Nostalgia led chef-owner Francesco Antonucci to put ten Venetian cichetti on a pedestal at Remi, and these small savories, traditionally dished up in the wine bars of Venice, are some of the best bites of that town. I knew I’d found my dream pretheater supper the night I first tasted the sweet-and-sour Dover sole, cod mousse, whitebait seviche, fried artichokes, marinated eggplant, meatballs, fried Parmesan, and more, each in small square dishes and enough for two to share ($12 per person). 145 West 53rd Street (212-581-4242).
Even though Park Slope’s Fifth Avenue has become a restaurant row, locals still line up to get at the sensational rustic tripe and the smart pastas at the no-reservation trattoria al di lá. That prompted Italian Emiliano Coppa and his chef wife, Anna Klinger, to set up the cash-only al di lá Vino, around the corner, with cichetti to calm snarling hungers. There are still kinks to work out—the night we went, a confused crew brought each dish two or three times. Still, it felt cozily small-town, as we sipped red wine at the bar and shared a half-dozen $3 and $4 plates, like sweet-and-sour cipolline onions, a few ribbons of red pepper, warm baby octopus, and some splendid sardines. 607 Carroll Street, Park Slope, Brooklyn (718-783-4565).
Kuma Inn, hidden away on the second story of a Ludlow Street walk-up, is worth the hunt for chef-owner King Phojanakong’s mostly wonderful Asian tapas at closeout prices ($2.50 to $10). There he is in the exposed kitchen, stirring up tricks learned from his Filipino mom, his Thai dad, and Daniel Boulud and David Bouley, with whom he prepped. Chinese sausage with Thai chili sauce, pan-roasted scallops, garlic rice, and salmon in a mirin glaze are musts. Cash only. 113 Ludlow Street (212-353-8866).
The best restaurant bars to snack at.
They say everything at the oenomaniacal Morrells Restaurant has wine as an ingredient, but I couldn’t swear that was Zinfandel in the ketchup. I was warmed and moved by a mellow Ridge Zinfandel, along with a caramelized onion tart, assortments of cheeses and charcuterie, and a heart attack on the plate: a Montasio cheese frico, the cheese melted to form a shell, served with fingerlings and leeks. The white-truffle cheeseburger was a reward for hanging out at the bar, as were the prices: $7 to $14. 900 Broadway, at 20th Street (212-253-0900); and at Rockefeller Center (212-262-7700).
As a West Sider of limitless faith, I waited a lifetime for ’Cesca, only to see it invaded by infidels from the East. But we stop in latish for spicy parmigiano fritters ($6) and the farro salad with endive, pignoli, and goat cheese ($8). High on a ’Cesca Negroni, I insist the waiter bring an antipasto favorite: veal meatballs and escarole in Parmesan brodo, for the best $8 you’ll spend in New York. If it’s Tuesday, I ask for the meatloaf and make an Atkins breakfast of the leftovers. 164 West 75th Street (212-787-6300).
By 1:30 or 2 p.m., you can almost always find a small oak table in the no-reservation bar room at Gramercy Tavern for an elegant, discounted lunch with the same good-natured and intelligent service, wines by the glass or the taste, and ample appetizers—$8.50 to $12. We shared marinated sardines with olive tapenade and the grilled baby octopus cleverly paired with fennel, lemon, and sweet-pepper caponata, followed by grilled scallops with roasted beets. 42 East 20th Street (212-477-0777).
Sexy spaces to grab a bite.
The keeper of the velvet rope at PM gives us the eye. No gold chains, spiked heels, bared midriffs, and, gasp, they’re over 50! “We’re here to taste Creole tapas,” I announce defiantly. Sheepishly, he lets us in, and why not? The Haitian lounge is nearly empty. Obviously, live Haitian drummers draw a late-night crowd. A panther disguised as a woman slinks over. “My name is Kiss,” she says, delivering stylish snacks ($8 to $15). The masala-lamb mini-crêpe, divided by four, and the single short rib on mashed plantain, plus warm sea bass with furled zuchini, leaves us primed for dinner. We drown our hunger in the first-rate $15 cocktails, spankingly tart with orchids afloat. 50 Gansevoort Street (212-255-6676).
Not enough fans of solid bistro food were beating down the doors at Django. The cure? Let the ground floor morph into a lounge. At 8 p.m., a beer-and-Cosmo-swilling mass of jabbering young suits (both sexes) claims every upholstered sofa and tuffet. We’re driven outside on a still-balmy autumn night to a hedge-framed alfresco annex for seriously good tapas and appetizers ($9 to $13), and for me, a life-extending German Pinot Noir. Django’s new chef does well with grilled baby back ribs, spicy Mediterranean dips to spread on herbed flatbread, and tuna tartare with green apple in yuzu. “It was great to be with you at Django last night,” writes my friend, the last of a vanishing species, in his very proper thank-you letter. “Call me again when you’re doing entrées.” 480 Lexington Avenue, at 46th Street (212-871-6600).