In the USA, salt and fat take on a bad rap for being the enemies of our diet, but in fact they are much of the flavor of food. In addition, French restaurants in New York City are either very fancy or have food that some think is played with a little too much, sauced and seasoned that mask their natural flavor. I ate recently at a good restaurant in the in the Meat Packing District, called Macelleria and was being preached to by the owner about the simplicity of her Italian food. Italian restaurants are a good bit more popular than French. Well to my surprise I received some of the same preaching later that day from Sel et Gras a few blocks away abouthe great quality of French food and the straight forward first class ingredients. I am happy to report that Sel et Gras is bucking the system with good, clean ingredient French food done with a contemporary spirit.
Located on a quieter corner of 7th Avenue and 10th street in an acute space that opened in June, they are producing great food at very good prices. The restaurant is youthful with graffiti decorated exposed brick walls and can be loud. We were looked after by a very competent wait team that was led by Matthieu who managed the space along with sister restaurants. Matthieu, the food and the wine list were presented in a charmed way making for a very pleasant evening.
The menu is another “small plate” style restaurant with Bites, Meat and Cheese Boards, French Flatbread, Classic options, Contemporary options and one Sweet. We did taste from all except the Meat and Cheese and found few faults. Ham Croquettes and Sel et Gras Fries are two “Bites” we tried. Both fried in a very clean and crisp way, the croquettes tasted sweetly of the ham and were served with a classic aioli or garlic mayonnaise, the fries were dusted with parmesan and brushed with garlic butter. They were great examples of flavor from salt and fat and although the portions were neither large nor too small, they had you very interested in what was to come. We chose a Mercurey bottle of Chateau Genot-Boulanger 2008, on which we were advised. It was a very pleasant French Burgundy at for $50 a bottle or $12 a glass and was a good counter balance to the food. The list is all French and sophisticated with thoughtful choices.
The Tarte Flambée was light, crisp and freshly baked with plenty of leaner bacon and caramelized onions with a touch of mornay sauce to bind the flavors. Classics included Foie Gras & Fresh Figs, which performed nicely with toasted brioche and a sprinkle of pistachio nuts. We also had a Croque Mademoiselle (ham and cheese with a fried egg) which happened to be quail and served in three petit sandwiches that were both pretty to look at and engaging to eat. The Contemporary included Coq au Vin Wings which were an improvement on Buffalo wings but with a similar spirit. Roquefort cheese was sprinkled on the fried wings that were sauced with a savory red wine glaze. The Braised Short Rib sat on top of horseradish cheddar potatoes and adorned with crispy fried shallots worked all the way around.
Dessert is a Pot du Crème which is made with Valhrona Guanaja 70%, although not identified as such on the menu, and we were modestly told that it was chocolate any chef could obtain. Well chocolate and dessert do not get much better than this one!
Young energy, good food, carefully served and French is a somewhat endangered species in New York, but I am happy to say that Sel et Gras lives up to its aspirations. Matthieu and his team deliver a very pleasant experience and at a modest price.
131 7th Avenue South at 10th Street
646 558 5468 http://www.seletgras.com