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Restaurant Openings & Buzz
Week of May 19, 2003

French bistros in Brooklyn aren’t news anymore, unless they’re located outside the restaurant-glutted precincts of Smith Street and Fifth Avenue. Bacchus landed on Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill a month ago, and even though the restaurant is still BYO, it’s already made a splash. The welcome is friendly, the prices ($8 to $18 for mains) are reasonable, the garden is inviting, and classics like coq au vin and hanger steak are executed with aplomb. Once the wine starts to flow—30 by the glass, 200 by the bottle—the kitchen will add lighter bar food like terrines and tartines to the wine-friendly roster of cheese and charcuterie.
409 Atlantic Avenue, near Bond Street, Brooklyn

To Clinton Street’s proliferating variety of bars—wine, panini, tapas—the owners of 1492 have added Crudo, a celebration of raw fish in all its multiethnic forms. Chef Seamus Mullen’s menu features hamachi with yuzu vinaigrette, cured diver scallops with prosciutto, and Spanish mackerel with huacatay mint, plus exotically dressed oysters and tartares, all available in tasting and sharing portions. Even the wine list encourages experimentation: Everything from the sparkling Riesling to the Moscato d’Asti comes by the taste, glass, or bottle.
54 Clinton Street

Dumonet at the Carlyle
This posh hotel restaurant has undergone more than a name change: It’s been spruced up (by designer Thierry Despont), dressed up (with uniforms by Kate and Andy Spade), and culinarily updated by chef Jean-Louis Dumonet, whose French menu uncharacteristically lets diners choose their own sides. Plats du jour appease traditionalists, and a seasonal sidebar showcases produce of the moment (morels for now).
35 E. 76th St.

Il Fiore
Like so many before it, the formerly French La Bicyclette has joined the pasta pack, this time with a new look, a new Sicilian chef, and a new menu covering all the familiar bases, from carpaccio and crostini to spinach ravioli and veal piccata.
519 Columbus Avenue, at 85th St.

The owner of this homey new café is an expert curator, stocking her financial-district oasis with superlative local products like Porto Rico coffee and Doughnut Plant doughnuts. You’ve got to love a place that dares to make a tuna-salad sandwich on a Balthazar almond croissant. The roast chicken with avocado and Jarlsberg is a delicious, if less nervy, alternative.
9–11 Maiden Ln.

Say Cheese
Actually, say “grilled cheese”: This Hell’s Kitchen nook serves eleven versions of the schoolboy staple in various guises, like the one stuffed with chicken and pesto sauce, plus wraps, soups, and smoothies.
649 Ninth Ave., near 45th St.

best of the week

Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation
One of New York’s biggest hunger benefits: This year, it’s at Cipriani 42nd Street, and participating restaurants include Chanterelle, Patroon, and Union Square Cafe.
$200–$325; to reserve, call 866-TASTENY, or visit
May 21

the underground gourmet

The In-Laws
Helen Lee claims to serve comfort food at her new Soho restaurant, but don’t go expecting meat loaf and mashed potatoes. The brand of comfort Mooncake Foods offers is infused with ginger, chili, soy, and lemongrass, and served with a homemade hot sauce that’s likely to cause a moment or two of delicious discomfort. A collaboration between Lee, her husband, Peter, his sister Amy, and her husband, Kenny Luong, who’s the chef, Mooncake marries diner prices and décor with the hominess of Mom’s cooking—if Mom was born, as Peter’s was, in Shanghai. She’s the one to thank for the tender wontons in the soothing soups, the lip-smacking honey-soy marinade on the broiled chicken wings, and the perfect sticky rice. But everything resounds with the same freshness and flavor, from delicate spring and summer rolls and wonderful steamed and braised choy sum to miso-glazed salmon. Sandwiches come on toasted Italian rolls from Parisi Bakery and are served with tangily dressed salad. And nothing costs more than $8, which in these times is the greatest comfort of all.
Mooncake Foods
28 Watts Street


object of desire


Salad Spin
Talk about minimalist menu writing: On paper, Prune’s new “bread heels, pan drippings, wilted salad” appetizer promises all the gustatory pleasure of the plat du jour at Charlie Bucket’s house. Within fork range, though, the self-deprecating dish is more reminiscent of Zuni Cafe’s famous roast-chicken-and-bread salad—and just as delicious.
54 East 1st Street


Meatless in Midtown
When Govinda’s downtown street cart was displaced on September 11, Manhattan vegetarians lost a cheap, cherished lunch spot. But owner Jerry Abrams has reemerged in midtown with the lentil-packed veggie burgers and sprightly carrot-lemon sauce that made him famous. Abrams’s healthy, satisfying fare reflects the culinary course he’s followed since living in Brooklyn’s Hare Krishna temple as a teenager: Breakfast means oatmeal or whole-grain pancakes and fruit, and at lunch, $5 buys a daily changing medley of sautéed vegetables, brown rice, pasta or potatoes, and a variation on the tofu-and-faux-meat theme.
Park Avenue and 52nd Street, northeast corner
7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays


Ask Gael
We’ve sneaked off to a movie and want lunch too.
It’s serene and virtually soundproof inside one of the black-velvet booths at Shun Lee, just steps from my favorite multiplex. We’ve stopped by to gossip and make do with a shared bowl of the new-to-me hot-and-sour fish soup. The fragrant porridge, a rare binge for many, is like the house’s mythic hot-and-sour with pork—peppery but not too, and vinegar-pungent with plump chunks of sea bass afloat. Alas, there’s nothing like eating to make one hungry, and there’s no stopping us now. Sichuan alligator and buffalo Mandarin-style are among the newer gambits of Shun Lee’s neophiliac Michael Tong. But I’m drawn by the idea of Hunan-style ostrich—the sweet, meaty bird rare (I insist) in a wonderfully torrid toss of leek ribbons, red and green peppers, and fresh water chestnuts. And the discounted prices at lunch double the pleasure.
Shun Lee
43 West 65th Street

In the Archives

May 5, 2003
Mother's Day Dining; 'Wichcraft and Snackbar open; L'Impero's new espresso lunch; Pelagos is an easy please.

April 28, 2003
Ocean's 21, 360; craftbar's brown-sugar delight; buffalo yogurt; gourmet shopping in Park Slope; Avenue C's new hot-spot.

April 21, 2003
Nick's, Morrells Restaurant, Nice Matin, Chubo, Azaza, Franchia; find comfort in Home's cooking.

More Openings & Buzz

Photos:Tina Rupp and Kenneth Chen.

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