For 25 years, Sel Et Poivre (French for Salt and Pepper) has brought traditional French cuisine to Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Husband and wife duo, Christian and Pamela Schienle have cultivated a loyal following. Even on a lukewarm Thursday evening, the bistro’s cozy dining space was packed with plenty of customers–families (some with kids, some with elderly relatives), couples, coworkers. Romantic mood lighting and candles, black and white family photographs, and even some classic sconces bring to mind an elegant Parisian villa. It’s a lovely shift from the hectic day-to-day business of Manhattan’s streets and the change is palpable as soon as you step inside the bistro’s doors on Lexington Avenue (between East 64th and 65th Streets).
Chef Christian offered us a delicious and diverse five-course meal, consisting of an appetizer, a soup, two French-style entrees, and a dessert.
I sampled some of the Crab Cake first. While crabcakes are usually thought of as American, Sel Et Poivre’s variant was nicely breaded and came with fresh lump meat. It’s a safe, solid choice for an appetizer and is served with some mixed greens and a lovely orange-hued, ginger sauce.
Next, I tried Sel Et Poivre’s Asparagus Soup. Chef Christian told me about his choice to use potato to thicken it rather than cream for a healthier, vegan soup–a decision I approved after tasting. The dish was thick and hearty without being too viscous, leaving it tasty yet easy on the throat. Perfectly pureed and silky, I couldn’t stop dipping my complimentary bread in it.
Sel Et Poivre treats its patrons to a wide variety of French delicacies with a menu that includes veal kidneys, calf’s liver, and frog legs among other classics… Luckily, I was able to stay within my comfort zone as our group was treated to the Skate Fish in Lemon Butter with Capers and White Rice. Light, crispy and perfectly salted, it was a thoroughly enjoyable seafood dish. Now, people might be squeamish about eating something in the same family as the stingray, but I can endorse Sel Et Poivre’s version as much leaner and flakier than your average fish dish, and even a cut above other skates I’ve tried. I kid you not when I say the skate wing fluttered into my mouth!
Our fourth and last main course was the Pork Chops With Calvados Sauce. Calvados is a rich and aromatic apple brandy from lower Normandy in France. It’s not a dish I would order normally, but that sauce made me want to lick my plate clean. Chef Christian generously served mine with pommes frites on the side. All in all, it was an incredibly crisp, fragrant experience—think Steak Frites but juicier, and marinated after a fruitful autumn harvest.
For dessert I had one of Sel Et Poivre’s adorable Profiteroles. Combining flaky and warm pastry with a refreshing ice cream interior, it was an incredibly delicious, well-rounded dessert. Topped with chocolate sauce, mint leaf, and a raspberry, it combined everything I like in a good dessert without being too hot, sweet, cold, or doughy. They come two to a regular dessert order and one with the prix fixe.
Sel Et Poivre has stood the test of time as a lively, classy French bistro. Whether you are eager for a familiar French favorite or want to go out on a limb and eat something more exotic, Sel Et Poivre’s refined atmosphere and culinary delights are worth a visit and certainly a taste. As Chef Christian put it “Cook with love, serve with charm!”
Be sure to check our Sel Et Poivre’s Game Tasting Menu, a special running for this week and the next (March 10th-23rd). It’s $59.95 for a three course prix fixe dinner with wild choices ranging from venison to wild boar to quail, though you can also get your game fix a la carte.
Sel Et Poivre
Address: 853 Lexington Avenue (Between East 64th and 65th Streets)
Telephone Number: (212) 517 – 5780
Lunch served from Noon to 4:00 PM on Mondays to Fridays
Dinner from 4:00 PM to 10:30 PM on Mondays to Thursdays, 4:00 PM to 11:00 PM on Fridays and Saturdays, and 4:00 PM to 10:00 PM on Sundays
Brunch is from 12 PM to 4:00 PM on weekends.