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Week of July 30, 2001
Just for the halibut: Quilty's steamed filet with wild mussels.

Seven Great Spots to Catch Halibut
"Halibut is the new tuna," declares Canteen owner John MacDonald of the flaky fish that's suddenly as ubiquitous as chopped salad. Throw your impressions of dried-out seafood-house fillets overboard: The low-fat snowy flesh, if not overcooked, is a perfect blank canvas for the sauces and stylings of creative cooks. "There's hardly a muscle in it," marvels Jonathan Eismann, chef at Thom in the 60 Thompson hotel. "If you cook it gently, it's subtle and wonderful." Steaming, poaching, searing, and flash-grilling are the methods of choice, and the preparation possibilities are endless.
Le Bernardin
The Lure: Steamed fillet served over purée of sugar snow peas and sweet peas, with a sauce of black-truffle butter, snow peas, fava beans, and asparagus, flavored with oregano.
155 West 51st Street
The Lure: Halibut fillet steamed over aromatic herbs with wild-mussel-and-watercress fumet, pickled chanterelles, and Iroquois corn griddle cake.
177 Prince Street
The Lure: Lightly grilled halibut over jasmine and sticky rice, in lemongrass broth topped with arugula.
205 East 75th Street
The Lure: Soy-ginger-steamed halibut with Chinese sausage and bok choy.
21 West 17th Street
The Lure: Pan-seared halibut with fennel-potato purée, salsify, cèpes, and vanilla-saffron-butter sauce, topped with fresh greens and lemon juice.
24 West 55th Street
The Lure: Layered tower of honey-glazed halibut, cilantro-infused rice, rum-soaked black beans, avocado, and tomato escabèche.
39 Downing Street
The Lure: Halibut poached in olive oil, served with braised fennel and slow-cooked tomatoes.
15 West 56th Street

Object of Desire
Sweet Breads
Apricots, glazed with brandy and sugar, then super-slow-roasted, served on buttered toasted filone bread, and topped with vanilla-scented whipped cream: This seasonal dessert at al di là is chef-partner Anna Klinger's whimsical dessert reincarnation of bruschetta. Chased with a sweet bubbly dessert wine, it's pure summer on a plate. -- PETER KAMINSKY
al di là
248 Fifth Avenue, at Carroll Street, Brooklyn 718-783-4565


Tonic Boom
For a time The Tonic was too hot not to cool down. When the feckless armies of the night decamped, veteran restaurateurs Steve Tsolis and Nicola Kotsoni shifted gears. Now the woody tavern has been softened with burgundy banquettes, upholstered slipper chairs, and ottomans. Beyond the din, in the sedate dining room with its full-blown roses, and chef Joey Fortunato (pictured) bossing the range, we revel in a quartet of sensational starters: perfectly seared sea scallops on spicy-merguez-confetti'd polenta with tangy grape-and-olive salad. Three frisky fish tartars deliciously spiked with Key-lime vinaigrette. And lush rabbit ravioli with morels, peas, and a Vidalia-onion confit. None of us can get enough of the chef's lamb three ways. So I'm puzzled by a dreary swamp of fettuccine, sulky seafood stew, and the too-cooked halibut that follow. Happily, pastry whiz Dalia Jurgensen quickly melts the chill with warm banana tarte Tatin, her lemon blast with shortbread and blueberry frozen yogurt, and tingling sorbets. Having loved Fortunato's ways at Layla, Scarabée, and Quantum 56, I want to believe he's on his way to mastering the menu. -- GAEL GREENE
The Tonic
108 West 18th Street

Ask Gael

What's this about a price war in the Hamptons?
Reality strikes. Some of the greediest restaurants in the Goldhamptons are bending low to woo penny-pinchers and the affluent wounded. At least mercilessly expensive Pacific East runs its $19.99 early-bird discount all night Thursdays. Don't expect to see the price-cut menu till you ask, of course. So eat some humble pie to get Prince Edward Island mussels in a kicky coconut red-curry broth, and deliciously caramelized lamb shank on garlic mashed potatoes or the cautiously crumbed Moroccan salmon. And rice-pudding fans will swoon over the haunting sticky rice goo in a coconut shell. Lurid sunsets over a tranquil marina that could be somewhere in small-town America draw crowds to their no-reservation fate at otherwise friendly Beacon, where the prices are gentler to start. The two-course $22 prix fixe offers soup or salad and the entrée of the day. Tonight: a rich puddle of creamy chowder with smoked shrimp or iceberg wedges and poached tomatoes in Roquefort dressing, and then roast chicken. Twelve minutes to get a Bloody Mary? It's amateur night at Lure at the Independent, where the $23 menu is a secret unless you know to ask. Tonight we have a choice of sprightly gazpacho with smoked shrimp or the lackluster Caesar. And one of three entrées. No substitutes, please. One day the chef may learn to spare the soy and to sear tuna rare but not cool. The salmon isn't so thrilling, either, but boneless organic chicken is fine and all the adornments -- summer-corn succotash, smashed Bliss potatoes, baked Yukon Golds -- are appealing. Granted, we're tough to please. And the portions are huge -- including three generous scoops of sorbet or ice cream. I'm figuring the same deal à la carte could run $47. How can they afford to do it? I ask the waitress. "Beats me," she says.
Pacific East
415 Main Street, Amagansett
8 West Water Street, Sag Harbor
Lure at the Independent
2468 Main Street, Bridgehampton
631-537- 5110

Bites & Buzz Archive
Week of July 23
Green Market Tasting, Fiorucci's Fashion Cafe, Affordable Hamptons Dining
Week of July 16
Fermentation in the Heartland, Proseccheria's pop culture, Gael goes global
Week of July 9
Citarella to go, Gael on La Fondita

and more ...

Photos: Dasha Wright Ewing

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