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My boyfriend and I ate at La Silhouette last month and enjoyed their tasting menu of citrus-soaked daurade, veal that melted in our mouths, and the biggest chocolate soufflé I’ve ever seen. I gave the food 4.5 donuts but mentioned that the kitchen was still running a little slow with only two weeks of service under its belt, so co-owner Sally Chironis invited us back for a second chance.
Ironically, we had been looking for an upscale brunch spot only the Sunday before but had found every restaurant we thought of closed. Had we remembered that La Silhouette is now serving brunch, we would’ve been treated to:
I love a good bread basket, and this one had some real high points. The chocolate-banana muffin was the major one thanks to the crunchy sugar topping and the crust of chocolate chips. The buttery croissants flaked apart in our fingers, and the trio of fruit spreads that accompanied the basket were all delicious with the soft marbled pound cake.
This cocktail put your usual brunch mimosa to total shame. It was super sour and loaded with peaches, raspberries, blueberries, pineapple, and what my boyfriend thought was rhubarb. Rhubarb!
Unsurprisingly, I don’t drink bloody marys, but my boyfriend assured me this was a good one. He loves a little protein in his cocktails and welcome the baby shrimp, which even I tried and liked when swiped through the Old Bay Seasoning on the rim of the glass.
It’s funny that the menu called this the “classic” croque madame, because it tasted quite different than others I’ve had. I don’t think I even knew what a croque madame or monsieur was until a few years ago, and now it’s hard for me to imagine anyone eating anything else at brunch. It’s basically just a grilled cheese sandwich. Filled with ham. And then covered with more cheese. With a fried egg on top. What could be better, right? The difference with this one was that where most croques I’ve had have been mostly cheese-flavored, this one was heavy on the ham. Instead of a single slice, there was a big pile of thinly-sliced ham between the buttery slices of crunchy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside bread.
The other plus was the side of Dijon mayo for dipping. I actually thought it was some sort of wasabi mayo, but of course a French-influenced restaurant went the Dijon mustard route. The chef noted the European fondness for mayonnaise on French fries but wanted to add a little kick to it. Oui!
My boyfriend has been wanting smoked salmon for breakfast lately, so this dish was perfect for him. Even I, usually so wary of the extra-seafoodiness of smoked fish, thought the flavors were very well-balanced. The smoke wasn’t overpowering thanks to the lemony Hollandaise, and I liked the way the firm English muffin provided a substantial base.
The night before, we had been to Serendipity 3, arguably the most famous dessert restaurant in the city, and we thought this sundae not only stood up to the one we had there but surpassed it in some ways. There’s a time and a place for over-the-top, brimming-with-every-topping-imaginable sundaes (more often for me than most people!) but Sunday afternoon is not one of them.
This felt like a sundae for adults. A sundae with lighter, better ingredients. It started with the crunchy pink meringue on top, which we later found tiny chunks of throughout the sundae. There was the Chantilly (vanilla) cream, the large slices of beautiful strawberries, the dark chocolate syrup, and the thick vanilla bean ice cream, too. I’m not usually one to praise desserts that don’t knock me over with richness, but this was just a great way to end brunch.
It doesn’t take much to make me happy when it comes to cupcakes, but these were just so-so for me. I didn’t think the cake portion of the red velvet one was moist enough, but the cream cheese icing with its bits of cake topping was incredible. The coconut cupcake was fine but not memorable. I loved the peanut butter cake of the chocolate-peanut butter cupcake, but the icing was like eating straight shortening. Peanut butter and chocolate are two of my very favourite flavors in the world, but this was my least-favourite cupcake.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t a huge fan of the cookies, either. I’ve been thinking about blondies for a couple of weeks now, so you can imagine my pleasure at receiving these. Only they were waaaay too dry for me. The double chocolate chip cookie crumbled in my mouth, as well. The coconut macaroon was the best part of the plate with its chewy interior and chocolate-dipped exterior.
La Silhouette was such a nice departure from the overcrowded, two-hour-long wait you get at the usual brunch places in the city. The sunken dining room was filled with natural light highlighted by a wall of electric candles, the noise level was low enough that we could enjoy quiet conversation, and our server was kind, professional, and impeccably dressed. I would certainly order the croque madame, eggs Benedict again, and even the $18 bagel with smoked salmon seemed like a deal when we saw how much fish was on the plate. I would skip the cookies and cupcakes, though, and order two of the La Silhouette Sundae instead.
After reading a short blurb about La Silhouette and its owner, Sally Chironis’s, connection to Le Bernadin in the New York magazine food blog, Grub Street, I checked out the menu and found that I wanted to try every single thing on it. Well, except for maybe the Mixed Baby Lettuce salad, but the inclusion of a snail risotto made up for that. So my boyfriend and I booked a reservation for last Saturday, a mere two weeks after their opening.
Their liquor license wasn’t in place yet, so we brought a bottle each of Eins Zwei Dry 2008 and Chateau Padouen Sauternes 2006 with us, which were immediately put on ice beside our table. Our server joked that everything on the menu was the house specialty at that point, and when we expressed interest in the chef’s tasting menu, he recited its typical dishes. The dishes, to be honest, weren’t any of the ones I really thought sounded exciting–like the scallops, the snail risotto, and the monkfish–but I was nonetheless impressed with everything we were served.
So thin and crispy we marveled at them. Was there possibly a knife that could cut bread so wispy? Or did the kitchen have a bagel mold that they filled only the tiniest bit?
Spread this on the bagel chips, and the chef calls it “France Meets New York”. We called it onion and chive potato chips. My boyfriend thought it was a little gimmicky, but I think being able to take two entirely different foods and make them taste like a really familiar one is a neat little feat.
You feel kind of wimpy ordering a foie gras torchon, because this particular preparation takes away all of the down and dirty imperfections of the hunk of fattened liver. Unlike with other preparations (like the grilled slab at The Modern or the roasted version at Colicchio & Sons), a torchon is all one homogenized texture, like eating sausage instead of a fatty steak. I can see how a true foie gras champion would love the authenticity of a straight up unprocessed chunk, but I really love the added creaminess of a torchon and take comfort in knowing I’m not going to run into a stray vein.
The coarse salt on top added a nice little crunch, and the sweetness of the quince really took away the slight bitter edge organ meat has. (However, it did also take away from the sweetness of our wine and made for a bad pairing.) The melba wasn’t the usual thin, brick-like kind you find in plastic packaging but was thick, soft, and flaky.
I’ve had dorade before and just assumed the menu had a misspelling, but our server informed us that dorade is the the farmed version of the fish, while daurade is wild-caught. Either way, I truly had heart palpitations at my first bite of this dish. The sliver of heart of palm was fresh and crunchy and exactly the opposite of the kind you find canned on grocery store shelves. The section of grapefruit gave it a wonderful citrus bite. The mustard seed added spice. The white cream was this wonderful celery root (think celery, which I love, but with the flavor multiplied by ten) spread, and the whole thing was swimming in a puddle of lemongrass.
Chef David Malbequi came out to talk to us at one point, and when I complimented this dish, he said he was trying to learn to be more restrained with it so as to not drown the flavor of the daurade. As someone who doesn’t need a lot of fishiness in my fish dishes, I wouldn’t have changed anything about this, but Kamran wanted to taste even more of the daurade.
This was one of those dishes where the sum of the parts was much, much greater than the parts themselves. I saw this and thought, “Hey, know the only way to make halibut even more boring? ADD CAULIFLOWER.” But the cauliflower puree was heeeeeavenly and added a saltiness to the halibut it would’ve lacked otherwise. The grapes added a nice crunch on top of the firm texture of the fish, and caramelizing cauliflower, it turns out, makes it much less boring. This still wasn’t the kind of dish that makes me want to eat a whole school of fish.
Maybe I should take back the heeeeeavenly I used in my description of the cauliflower puree, because if you imagine the most comforting dish you can think of, it doesn’t begin to touch this one. More tender than any steak, the rounds of veal practically fell apart just by my looking at them. The spaetzle, a soft little doughball of a noodle, was right at home with its hint of fresh lemon to contrast the deeper, developed flavors of the white cream sauce.
Kamran thought it needed more salt, but I was convinced he had just gotten used to the richness of the dish too fast. It’s like the way the first bite of a good ice cream makes you want to slap someone, but by the end of the scoop, it might as well be McDonald’s soft-serve; the first bite of veal made his tastebuds so delirious that they forgot how to function.
I had seen a photo of this soufflé on the La Silhouette website and was convinced it was just a normal-sized soufflé that they’d slapped for two onto to justify the $18 price tag. But it turns out the ramekin was as big as a cantaloupe and brimming with inches and inches of fluffy not-quite-cake/not-quite-pudding. Our server poured chocolate sauce on top of the mound, which soaked all the way down through the center and made the insides warm and gooey while leaving the outside edges slightly crunchy. The bitterness of the espresso ice cream was a welcome sharp contrast.
This was the only miss of the night, though I’m almost sad to call it that, because I think a lot of skill went into making it. The cheesecake was hands down the lightest I’ve ever had. It was cloud-like, as if pastry chef Vivian Wu had baked some whipped cream. Perhaps on its own it would’ve seemed like a substantial dessert, but next to the souffle, it was like a side dish. The best part of it was actually the sweet fruit salad, which complemented the wonderfully fresh coconut ice cream.
My boyfriend and I were at odds about this rating. He thought the service was exceptionally slow (it took us more than three and a half hours to finish the meal), and he thought the design of the restaurant made it seem claustrophobic. I can’t blame a kitchen for not being uber-efficient in its first two weeks of service, though, and while it’s true that we were seated in a tiny room with only a handful of tables, the main dining area was beautiful. So putting those two things aside, I can’t in good faith give La Silhouette any fewer than 4.5 donuts based on the inventiveness, deliciousness, and technical skill behind its dishes. Although I’d like to see some slight changes to the halibut and cheesecake courses, I’d much rather eat here than at any of the restaurants I’ve rated 4 donuts.
Finding restaurants that can hold a group as big as my office’s monthly dinner club of co-workers past and present can sometimes be a major challenge, so super-touristy places like Becco are sometimes our only choice. Luckily, super-touristy doesn’t have to mean super-might-as-well-have-gone-to-McDonald’s.
I know the last picture is awful, but that carrot was so crazy soft and delicious that I had to publicly preserve its memory.
My friend Ash ordered the osso bucco, and everyone was amazed as she went to town on it, scooping the marrow out of the bone with a tiny fork first so she could be sure she didn’t fill up on anything else.
But Becco’s main draw is its unlimited pasta special. For a stupidly low price, you get the three house pastas of the day brought to your table in heaping piles until you beg your server to stop. That night, ours were:
(Even with my usual distrust of mushrooms, the ravioli was easily my favourite of the three.)
Now, I have to admit that pasta never exactly blows me out of the water (unless it’s gnocchi). A lot of it is way too bland for me after growing up with a mother who must have used half a gallon of oregano in her spaghetti. But this was really, really good pasta. My boyfriend couldn’t stop talking about it for days, actually. And even the Brooklyn-born Italian in our group didn’t complain.
This dessert was the hugest disappointment of my life, but I don’t think it was Becco’s fault. When I ordered it, I guess I was thinking of streusel or an apple brown betty or something, because I expected apple pie filling with a crumbly brown sugar topping. Instead I got apple pie filling and a flaky crust. NOT THE SAME. Very light and not overly sweet, but these are not the things I look for in a dessert.
Funnily enough, I chastised my boyfriend and the Italian for ordering the zabaglione with seasonal fruit, thinking it was the equivalent to a stupid fruit cup with some whipped cream. But dude, zabaglione is great. The custard was suuuuuuuper-intensely flavorful and much more dense than I would’ve imagined. GET THE ZABAGLIONE. You’re welcome.
I kind of get a kick out of going to places like this from time to time, because they’re so unlike most NYC restaurants. Meaning huge and bright and full of people who actually eat. I definitely recommend Becco for big groups and anyone who wants to feel like he’s at a huge family dinner for a night.