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Week of January 28, 2002

first taste
Royal Feast

If Chairman Mao were still laughing, he'd giggle to know there's a slicked-up tablecloth joint on Mott Street called Royal touting a "provincial" menu of his favorite dishes. My convocation of pepperhead pals is greeted by an empty room and five guys in dark suits looking like undertakers, maybe, and a menu full of Hong Kong this and Sichuan that. "Where is the Mao food?" I cry. "Coming up next week," one of them promises. "Have to translate this." He ruffles a manuscript. "Chef will cook for you. You try now." Then comes the Lop Yuke leeks with Hunan bacon, Mao's twice-cooked pork, custardy bean curd, grilled prawns with fat green asparagus, and frog with shrimp, ginger, and scallion -- most everything larded with torrid red and green peppers to pick out and set aside in hopes of survival . . . absolutely delicious. And the Hong Kong salt-baked squid are amazing, too. No word yet from Mao on dessert. GAEL GREENE
1 Mott Street


best of the week
A Fine Romance
A Valentine's Day visit to Daniel would suffice on its own, but from February 14 through 16, the pot's been sweetened: Bill Boggs and Hilary Kole serenade with romantic numbers from the American songbook. Prix fixe dinner and cover is $150; the late show costs $100. Reserve tickets now.
60 E. 65th Street
See our Valentine's Day restaurant picks

object of desire
Devilish Combination
Lately, deviled eggs -- like fondue, pupu platters, and Bert Convy-hosted game-show reruns -- have enjoyed a modest, kitschy comeback. We used to be of the opinion that the only way to prepare them was with as little fuss as possible: Whip the yolks with Hellmann's and Dijon mustard, pipe into the whites, and sprinkle with paprika or chopped parsley. Then we came across Le Zinc's jazzed-up quartet. Chef Michael Sullivan tweaks the mustard-mayo formula by topping one egg with bacon, roasted onion, and thyme, and another with salmon roe. In a third, he substitutes curry for mustard and adds a garnish of Granny Smith apple slices. For the traditionalist at the table, the fourth is the classic Joy of Cooking take, with its telltale dusting of sweet paprika and parsley.
Le Zinc
139 Duane Street


Greene Grocer
Fort Greene's L'Epicerie came about after some solid, old-fashioned market research: "I'd see people walking down the street, carrying Dean & Deluca and Balducci's bags," says Jean-Baptiste Caillet, owner of the bistro A Table a few blocks away, "and I figured, There's a niche that needs filling." By transforming a former bike shop into a charming Portuguese-tiled gourmet grocery, stocked with everything from Australian lamb and New Zealand beef to organic produce and mostly French cheeses and charcuterie -- even a rigorously trained Toulouse butcher, Yohann Nazet (pictured) -- Caillet has done just that. But mixed in among the delectable imports are homegrown foodstuffs like bread from Blue Ribbon Bakery and chocolate from Jacques Torres's dumbo factory. And for brownstone dwellers in mid-kitchen renovation, there's an enticing selection of prepared foods like cold poached salmon, ratatouille, and boeuf bourguignonne.
270 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn

Ask Gael
What's worth leaving my homey winter cocoon?
Blue Fin. It's smart. It's handsome. It's jumping. Fiercely noisy with jazz to boot. (Ask to sit out back, an oasis for, ahem . . . adults.) Stephen Hanson, a longtime pal, hooked us that first night with his esculent uni. Lushly primal, this pedigreed sea urchin spills over its rice saddle with nary a bit of nori to rein in its voluptuous sprawl. Sushi mavens will be happy here, though for me the admittedly tasty rolls (spicy tuna, sesame sea scallop, miso-glazed sea bass) seem a tad skimpy. And the staff is still figuring it out. But chef Paul Sale scores with splendid goat-cheese-and-beet salad, a superior crab cake with chunky celery-root salad, and his precise cooking of fish, especially black bass on shrimp-and-asparagus risotto, the wild salmon (rare, we said), and perfectly roasted Chilean sea bass (though I hated the sauce). Gotham vet Joseph Murphy bows with a chocolate tasting that's hard to just taste and a satiny coconut-milk panna cotta in pineapple-passion-fruit soup.
Blue Fin
1567 Broadway, at 47th Street

Bites & Buzz Archive

Week of January 14
Craft's new offshoot; a taste of Burgundy's best; Gael on Harlem's renaissance
Week of January 7
Tongue in chic, AKA Cafe's two-timing chef, Gael finds a class act on the Upper West Side
Week of December 31
Creative cocktails at the Vivian Beaumont; Oceana's sweet sea urchin custard; Beppe gets a visit from Mama; Picholine shines

and more ...

Photos: From top to bottom- Patrik Rytikangas (2); Kenneth Chen

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