Though his latest operation scales back from full restaurant to ten-seat dessert parlor, Payard has set his sights high with Francois, the newly-opened chocolate bar on the Upper East Side. Maybe a little too high, in fact—the space is on the fourth floor of the ritzy Mauboussin jewelry store. Aside from the obvious challenge that is this awkward location, Payard definitely has his hands full. His menu is creative and inspired, but its execution has yet to match the high standards that have paved the road to his past successes.
After finding our way there, Kathy and I ordered the milk chocolate yuzu and dark chocolate passion fruit macarons to start. Instead of the latter, we were given the white chocolate sesame version, which may have been an intentional mistake. The sesame, which hadn't seemed remarkable, had a sophisticated and nuanced savory element in an otherwise traditional sweet, complete with crunchy outside and smooth interior. We couldn't say the same of the chocolate-yuzu, which featured a smart flavor combo but suffered from excess goopiness.
Francois's signature offering is the verrine, a mini parfait layered in a dainty glass cup that's served in four varieties. Of course, most are ridden with chocolate, but the most successful version, the Bergamote, veers significantly from the norm. Inside are layers of cherry-scented cake, Earl Grey Tea Mousse, a gelee of red berries, and tiny, salty tea cookies—no cacao whatsoever. The flavor is subtly sweet, distinctly accented by herbaceous, tart, and salty notes. You'd expect a little more zing and pow from the combo, but it was satisfying enough to hold our interest.
The same can be said for the dark hot chocolate with raspberry and orange blossom essence we had—it was a good effort, interesting enough, but ultimately nothing to write home about.
It's still early, but Francois has several kinks to work out. The Verrine Tout Chocolat was meant to have caramel chips and dark chocolate leaves with Fleur de Sel, but both were conspicuously missing; the lack of complexity in the remaining layers made for a real disappointment.
The same can be said for the Bonheur, one of Payard's signature pastries consisting of dark chocolate mousse, coffee pain de Genes, and a coffee hazelnut wafer. Gorgeous as the presentation was, the chocolate mousse was undetectable, and the only discernable textural element was a tiny round of soggy wafer at the bottom. These mistakes are certainly not representative of Payard's skill, and hopefully they'll be corrected—along with the painfully sluggish service—quickly enough to keep this locale from going the same way as the last.