A new Keith McNally restaurant that excels once again in the familiarity of traditional French comfort food. Shuttered from the street and tinted with a golden hue throughout, Cherche Midi focuses inward on what it means to dine with casual joy in New York.
In his latest installment of relaxed yet raucous French dining, McNally seems to have picked from his own personal arsenal of style and flavor, and as a result, Cherche Midi looks like Balthazar, tastes like Minetta Tavern, and roars like Pastis once did. Yet despite sharing what has emerged as McNally’s casual, French brasserie formula, Cherche Midi’s nuances in food and decor make it better for a dinner date than Balthazar, more accessible to a budget than Minetta Tavern, and more earnest in cooking than Pastis. Cherche Midi has learned from its predecessors, and has in turn presented something unique to the downtown dining scene.
The menu is heavy on protein, with a focus on beef in particular, and reads like a tribute to the greatest hits of the McNally empire. There is a Dry-Aged Prime Rib that commands the attention of any carnivore in the room, and there is of course an excellent Steak Frites whose simplicity highlights a perfect preparation of steak.
But there is also the Prime Rib Burger that comes with roasted mushrooms and a bacon marmalade whose rich, sweet scent is balanced by a thick draping of melted aged Gruyere cheese over the dense patty. It has been inevitably compared to the Black Label Burger of Minetta Tavern, but it is more crowd-pleasing with its pungent, hard-hitting toppings that happily steal the focus from the subtle flavors of the beef patty. It is a winning burger of its own casual variety, whose thin, dark fries on the side may be equally as delicious.
It is also worthwhile to try the Crispy Suckling Pig that focuses on the fresh, complementary flavors of radish and salsa verde, and the Pot de Fromage, a ramekin full of a light, silky, lemony parmesan custard meant to be spread upon crispy slices of anchovy butter toast. While most people I know would get behind anything that translates to "pot of cheese," it is a special, vibrant, and dreamy addition to a classically elegant, yet deeply comforting meal.
Comfort at Cherche Midi also comes in the form of $19 carafes of wine, and pleasantly attentive service. It also comes in recognizing tried and true McNally elements, and knowing that because of this collective culinary experience behind it, the meal is guaranteed to be a vibrant, fun-filled success.
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