Just after Christmas last year, restaurateur extraordinaire Keith McNally shuttered his almost four-year-old eatery Pulino's, promising a Parisian reinvention in lieu of the fledgling pizza project. With that, he debuted Cherche Midi last Friday on the Bowery at Houston Street. It's more familiar territory for McNally, whose decidedly French bistros Pastis and Balthazar have been routinely packed since their nascence (the former temporarily closed with plans to move elsewhere). Also familiar, a specialty burger a la Minetta Tavern, McNally's other ridiculously popular hotspot; he's got one on the menu here too, but we'll get to that in a minute.
The restaurateur isn't taking any chances in the kitchen, bringing aboard former Balthazar executive chef Shane Mcbride and former Minetta Tavern head sous chef Daniel Parilla to design the dishes. Nobody's reinventing the wheel here, but there are still some interesting items to be found amidst the Steak Frites and Foie Gras. The Sauteed Sardines ($14) come atop grilled country bread with a generous dollop of saffron aioli and a drizzle of pickled shallots. Frogs legs ($19) have also been an early hit, fried and swimming in green garlic veloute full of rich buttery flavor.
Steaks and seafood dominate the entree section, from the delicate (if decadent) Lobster Ravioli ($21) in a ginger buerre blanc—read: butter sauce—with sweet piquillo peppers to the cowboy-sized Dry-Aged Prime Rib ($48), a honking slab of beef that arrives pink and dripping into the accompanying cider braised onions. Speaking of prime rib, it's in that burger ($21) as well, which comes topped with a bacon marmalade, roasted mushrooms and aged gruyere and a crisp pile of fries. There's already a buzz about this burger; good luck getting a reservation on the weekends.
Where Pulino's would deafen you into submission, Cherche Midi oozes cutesy, quiet charm. It's all just so French, from the pale pink table clothes to the warm, sunny yellow walls to the stacks of bread lying in wait above the server's station. There are some remnants of its previous life, like the charmingly cluttered liquor shelves behind the bar and the surprising if equally charming shared bathroom sink area, which has elicited knowing chuckles between startled patrons.
282 Bowery, 212-226-3055; website