Friday, September 5, 2014


Our loyalty to anything Wisconsin, I had best rephrase that, my loyalty to anything Wisconsin and Rick's loyalty to anything with the words hors d'oeuvres and entrees in it, is going to peek our interest. If you search the combination of Wisconsin, food and New York City on any search engine you're bound to find the restaurant collection known as "Little Wisco", currently a collection of six restaurants. For any of you who follow the blog you know we've hit two of the six on our quest to hit all six. Well, on our last week in New York we hit number three. Montmartre is the first restaurant in the group to exist outside the West Village but only slightly. Located in a sliver of real estate on Eighth Avenue in Chelsea, Montmartre is supposedly based on its namesake, Montmartre Café, a now non-existent gathering place in Madison. We weren't sure if it could get any better than the two member restaurants of the group we had already visited, Jeffrey's Grocery and Joseph Leonard, but it did.
I went back to look at some reviews by people and news organizations much better equipped to review food than I am. They all showed a staff very different from the one listed on our menu. Let's assume those reviews are no longer valid since the thrust of the reviews didn't reflect anything we were seeing or tasting. Those previous reviews were good but not great. This only points out that it is sometimes best to wait until after you visit a restaurant to read the reviews (we apply this same philosophy to purchasing movie tickets).
At Montmartre we had a superb meal, served by a knowledgeable and likeable staff, in an amazing setting. The space was the former Gascogne, a restaurant I had eaten at many years ago. There's a point-of-view Gabe Stulman has with the ambience of his restaurants. Of the three restaurants in the Little Wisco collective that we have visited there is a similarity you feel the minute you walk in the door. It's an easy-going comfort. There's no level of intimidation. It's welcoming like a big smile. We arrived for a very early dinner. We had movie tickets and it was a toss-up between a 4:30 dinner putting us in the senior citizen category of diners or an after the movie respite with a much younger and probably much hipper crowd. What can I say, we did buy senior citizen discount tickets to the movie. Doing the early dinner made it possible to move around the dining areas with my iphone snapping pictures of a fairly bare space.
The front of the space has a huge open window taking up the entire façade of the building. Once inside the door if you stretch your arms out you can almost touch both sidewalls. It's tight but that's all part of its charm.
The main floor has a bar and the larger of the two interior dining rooms. Like one of our favorite standby restaurants, Café Loup,
the walls are hung with photography, and I'm not talking calendar pics. It's an impressive collection.
The far end of the main floor has another window looking out into the garden but to get to the garden you need first to descend to the lower level into the tiniest dining area of the restaurant.
This is the perfect special event room. It couldn't be cozier, maybe too cozy. If you're not hosting your own party down here by the end of your meal you're going to be best friends with your dining mates.
The weather on the day of our trip to Montmarte was perfect, not too hot, not at all humid, the right balance for dinner al fresco. From the lower dining room you have to go back up a few steps to the outdoor bar and dining area.
It sits about midway between the lower level room and the main floor. It is New York at its best. The patina of the walls is only attainable by age. There isn't a faux painter who could have created this sense of time.
Neither Rick nor I drink anymore so a wine or draft beer card isn't going to help us with our thirst or the coffers of the restaurant with our bar tab, but as with Jeffrey's Grocery they offer the same non-alcoholic drink menu.
Their drink designer, Brian Bartels, has come up with a list of offerings that made us feel welcome and willing to order something beyond table water or iced tea. This is a great marketing device as more and more of our friends are avoiding the grape for reasons I'm not at liberty to divulge.
I wasn't starving at 4:30 in the afternoon so I ordered lite or at least lite for me. Both of my choices were home runs. I had the coddled egg salad and pommes frites served together as my main course. The coddled egg salad was a recommendation from our waitress. It was an amalgam of shitake mushrooms, coddled eggs, pickled mustard seed, lardon, and parmesan with an herb coulis.
The pommes frites were reminiscent of the wagons stationed throughout Paris and Brussels where you can get a paper cone of twice fried frites doused in aioli or brown butter sabayon. They were heaven and among the best I've had stateside.
Rick went for the Lamb prepared with garbanzos, espelette yogurt and an olive tapenade served medium rare and in melt-in-your mouth condition.
He paired this with a Fennel Barigoule salad served with confit walnuts, figs, arugula and goat cheese. This was the only low point in our meal. It wasn't bad but a little heavy on the sauce.
We were both sated by this time. Rick is not a big dessert eater. Unfortunately I am. We were going to go for the check until our waitress persuaded us to look at the dessert menu. There on the dessert card was an Olive Oil Cake topped with crème fraiche, macerated peaches and a touch of basil. We melted and gave in.
If we had had nothing else but this cake we would have been totally satisfied paying full price for a three course meal and only being served this dessert. Even though our movie time was swiftly approaching we took the time to savor every crumb. The cake was moist but not soggy. The peaches had to be Georgian they were so succulent and sweet. The crème fraiche and the basil gave just the right bite and wetness to a dish we are trying to replicate and put into our own repertoire.

The week we returned from New York we had been invited to a barbeque. We decided to bring an Olive Oil Cake as our contribution to the event. It wasn't a direct hit. We'll continue to work on it but it was a solid first attempt.

Paris XVIIeme, 1954
Edouard Boubat, photographer
Represented by Peter Feterman Gallery, Santa Monica, CA

No comments:

Post a Comment