About a month ago, Grub Street broke the sad news that Chanterelle, the grande dame of downtown, closed for good. When it happened, I didn’t have time to bid a proper farewell, but I think it deserves to be remembered fondly. Without the slightest exaggeration, I can honestly say I had one of the best meals of my life there.
One of the most memorable dishes was the Butternut Squash “Risotto” with Fresh Sage and Wild mushrooms. Risotto was in quotation marks because instead of making a rice dish served with squash (how pedestrian!), they fashioned the squash into tiny rice-like grains.
But it wasn’t just a smart alecky visual gag to which so many of today’s chefs are prone. It was flawlessly executed and the flavors were simple and incredibly satisfying. The sage was served as a whole leaf, perfectly crispy against the creamy “risotto.”
I asked one of the servers how the sage was prepared. She explained that the leaves were fried. “But it isn’t greasy at all. It’s just perfectly crisp” I said, astonished. “That’s why we’re Chanterelle,” she replied with a smile.
It wasn’t arrogant. It was the truth. What she said made me smile because like all the servers I encountered there, she took tremendous pride in the dishes and seemed sincerely happy to be a part of the whole experience.
It struck me that Chanterelle’s nearly flawless food was served by people who loved it as much as the delighted customers. People who worked there were chattier than their peers at comparable restaurants. (And I mean that in the best way possible.)
When I asked questions, marveling at certain dishes I found particularly impressive, the servers would get just as excited and share all sorts of things about preparation and ingredients.
I collect menus from meals I’ve eaten and Chanterelle’s was always special because it was hand-written. It said a lot about the restaurant- both elegant and unpretentious.