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Week of September 16, 2002

Hop to It
When most people think of Mexican beer, they usually think of a bland and watery bottle of Corona with a sad little lime wedge stuffed into the lip. Especialidades Cerveceras, a small-batch brewery that produces an eclectic line of ales called Casta (Spanish for "purity") may change all that. Lately, the ales have been appearing at upscale Mexican restaurants around town like Maya, Zarela, Salón México, and Mi Cocina, and at specialty stores like Gourmet Garage and Park Slope's beer-drinker's paradise, Bierkraft. The only thing Casta has in common with Corona is that it's made in an old Corona brewery in Monterrey, Mexico. Casta Triguera, a well-balanced bittersweet wheat ale, tastes fresh and bright; it's less cloudy than most wheats, with pronounced citrus notes like a Belgian-style wheat rather than a clovey German one. Casta Dorada, a golden ale with a nice fruity, floral aroma, makes the typical mass-produced Mexican lager seem like it needs a flavor transfusion; it practically cries out for a bowl of freshly smashed guacamole. Casta Bruna is an English-style, copper-colored pale ale with a complex malty character, and best of all is the Casta Morena, a deliciously hoppy dark ale with a lot of caramel, toffee, and chocolate flavor; it's smooth and rich enough to accompany dessert. Even if you're not into microbrews and choose your beer the way some wine drinkers choose their wine, Casta might win you over: Each style of ale has a beautiful label designed by a well-known Mexican artist. —ROB PATRONITE

Lightening Strikes
When Savoy opened in Soho twelve years ago, complete with glowing fireplace and seasonal Mediterranean-inspired menu, the restaurant fairly defined warm and cozy. But now, with local competition intensifying along with the public's desire for what chef-owner Peter Hoffman perceives as "more options for how and when to eat," he and his wife, Susan Rosenfeld, have overhauled Savoy's menu and milieu. The new large storefront windows open to the street, and they've moved the bar from its semi-secret upstairs location to the ground floor, where it's become the Italian-limestone-clad centerpiece of the room. This is where they'll offer an all-day menu of small plates like bruschetta, charcuterie, vegetable antipasto, and a house-ground burger, priced between $6 and $12. Upstairs, in what has become the main dining room, they've laid a new ash floor, soundproofed the ceiling, and turned one of the fireplaces into a regal stone-framed recessed seat. Not as warm, perhaps, but just as cozy.
70 Prince Street


Ask Gael
If it ain't broke, should they fix it?
Le Bernardin was already far and away the most French, the most smartly disciplined, and surely our town's most passionate homage to the harvest of the sea. But Maguy LeCoze wanted it warmer. A quick and subtle face-lift, and the luminescent glow of a huge new seascape expands the lounge and brightens the room. A new $84 prix fixe adds a fourth course, an extra chance to explore how mood and rhythm, travel and product, inspire a gifted chef, partner Eric Ripert. Is his halibut poached in an exquisite and challengingly difficult dashi broth? Is that a hint of chorizo essence on the pan-roasted cod? Does the fluke seviche tasting go from classic and simple to complex, from jalapeño to wasabi heat to the cool of coconut? Right now he's driven to explore Latino and Asian flavors. "I have to do it," he says, full of Gallic confidence and yuzu (as in the stunning tuna-hamachi patchwork). The barely cooked salmon is now in Earl Grey–infused tomato water. And roasted lobster in a gossamer black-pepper-brandy butter may be worth the extra $15. You're in hock here already.
Le Bernardin
155 West 51st Street

Bites & Buzz Archive

Week of September 9
Mario Batali's supermarket debut; Gael explores Patricia Yeo's inventive style at Pazo
Week of September 2
Kevin Zraly's Windows on the World Complete Wine Course; a perfect new Latin-Caribbean flavored bakery; Zagat's updates and changes in New York's Marketplace; Gael finds a feast in western Long Island
Week of August 19
Caffeine culture in Queens; Jell-O dessert with strawberries and champagne; Bleeker Street's new sweets; Christmas memories at Rockefeller center; Rick Moonen's Branzini; Gael finds splurging civilized at Oceana

and more ...

Photos: Joe Scafuro, Kenneth Chen (2nd & 3rd)

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