When Savoy opened up a window in the building to gaze out at a newly gentrified edge of Soho, it moved the bar downstairs. There, locals come to sip big wines in big glasses and explore an all-day menu of small plates, from $5 to $12: house-cured charcuterie with serrano ham and mostarda, Mediterranean dip with grilled bread, fava-bean fritters with cilantro relish, linguine with mussels and fennel caponata, and fries dusted with pimenton salt. 70 Prince Street (212-219-8570).
Bottle of Red?
If you prefer your small plates with a nice glass of wine.
Isn’t it the rule that calories don’t count if you eat standing up? Waiting for your table at the smartly Italian Otto, you’re already ahead. Is it an enoteca or a pizzeria? I vote for the former, because the wine list is grand and the pizza pathetic. But what do we know? My party and I are the only people over 30 in this place, and everyone else is gobbling pizza. We stick to the mostly first-rate antipasti, sharing marvelous eggplant caponatina, tangy roasted beets, and mushroom misti from the lineup of $4 vegetables, and a $21 “grande” platter of meat antipasti and a trio of salads and items from the sea: mussels with peperonata, breadcrumbed anchovies, and baby octopus with beans and parsley. “In Italy, everyone has his own gelato,” Otto co-owner Joe Bastianich reports. We’re sharing anyway: brilliant caramel and rich riso gelati, and a puckery lemon sorbetto. 1 Fifth Avenue, at 8th Street (212-995-9559).
What price are you willing to pay for a full and complex super-Tuscan with enough sprightly snacks to make you feel that you’ve actually eaten? At no-frills ’inoteca, an expansive sapling of ’ino, it may be a wait on the corner of Ludlow and Rivington for that bare wooden table with its paper napkins. But once settled, you can count on a cheerful guide to the cellar list, underground prices ($4 to $15), and savory starters (like beets with orange, mint, and hazelnuts), splendid panini (the one with coppa, hot peppers, and rucola is my weakness), a rich-as-Croesus truffled-egg toast, a filling eggplant lasagnette, and iconic meatballs. 98 Rivington Street (212-614-0473).
In its latest incarnation as Taste, Eli Zabar’s homey bistro–wine bar is feeding catnip to East Side groupies. Each small plate (from $7 for the garlicky cheese-and-tomato sandwich to $16 for oysters) has its suggested wine by the glass. A salad and petite burgers en brioche (two on a plate), zesty trenne all’arrabbiata, diver scallops Provençal, or the grilled hot sausage could be dinner. The fiercely intense Concord-grape sorbet comes with peanut-butter cookies. Odd, and good. 1413 Third Avenue, at 80th Street (212-717-9798).
Chibitini, a tiny jewel box dispensing sake and snacks, is a Lower East Side clone of Chibi’s Bar on Mott (which opened as a holding pen for Kitchen Club fans). Who could have guessed Howard Johnson orange and turquoise could be so hot and sexy? Chibi himself, the fabulous French bulldog, sleeps on a banquette next to us while we flirt with him over edamame, tuna tataki, hijiki salad, and too many delectable dumplings (the chocolate-and-apple dumplings come with a glass of aged sake). 63 Clinton Street (212-674-7300).
Tapas, meze, Cichetti, and more.
Bobby Flay’s better-than-authentic tapas, inspired by a week he spent last winter in Barcelona, kicked off a burst of new energy at Bolo. Unlike some matinee-idol chefs, Flay can still find the kitchen. A $15 quartet of handsomely mounted savories—saffron rice cake with shrimp, squid sautéed with bacon and garlic, artichoke heart with quail egg and salmon caviar, and pan-fried duck liver deglazed in sherry and honey—would make a rustic late supper. True, Flay’s tapas have at least one ingredient too many to be truly Spanish, but that’s just fine. 23 East 22nd Street (212-228-2200).
I start longing for the nuttiness of a subtly fruity sherry or Montilla, perhaps Amontillado Carlos VII, the minute I settle on a bar stool at Solera, a little corner of Spain transplanted in Manhattan. Every smallish snack, $4 to $14, cold or hot—marinated anchovies, a Spanish omelette, fried calamari in garlicky aïoli, sautéed chorizo, croquetas, a small casserole of Manila clams—tastes imported. It’s what draws certain chefs and their Boswells after work. 216 East 53rd Street (212-644-1166).
What I want at the bargain paradise of Beyoglu is too many meze and the puffy fresh-baked pide (not pita) that keeps hitting the table hot from the oven. All the classic Middle Eastern purées—hummus, cod-roe tarama, mashed eggplant—seem feistier here. Ezme, a pomegranate-tinged mix of peppery chopped vegetables, is my favorite. But Beyoglu regulars want grilled octopus, too, as well as stuffed grape leaves, pan-fried liver bits and cacik (thick, garlicky yogurt), plus a mammoth hill of shepherd’s salad. And it’s a penny-pincher’s heaven, with meze mostly $6.50 or less. 1431 Third Avenue, at 81st Street (212-650-0850).
When Orhan Yegen got bounced from the Beyoglu he’d created, he sulked a bit. Then he dusted himself off and opened the equally inexpensive Efendi in a narrow Turtle Bay storefront with Turkish notions he hadn’t previously dared to execute in New York, like garlicky yogurt with carrots, intriguing red-lentil kofte balls, and gozleme (grilled phyllo dough stuffed with spinach or cheese). Here, too, the waiter brings crusty hot pide to the table with whatever meze you choose from the cafeteria-like display (mostly $3.75 to $7.50). 1030 Second Avenue, near 54th Streets (212-421-3004).
Nar Meze Bar brings impressively feisty Turkish tastes (mostly $5 or $6 each) and fresh tea roses to both the bar and the tiny tables in this Williamsburg restaurant’s narrow aisle of a dining room. Tarama, hummus, luscious char-grilled kofte, and yogurt soup with cucumber and dill are all on the menu. Here, the ezme is a red-pepper-and-walnut paste on crostini, and the shepherd’s salad is finely chopped. Too bad that the two huge stuffed mussels, a tall small plate, are refrigerator-cold. The toast is merely sliced baguette, but it works, especially when dipped into the extraordinary olive oil, flavored with cumin and a fine black-olive soot. Cash only. 152 Metropolitan Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn (718-599-3027).
An abandoned bank transformed into a quirky Moroccan speakeasy under the restaurant Marseille in Hell’s Kitchen? Why not? It’s real estate, a spot for Kemia Bar to show off Mediterranean snacks from $5 to $8. Warmed by an excellent martini (and mildly amused by a tart berry Cosmo) we’re sampling everything on the menu dreamed up by Marseille’s chef, Alex Urena, from a fine beet salad with pickled onions and goat cheese to eggplant purée and deep-fried briouats (stuffed savory pastries). Chicken tagine and lamb meatballs with apricot, onions, and couscous come entrée-size or small, but small is enough for two. 630 Ninth Avenue, entrance on 44th Street (212-582-3200).