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Week of December 31, 2001

Cocktails, Culture
In case Rudy wasn't persuasive enough, we've discovered another reason to get to the box office: the playful intermission cocktail menu at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater. Instead of the usual no-name-booze-in-a-plastic-cup to accompany the Raisinets, there's an inspired (if jokey) selection of theater tie-ins that evoke a less sober theatergoing age. Contact's An Italian Housewife combines brandy, sweet vermouth, and a dash of bitters. The Tryst at Vespers, offered during performances of Barbara Cook's Mostly Sondheim, is a high-octane blend of cognac, Cointreau, crème de cassis, and champagne. The recently departed QED, or apple-vodka martini, makes a return engagement next month, along with Alan Alda in the hit play's starring role. Sweet Concessions, the bar's operator, began developing specialty cocktails about a year ago, "when everyone was watching Sex and the City," says manager Brett Stasiewicz. To capitalize on the Candace Bushnell-induced Cosmo craze -- and to boost sales -- he started mixing seasonal champagne cocktails and winter warmers like the Misty-Eyed Irishman (heavy on the Irish whiskey), all of which can be ordered before the curtain and collected at intermission, an incredibly civilized alternative to jockeying for position in line. Popular in London, advance ordering hasn't caught on here. "New Yorkers don't like to pay for things in advance," says Stasiewicz. Tele-charge is bad enough.
Vivian Beaumont Theater
150 West 65th Street

object of desire
Prize Inside
Just in case delicately sweet sea-urchin custard, topped with a champagne froth and a dollop of North Carolina rainbow-trout roe, isn't luxurious enough for Oceana's sophisticated sea-foodies, chef Rick Moonen ups the ante by secreting a poached Fishers Island oyster or two into each serving.
55 E. 54th St

Visiting Professoressa
Face it: If you've had a really good Italian meal, chances are that someone's mom was involved. Cesare Casella, chef-owner of Beppe, knows it as well as anyone -- and he's installed his own mother (pictured, with Casella) in a new second kitchen at the restaurant, where she's producing his childhood Tuscan favorites throughout January. Her ribollita ($10), the Tuscan bread-and-vegetable soup spiked with black cabbage, is cooked three times, to thicken it and make the flavor bigger. Stracotto al Chianti (Chianti-braised beef with pancetta and porcini mushrooms, $26) and coscia di maiale al forno (roasted pork leg braised for five hours with fennel and Tuscan spices, $24; spice blend available at the restaurant) are just a couple of the dishes customers can try, as well as gran farro ($7), an ancient Roman grain grown in the hills above Lucca, where the family's from. "It's nice for the teacher to ask me what I think -- I love that," Cesare muses. "She has a magical touch."
45 East 22nd Street

Ask Gael
Had any cosmic thrills lately?
If I were tossing around stars, I'd drop a shimmery fourth on Terrance Brennan's Picholine. On a recent visit, I was reminded of my astonishment years ago in Mionnay, just before Alain Chapel won that ultimate Michelin bouton, when the obsession for greatness fairly burned away the oxygen. All elements unite in the conspiracy here: the country rusticity, given way to château airs over the years. An intoxication of mascarpone and white truffle mingling in an ooze of puréed cauliflower. The sophisticated seaside tang of sea-urchin panna cotta slathered with caviar. The almost lethal richness of wild-mushroom-and-duck risotto. The simple perfection of organic lamb. The snap and dignified bustle of the many minions (are those white gloves, or is my brain playing metaphors?). We make an obligatory pause to challenge the impassioned maître fromager. Ah, the details. The fattest dates. The tempting sweets. A new twist in chocolate . . . too much, too much. But how often in life will you confront gingerbread soufflé? You must.
35 West 64th Street

Bites & Buzz Archive

Week of December 17
5 spots for New Year's Eve; French-Carribean cooking at La Brunette; Christmas Eve fishfest; take Payard home for Christmas; Boerum Hill's new bakery; Gael favorite cookbooks
Week of December 10
Urban hippie cuisine; Good Humor meets D'Artagnan; wood pigeon pie, and hot dogs — the new latte?
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

and more ...

Photos: From top to bottom- Bettmann (Corbis);Patrik Rytikangas; Kenneth Chen; Andre Souroujon; Carina Salvi; Liz Steger

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