In America, fondue is a kitschy party snack. It involves American cheese, American cheese product, or over-sugared chocolate. In the rare occasions that it is still made, it is made in the type of apparatus one spots in the As Seen On TV section in CVS. At Taureau, entrepreneurial Chef Didier Pawlicki’s fondue restaurant, the dish takes on what feels like an entirely new dimension. It is, upon further inspection, a quite ancient dimension rooted in traditional French cooking techniques. For those of us used to the kitsch, however, Taureau is eye-opening.
Didier started Taureau at the East Village location now occupied by his gluten-free restaurant Le Village. Since 2012, it has been perched right beside La Sirene in Soho in a two tiny, intimate spaces enhanced by exposed brick, custom wood furniture and expansive windows. Like Didier’s other two restaurants, it has the charm of a hidden gem with a very astute eye for decor.
The Old Swiss fondue is the perfect a la carte starter. Taureau serves homemade croutons as a dipping tool, and after tasting croutons that melt in your mouth with decadent cheese, you may never order them cold, stale and sad on your salad again. Swiss can be bland cold, but heating it up to a lava-like texture seems to expose its true potential.
For more variety, the full 3-course tasting menu is worth the $52/per person cost. There is also a smaller 3-course prix-fixe for $43. That value is significantly enhanced by the opportunity to try several incredible cheeses at once. The Perigord is excellent, a true explosion of luxurious tastes with both truffle oil and truffles in a blend of Parmesan and White American cheese. One of the delights of Didier’s fondues is the array of bold and brilliant pairings between sides and dips. In this vein, the Perigord fondue is unforgettable when paired with chorizo. Taureau also serves several vegetables, which go remarkably well with the cheese fondue.
The meat course is as much an activity as it is a meal, so it may not be right for people who prefer staying completely disengaged from the food preparation process. It is very right for people who enjoy delicious meats, have a fidgety temperament in formal dining settings, and like the slightest bit of risk with their dinner. Taureau’s fantastic waiters will educate you on how to quickly and skillfully cook raw, marinated meats in piping hot oil and broth, but this is not the time to be clumsy. Diners prepare the restaurant’s Fondue Bourguignonne on each individual table, which has a beautifully seamless built-in stove. Choose from canola, olive and peanut oils, or red wine or veggie broth. Meats are served with house-made dipping sauces, including rich dijon and spicy mixed peppercorn.
The red wine broth is perfectly spiced, and tastes tailor-made for the hanger steak and filet mignon. Fifteen seconds is all it takes to cook the beef thoroughly. The olive and peanut oils add great dimension to flavor of the chicken and pork, although those meats take almost a minute to prepare. Somehow this feels achingly long after the cheese course, where all you have to do is spear a crouton and dip it in the cheese. Nonetheless, it’s a refreshing education on what fondue is in Burgundy, and the process is a singular experience in the Manhattan restaurant landscape.
The dessert course is the most familiar, yet no less delicious than the rest of the menu. With a simple choice of gourmet milk or dark chocolate fondue, the dipping objects offer the chance to expand your palate beyond traditional strawberries and chocolate. Among others, the options include pineapple, kiwi, marshmallow, pear, and melt-in-your-mouth white chocolate cake.
Aside from the expertly executed concept and the tantalizing food, Taureau bears the mark of a Didier Pawlicki production: every single element is created and presented with intention, knowledge and warmth. From the sleek fondue cauldrons to the custom velvet and walnut banquettes, the attention to detail and experience is unlike any other place in New York. Bring a date, bring a friend or just bring your appetite–Taureau is for everyone, but when you are there it feels like it was made just for you.
Taureau is open every day for dinner and takes American Express, cash and–if you’re low on pennies–Bitcoin. Make reservations here: http://www.taureaunyc.com/