The understated facade in the heart of the Flatiron district hides a charming restaurant that contrasts the busy New York neighborhood with a calming, intimate atmosphere.
Inside, exposed brick and linen walls, floor tiles and walnut wood paneling surround the small dining room. A dark purple banquette peppered with modern throw pillows frames 16 tables under a soft, amber light. Jazz music plays quietly in the background. All together they create a simple elegance that is more rustic than sophisticated.
Fleur de Sel is not about being trendy or perfect. The décor could be more refined, service could be more polished and the crowd is not there to see or be seen. But this casual authenticity may very well be what chef/owner Cyril Renaud strives for.
Renaud and his family are behind the restaurant’s interior design. His abstract paintings can be seen hanging on the walls but it is in the kitchen that his talent is fully appreciated.
Diners can select from a 3 or 6-course menu. The former offers about 9 options for each; appetizers, entrées and desserts. For the 6-course tasting menu, there are 2 options for each dish. Dishes are prepared with seasonal ingredients and influenced by the French Breton cuisine. All choices are well described and appetizing.
As an amuse bouche, Chilled tomato strawberry soup with basil oil. A refreshing, light start curiously similar to Gramercy Tavern’s palate cleanser.
First course, Lobster salad, orange & grapefruit, caviar citrus vinaigrette. A delicate combination of flavors with the perfectly cooked lobster accompanied by a nice balance of acidity and sweetness.
Second, Sweet corn & foie gras ravioli, caramelized cèpes, Madeira sauce. Served over a bright colored spinach purée, the fine ravioli dissolves in your mouth bringing together the subtle yet rich foie, nutty porcini and sweet corn. A very flavorful dish.
As an alternative, Duck confit croquette, raisin coulis, apple & frisée salad. Crunchy and moist, although I’d recommend the ravioli.
Third, Pan seared wild striped bass, green asparagus, baby bok choy & turnips, chive coulis. Another colorful dish rich in flavor and texture with the tasty albeit slightly overcooked fish and crunchy vegetables.
As an alternative, Steamed lemon fluke, Mediterranean couscous , onion tomato sofrito, lime zest.
Forth, Roulade of quail, foie gras & mushroom stuffing, broccoli rabe, armagnac sauce. A flavorful dish, combining the rich stuffed quail with the bitterness of the broccoli and the sweetness of poached pears.
Fifth, Selection of American artisanal cheeses. Including cow’s milk Camembert, Blue, goat’s milk Cannonball, and the delicious award-winning Summer Tomme from Willow Hill Farm. A rich and buttery sheep’s milk cheese made with an herb crust. Interestingly, Fleur de Sel was the only restaurant that offered a cheese course in my Tasting NY tour.
Sixth, Raspberry chocolate tart, spicebread crumble, raspberry ice cream. The beautifully presented dessert is good but not remarkable. Somewhat similar to Gramercy Tavern’s but more predictable. The sweet raspberry syrup is almost too expected and lacked the complexity something like blood orange would have brought.
To finish, house made petit fours and chocolate truffles. To take home, a coffee cake packed for the morning after.
The small French restaurant from chef Cyril Renaud may not have the allure of Gramercy Tavern one block down the street; but it can be a good alternative for those seeking a more intimate, romantic atmosphere. Renaud’s flavorful food is beautifully presented in a well thought out tasting menu. Even though no single dish stands out as memorable, it is a very good meal.
Fleur de Sel is at 5 East 20th St.