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Week of October 21, 2002

the underground gourmet
Fast Break
Whether you’re for or against the declawed Lion Kingdom of Times Square, you have to admit the dining’s improved—even the fast food. If you don’t mind fending off New Year’s Eve–size crowds, on 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth avenues alone you can sup on a decent $3.59 Japanese beef-and-rice bowl at Yoshinoya; try some pretty good down-home grub, especially for a music club, at B.B. King’s; and even score a deal at a movie theater—a two-course meal and a flick for $19.50 at AMC25 Theatre’s Times Square Café. It seems like the perfect high-traffic fast-food zone for San Domenico owner Tony May’s second foray into the world of flash-frozen fettuccine. His snazzy new PastaBreak—the original was at the World Trade Center—promises to enlighten tourist taste buds even further. Over the past four years, May’s been tinkering with the concept (a bowl of hot pasta, chosen from ten shapes and eight sauces at $3.99 to $6.99, in two minutes), and a recent tasting suggested he’s on the right track: It’s not exactly San Domenico, but the rigatoni, gnocchi, spaghetti, and especially the toothsome buckwheat pasta pizzoccheri, billed here as whole-wheat fettuccine, handily surpassed our fast-food expectations. Even better were the accompanying bright, flavorful red sauces (with the exception of a lackluster Bolognese); premade sandwiches like a remarkably fresh mozzarella-prosciutto-and-tomato on ciabatta ($5.25); and luscious gelati that alone are worth a trip.
235 West 42nd Street

best of the week
Day of the Dead Specials
Reserve now for next week's Mexican specials: Zócalo's holiday menu with the likes of pumpkin tamales; Rocking Horse Cafe's pan de muertos (traditional bread decorated with sugar-icing skeleton); Hell's Kitchen's regional specials and margaritas; and Zarela's showcase of French-inflected Mexican dishes.
Zócalo, 212-717-7772
Rocking Horse Cafe,
Hell's Kitchen,

Meat the New Neighbors
Building on the success of its trio of brick-oven bakeries, Brooklyn-based Royal Crown has started expanding into other edible arenas. First came Paneantico, the Bay Ridge bakery and café. And two months ago, Royal Crown's owners, the Generoso family, teamed up with the Tutino clan to open Piazza Mercato down the street. Billed as a salumeria and macelleria, the pungent shop specializes in the house-cured pork products that can be seen hanging from the rafters. Gourmet foods imported from southern Italy (especially Calabria) are appetizingly displayed alongside fresh mozzarella and tuma, a soft basket-molded cheese. Should all the browsing whet your appetite, try any one of 118 sandwiches -- made, of course, on Royal Crown bread.
Piazza Mercato

9204 Third Avenue, near 92nd Street
Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

first taste
Merge and Acquistion
Although you have to call and reserve at least 24 hours in advance, Sam DeMarco's recently rejiggered dining room at the back of his restaurant, Merge, feels like home. He's warmed up the space, now dubbed DeMarco's Room, with a wooden wall-of-wine room divider, a farmhouse table displaying figs and flowers, quirky wallpaper, and candlelight. You need to call ahead so Sam knows how many to shop for, and he must have gotten to the Greenmarket early the Wednesday we visited: Raw vegetables to dip in the bubbling bagna cauda, an offbeat, garlicky amuse-bouche, were exceedingly fresh. Likewise, heirloom tomatoes minimally dressed with olive oil and basil — an appetizer on the daily changing three-course $36 prix fixe menu — were the best we've had all season. Deceptively simple-sounding sausage and peppers, accompanied by sautéed fingerling and purple potatoes festooned with melted provolone, were like nothing the San Gennaro Festival has ever seen. And like all good family dinners, the food just keeps coming until you cry uncle: After a prolonged dessert course, the waiter delivers a cookie jar. Don't disappoint him.

142 West 10th Street


Ask Gael
When I crave carbs, I want to go home again.
I feel your need. You want sour-cherry Brown Betty, coconut-custard pie, and Dutch apple cinnamon buns like Mom never made but pastry sharp Wayne Harley Brachman does. The man who rocketed retro American desserts into play at Mesa Grill and Bolo has his own bakery now at Pershing Square. Pick up a scone or a cheese-Danish popover (cleverly baked into a muffin tin) and a cinnamon bun at the counter for a pittance. (But skip the mundane croissant.) Or settle at a cheerful red-vinyl-topped table and let a refreshingly amiable waiter bring you tropical fruits Foster or Brachman's s'more sundae with three scoops of ice cream and house-made roasted marshmallow. If you're craving protein, try the fabulous chicken Waldorf salad. My guest from Maryland gives the crab cakes a thumbs-up, too.
Pershing Square
90 East 42nd Street

Bites & Buzz Archive

Week of October 14
The season's best truffles; beautiful tart shells; Cucina's new chef; good times at Layla
Week of October 7
Californian cookbooks; Aquavit's anniversary celebration; The Dining Room's delicious apple addition; Gael gives Britney a second chance
Week of September 30
Chefs get creative with Italian pasta balls; Jonathan Waxman's new lunchtime cuisine; thrilling creations at Patria.

and more ...

Photos:Kenneth Chen (1st & Last), Carina Salvi, Patrik Rytikangas

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