Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sel et Poivre - Escape to a Cozy French Oasis

In the middle of the hectic city landscape, as New Yorkers, we love to find those hidden gems, the diamonds in the rough that help us escape and forget about it.  Sel et Poivre is an example of just that, a cozy neighborhood joint, serving up classically prepared French cuisine in the midst of all the action.

Invited here for a press dinner along with my fellow blogger comrades, we enjoyed a peaceful evening of great food, wine and hospitable service.  Although I wouldn't usually consider a restaurant in this part of town, my experience impressed me and made me file it away into my mental Rolodex of underrated city finds.

Set in the bustling Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan, Sel et Poivre is sandwiched between a multitude of shops on the busy Lexington Avenue between 64th and 65th streets.  While it's common to avoid this neighborhood all together during the day, as it's considered touristy and overcrowded, in the evening it becomes a peaceful oasis that makes it a pleasant area for dining out.

Despite its very French menu and overall atmosphere, Sel et Poivre is actually run by Christian and Pamela, Austrian owners who have deep knowledge of the cuisine and embody the European lifestyle.  The entire experience at Sel et Poivre feels personal, as we noticed many regulars taking a seat at their table, being greeted by Christian's warm smile and the staff's overall attentiveness.  A comfortably full dining room on a rainy Tuesday night served as proof that this is not only a neighborhood haunt, it's somewhat of an institution.

Regaling us with a tasting menu of their most popular items, we got to experience a little bit of everything.  It was great to see that despite a large offering, the quality and the presentation of the food wasn't compromised.  Here are a few of my highlights:

Escargots - I'm a big fan of escargot in general, but these rocked my world - and they rocked it hard.  Served up on little flat serving spoons, each one was topped with a generous portion of the meaty escargot that was then topped with garlic butter and fragrant herbs.  Each bite provided a burst of flavor, embodying both earthiness and luxury.

Mussels Marinier - Although a simple dish, I believe mussels to be an accurate barometer of a chef's skills.  I'm happy to say this one totally delivered, consisting of beautiful pieces of what I think were PEI mussels, dressed with a classic leek and onion sautee, cooked in white wine.  The whole thing was light, flavorful and tasted like the sea - simplicity laced with perfection.

Wild Striped Bass - While I wouldn't normally get excited about this dish, Sel et Poivre did it right.  Boasting a beautifully browned crust and a tender flaky interior, the fish was a great example of a mastered French technique.  Once again, simplicity and high quality ingredients shined with a side of artichoke hearts and licoricey fennel rounding out its flavor profile.

Tarte Tatin - French desserts make me go gaga, as was the case with this gorgeous tarte tatin.  Loving the chunky apple on top, and the crumbly buttery crust on the bottom, it was everything that a French dessert should be - uncomplicated, clean, yet still a little indulgent. 

Service and Cost:
Boasting a very loyal staff, Christian mentioned that Sel et Poivre has in some cases retained their team for decades.  Everyone was totally on point, especially with their plating and serving skills.  Our food was presented to us with care and it's evident that the staff takes great pride in their work and that they enjoy doing it.

Costs are surprisingly inexpensive, given the high profile neighborhood - allowing you too truly eat as a king on a city dweller's budget.

Appetizers - $7.75 - $15.95
Entrees - $15.95 - $32.95

Pasta - $15.95 - $22.95
Sides - $6 - $7

3 Mmmms

Sel et Poivre - 853 Lexington Avenue, New York NY 10021
6 Train to 68th Street/Hunter College or F Train to 63rd Street


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