If you’ve dined at a new restaurant in the last six months, you must have noticed: There’s no escaping au poivre. The French pan sauce used to be for steaks — or maybe mushrooms, for a vegetarian substitution. Not anymore. As bistros opened across the city last year, au poivre took a turn. It’s showing up on menus like an answer to a Mad Lib. It now comes in the form of lobster, lamb, and $22 vodka martinis.
Swoony’s, an American restaurant, serves short rib au poivre, and there’s one with skate at Chez Ma Tante in Greenpoint. P.J. Clarke’s, the 140-year-old tavern, recently added an au poivre burger to its menu, a nod to the one at Raoul’s; Bar Blondeau serves a version of the same dish, reconfigured as sliders.
Generally, au poivre is made by adding peppercorns and herbs to a skillet with butter or olive oil, then cognac or brandy, and maybe cream or creme fraiche. Chefs have always bent the rules, but the preparations now feel more personal than before.
At Huda in Williamsburg, saying “au poivre” gets you tender lamb top round. Angie Hossain, the restaurant’s chef, used that meat instead of steak because it’s more popular in Lebanon. Her au poivre is inspired by the steak frites at the French restaurant, Le Crocodile, where she previously worked. It’s made with mushroom stock and garlicky toum. It uses Hennessy, instead of wine.
The lamb au poivre was one of Huda’s most popular dishes, Hossain says. It’s off the menu for the winter, but it will be back in the spring.
What do purists think about all that? Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the famous French chef, has watched au poivre twist and turn over the years. He’s partial to a classic sauce, like the one at Pastis in the Meatpacking District, but so what if it ends up elsewhere? “You can put it on salmon, chicken, so many things,” he says.
Lore, an American restaurant, makes au poivre with coconut, and Cafe Chelsea, the new restaurant at the Hotel Chelsea, pours it on maitake mushrooms. Still, none are as strange as the version at Le Rock: For $22, the French bistro will sell you a “martini au poivre” with vodka, vin jaune, and pickled green peppercorns.
Some of the experiments work better than others. Max Chodorow, an owner of Jean’s, is the inventor of the tuna au poivre, a 14-ounce seafood steak drenched in sauce. “Our restaurant is all about slightly updated versions of bistro classics,” he says. It serves lobster bisque “shots” and burgers with fondue cheese.
The au poivre is made with a seafood stock made from tuna bones. It left the menu right after Jean’s opened, though it may return in the future. “People were ordering it,” Chodorow says, “but they had no chance of finishing it.” Translation: The tuna was too big. (Maybe there is such a thing as too much au poivre.)
An early take on au poivre showed up at Chino Grande, a Williamsburg restaurant that hosts karaoke after-hours. It had a lobster au poivre on the opening menu that was made with Sichuan peppercorns. It disappeared last fall, as the business updated its menu, but don’t worry.
There’s one on the menu at Demo, opening this month in the West Village.