Gabriel Stulman's string of successful West Village restaurants—his Little Wisco restaurant group is up to six and counting—makes you both admire and fear a little bit for the man. How many times in a row can a band release a hit album? Surely there's bound to be some stumble upon the way, one place that doesn't quite hit the mark. Montemartre, in our experience, has been the weak link in the chain.
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Tien Ho's newly opened Montmartre in Chelsea has all the elements of a successful neighborhood bistro going for it; a prime location, the backing of Gabe Stulman's Little Wisco mini-empire, and a menu full of depth and commitment. We caught up with Ho about the time he took off to travel home to Vietnam before beginning major work on his new digs, the state of French food in New York and how he wants his contribution to fit it.
"This would be a fantastic first date activity," was my first thought as my dining companion and I dove into Chez Sardine's miso-maple salmon head. It's as much adventure as plated dish, prompting a solid 15 minutes of excited chopstick-poking and guaranteed conversation. For introducing me to the pleasures of tender salmon cheek, I have Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly to thank, and his menu at Chez Sardine—loosely Japanese, everywhere daring, and as fun as it is impressive.
So there's a new vaguely Japanese-inspired West Village restaurant, but there are dishes like a foie gras grilled cheese on the menu, and the uni sushi has steak tartare, and the hamachi has chicharrón... oh, and there's an excellent craft list. And the centerpiece of the menu is a whole salmon head.
In the hands of anyone else, this sounds somewhat ludicrous. In the hands of restaurateur Gabriel Stulman and chef Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly, it makes perfect sense.
It's clear why Gabriel Stulman taken the West Village restaurant scene by storm in the past few years, with five locations on his list of successes and one more in the works. He chatted with us about his take on hospitality, the role of family in his restaurants, and why he's excited to be getting a little older.
Reviews generally start with an introduction, but I'm going to start this one with beef tongue. Because as I sit at my computer it keeps popping into my head, the memory of it, as it has been ever since my visit to Perla last week. Beef tongue with a whisper-thin crust that gives you just the slightest resistance before you get to the impossibly tender meat underneath. Beef tongue that's been in brine for a week before it's braised, then charred. "I can't stop thinking about that beef tongue," confessed the friend I'd brought to dinner the next day, in a conspiratorial tone, over coffee. It does that to you.
Take a restaurateur with an amazing West Village track record; give him a historical neighborhood restaurant; toss in a chef from Au Pied de Cochon, an ambitious drink menu, and a whole lot of animal parts. What you get is Fedora—and we're pretty darn happy with it.
[Photographs: Adam Kuban] Joseph Leonard 170 Waverly Place, New York NY 10014 (at Christopher; map); 646-429-8383; josephleonard.com Service: Casual, enthusiastic, attentive Setting: A tiny space that looks like your favorite eccentric uncle's studio apartment Compare It To: Little Owl,...