Saxon and Parole were two racehorses in the 1800’s, and they happen to be the inspiration behind the crop-and-bridle décor at Executive chef Brad Farmerie’s über-popular NoHo bistro. Horses are neither welcome here, nor are they mentioned on the menu in any way, but instead, the generous bar (serving ready-mixed, pre-chilled, ice-free Manhattans on-tap) leads to a couple of wood-framed dining areas teeming with dressage tchotchkes, amongst a spirited stable of regular diners.
Chef Farmerie keeps the kitchen gimmickry to a minimum. His prowess is more evident in his confident broad-strokes menu featuring abundant favorites done impressively well, with a few whiplashing surprises mixed in. The raw bar items share space with a Razor Clam Egg-Salad or a Sea Urchin Muffin with bacon bits. See what I mean?
The “First course” section offers a familiar variety of soup-salad-crudo options, with an obvious commitment to fresh, sustainable and fashionably de rigueur loco-moco-yoko ingredients like watercress and radishes, but the steamed Brussels Sprout Leaf Salad encircling a perfectly runny poached egg, covering smoky lardons with a zesty, salty and heavenly yuzu lemon hollandaise dressing combines everything I love about late autumn.
Land and sea options are very well represented in the “Second course,” with some standouts including a simply seasoned, yet handsomely fileted Hangar Steak, revealing a dark-pink, marbled and juicy interior – in the shade of a marrow bone brimming with velvety Béarnaise sauce.
Farmerie’s perfectly measured use of Harissa provides just sufficient horsepower to spruce up the Crispy Roast Chicken (on a saddle of barley and faro wheat) giving it a marvelously Moroccan bite.
It’s hardly surprising that the supple, crisp and amazingly moist Grilled Berkshire Pork Chop has become one of the most loyally requested dishes. While it shares the plate with an all-too-safe glazed apple, the limelight is snatched by that creamy and pungent goat-cheese laden polenta.
The only under-whelmer of the evening was the offensively sweet, chili-caramel roasted Brussels Sprouts, which were soon forgotten by the arrival of desserts. As popular as they may be, the Warm Cinnamon Sugar Doughnuts with a trio of dipping sauces were left at the starting line by one of the most original S’Mores presentations in history.
We insisted on a table-side demonstration as a ball-jarful of chocolate pudding, graham crackers and marshmallows were forced to inhale a few puffs of barrel smoke before the lid was tightly sealed, trapping an authentic bonfire flavor into the dessert, instantly rewinding me back to my pre-teen summer camp nights.
And so while some from the chewing police may have hemmed and hawed that Saxon + Parole hasn’t altered the culinary horizon enough, I would argue that Farmerie has carved himself an uncontested niche as New York’s torchbearer for reliable, enjoyable and above all impressive comfort cuisine – and let’s not forget those Manhattans on-tap!