The menu has all the old bistro classics — skate with lemon and capers, trout almandine, duck à l’orange, and one you rarely see any more — meaty frogs’ legs in a Pernod sauce with wild mushrooms and fragrant basmati rice
The pleasures of a true French bistro have never waned for the most sensible reasons: bistros are neighborhood restaurants, built for sheer comfort. There will be good crusty bread and abundant butter on the table and a pot of flowers, along with a votive candle, re-lighted throughout the evening.
What I have just described is exactly what you will find at Sel et Poivre (853 Lexington Avenue, NYC; 212- 517-5780; www.seletpoivrenyc.com), now celebrating its 25th year in business on the Upper East Side. Any week now, when warm weather comes back, you may sit outside and watch the parade of women laden down with brown Bloomingdale’s bags, Hunter College students with backpacks, and young mothers with expensive strollers.
All the old bistro favorites are here--frogs' legs à la provençal, kidneys with mustard sauce, duck à l'orange, and the dish I chose one recent evening--perfectly pink calf's liver à la lyonnais.
For New Year's let glamor and gaiety rule, but I seek the bustling comfort of a small restaurant, preferably one that's been around for a good long time. Thus, an old-fashioned, welcoming, traditional French bistro is where I want to go with friends, a place where the food is wonderful but the chef is not showing off, an atmosphere of warmth and good reception, and a place where I know whatever I order will taste as it always has.
For all these reasons, I highly recommend the douce charms of Sel & Poivre, whose simple name is the seasoning for the food and ambiance of owner/chef Christian Schienle, a robust Austrian fellow, who knows his guests well and welcomes newcomers as if they were.
Food For Ott
My second visit to Sel Et Poivre was a forest full of flavor. Between the game animals and artful arrangement of fruit and vegetable flavors, at times I felt like I was enjoying courses from the king’s last hunt at a medieval court feast.
The meal started with two game sausages: one made of pure venison and the other a mix of venison and wild boar with cheese and jalapeno peppers ground in for extra flavor. I had never tasted venison before, but had heard that it can taste quite gamey when not hunted or prepared properly. Gamey flavor, often described as musky or pungent, and tougher texture come from meat being left out for a time after hunting.
The venison sausage I tasted was salty and filling with flavors that reminded me a bit of spiced lamb though the texture was a little bit firmer. The wild boar variant was both peppery and a little sweet with a mouth feel that felt lighter and more traditional for sausage. I would not call myself a game enthusiast quite yet, but I found the pure venison sausage to be pleasant and different in an earthy way.