Sel Et Poivre Revisited: The Game Festival

Three years since visiting and reviewing Sel Et Poivre, I was invited back to taste some new and varied offerings on the restaurant’s traditional French menu.  The restaurant was busy and lively as ever with a surprisingly packed dining room for a chilly winter Tuesday night.

For the rest of February and well into March, Chef Christian will be serving a variety of rarer meats as part of the restaurant’s annual game festival. In addition to classic French fare like duck, steak, and veal kidneys, you can expect wilder visitors such as venison, quail, and even antelope!

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.

venisonsausage

Venison Sausage and Venison and Wild Boa Sausage

 

Next I tried the escargot, which was slathered in garlic butter and parsley, a classic combination. It was a delightful appetizer bursting with succulent juiciness, savory flavor, and a light spring breeze of herbs. The texture of the snails was melt-in-your-mouth rather than chewy–delicate enough to make me forget what I was slurping!

escargot

Escargot in Garlic Butter and Parsley Sauce

The third course was both the simplest yet the most enthralling for me: a creamy red pepper bisque. With a kiss of cream and a dollop of potato, the dish had a wonderfully viscous texture whilst still remaining relatively light and frothy. I cannot stress enough that I really dislike bell peppers, but I adored this soup. The dish carried the full-bodied summer aroma and sweetness of the pepper, but bolstered and grounded it with a rich swirl of cream and salty potato. I’m sure Chef Christian could work wonders with any vegetable, but this seasonal bisque special was a total treat for me.

redpepperbisque

Red Pepper Bisque

The first main course we tried was cod served on a bed of lentils. Despite an intense aroma of fish stock around the dish, I found the fish flaky, light, and just right in terms of saltiness. Covered in cream and garnished with little peppery punches of mustard seed, the lentils made for a strong and filling contrast as a side.

CodandCreamyLentils.jpg

Cod and Creamy Lentils

The second main course we enjoyed was quail stuffed with goat cheese in a port wine sauce. The quail was delicate with crispy,  seared skin and savory meat without a trace of gamey flavor.  Quail is a bonier, smaller bird than chicken with more delicate morsels of meet. The sweet, slightly acidic sauce mingled beautifully with the billows of melted, salty-tangy goat cheese nestled within. It was served with wild rice and pureed sweet potato that balanced out the decadence nicely.  I’m told you get a pair of quail to gobble down when ordering off of the regular menu!

stuffedquail

Quail Stuffed with Goat Cheese, with Wild Rice and Pureed Sweet Potato

 

We began dessert with the smoothest creme brulee I’ve ever tasted. It was garnished with a perfectly ripe raspberry. I only wish it had been topped with more.

cremebrulee

Crème Brûlée

Following that was an incredibly fluffy apricot crepe with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Chef Christian attributed the meticulous, eggy delicateness of the crepe’s thin layers to a simple flick of his wrist. The apricots were warm and spiced, melted down to a heavy syrup that had been expertly drizzled over the crepe to impart their flavor without leaving it soggy. It was a dazzling yet wonderfully understated dessert.

apricotcrepes

Apricot Crepe with Ice Cream and Mint

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.

Sel Et Poivre

Location: 853 Lexington Avenue (Between East 64th and 65th Streets)

Website: www.seletpoivrenyc.com

Phone:  212 – 517 – 5780

Lunch 12 PM-4 PM on Mondays through Fridays

Dinner is 4 PM-10:30 PM on Mondays through Thursdays, 4 PM to 11 PM on Fridays and Saturdays, 4 PM-10:30 PM on Sundays.

Brunch is 12 PM-4 PM on Saturdays and Sundays.

The game festival runs until mid March!

Word of Mouth Bistro: The Word’s Deserved

A Pitiful Preface Regarding my Lack of Nourishment

From cleaner air to a lack of sales tax (hello two new pairs of shoes), my visit to Oregon gave me plenty to enjoy. However, these pleasures were almost lost on me because of how hungry I felt my first night there.

I hadn’t eaten anything on the five hour plane flight except for some grapes that probably cost like $10. Delta was only offering two freeze-dried looking sandwiches for like $10 a pop, so I passed on my inflight meal.

Landing in Portland at roughly 8:30 PM, I thought I’d given myself plenty of time to scurry for dinner, but by the time I’d made it to my Salem hotel and settled in, I realized that attempting to find a restaurant after 10 PM without a car would prove nigh-impossible. New York had certainly left me spoiled in the late night bites department!

Going to bed on a virtually empty stomach, the piercingly brilliant western sun easily woke me at exactly 6 AM. After taking longer than I probably should have to figure out the hotel wifi, I consulted Yelp, TripAdvisor, and several other similar programs all directed me to the same restaurant: Word of Mouth Bistro. I was lucky that it was only a brisk twenty minute walk from the Howard Johnson’s.

I did stop to smell the roses more than once. Oregon has A LOT of Roses :)

I did stop to smell the roses more than once. Oregon has A LOT of Roses 🙂

Homecooked Hospitality

Arriving shortly after 7 (it was easy to spot the cozy-looking house beneath the big sign), I immediately found several groups of people queued up to dine–a good omen! I was seated after maybe 10 minutes and eagerly perused the menu.

I learned that the owners Becky and Steve have spent years honing their skills in comfort cooking and that they do all of it themselves rather than trust any other chefs with their beloved recipes. Torn between the Chicken Fried Fillet Mignon and the Plate of Love which consists of Prime Rib Hash and Creme Brûlée French Toast, I ended up ordering both rather than wait another moment without sustenance.

The Prime Rib in the hash was tender and well seasoned and I also enjoyed the onions and mushrooms that came with it. Between the massive serving of fried potatoes and the even larger portion of French toast, I found myself a little overwhelmed. The French toast managed to be as divine as it sounded with its warm fluffy filling and daintily caramelized coating. It also came with two fried eggs!

Plate of Love - Prime Rib Hash with Creme Brûlée French Toast. There is love involved in both its creation and consumption!

Plate of Love – Prime Rib Hash with Creme Brûlée French Toast. There is love involved in both its creation and consumption!

Before my next course arrived, my waitress informed me that the chefs knew that I was extra hungry and that they wanted me to sample an extra two courses: The New England Clam Chowder (definitely comparable to anything I’ve had East) and the Cinnamon Roll Pancakes (which were totally sweet in every sense of the word). My heart and stomach were both touched by this extremely generous and random display of kindness. They didn’t even know I have a food blog!

New England Clam Chowder

New England Clam Chowder

New England Clam Chowder

New England Clam Chowder

The Chicken Fried Filet Mignon was definitely my favorite thing on the menu. Breaded and battered like a well-loved schnitzel or, then slathered in the thick, savory house sausage gravy, it thrilled my tastebuds from start to finish. Its crunchy, crumbed exoskeleton could easily have passed for the perfect morsel of fried chicken and the steak within was juicy and medium rare with a lovely, yet faint sweetness in the meat that made the entire dish and its savory charms stand out even more. It also came with another two fried eggs, a buttermilk biscuit (came with a dollop of homemade strawberry jam), and a fresh fruit salad that included blueberries, mango, pineapple, and a ruby red slice of ripe blood orange.

Filet Mignon Chicken Fried Steak & Eggs - My favorite thing in Oregon

Filet Mignon Chicken Fried Steak & Eggs – My favorite thing in Oregon

Did I mention that every entree here went for under $15? Recall how they don’t do sales tax here in Oregon.

I was so charmed by that first extravagant meal, I made sure to visit Word of Mouth again during my four day stay in order to try The Incredibly Flying Biscuit with its buttermilk fried chicken. The Saturday rush was really crazy, so I got it for take out, and I was impressed again,

If you’re in Salem for any period of time, I wholeheartedly recommend that you try Word of Mouth Bistro. It can get busy and crowded for breakfast and lunch, but the crazy success is a testament to just how special a place Becky and Steve are running here. You’ve certainly won over this fussy New Yorker!

Word of Mouth Bistro

Hours: Open Wednesday-Monday for breakfast and lunch from 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM. Closed Tuesdays.

Address: 140 17th Street NE  Salem, Oregon 97302

Phone Number: 503-930-4285

Website: http://www.WordofSalem.com

Email Address: WordofSalem@gmail.com

Just read the sign behind me if my smile isn't convincing!

Just read the sign behind me if my smile isn’t convincing!

Masq Makes Mardi Gras a Manhattan Occasion

New Orleans might be almost 1500 miles away from Manhattan, but husband and wife duo George and Nora Chaprastian change reality into a Mardi Gras parade at Masq, a New American and New Orleans-inspired restaurant that livens up Midtown East. Named after the lively masquerades associated with Louisiana’s capital, Masq whisks diners away from the hustle and bustle of its Manhattan location. With a dazzling array of colorful Christmas lights, beautifully haunting Italian masks, and luxurious vintage furniture, it really brings the ball to its diners.

Executive Chef Marc Getzelman directs Masq’s food and pastries as well as its wine, always making sure to complement each of his dishes with an appropriate drink. We were treated to a feast of New American appetizers and New Orleans classics, each crafted with meticulous precision and impeccable style like the rest of Masq’s dining experience.

The Macaroni and Cheese Croquettes with Bacon and Jalapeno were an all-around great way to start our meal. I found the tangerine-hued remoulade sauce quite courteous. It added a moderate amount of tanginess that did not interfere with the more delicate flavors in the macaroni and cheese. With a pescatarian diner in our presence, Chef Marc was more than happy to accommodate our table with a bacon-free version.

Mac 'N' Cheese Croquette with Bacon, Cheddar, and Jalapeño. Served with Spicy Remoulade Sauce

Mac ‘N’ Cheese Croquette with Bacon, Cheddar, and Jalapeño. Served with Spicy Remoulade Sauce

Our second bite came in the form of the Prosciutto Fig Flatbread–a highlight of the evening for me as it managed to be light, savory, sweet, and filling all at once. Hefty portions of prosciutto, swirls of sweet goat cheese, and summery arugula leaves enhanced the thin, crunchy slices. In terms of texture and flavor, I found it to be a perfectly balanced treat and won’t hesitate to order it again. Chef Marc mentioned to us that flatbread has always been a part of Masq’s repertoire, but that the prosciutto-decked variant started off as a special that ascended to the main menu based on popular demand. I wholeheartedly support that motion. Chef Marc and the Chaprastians reassured us that they are always open to customer feedback and that the evolution of the menu is part of what makes Masq a great restaurant.

Prosciutto Fig Flatbread with Goat Cheese and Arugula

Prosciutto Fig Flatbread with Goat Cheese and Arugula

The third and final appetizer was the Asian Marinated Salmon. Normally I find myself a tad skeptical of things labelled “Asian” on any menu, but Masq’s Honey Garlic Soy Sauce assuaged my doubts and has my approval. The addition of honey to a well-executed soy garlic sauce created a new innovation in sweet and sour for this salmon. Perfectly marinated to a dark crisp on the outside and served over a bed of fresh greens, Masq’s salmon dresses to impress.

Asian Marinated Salmon -  Served in Honey Garlic Soy Sauce with Mixed Greens

Asian Marinated Salmon – Served in Honey Garlic Soy Sauce with Mixed Greens

Each of the New American appetizers impressed me. I would’ve been happy to eat a meal solely composed of the Flatbread and the Salmon. They were the kind of dishes that embody a summer picnic for me—a welcome respite from a cold winter evening. However, it was the Louisiana-style cuisine that really warmed my palette that night with jazzy seafood entrees that definitely warrant a taste whether you’ve been to New Orleans or not.

Served on a sweet Hawaiian roll, Masq’s Shrimp Po’ Boy tastes decidedly rich despite its namesake—a welcome change! Succulent yet crunchy shrimp dusted off with pure chili powder on the most luscious of buns made for a winning sandwich. With the powder on the side, I could happily adjust the amount of kick in the sandwich to my liking.

Shrimp Po' Boy on Sweet Hawaiian Roll with Coleslaw

Shrimp Po’ Boy on Sweet Hawaiian Roll with Coleslaw

Masq gave us a classic Jambalaya for its final course.  Now, Jambalaya is one of the first dishes that comes to mind when one thinks of Cajun food. A rice, seafood, and meat dish punctuated with plenty of punch, I’ve come to think of it as the spicy, younger sister of Paella, the dish’s Spanish predecessor and a personal favorite. As a supertaster, I found myself a little hesitant to try the Jambalaya at first. True to tradition, the rice dish brought an intense, fiery flavor that emanated primarily from the peppery Andouille sausage. However, Masq presented a more nuanced incarnation, cooling their Jambalaya’s heat with the addition of fresh, cool goat cheese that balanced out the overall spiciness of the dish and provided a rich, creamy counterpoint. These little tweaks really allow Masq to stand out from their competition as it very much retains the authenticity of Louisiana’s cuisine without steamrolling the experience onto less spice-savvy diners.

Masq's Jambalaya consists of Cajun Spiced Chicken, Andouille Sausage, Shrimp, and Goat Cheese. Make sure to mix the goat cheese!

Masq’s Jambalaya consists of Cajun Spiced Chicken, Andouille Sausage, Shrimp, and Goat Cheese. Make sure to mix that goat cheese!

For dessert, we were treated to Sabayon, a deliquescent egg custard topped with fresh whipped cream and a quartet of berries. Elegantly served in a champagne glass, the Sabayon gave us a soothing and refreshing finish to a sizzling dinner with strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, and blueberry adding vivid colors and aromas to an already fluffy dessert. Once more, I enjoyed a sweet taste of summer!

Sabayon with Raspberry, Strawberry, Blackberry, Blueberry (not pictured here), and Whipped Cream

Sabayon with Raspberry, Strawberry, Blackberry, Blueberry (not pictured here), and Whipped Cream

Aside from its delectable food offerings, Masq has a lovely horseshoe shaped bar with full service and a massive assortment of wine and liquor selections. However, for me, Masq’s main attraction lies in its private party lounge. The Red Room is simply a work of opulence with red velvet curtains and furniture, Persian rugs, fanciful sconces, and beautifully-crafted vintage decor. Whether you’re looking for a reasonably priced bite to eat, a break from your regular Manhattan routine, or a space for your next party, Masq has something for every New Yorker or out of towner looking for an authentic dining experience.

From 8 to 11 pm on Thursday nights, Masq brings in live music to enhance the party vibe.  When the season comes, Chef Marc also promises crawfish on the menu.

From 8 to 11 pm on Thursday nights, Masq brings in live music to enhance the party vibe. When the season comes, Chef Marc also promises crawfish on the menu.

The Red Room seats 45 and makes an ideal location for your next party!

The Red Room seats 45 and makes an ideal location for your next party!

Masq

Address: 306 East 49th Street (Between First & Second Avenues)

New York, NY 100017

Website: www.masqny.com

Phone: (212) 644-8294

Hours

Lunch: 11:30 AM to 4:00 PM, Monday to Friday.

Dinner:  4:00 PM  to 10:00 PM, Monday to Wednesday. 4:00 PM  to 1:00 AM, Thursday to Saturday.

Happy Hour runs from 4 PM to 8 PM from Monday to Friday  (1/2-price on specialty cocktails and select global wines by the glass).

Closed on Sundays.

Masq’s Lunch Menu

Masq’s Dinner Menu