French Classics at Sel et Poivre

Duck a l’orange with wild rice at Sel et Poivre

It’s not easy to find traditional french dishes in New York these days, so I was eager to try Sel et Poivre, a family-owned restaurant claiming to offer “a taste of Paris on Lex”. A press dinner organized by the restaurant gave me that opportunity (portion size may vary from what is pictured here).

Open since 1989, Sel et Poivre is a neighborhood gem that obviously has a regular clientele. The setting is more upscale than the standard bistro, with candles on white tables and elegant sconces on off-white walls with wood paneling. The restaurant was busy on a Tuesday night, with a mix of older couples, younger groups, and families enjoying some French favorites. We noticed two customers contently dining solo.

The restaurant offers all the classics you would expect to find at a traditional French bistro. There are bowls of French onion soup, dishes of garlicky escargots, and servings of moules mariniere with frites. Entrees include trout almandine, frogs legs a la provencal, and duck a l’orange. The wine lists offers a mix of French and international wines, with a generous selection of wines by the glass.

Aged New York sirloin steak served with Roquefort or poivre sauce

We started with a refreshing celery root remoulade, served with beets and spiked with yellow curry powder. The combination of curry and mayo reminded me of a good (but ordinary) curry chicken salad from your local deli. A red pepper soup was warm but light, perfectly good.

Striped bass with artichokes and fennel

Fortunately, things heated up when the entrees arrived. We enjoyed an excellent plate of wild striped bass with artichoke hearts, fennel, and black olives. The fish was flaky and tender with a nice sear on the top. The artichokes and fennel were not very much integrated into the dish, but they worked as two very good sides.

Steak featured lots of poivre, in a good way; it was juicy and peppery and delicious. We tried it with a mild Roquefort sauce and an excellent poivre sauce, which was creamy and peppery. We fought over which sauce was better with fries (my vote was the poivre).

Veal kidneys with mustard cream sauce

Since we were channeling France, it was important to try some organ meats. A traditional dish of veal kidneys arrived in a mustard cream sauce that perhaps could have used more mustard and less cream. If you like liver, it turns out, you’ll like kidneys too. And speaking of which, a large slab of liver lyonnaise was perfectly cooked and served with fantastic onions; a little rich for me after all those kidneys (never thought I’d say that) but a great dish to share along with some lighter choices. (This week and next, the restaurant is running a special menu dedicated to game meats – yum.)

Molten chocolate cake with ice cream

We were less impressed with the classic duck a l’orange, which was a bit dry and lacked flavor—orange or otherwise—in the duck meat itself. It was good enough when eaten together with the orange slices, but there are better dishes on the menu.

Desserts were the usual classics, done right. Creme brulee was set well with a great charred crust. The chocolate dessert was your basic (delicious) molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream.

Sel et Poivre
853 Lexington Ave. (between 64th and 65th)
Tel. (212) 517-5780

Disclaimer: My meal was paid-for as part of an organized press dinner. The opinions expressed in this review are my own. No restaurant is ever promised a positive review.

Sel Et Poivre on Urbanspoon

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