[Pigging by Wilfrid: March 17, 2008]
It seems only yesterday - in fact it was fall of 2005 - when I enjoyed the pell mell opening of this lively bistro on the Tribeca stretch of West Broadway.
The reason to pay attention again? The traditional, one-sided plastic covered menu has a box headed "Les Abats". Pass the mustard and the Rabelais.
David Feau, formerly of Lutèce, brought the crowds for the first few month's of CR's existence, serving decent steaks on slabs of wood, which diners paired with their choices of sauces and sides.
The wheels turned, Feau moved on, other chefs (how many I don't know) came and went, and other bistros opened. The current tocque, Pierre Landet, happened to engage my intention in the happiest way - explaining to me that he substituted garlicky longaniza for the harder-to-source saucisse de Toulouse in his cassoulet at Jules Bistro (another member of the Georges Fourgeois bistro grouplet). He then mentioned kidneys.
Kidneys is not a word heard often in New York. In fact, the last time I recall seeing rognons de veau on a menu was at La Côte Basque - otherwise, good luck with pig's kidneys down on Bayard Street. For these tasty little organs, however, one had to head west.
And indeed, the short but appealing selection of offal at Cercle Rouge encompasses veal kidneys, the sweetbread glands of the lamb, as well as its tongue, and the tripes of the cow in the mode of Caen: a Norman preparation typically featuring long cooking in cider with a dash of Calvados. I didn't quite have room for the latter.
I thought it fair to give chef Landet's home-made pâté a trial.
This is half a portion, as I'd helped myself before remembering to take a photograph. Cornichons, some nose-clearing French mustard, and halved cherry tomatoes for prettiness. The pâté was firm, livery and pistachio-studded.
A 2006 Morgon Beaujolais seemed a good choice for an organ feast - and it was. A salad of sweetbreads was next, the pieces of gland cooked à la meunière and served over some green leaves.
This was an average composition, the sweetbreads needing a little more seasoning, or something in any case to give them a lift. I wouldn't send someone across town to eat this. The lamb's tongue was a different matter:
The onyl complaint I had here was the narrow vessel in which the dish was served: it looked splendid, but led to a lot of sauce on the tablecloth. This was an excellently conceived and balanced dish, and I licked it clean. The menu describes the sauce as a warm vinaigrette with a number of components: "capers, cornichons, shallots, walnuts, hard boiled-eggs, olive oil, sherry vinegar and mixed fresh herbs".
The sweet vinegar was a good touch; the fine pieces of walnut added grittiness; with the presence of the eggs, my main impression was of a warm sauce gribiche. It was delicious, and enhanced a main ingredient which could have stood alone - tender, seriously ripe and sheepy slices of tender tongue. If this dish is executed with consistency, it's one to seek out.
The kidney dish was good too, and had the merit of novelty. To me, at least. The combination of kidneys in a Bordelaise sauce with porcini mushrooms is familiar enough. Perhaps in some French region it's customary to serve this ragout over thick tubes of cheesy macaroni. I've not come across it.
It's a rib-sticking combo, and one to try before Spring settles in. The very long tubes of macaroni are a challenge - either made in house or unusually sourced. The overall effect, superbly rustic.
Moving slightly off-message, a platter of bouillabaisse showed up too, although I admit it scarcely got touched (don't worry, it won't be wasted). The broth which I tasted was aptly seasoned and saffroned. One can see immediately that the quantity of fish is generous. I may be able to attest to the quality when I have some space for it.
I nibbled at some cheese - St Maur, Langres, Bleu D'Auvergnes - and the only complaint was that it was served too cold.
This is not a review of the length and breadth of C.R.'s menu. Certainly some aspects of the operation need attention. I don't expect to see a specialty cocktail list every time I sit down for dinner, but we have reached the point at which anywhere serving cocktails at all needs to make them comptetently from fresh ingredients. I believe I detected lime cordial in one drink ordered - in any case, the drink wasn't very nice.
Learn more about the joint right here.
I learned about the C.R. offal menu having met the chef at an event organized by the restaurant's publicist. This intelligence led me to re-visit, but my visit was unannounced, and I went unrecognized and un-comped.