January 25, 2011

Gascony tradition, fruits of the sea: Laurent Manrique in the kitchen at Millesime

Chef Laurent Manrique is back on the scene, and New York is lucky to have him in the kitchen at Millesime in the Carlton Hotel. He’s landed with a salty splash at this airy seafood bistro, where his impeccably prepared dishes have the feel of instant classics. Manrique—ex of the Michelin two-star Aqua and Campton Place in San Francisco, and Peacock Alley in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel—still has one foot firmly planted on the West, and for him, preferred coast. He oversees Café de la Presse and Rouge et Blanc wine bar in San Francisco, and makes the cross-country commute regularly. His executive chef at Millesime is Alan Ashkinaze, formerly executive chef at the Warwick Hotel and chef de cuisine at the Waldorf Astoria.

At Millesime (formerly home to Country), unpretentious red banquettes and lighting reminiscent of a nineteenth-century gaslit brasserie are sandwiched between the building’s original Tiffany domed ceiling and its tile floors. The vibe is casual, though the expert service is anything but. Manrique wanted an unpretentious seafood place where patrons would feel free to enter in flip-flops, and where the menu was honest and straightforward. “Right now,” he told us at our dinner last evening, “this is what I feel like cooking.”

A dozen carefully sourced oysters from both the east and west coasts (Big Rock from Cape Cod, Shibumi and Hama Hama from Washington State among them) started the evening off in a lipsmackingly briny fashion. Manrique disguised silky squid as corkscrew pasta in his trompe l’oeil “calamars carbonara,” and coated it with a smoky bacon, parmesan and cream sauce. The grilled Caesar salad, a joint invention of Manrique and his good friend and fellow Buddhist Eric Ripert, gave a lift to this tired menu staple with the addition of meringe beaten into the dressing, and a topping of smoked cod, caramelized onions and a drop of lime. But the pièce de résistance had to be the lobster pot au feu for two, involving a two-pound lobster, seafood sausage (it tasted like a more refined, French variation on Japanese kamoboko fish cakes), a bouillon of deep character and some dynamite condiments: a tarragon-infused béarnaise, seaweed aioli and salty pickled sea beans. The simple fish dishes, which you can order grilled or griddle (here called plancha) roasted, come with likewise perfectly executed sauces; the lemon mousseline is ethereal, almost dessert-like.

True to his Gascon roots, Manrique offers homemade Armagnac prune ice cream and toasted brioche—my favorite dessert, although I would never turn down an offer of his bracingly astringent orange custard topped with caramelized orange slices, or a caramel and espresso pot de crème twin set.

Millesime
92 Madison Ave. at 29th St.
The Carlton Hotel
(212) 889-7100
millesimerestaurant.com