Classical French bistro finds a home in the least classical of places. Located right across the street from a giant Whole Foods and the ever-changing Bowery Street mural, well dressed businessmen seek refuge inside Cherche Midi’s 80-seat restaurant.
The exterior of the newest spot by restaurateur Keith McNally blends more into the landscape of Nolita with a white washed brick and wood paneled front, with classic lettering. However, the inside is a different story, sticking to his traditional French-braisserie format.
Light pink tables fill the spaces with red private booths and long benches filling the front half of the room. A short white panel divides the front space from the back dining area, which seems to be exclusively occupied by those over 40 years old, the clientele expected to spend significantly more then the young, hip crowd scarfing down their Prime Rib Burger in the front.
The wine list has reasonably priced glasses and carafes of wine, for those trying to avoid spending outrageous amount of money on liquor. It’s the one aspect of the menu that’s actually reasonably priced; a pleasant surprise to find a glass of wine for $10.
Cherche Midi offers a very classical French menu. It doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel, instead elevating classical preparations of simple dishes. The waitress offered very little guidance with the menu, pointing out a variety of dishes that steered away from any of the top reviewed options. We opted to stick to our guns, ordering the so-called favorites our friends and admired critics had suggested.
For the appetizer portion of our meal, we began with the Pot de Fromage.
At first glance, the dish looks like a heavy pot of scorching cheese. Instead, the golden brown layer hides a light, airy parmesan custard with a consistency similar to that of a souffle. It’s extremely delicate, creamy and simply seductive. Anchovy butter toast on the side adds a salty, fishiness to the soft, subtle pot de fromage. Order this dish immediately, and if anyone knows how to make this at home, please send the recipe my way.
Pan seared piece of Foie Gras, served warm, sits on top of a slightly tart and sweet rhubarb compote. The foie is cooked incredibly well, but lacks any of the elevated levels of flavor one would expect from a high class establishment. Buttery brioche steals the show, which is saying a lot about this dish. I loved the delightful, sweet brioche with little pieces of foie on top adding another layer of creaminess. It’s a good dish, but not the best foie dish.
For my main course, I order the lobster ravioli served in a ginger beurre blanc.
Nine circular pieces of ravioli sit in a sauce of butter, cream and ginger. Each delicate piece of pasta is stuffed with a creamy lobster filling and stopped with shards of piquillo peppers. It’s a lovely ode to the influences of Italy on French cuisine, with the fresh, seasonal lobster. One of the better dishes of the night, it’s creamy, delicious and bursting with lobster flavor.
The main star coming out of the Cherche Midi kitchen is the Dry Aged Prime Rib.
Dry aged prime rib cut a quarter of an inch thick is the king of meats. Thickly marbled slab of prime rib served in a puddle of its own juices is rich and delicious. There’s a subtle gaminess to the prime rib, with a thin layer of fat surrounding the pink meat. On the side, puffy stacks of pomme soufflés serve as the lighter version of the traditional meat and potatoes. They’re hollowed, fried pieces of potato that are as airy and crisp as anything you’ve tasted.
Just when you think you cannot eat anymore meat, potatoes or gravy, the wait staff brings over a little gem lettuce salad in a light vinaigrette. It’s a refreshing, mid meal digestif. A lovely sight of greens in a meal filled with cheese, foie, meat and pasta.
After a decadent meal of foie gras, seductive pot de fromage, thick juicy prime rib and delightful little packets of lobster ravioli, it felt bizarre to emerge out onto the sounds of traffic and darkness of Bowery. I walked out, to see hipsters heading to a dive bar down the block and a drunk kid eating a slice of pizza. The location of the restaurant seems extremely out of place, only attributed to the space being once occupied to Keith McNally’s last failed venture, Pulino’s.
The service could use some serious improvements, and break down the walls dividing the younger crowd from the older. They make it extremely clear that they are anxious and ready to churn over tables as quickly as possible. Very little time is wasted between appetizers and entrees.
There were some real stars of the night, and the kitchen has plenty of potential if they keep churning out the outstanding prime ribs and perfect pot de fromage. But I am not anxious to run back. I would much rather revisit their other establishments, Balthazar and Minetta Tavern before returning to Cherche Midi.
Cherche Midi – 282 Bowery Street – New York, NY
Location: Nolita, NY
Type: French, Bistro
Perfect For: Special Occasions, Date Night, Dinner with Parents, Celebrity Sightings
Favorite Dishes: Pot de Fromage, Prime Rib, Lobster Ravioli