The disappearance of small family businesses in New York – especially restaurants on the Upper East Side — has recently accelerated. Rents have soared and unless a restaurateur owns the building, he/she eventually departs. Just this week, Mon Petit Café, on Lexington Avenue, closed due to “sky high rent.” So it’s a double pleasure to toast the food, atmosphere and longevity of a neighborhood French restaurant just up the street from Mon Petit Café — Sel et Poivre — a family-run French bistro on Lexington Avenue. This June it will celebrate its 28th Anniversary: same family (husband and wife team, Christian and Pamela Schienle); same location, and same daily specials. Remarkably, it’s also open seven days a week, as well.
Sel et Poivre is a cozy, reasonably priced watering-hole for Upper Eastsiders who enjoy consuming a well-prepared meal at a table with a bit of elbow room, in a quiet dining room only punctuated by the sound of conversation and clinking glasses. But of course, it’s the food that’s the main draw and the restaurant continues to live up to the timeless standards of classic Bistro dishes – from Skate with lemon and capers and Frog Legs to Duck a l’Orange, Calf’s Liver Lyonnais and Filet Mignon in a red wine shallot sauce. But it’s not limited to those dishes.
Last week, as part of a Tasting Menu for the press, hosted by the restaurant, we were offered a range of dishes, some familiar, some not. We began with an excellent Lentil Soup ($9.95), redeemed from blandness by a touch of smoked ham. The table also shared a plate of Wild Boar Pate ($14.95) served with a dab of red wine mustard and prune compote on the side. If it’s available as a Special, grab it. It’s one of the best things on the menu. In fact, the restaurant will feature a Game Festival from the end of March to mid-April. And throughout the year, when game is available (largely sourced from Texas), it offers a “wild, fresh and healthy Game Menu,” including Ostrich, which you can view on its website.
Salmon with White and Green Beans in a White Wine Sauce
Next came a lightly grilled Salmon filet – perfectly cooked – perched on a bed of soft cannellini beans. The dish was punched up with the contrasting crunch of green beans. ($25.95) If you are looking for a simple, elegant and healthy dish, this is for you.
Bistro Burger with French Fries
To my surprise, my favorite main course on this Tasting menu was the Bistro Burger and French Fries. ($16.95) The secret, according to Owner/Chef Schienle, is a 28-year long relationship with his butcher, who delivers the same quality of beef with the same balance of meat and fat, day in and day out. In fact, there was no special ingredient or seasoning that I could discern in this burger. It was simply great meat – almost buttery — perfectly cooked on a perfect bun, with perfect fries. It worked well with an Austrian Red Zweigelt, suggested by the Chef.
Wild Boar Osso Bucco with Wild Mushroom Risotto
I was of two minds about the Wild Boar Osso Bucco. ($39.95) I found the shank meat a tad dry, despite its tomato sauce – but I adored the side dish, a meltingly rich Wild Mushroom Risotto. Next time, I will opt for the Risotto with Wild mushrooms and Leeks ($16.95) as a main course. It’s on both the restaurant’s Lunch and Dinner Menus for a reason. It’s a total winner.
Zweigelt Austrian Red Wine
Interior of Restaurant
Of the two desserts sampled, my favorite was the Chocolate Terrine ($9.25), which tasted like pure chocolate, butter and sugar – in short – heaven. The classic Apple Tart ($9.25) was delicious, as well. Hard to go wrong with either of them.
Warm Apple Tart with Vanilla Ice Cream
There are Prix Fixe lunch, dinner and brunch menus that are definitely a bargain, and for those looking to meet a friend for a drink before or after a movie or day of work, there is a cozy little bar up front.
Sel et Poivre is a wonderful neighborhood restaurant. All you have to do is hop on the recently completed Q line, get off at 63rd Street, and make it your neighborhood hang out, as well.
Photos by Eleanor Foa Dienstag
Sel et Poivre
853 Lexington Avenue (64th and 65th)
Lunch: Noon – 4p.m., Monday – Friday
Dinner: 4 p.m. – 10:30 p.m., Monday – Thursday
4 p.m. – 11 p.m., Friday- Saturday
4 p.m.- 10 p.m., Sunday
Brunch: Noon – 4 p.m., Saturday – Sunday