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Restaurant Openings & Buzz
Week of March 24, 2003
best of the week
The old Tonic space in Chelsea— where the bar food was far more successful than the full meals— reopens with lots of tapas-size portions. Gerry Hayden, formerly of Aureole, is running the show— and his wife is pastry star Claudia Fleming, so leave a little room for dessert.
108 West 18th Street
Opens March 24


Plácido Domingo must be nibbling his way through the Mexican-chef ranks. First he opened a Spanish restaurant called Domingo and persuaded Rosa Mexicano’s Josefina Howard to try her hand at Iberian cuisine. Then he recruited cookbook author Patricia Quintana, who installed an elegant, if short-lived, all-Mexican menu. Now he’s teamed up with Maya’s Richard Sandoval to transform the skylit Turtle Bay duplex yet again, this time into the coastal-Mexican seafood restaurant Pampano. The interior has gone lighter and brighter, with a multitude of bas-reliefs and a bar dispensing clams, oysters, seviches, and the obligatory margaritas. With dishes like serrano-chili-spiked smoked-marlin dip and seared scallops with prickly-pear-and-baby-cactus salad, Sandoval aims to elevate Mexican seafood to new heights—or at least keep his finicky partner culinarily content.
209 East 49th Street

Mexican Sandwich Company
Everyone mourning the recent demise of Wyanoka and its crispy-red-snapper tacos will be happy to learn that chef Chris Santos (and said tacos) have resurfaced in Park Slope, where he’s putting his own wildly inventive spin on quesadillas at the Mexican Sandwich Company. Triple-decked and stuffed with elaborate combinations like wild plum and Brie with double-smoked bacon and lavender-chili honey (or customized to order), they come in six- and twelve-inch versions that fit perfectly in pizza-delivery boxes. And in a fanciful foray into Paul Newman territory, Santos is bottling a line of salsas, in newfangled flavors like tomatillo-feta-and-corn.
322 Fifth Avenue, near 3rd Street, Park Slope, Brooklyn

Hacienda de Argentina
As much set designers as restaurateurs, the prop-happy partners behind Casa La Femme, Eros, and Tapas Lounge have gone thoroughly gaucho at Hacienda de Argentina, their rustic new steakhouse. To conjure the proper pampas atmosphere, they’ve outfitted the former Red Bar in dark woods and animal skins, and concocted a meat lover’s menu of grass-fed beef, empanadas, and Italian-Argentine hybrids like grilled provolone and noquis (Southern Hemisphere gnocchi). Mate, the indigenous, mildly stimulating tea sipped from a communal gourd, helps set the South American mood.
339 East 75th Street

Heartland Brewery
With the opening of the fourth branch of the Heartland Brewery brewpub chain in the spaces once occupied by the old North Star Pub and Sloppy Louie’s, owner Jon Bloostein has some pretty big cups to fill. He’ll answer the challenge with Heartland’s signature draft beers and an abbreviated burgers-and-Buffalo-wings menu, not to mention some new seafood additions like teriyaki salmon and tequila shrimp. Not quite the shad-roe omelettes at Louie’s that Joseph Mitchell made famous, but such are the preferences of today’s Wall Streeters and South Street Seaporters.
93 South Street


Good Graces

The Tribeca restaurant-lounge Grace has always been known more for its gleaming 40-foot mahogany bar and the cocktails produced there than for its food, but that could change: With the opening of Grace on the Go, a sunny little Park Slope prepared-foods shop, owner Fred McKibbin is hoping to find a more appreciative outer-borough audience. Everything on the eclectic comfort-food menu, from falafel to chicken potpie, is made in Grace’s Manhattan kitchen and shipped daily to Brooklyn, along with Sullivan Street Bakery bread and Clinton St. Baking Company muffins. For McKibbin’s pear martini, though, you still have to go to the source.
Grace on the Go
352 Seventh Avenue, Park Slope, Brooklyn

Ask Gael
What’s the dish on Rocco at Tuscan?
If your timing is right, you might catch the kitchen Adonis of Union Pacific between celebrity-chef detours, dashing across the vast stretch of Tuscan to kiss the hand of an adoring blonde. Rocco DiSpirito clearly enjoys showing off his Campania heritage and his mama’s meatballs in this costly Tuscan Steak rehab. And the kitchen gets stronger every day. Our gourmand coven goes easy on starters, just luscious fried artichokes and some bruschetta—duck and black truffle and the red-wine beef on the fabulous house-baked bread—leaving room for thick pasta ropes of handmade pinci, lushly gummy gnocchi in mascarpone, or Thursday’s remarkable wild-mushroom risotto. Elegant boiled veal, the special fried chicken, and a wonderfully juicy veal chop are good for sharing, better by far than too fatty, barely cuttable rib-eye. Frozen caramel macchiato and apple tart with wine-spiked gelato make a fine finale. Alas, the service is a bizarre hash of super-professional, comedy-shtick, and ditzy-Stepford-wife.
622 Third Avenue, at 40th Street

In the Archives

March 17, 2003
Rice Avenue, Ivo & Lulu, Basso Est, The Carriage House; inventive scones at Podunk; Gael visits the Bruno Jamais Restaurant Club.

March 10, 2003
Molyvos's Lent pie; Kudo Beans, Flaco's Tacos & Tequila, Baldo Vino, Sage; Beacon's new Irish Sage cocktail; Gotham's hot white chocolate; tasting nirvana at Diwan.

March 3, 2003
Bill Devin Benefit at Fairway Steakhouse; OLA, The Green Table, Re Sette, and Maria's Mexican Bistro open; Gael visits Django.

Photos:Kenneth Chen (1, 4), Tina Rupp (2, 5), & Patrik Rytikangas (3, 6).

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