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Restaurant Openings & Buzz
Week of March 31, 2003
best of the week
WD-50 Opens
Wylie Dufresne’s first top job (71 Clinton Fresh Food) was a white-hot success; now he’s moved on to a new venture, with a superstar partner (Jean-Georges Vongerichten) and a location right across the street. The much-anticipated new restaurant, delayed since October, finally opens April 10.
50 Clinton Street

The Mermaid Inn

Danny Abrams and Jimmy Bradley’s new East Village fish joint, The Mermaid Inn, is really two restaurants in one. The cheery front room, with its whitewashed ceiling, maps of Martha’s Vineyard, and a framed 1939 menu from Boston’s landmark Locke-Ober restaurant, is as true-blue New England as a bowl of quahog chowder, while the funky, candlelit back room is supposed to look like a Ligurian taverna. Both share a menu that seems like the work of a well-traveled Yankee sea captain who took excellent food notes, then came home to open a clam shack of his own—seviche, lobster risotto balls, and Catalonian seafood stew sit alongside fried oysters and fish chowder. Perhaps inspired by that antique menu, which lists a bottle of Lafite for $3.80, every bottle of wine is priced to move at a shocking $15 above cost.
96 Second Avenue

Ten Sushi
It’s taken Michael (Bao) Huynh two and a half years to open Ten Sushi, but he’s kept himself busy in the meantime. Architect by day, chef by night, he built and opened Bao 111, his East Village nouvelle-Vietnamese restaurant, then set to work on the empty storefront across the street. Although Huynh conceived the Indochinese-by-way-of-Tokyo menu, he recruited two chefs from Nobu London to run the kitchen, so besides the usual raw-fish repertoire, there’s crispy oysters with spicy tomato confit, seven-spice-roasted teriyaki chicken, and succulent baby-lamb-chop yakitori scented with kaffir-lime leaf.
116 Avenue C

Rice to Riches
Is this an age of comfort-food specialists or what? This hyper-designed Nolita storefront’s specialty is rice pudding, and it’s available in nineteen flavors by the cup or the 40-ounce container. Plain vanilla is for purists; pineapple-basil is for thrill-seekers.
37 Spring Street

Sleek and modern, with a distinct Sicilian accent, this new ristorante is a welcome answer to the perennial outer-borough question: Where to eat near BAM? Comfortable banquettes, a spacious bar, and uncommon offerings like smoked-herring-and-blood-orange salad are already pleasing the neighbors.
63 Lafayette Avenue, Fort Greene, Brooklyn

the underground gourmet

Lights, Camera, Luncheon

With all the elaborate catering going on, it’s hard to go hungry at a film set or a fashion shoot (unless you’re a model, that is). It’s rare, though, that mere mortals gain access to the A-list craft-services table. Now even those of us not quite ready for our close-ups can do weekday lunch at The Restaurant at Splashlight Studios, the in-house canteen at the Hell’s Kitchen digital-photo studio. Deftly run by Creative Edge Parties, the chic, sleek café is an incongruous but culinarily welcome addition to the scruffy Javits Center neighborhood. A tropical-fish tank, tabletops made of resin-covered rocks, and Jonathan Adler pillows (and serendipitously matching artwork) give the premises a hip, modern look, and chef Christopher Romali’s refined menu is just as polished. Not to mention a bargain: Appetizers like “reconstructed” deviled eggs and coconut-curry rice cakes run $4 to $8, a duck-confit sandwich with red-onion jam costs $10, and not-so-small “small plates” like seared scallops with green-pea purée and curry oil top out at $16. And despite whatever’s going on in the studios, you won’t feel like an interloper; the sweetly solicitous service leaves no doubt that you’re the one being catered to. — ROBIN RAISFELD
The Restaurant at Splashlight Studios
535 West 35th Street

Tequila Sunset

From the way the young and the culinarily restless squeeze in to Dos Caminos every night, you’d think they’d never seen made-to-order guacamole and 150 brands of tequila before. The formula is working so well that on April 9, ever-entrepreneurial owner Stephen Hanson duplicates it (and the rest of the menu) 26 blocks south at Dos Caminos Soho. The new location, which won’t take reservations, features sunset murals, pressed tin, and a 60-seat patio. The new smoking section, perhaps?
Dos Caminos Soho
475 West Broadway

From Z to A

Undoubtedly expecting a different sort of crowd at their new East Village digs, the owners of Chelsea’s Le Zie (Italian for “the aunts”) have named their Avenue A satellite, due to open April 7, Le Zoccole. The name, according to partner Francesco Antonucci, means “easy women,” and also “wooden shoes.” Whatever you call it, Le Zoccole has a menu almost identical to Le Zie’s, and, thanks to a two-level space nearly twice the size of the original, a full bar featuring cicchetti, the Venetian answer to bar snacks.
Le Zoccole
95 Avenue A


Ask Gael
Is Capitale an illusion or delusion of grandeur?
What draws foodniks like me to Capitale is Franklin Becker, a chef whose stylish food I loved at Local. So trip past the lions at the door into 4,000 square feet of marble and gold leaf—and that’s just the restaurant proper. Beyond, nooks and the cavernous grand ballroom await partying hordes. At an early tasting for friends, we like silken yellowtail snapper escabèche in a tangy vinaigrette, and the salad of shoots and roots with baked ricotta, far better than peekytoe crab in tortured rillette. And exquisitely steamed black sea bass in a fragrant shiitake-and-sake nage trumps the halibut. Becker is strongest when he’s not reaching, though I actually liked sea scallops with smoked pork belly just as much as straightaway lamb with a wonderful vegetable pot-au-feu. Pastry chef John Lee spins what he learned at Lutèce, La Grenouille, and AZ into splendid desserts: Get a vitamin C kick from chilled Meyer-lemon custard with grapefruit salad, tangerine sorbet, and pink peppercorns, or try chocolate soufflé with s’mores and an egg cream. Then brace for the check.
130 Bowery

In the Archives

March 24, 2003
Pampano, Mexican Sandwich Company, Hacienda de Argentina, Heartland Brewery; Grace foods go to Brooklyn; Rocco DiSpirito's new Tuscan.

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.

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

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