Picholine, the flagship restaurant of chef Terrance Brennan, stands out for being on such a quiet New York City street. Located near the Lincoln Center in New York’s upper west side, the restaurant’s name comes from the small green olive harvested in the Mediterranean and the menu and wine selection also lean toward Mediterranean sources. Opened in 1993 and revamped a few years ago, the windowless dining room could seem a bit stuffy if the food were not so uplifting. Brennan is also the proprietor of Artisanal Fromagerie & Bistro, its dressed down sister restaurant Bar Artisanal, as well as The Artisanal Table Pizzeria Enoteca, but Picholine remains in a league of its own among the chef’s creations.
Brennan has a reputation for whimsy, playing on traditional entrees to create something unexpected (look out for the quotation marks on the menu). I tried the foie gras “shabu shabu”—a disk of tender, uncooked foie gras topped with root vegetable pearls and light greens presented in a bowl, which our waiter poured a delicious sweet and sour bouillon over, cooking it in 15 seconds, in shabu shabu style. The dish was even accompanied by Gewurztraminer, an aromatic white wine often paired with Asian cuisine. The full-bodied wild mushroom risotto, with squash, black truffle butter and a hint of parmesan was an ideal cold-weather dish.
Picholine has also gotten inventive with its pricing. A full three-course meal of two dishes and a dessert or cheese plate costs $92, but diners also have the option of a smaller prix fixe menu for $56 and a range of a la carte options. The restaurant has even introduced a “Menu D’ Economie” featuring tasting flights of three small dishes such as the dry aged beef or mushroom tempura for $20 and tasting plates of a single dish, including the Maine lobster and pumpkin bisque, for $15 each.
Wild game is a specialty of the house (visitors can actually enjoy an entire prix fixe menu of only game dishes), and I was intrigued by the note on the menu under the Wild Scottish Game entrée that “birdshot may be present.” In the end I selected the millbrook venison au poivre, with a crisp side of three pain perdu squares (aka French toast) and sweet huckleberry jam. Cooked medium rare, the dish was the ideal balance of moist texture with a peppery punch.
A meal at a Brennan restaurant is not complete without a sampling of the grand cheese selection. You can order a cheese plate by region, such as USA, Switzerland or Spain, or you can go off-menu and select whatever suits your tastes. My dining companion and I decided to do the latter. With the aid of the restaurant’s friendly and knowledgeable fromager (or “cheese wiz” as our wonderful waiter dryly joked) we made our selection of five. We enjoyed a great cross-section of cheeses, focusing on the soft and pungent, from the Spanish Pau Sant Mateu goat cheese to the bold Grayson from Virginia. My favorite was Switzerland’s more firm Vacherin Fribourgeois—a cow milk with a mildly acidulous taste.
The meal concluded with a sampling of desserts that were as striking as the entrees. One of my favorites was the small loaf of brioche soaked through with caramel and apple, which made for a wonderful feeling when you bit down on the caramel-soaked bread. The crisp citrus dish of blended shaved ice and fruit was as refreshing as the brioche was rich.
The chef’s skill and sense of humor were summed up in the quarter-size sampling of pistachio cotton candy. Unexpected, satisfying and inventive, it was an appropriate conclusion to the wonderful meal.
35 W 64th St # 1
New York, NY 10023-6728