A quaintrelle is a woman who exudes joie de vivre. The word and its definition are printed on the wall of the restaurant—the definition cribbed directly from Wiktionary, belying the restaurant’s confidence and élan. Nothing else about this place feels phoned in; it exhibits restrained elegance and forward decisiveness all at once. It’s vegetarian-friendly, with a thoughtful bar program. There’s not a quaint bone in Quaintrelle’s body.
The spot opened last summer with a regularly rotating, seasonal menu. As a starter, some iteration of a beef carpaccio with peanuts and a fresh crucifer-plus-horseradish ($14) appears to be firmly staying put year-round, along with a cheese plate ($6/16) and a dry-cured, sweet-salty duck ham with pickles ($13).
Seeing that it’s finally spring, however, we’re no longer relegated to cheese and charcuterie plates. The wild mushrooms, spring onions, pea tendrils (recently replacing wilted nettles), and chèvre on toast ($11) is an earthy and satisfying starter, bridging the long span between autumn and spring in one fell swoop. This one little dish was surprisingly substantial; I’d hazard that lighter appetites could be sated by this plate and a glass of brut alone.
But why on earth would anyone stop there? The mixed tempura of tetsukabuto (a kabocha-like Japanese pumpkin) and cinnamon cap mushrooms, gilded with chili honey and pecorino ($13) is the gossamer fritto misto you’ve always wanted: crispy, juicy, toothsome, and hitting the salty-sweet spots universally shared by all discriminating stoners.
The vegetable menu carries on minding the plant-eaters. A salad of apples, celery, mixed seeds, and sorrel ($13) is dressed in buttermilk, dense and crunchy, with a minerality balancing the tart-sweet apples. Even better is the salad of beets, sesame, watermelon radishes, cashews, and baby greens ($13)—a study in jewel tones that I’m happy to see carried over from the late-winter menu. It’s a beautiful little plate of chunky beets, shaved watermelon radishes, with green and purple cotyledons strewn across the top. The house-made toasted sesame tahini pureed with parsley is pure silken verdure, leaving hummus back at 1990s potlucks like a frumpy pair of Birkenstocks.
A bright salad of citrus and squid, with frisée, crispy sunchokes, hazelnuts, and finely sliced jalapeño playing backup ($13) acted as a cheerful segue from the fat and salt of duck ham and fried bits of the starter menu, albeit one that has tragically been left behind with the winter menu. That does, however, bring me to my one minor quibble: My dining companion was curious about a wine (the Patricia Green Muscat Ottonel; $11/44), and when she asked about it, manager/sommelier Matt Hensel’s face lit up. He gushed to her that the wine was his favorite pairing with the citrus-squid salad we’d ordered. We soon discovered that he was absolutely correct in his enthusiasm—the wine was pure sublimity with that salad—but we shouldn’t have to work for this critical information! It is heartbreaking to think that people might miss out on this because they didn’t know to ask. (When it comes to suggested pairings, I don’t mind being led assertively by the hand.)
The ethereal goat cheese dumplings ($21) were the exact right amount of silky gnudi, with black trumpet mushrooms and bitter radicchio nicely tempering the buttery richness. A recent update of the dish uses sheep’s milk cheese and nettles (altered with the changing season right before press time), and if the earlier version is any indication, this, too, will be stunning.
The meat and fish menu ably covers the proteins. The pork confit with turnips, cherries, Arch Cape chicories and hazelnuts (one summer version featured nectarines and endive instead of cherries and chicory; $24) was crispy on the outside and succulent on the inside, a technical masterpiece. Early March’s fish dish, a ling cod with borlotto beans, leeks, fennel, and manila clams ($26) was delicate; the fish is now a turmeric-scented halibut with almonds, leeks, miner’s lettuce, and sea beans (a crunchy, salty estuarine weed that looks like tiny pickles), and the clams are a separate offering. The flatiron steak with garlic marrow toast and a seasonal vegetable ($25; cress is the late-winter and early springtime offering) is always on the menu. Conservative palates take note: one could order just the steak and two sides (smashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts, $6 each) and be completely set.
The cocktail menu has something for everyone, with helpful tasting notes provided for the uninitiated. If you can’t decide, the daily Prohibition Punch ($8) will happily take the reins, arriving in a lovely little crystal punch glass. The dessert menu is austere, with just two offerings (olive oil cake with huckleberry compote and lemon curd, or coffee pudding with shortbread and vanilla cream) that sufficiently cover the sweet tooth’s bases.
With such a restrained and intriguing menu, it’s tempting to order one of everything. Do it, but be warned: the small plates can add up to a pretty sturdy bill quickly, so thriftier diners might want to save Quaintrelle for a splurge. However, it is totally worth it. With each part of the tongue receiving equal attention and in delicate balance—bitter, fatty, bright, salty, savory, and sweet—a meal at Quaintrelle is an intricate high-wire act, and you will not want a net.
Sun, Tues, Wed 5-9 pm, Thurs-Sat 5-10 pm; reservations accepted