[Pigging by Wilfrid: March 2, 2017]
A second visit to this Upper East Side survivor, at the generous invitation of genial co-owner, host and chef Christian Schienle.
And coming up to 28 years, this place is now a genuine neighborhood treasure, not least because so much of its former competition has melted away.
Yes, there's La Mirabelle on 86th Street (actually a few years older), and the more casual Demarchelier. But who can list all the places which have gone? Trois Jean, of course; much more recently L'Absinthe. The Simone isn't French in quite the same way. One result for Sel et Poivre--a good one--is that it seems relentlessly busy; packed early on a Thursday evening. Another result--neither positive nor negative, for me--is that it has among its customers a well-heeled, well-suited crowd looking for traditional good cooking. I don't remember the last time I saw so many men in ties below the four star level. (Fine by me: I eat the food, not the people.)
As ever, the menu is comprehensive: daily specials, lunch and brunch, a dinner prix fixe, a lengthy dinner carte, and--right about now, anyway, a wild game menu, featuring New Zealand red deer, Texas antelope, quail, and boar, and other good things.
And from that menu, we started with a firm, oniony wild boar pâté which was just about my bite of the night.
Hard to photograph as anything other than something very brown, lentil soup was warming on a chilly evening, aromatic with smoked pork pieces.
Then another intercourse, familiar from my first dinner here: classic snails in butter with garlic and herbs, piping hot, and quite plump enough.
If you'd ask me what I expected to enjoy least, looking at the evening's bill of fare, I'd have guessed the salmon--always a safe choice. In fact, its simplicity helped it--neatly grilled salmon (not dry), with a straightforward pairing of beans--tender white and al dente green. A light white wine sauce.
I implied above, and consciously so, that Sel et Poivre caters successfully to an uptown crowd. But that's not all it does. There are younger diners, bar diners, and there's a very good burger (beef, not antelope). Simplicity, again, is often a virtue in a burger: chef Christian served it straight, without cheese or garnish, because he's proud of the meat. He should be proud of the fries too, served in tall cones, twice-cooked, and exemplary.
The wild boar osso bucco wasn't my preferred treatment of the meat, but that's just because I'm not the biggest fan of tomato sauces. The meat was well-prepared, slow-cooked and flaky.
I'm all about red wine sauces, but if you like Italian-style osso bucco, this will hit the mark. The mushroom risotto, strongly flavored with liquid from the mushrooms, made perfect sense as the complement.
I can never do much justice to dessert after four or five (or six) savory courses. Again, it's personal, but I'd take the tarte tatin over the mousse. Chocolate lovers will disagree. Cheese might suit some tastes, especially after a game dish.
Steering that line between old-school and still relevant, Sel et Poivre has plenty of gas in the tank.