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Week of July 22, 2002

Surf Sup
Once the culinary province of California surfer dudes and hungover gringos on spring break in Ensenada, fish tacos have been working their deep-fried, cabbage-topped way onto some of New York's most eclectic menus (with the occasional multicultural tweak certain chefs can't seem to resist). In most taquerias scattered throughout the city, it's still easier to find a $2 tongue taco than a flaky Baja-style fish one. But as demonstrated by the growing profusion of traditional and not-so-traditional seafood versions, the tide seems to be turning. Until Taco Bell catches on — and it won't be long — here are a few places to satisfy a craving. — ROB PATRONITE

1731z2 Mott Street
Spicy southwestern-style crisp-shelled tacos (pictured) filled with sautéed red snapper, jalapeño, chipotle, Thai basil, avocado, and lime juice on a smoked-chili-cream-painted plate. Apply sweet mango salsa liberally to cool them down. (Four to an order; $12.)

La Fondita
74 Montauk Highway, Amagansett
The gold standard of Baja-style fish tacos, at least in these parts: meaty nuggets of perfectly battered deep-fried cod, freshly shredded cabbage, and chipotle mayo ($3). Order several at a time, or you'll just end up back in line begging for more.

City Bakery
3 West 18th Street
Beer-battered, deep-fried catfish or mahimahi Baja-style with cilantro, avocado, shredded cabbage, and a swirl of crema. Plus, green hot sauce from Guatemala on the side. (Two per order; $7.50. Available at the lunch counter.)

The Minnow

442 9th Street, Brooklyn
A fish-taco appetizer special only a Le Bernardin-trained New England native could conjure up: deep-fried panko-crusted bluefish with coriander, garlic, lime juice, avocado, and a chiffonade of lettuce delicately stuffed into crispy taco tubes, accompanied by a tiny mango salad.

186 Avenue A
An Asian-Mexican hybrid that might shock Baja natives and impress Nobu: tempura-battered, deep-fried scrod tacos with Japanese mustard sauce and apple-jícama slaw. (Offered as an entrée; $14.50.)



in print
It Looks Like Daniel
I suspect only certified foodies will want to dig through the fatback to nibble the juicy morsels of gossip in The Fourth Star (Clarkson Potter; $25). Was it rash of Daniel Boulud to grant journalist Leslie Brenner free range at Daniel in the year of his drive to recover the fourth star plucked away by a rookie Times critic? Well, nothing fazes Superchef — not unexpected press and demanding VIPs, not the Secret Service and canine sniffers. Brenner, quickly wowed, tries to be tough. Amid the numbing workaday details are just enough telltale amuse-bouches that I gobbled the book in one sitting. The perfectionist-workaholic Boulud — all charm in the dining room, tyrant in the kitchen. The sticky-palmed maître d' everyone hates. The pain-in-the-ass regulars Daniel indulges beyond reason. The accepting wife. The never-used Boulud family oven, "full of soft drinks." A morale crisis, an exodus of cooks. And then the wandering fourth star returns. Brenner thinks it's just William Grimes flaunting his clout. In fact, it took a year to soften the stiff, gloomy room, to refine and intensify the pleasure of the menu-and to recognize Mr. Grimes. Great is good enough, but when Daniel himself cooks your dinner, great is glorious. — GAEL GREENE


The Thick of It
Vea Kessissoglou doesn't make the phenomenally rich Greek-style yogurt she sells at her new Soho shop, The Yoghurt Place II, but she's got a reliable source: her parents in Queens. What they churn out at Kesso Foods in East Elmhurst bears no resemblance to the mass-produced, gelatinous stuff that crowds supermarket shelves, and is a spectacularly indulgent way to get your RDA of calcium — especially when it's adorned with your choice of toppings, from honey and walnuts to fig or apricot preserves, or blended into low-fat-yogurt fruit smoothies. Kessissoglou's chicken phyllo pies, crumbly Greek cookies, and five flavors of baklava (including chocolate) come from the same parental purveyor.
The Yoghurt Place II
71 Sullivan Street


Ask Gael
What's so new it's still in rehersals?
For the next three weeks, "it's Tetsuya Wakuda's food twice removed at the Ambassador Grill," my tipster reports, invoking the Australian wizard the Millennium Hotel Knightsbridge London hired to conjure the restaurant MjU. Wakuda, having signed off, left his chef de cuisine Chris Behre behind, and now he's temporarily working his magic in New York at the Millennium U.N. Plaza's Ambassador Grill as he and his sous, David Campbell (pictured), prepare for the fall opening of MjU at the Millennium Biltmore in L.A. (and ultimately somewhere in Manhattan). Ignore the weary room and focus on an astonishment of elegant fusion: Oysters in a brilliant gingery spritz. Scampi brushed with lobster oil and merely warmed. Voluptuous char on fennel-red-pepper confit. Depending on whim, there might be lobster linguine, a tiny soft-shell crab on corn-fennel risotto, lamb painted with miso blue cheese, or organic beef with sea-urchin butter. Then roast-pineapple sorbet on plum-wine jelly, chocolate fondant with preserved rhubarb and, alas, miso ice cream. Five-course lunch, $32; seven-course dinner, $42. Ends August 16. Request the MjU promotion when booking.
Ambassador Grill
1 United Nations Plaza, at 44th Street

Bites & Buzz Archive

Week of July 15
Steak as smooth as butter; Dosa Hutt takes Manhattan; Two Italian Girls' ready-to-eat meals; Gael impresses the boys at Michael Jordan's
Week of July 8
San Domenico's new tramezzinos; Bastille Day at Restarant Provence; Clinton St. Baking Company introduces dinner; Gael finds anonmynity at Cucina & Co.
Week of July 1
The first-ever City Bakery State Fair; seriously sophisticated gelato; an independence day feast; Gael examines the allure of Da Silvano Cantinetta

and more ...

Photos: From top to bottom- Carina Salvi (1st - 3rd), Kenneth Chen

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