Here's an Early Taste of Cherche Midi
New York isn't short on excessive (in terms of both price and quantity) dining experiences, but as of a couple of nights ago, there's a brand new place to drop a hefty wad of cash for a heart-stoppingly large meal: Cherche Midi (282 Bowery, 212-226-3055), Keith McNally's long-anticipated Pulino's replacement, which is now turning out new American bistro fare on the Bowery.
By now you probably know what a McNally restaurant feels like. There are subway tiles and antique mirrors. A massive staff, quick on the draw with water and bread, hovers over the intimate booths and tables filled with downtown's chattering elite. The light is soft, and everyone is dressed in black; most people look like they're engaged in fairly serious meetings, unless they're, say, a family of tourists, looking around a bit confusedly and speaking a different language.
There are many ways to run up a tab quickly here, but the most surefire of those is to skip straight to the $48 prime rib. It's an intimidating price tag, but if you can afford it -- perhaps you're dining on an expense account? -- it's an indulgence worth considering. And if you're nostalgic for the kind of prime rib dinner that's served in a club chair-littered, heavy carpeted dining room of yore, this'll fulfill your craving and then some. You'll get a Flinstonian cut of cow, served in a puddle of its own juices with a few spring onions, which are comically small in comparison. The beef is voluptuous, peppery, and tender; it comes with crispy puffs of potato, ballooned out thanks to double-frying, and a mid-course salad, meant to serve as a palate cleanser. It's the kind of dish you ease into with a brown cocktail, pair to a glass of red wine, and polish off with a cigar while you reflect on how great the view is from the top.
Of course, you don't have to dine like you've just been promoted -- you could always order the burger, a prime rib patty topped with bacon marmalade and aged gruyere. There are also ways to eat lighter: The entree section is replete with seafood, including mussels in basil broth and a whole grilled dorade served with crispy herbs, and seasonally appropriate vegetables dominate the appetizer list. Start with a beet salad even if you've sworn that tired dish off forever -- the iteration here mimics a carpaccio in its presentation, with translucent slices of sweet beet splayed out across a plate, meant to be skimmed off and popped in the mouth with crunchy bits of pistachio and pungent shavings of sheeps' milk cheese. You can skip the $19 crudite even if you're getting heirloom string beans on it -- no need to drop that kind of money on raw cauliflower, even if it is plated with nubbins of salami.
More excess comes before dessert, when your server will try to tempt you with a cheese cart stacked with local and international dairy. Selections come with honeycomb and preserves, which make it a suitable last course (and, what the hell, pair it to a glass of sherry in that case). Otherwise, you might let yourself be wooed by a plate of petit fours, which seems like an appropriate finish to a princely meal.
Cherche Midi is open for dinner nightly and plans to begin lunch and brunch service soon; make a reservation -- as with McNally's other joints, you'll be hard-pressed to come up with a table otherwise.
See photos on the next page.