food 12.10.03

Chanterelle

Norbert Elias, in his book The Civilizing Process, says that civilization "refers to something which is constantly in motion, constantly moving 'forward.'" Yet Mr. Elias puts the word forward in quotes, as if to say, "Well, that's the idea, anyway."

In the more than 50 years that have elapsed since Mr. Elias wrote his classic, confidence in the idea of an increasingly civilized world may be undermined daily. In all of the metropolis, the best emollient for this is a visit to Chanterelle, 2 Harrison [Hudson] 212.966.6960. Much of the appeal of the restaurant comes from the old-fashioned sense of care, softening the spareness of the room. Yet "spare" isn't quite right, since the wood columns, the sunset warmth of the wall color, the trademark enormous vats of flowers, the unwavering attention to details are judged so exactly as to induce that particular Chanterelle sense of well-being.

This is surely due to Karen Waltuck, who doesn't seem to run the place as much as quietly tend, anticipate, engage, and enhance. Your fellow diners do their part, too, in appreciation of the artfully constructed ambience: the noise level is neither hushed nor hysterical, everyone's attention seems to be on the people they're dining with, and you may find that each of your fellow diners is clad in black, white, or gray.

We've been a fan of David Waltuck's cooking since the early days of the restaurants on Grand Street (and though it seems impossible, Chanterelle celebrates its 25th anniversary next year). We have had the occasional dish we didn't love but when Mr. Waltuck wants to make you faint away, oh, he can — take one bite of his ravioli with a fricassee of wild mushrooms — that will do it. So will the seafood sausage, which has been on the menu since the Grand Street days. Have you eaten so much salmon that you've forgotten how wonderful it can be? Mr. Waltuck's poached salmon with basil butter is revelatory; when he cooks seafood, it seems an especial labor of love.

Among the many pleasures of an evening at Chanterelle are the outstanding cheese trays that you could choose to be the last course of your meal. The wine list is filled with many treasures and, with a full wallet, you can have a great wine experience here, aided by Roger Dagorn, a highly-regarded and agreeable sommelier. Chanterelle also has that wonderful tradition of having artists design their menu covers, which change twice a year.

Whatever the state of the world, Chanterelle is itself a civilizing process.
Yesterday's MUG: Brooklyn Lights


Central Park South (from 2012)

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