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Picholine is perfect for special occasions

The classically elegant dining room at Picholine There is a reason Terrance Brennan's Picholine (35 W. 64th Street, NY, NY 212-724-8585) was nominated for a James Beard Foundation award for the country's Outstanding Restaurant in 2007.

Actually, there are many reasons - superior food and service, classic decor, an amazing wine list, and attention to detail.  One can't forget the cheese cart - homage to silky, stinky and savory fromage. 

I was treated by a wonderful friend to birthday dinner recently at Brennan's NY Times three-star rated restaurant.

The way to my heart is clearly through my palate.

From my first birthday when I dived face first into my cake, I've loved celebrating my day.  Opening the menu at Picholine, I was delighted to see it had been customized with a birthday greeting to yours truly.

The flute of Taittinger Prestige Rosé ($24), aromatic with berry flavors and full of crisp, tiny bubbles, set the tone for the celebration. Service was seamless and subtly attentive, although our server seemed to suffer ever so slightly from ennui.

Nevertheless, nothing detracted from Chef Brennan's menu, a $98 three-course prix fixe menu.

Brennan, a New York culinary fixture, opened Picholine 15 years ago. The restaurant and menu was redesigned in 2007.

Brennan introduced diners to the bliss of cheese after dinner with his amazing artisanal cheese service featuring an array of goat, sheep and cow's milk cheeses in textures ranging from hard to runny and flavors from mild to pungent.

With brief stints at Daniel and Cipriani, Chef de Cuisine Carmine DiGiovanni, has been a presence at Picholine and Brennan's other restaurants since 2001.  He made a brief appearance in the dining room to chat with guests the evening we dined.

I started with the Chef's signature prelude, Sea Urchin Panna Cotta, richly flavored with the tastes and textures of the ocean. Sea urchin roe and lobster stock anchor the silken chilled panna cotta, topped with a lavish dollop of farm-raised oestra caviar and delicately wreathed with nori for a lovely contrast in texture. 

My dinner companion selected the Soft Shell Frites served with Chickpea Fries and Cucumber-Mint Glass. The softshell crab was delicately and lightly fried, a perfect blend of tastes and textures.

My friend and I both adore rabbit. We each happily ordered the Hudson Valley Rabbit with fresh tagliatelle, and wild burgundy snails. The immensely earthy snails and the tender game were sublime; each bite of the  tagliatelle was lush perfection. I accompanied my rabbit with a glass of Dashe's 2007 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel ($14), a voluptuous and velvety mouthful bursting with fruit.

For dessert, my companion opted for savory, choosing three very different artisanal cheeses from the fabled fromage cart, while I succumbed to my sweet tooth with the Tiramisu Napoleon with Marsala Ice Cream, White Coffee Sabayon, and Coffee Glass.

As impressive as the cuisine is, the meticulous attention to detail is stunning. At the end of the meal, we were presented petit fours as well as a simple and elegant chocolate cake garnished with a white chocolate oval and enscribed in dark chocolate with the salutation Happy Birthday. I was sent home with a souvenir menu exactly like the one I'd ordered from too - a nice touch for a foodie.

I couldn't have been more thrilled.

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