With a new chef, 2941 tilts toward France

The lighting is moodier, and the cloud of cotton candy—a parting gift since 2941 opened four years ago—has been replaced by a tray of doll-size macaroons, nut-studded chocolate caramels, and citrus beignets.

They’re subtle changes. A more notable one is the arrival in January of chef Bertrand Chemel. He follows Scott Bryan, who helmed the kitchen for three months last fall after founding chef Jonathan Krinn left to open his own place.

Krinn’s French-influenced American cooking was often dazzling, but Chemel—who grew up in the Auvergne region of France and most recently shook sauté pans at the well-known Café Boulud in New York City—has pushed the kitchen toward something that may ultimately be more satisfying: a long-simmered French earthiness. Shut your eyes to the lake, the koi pond, and the dramatic landscaping outside the floor-to-ceiling windows and you might think you were in France.

You taste it in a thoughtfully composed salad of bacon-wrapped squab with shallot confit and poached quail egg, the juices from pork and poultry moistening the curly frisée underneath. And in a velvety foie gras terrine with its sweetish Muscat-wine gelée and tart persimmon chutney. Perhaps its best expression is in a duo of veal where poached foie gras and black truffles enhance a slow-cooked veal rib and roasted veal loin.

Chemel’s cooking at 2941 doesn’t duplicate his Café Boulud repertoire, but some ingredients (Tarbais beans) and combinations (beef with truffles) are familiar.

The Frenchness isn’t all-consuming, either; Chemel is equally at home with showy Italian fare. A saffron-scented risotto has the right soupy consistency and nutty taste. Refined gnocchi resemble pillow mints, but they stand up to a woodsy sauce of black truffles and pancetta.

He’s also comfortable channeling Modern American: Nantucket Bay scallops are nicely caramelized on a wintry purée of celery root, and a maple-glazed pork chop topped with a mirepoix of root vegetables gets a shot of pepper jus to counter the sweetness of the meat.

Chemel can go light when he wants to. A square of buttery hamachi tataki with apple and ginger—an amuse-bouche—glistens with brininess, as does a starter of silky Kona Kampachi sashimi with grapefruit gelée and a dollop of Calvisius caviar.

And he can turn an ostensibly light dish into something memorable. Bone-in chicken breast isn’t culinary purgatory. Beneath golden-crusted skin, the exceptionally moist bird conceals a marvelous surprise— meatloaflike sausage made of foie gras, chorizo, and the leg and thigh meat of the chicken.

Chemel also oversees the sweets, which are uniformly elegant, petite, and intensely flavored—from a Meyer-lemon cheesecake with orange-blossom water to a gooey warm chocolate cake with tropical-fruit trifle. Best of all is a chocolate-praline parfait with house-made peanut ice cream, warm chocolate sauce, and crunchy triangles of carmelized Rice Krispies. You don’t miss the cotton candy.

As wonderful as Chemel’s food is, he and his staff still seem to be feeling their way, especially when private parties add to the burden on kitchen and dining room. On a recent Saturday night, two dishes that had previously been near perfect were undersalted. As for the front of the house, one hostess rolled her eyes when we asked for a better table.

These may be transitional pains, the sort of thing that happens when a restaurant brings in its third chef in six months. Here’s hoping that’s the case, because Chemel’s 2941 is poised to be an even better restaurant than it was.