In the age of tweeting celebrity chefs, Eater.com, and food blogs like the one you’re reading now, restaurant news is no longer confined to the dining pages of the New York Times. Foodies hang onto every Tweet by Michael White, expansion projects are scouted and spied by avid fans, and everyone shares their opinion on sites like Yelp and Chowhound.
Yet in the midst of this gastronomic madness, one restaurant has flied under the radar. The difficult to spell, hard to pronounce French seafood brasserie Millesime.
Spanning the entire northern side of The Carlton Hotel (the red logo displaying prominently), the space is composed of Bar Millesime (the entrance from the lobby), Salon Millesime (beyond the bar, a beautiful lounge downstairs), and up the glass staircase into Millesime the restaurant. The journey from hotel lobby to restaurant table can be a bit strange, as you enter a hotel sports bar, then stroll into a dimly lit lounge, ascending the modernist glass staircase, into a classically decorated French brasserie.
All of us know quite well that this ought to be a high-end, classy restaurant situated in a posh midtown hotel, but Millesime goes above and beyond to convince us that this is a casual seafood joint. Not only do the oyster shucker wear a bright yellow apron, as do many other members of the male wait staff, an interesting sight as they walk around. On the table cloth (or rather, paper), a bright red stamp in the shape of a lobster. Utensils are presented in a miniature steel bucket, wrapped in napkin. As for the waitresses, traditional French maid outfits, and short ones at that.
The man behind this fascinating setup is Laurent Manrique, the two Michelin Star chef from the restaurant Aqua in San Francisco. Seasoned New York diners perhaps remember him as the young 26 year old chef of Waldorf Astoria’s Peacock Alley back in 1992, before he left for the West Coast. Having recently split with his restaurant partners in San Francisco, chef Manrique has once again returned to New York to setup his newest venture.
On paper, everything’s phenomenal. Then why was it so easy to get a reservation? Opentable showed so many availabilities it was slightly disheartening. Contrast this to a Michael White opening, where you must plan weeks in advance, before it even opens.
Sitting less than 10 feet from the raw bar, the oysters are irresistible. Inside each menu is a hand written note of today’s oyster selection. Everything looked so fresh and tasty behind the glass counter, that I simply asked for two of each.
Appetizers are all very reasonably priced in the teens, mostly classic dishes that you’d expect to find in a bistro. Don’t be fooled by the familiar names and ingredients though, the execution of flavors was an awesome surprise. The clam chowder was light, but loaded with flavors. In the age old argument of whether New York or Boston has the best chowder, I think a French man has helped put New York ahead, way ahead.
The theme of executing basic items beautifully continues with the bread, and a rather peculiar looking purple butter. The waiter told us it was shallot and red wine butter, I have never tasted better.
There are many items which you can order as your entrée, and many are designed to be shared for two. The market fish, which it seems is quite often the monk fish, is presented at the table before going back into the kitchen for slicing and plating. The lobster pot, which on the surface looks like a homely stew of lobster, seafood sausage and cabbage, has a hidden layer of complexity. The buttery soft texture of the lobster meat was fantastic. I really wanted to take the broth home and enjoy it again with toast, a meal within itself.
For dessert, I absolutely recommend the roasted bananas with “pineapple carpaccio”, paper thin slices of pineapple under coconut ice cream and coconut flakes. The pot de creme, two little cups of espresso and caramel cream was light and delicious as well.
If you think the entry was strange, the exit was better. On our way down the staircase through the lounge, we encountered a lady decked out in a white dress full of LEDs, playing an accordion, also brightly lit with LEDs. Her musical repertoire were classic European favorites, a stark contrast to her rave-ready ballroom gown. She was a great singer, the gown made her a spectacle. Like everything else at Millesime, the classics are made special and refined.
I left the place still not knowing why nobody knows about this place. The food is spectacular, the setting is beautiful, and the prices are extremely reasonable for the quality of the cuisine. All I know is, the bloggers are starting to notice this place, Sam Sifton has already visited twice, and you should too.
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Millesime (Make a Reservation)
92 Madison Ave.
New York, NY 10016