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Week of December 10, 2001

the underground gourmet
The Men in Blue
Ever since "health food" became two dirty words, practitioners of that much-maligned cuisine have struggled to come up with some alternative way to describe food that's tasty, good for you, and made of processed wheat gluten. It isn't easy: The best that Gabriel Pellegrini can do is "urban hippie," a phrase he borrowed from a customer at Melissa Blue, his friendly new restaurant and bar opposite the Kips Bay multiplex. Pellegrini and chef de cuisine Scott Baber rework traditional food in untraditional ways, substituting turkey for veal in a revisionist osso buco, and chicken for beef in a cheese steak sandwich. Seitan and soy products show up where you'd least expect them — most convincingly inside spicy vegetarian "buffalo wings" served with celery sticks and blue-cheese dressing. But Baber, who used to cook at Home, relies less on Fakin' Bacon than on fresh fish, mostly local and organic produce, and elegant presentation in dishes like his crispy herbed salmon with roasted new potatoes, garlic spinach, and cilantro yogurt (entrées, $9.95 to $15.95). Since you'd never suspect your tempting plate of being health food if you weren't on Melissa Blue's casual, pillow-strewn premises or in its winterized garden room, you can soften the ugly truth by dipping into the refreshingly affordable, food-friendly wine list, which includes a handful of selections culled from New York vineyards. Or sample one of the fruity sake sangrías, sure to appeal to any urban hippie.
Melissa Blue
575 Second Avenue, near 32nd Street

object of desire
On a Roll
HOT DOGS, THE NEW LATTE? asks the chalkboard outside Crif Dogs, a new restaurant at 113 St. Marks Place (212-614-2728). Well, at the very least they're the new Belgian frites. Crif Dogs, with a menu selling everything from a basic New York frank to the Chihuahua dog (rolled in bacon, deep fried, and smothered with avocado and sour cream), is one of several new joints that offer creative takes on one of New York's most comforting culinary icons. Right around the corner from Crif Dogs is Dawgs on Park (178 East 7th Street; 212-598-0667), where the all-beef dogs are deep fried, but the chili is vegetarian. And at F&B (269 West 23rd Street; 646-486-4441), Daniel Boulud and Danny Meyer have been spotted scarfing down gourmet dogs made from things like salmon and lobster and lamb and rosemary. But F&B's biggest hit is the Great Dane (with rémoulade, Danish mustard, apple-tomato ketchup, onions, and marinated cucumber slices), which is, owner Nicholas Type explains, "the street dog of Denmark, where they're really passionate about their dogs." AMY LAROCCA


Hunt Club
It isn't all caviar and foie gras at the Petrossian Boutique these days. Through December 31, chef David Cunningham is also larding the display case with all kinds of robust dishes featuring wild game. Some are based on his Scottish grandmother's recipes, like a plump juniper-laced wood-pigeon pie brimming with pungent, flavorful morsels of meat, brandy-soaked raisins, mushrooms, and forcemeat balls ($45; serves eight to ten people; or $12 for a pie, pictured, that serves one to two). There's also a galantine of mallard duckling with foie gras and black truffles ($25 per pound), and a spicy rabbit stew revved up with paprika ($15 per pound), perhaps hearkening back to the chef's hunting days in the wilds of Connecticut. Just remember to wear your Barbour jacket — the one with the big, never-before-used game pocket in the back.
Petrossian Boutique
911 Seventh Avenue, near 57th Street


Pop Goes the Liver
"I used to make chocolate Popsicles for my boys using candy molds," says chef David Burke of Park Avenue Café and ONEc.p.s. "Then, about two years ago, I was goofing around with cream cheese on a stick." Hence his three very novel, very adult savory Gourmet Pops, sold frozen but ready to pass as hors d'oeuvres after about 30 minutes' thawing. A morsel of cream-cheese mousse with capers and scallions, wrapped in fresh smoked salmon and perched on a stick, is what happens when Zabar's meets Good Humor; and the hunk of foie gras with white-truffle oil, dipped in port-wine-and-cranberry jelly and rolled in black pepper and fresh chives, is an absolute conversation-stopper. There's a goat-cheese pop, too, to keep vegetarians nibbling. Available at Dean & DeLuca (560 Broadway, at Prince Street; 212-431-1691), Caviarteria (502 Park Avenue, at 59th Street; 212-925-5515), and, for $18 to $22 per dozen.

Ask Gael
I want to do my bit by eating downtown.
Recovery in the dust zone is still a little spotty, so patriotic pilgrimages are welcome. But the town's culinary troops are already bivouacked at The Harrison, the brave front established just north of ground zero by the guys from Red Cat. You'll have to pull strings or book far ahead to join the good-looking patriots eating crusty sweetbreads saltimbocca and grilled Arctic char in a pool of red-wine sauce in the coziness that already makes the room feel like a local hangout. Tonight the hulking pork chop is definitely too dry, and an itsy portion of cavatelli with veal cheek barely fills the Road Food Warrior's own cheek. But it's early yet. The kitchen's getting the feel of the neighborhood. The welcome is huge; the wait staff, well-drilled. And the pumpkin tart veers triumphantly into delicate creaminess.
The Harrison
355 Greenwich Street

Bites & Buzz Archive

Week of December 3
Fifty Seven Fifty Seven's luxury latkes; Cafe Boulud goes midwestern; TanDa's perfect chocolate chip cookie; Gael finds a light pre-theater option
Week of November 26
Six spots for a holiday party; Tabla's all-American burger; fancy food shops in Brooklyn; Gael catches up with Le Cirque almuni
Week of November 19
Lunch bargain at Lutèce; Gael goes to Brooklyn's Cucina

and more ...

Photos: Patrick Rytikangas; Carina Salvi.

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