet, it’s the best kind of aromatherapy: the kind you can eat.
Those familiar with Kreuther’s tenure at the Modern, Danny Meyer’s pioneering museum restaurant attached to the MoMA, will recognize the dish and a few other of the twenty-year New York vet’s signatures, like a lavish squab and foie gras croustillant wrapped in Tunisian feuille de brick pastry. In these spacious, stylish confines, the old hits still electrify.
Order it as part of the restaurant’s $98 four-course dinner (or the $52 two-course lunch) — the dining room’s only options, save for a lengthy tasting menu priced at $185. (If you’re adequately equipped to splurge, may we suggest the private chef’s table situated adjacent to the kitchen?) Wallet challenges aside, even the entry-level feedbags include a duo of amuses — a show-stopping tomato-watermelon gelée balanced with crisped pig ear slivers in Tim Burton-esque glass vessels, perhaps? — along with two separate bread courses (savory bundt-shaped kugelhopf with green, oniony fromage blanc; and a bamboo ash baguette) plus a selection of chocolate petits fours perched on a pile of dried cocoa beans in a hollowed-out cacao pod:
This is high-wire haute cuisine with all the decorum and flourishes: dramatically shaped glass and flatware made for consuming dramatically plated food, a 30-page French-focused wine list, and impeccable service that’s equal parts attentive and unobtrusive.
Beverage director Emilie Perrier will happily uncork you a $2,350 Montrachet Grand Cru; the gracious French native also offers half-pours of her by-the-glass selections for budget-conscious customers looking for a taste of the good life. That’s how I wound up with a Champagne-yeast-brewed dry cider from cult New Hampshire cidery Farnum Hill to pair with the caviar-topped sturgeon. Its tart astringency was revelatory with the dish’s richness and complemented the woodsmoke with subtle fruit undertones. My table also swooned from glasses of Macvin rouge, a curious, sweet, fortified red wine from the Jura that echoed the cherry notes in pastry chef Marc Aumont’s kirsch sorbet, one of several components in a sculptural chocolate-cherry dessert. Perrier and Aumont worked with Kreuther at the Modern, and the team’s familiarity makes for an altogether seamless experience, supported by the boss’s first-rate cooking.
He’s an able architect of game and offal, studding hillocks of creamy foie gras terrine with crumbled almonds and gamy duck pastrami, poaching lobster in melted lardo from woolly Mangalitsa hogs, and broiling Virginia quail in truffle juice. Yet his ability to bring complex, multifaceted plates into harmonious focus might be even more impressive than his masterful way with meats. That liver terrine rests in a vibrant cantaloupe purée and shrouds gently sour preserved porcini. A river of black truffle jus connects meaty hen-of-the-woods mushrooms to the crisp quail legs, one of which holds a truffle shaving the size of a poker chip. On the same plate, Kreuther lays an ethereal, nearly translucent poached quail egg over nutty black rice and sandwiches quail-liver mousse between two discs of sharp, raw radish, resulting in a kaleidoscopic composition of varying flavors, textures, and temperatures.
Even when considering smaller details, like tableside pour-over Chemex coffee service, the execution is fastidious. In addition to a cheese plate, the kitchen pipes whipped roquefort into a mille-feuille, layering the savory napoleon’s herbed puff pastry with black truffles and pairing it with black mission figs.
As at his former digs, the chef also offers an ambitious bar menu. The copper-toned lounge is where you’ll find Kreuther’s crisp tartes flambées, as well as homier dishes like red-wine-braised tripes gratinées. Pick your poison — the more of this man’s food made available for purchase, the better.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 25, 2015