[Pigging by Wilfrid: July 26, 2018]
Everyone has pronounced on Frenchette already, the four month-old entrant in the city's...bistro? brasserie? canteen? stakes by McNally veterans Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson.
What do I have to add? Well don't worry about whether it's a super-luxurious brasserie or a boomingly loud cafeteria, as various critics have opined. It's a New York restaurant. It's two steps from Bâtard, which once was that classic New York bistro Montrachet. It has a bar room with tables packed crazily tight, and a dining room in the rear. The decor in the former is less art deco, as Pete Wells suggested, than the kind of curvy wood paneling you might have found around a home bar in a suburban house, circa-Revolutionary Road.
You can't get in, of course, as it retains the McNally aura if not the ownership. Well, you can if you go late, or if you roll up before opening time on the day before a public holiday. I did, and found the doors open early: the staff (lovely) were happy to seat early arrivals, although they weren't taking orders before 5.30.
A good thing: the menu changes almost daily. That does mean, of course, that if your heart is set on devilled blowfish tails, or percebes, or even whelks, they were probably on last night's menu. I settled for razor clams "casino," having been assured they wouldn't be smothered in cheese and breadcrumbs. "A lighter version."
True, although it was more like one razor clam, although with the flesh (unexpectedly) very finely diced, it's possible that more than one clam had been squeezed back into the shell. The dressing was indeed delicate, the shallots to the fore.
That was a snack (okay, an "amuse"). From the appetizers (okay, "hors d'oeuvres"), I chose what seemed to be two dishes in one. Inspired perhaps by the success in blending garlicky snails with scrambled eggs, the kitchen had gone for a collision between leeks gribiche, and fresh herring with potato. I'd have happily ordered either, but they went well enough together.
The herring was particularly good, late in the season. Herring and sliced potatoes could be a twice-a-week dish for me.
So far so good, and the famous wine-list, packed with cloudy numbers from the farmyard, was producing some gems at my waiter's recommendation. I was offered a dialogue with the wine director, Jorge Riera, but he's an imposing figure to say the least (especially in a small, crowded room), and I feared his gimlet eye would compel me to order a magnum.
Then things went a bit pear-shaped.
Others who have eaten here have enjoyed tenderly braised lamb shoulder and luscious daube of lamb (perhaps the same dish, come to think of it). Lucky them. On this day, the offering was lamb shoulder. It's a cut for slow cooking, with plenty of sinew and fat which needs to break down during cooking and become digestible.
The main reason I ordered the dish was that the signature duck frites5 features magret de canard, a cut I can cook very successfully at home, and which I do not want to eat underdone. A lot of restaurants undercook duck, leaving it chewy and counter-intuitively bland. In a display of versatility, the kitchen here proved it could undercook lamb shoulder too.
A pity, because the plate was gorgeously composed, and the garnishes impeccable. But the pink flesh was hard to chew, hard to swallow, and as I found out later (I'll spare you) impossible to digest. The strips of sinew were taut as guitar strings. A great pity.
Well that's my luck, and anyone else giving this place a whirl will probably not have that very singular problem. Everything else, and especially the wine and service, was charming.