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A Food Revolution for the People

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Divane
888 Eighth Avenue, at 53rd Street; 212-333-5888
Sip Sak
928 Second Avenue, near 49th Street; 212-583-1900
By now, we've learned to reserve a permanent spot in these pages for Orhan Yegen, the ponytailed chef with the wandering whisk, who, as we've said before, is something like the Jennifer Lopez of Turkish restaurants—he loves them, and then, alas, he leaves them. First came Beyoglu (Cris Judd, if you will), then Efendi (Ben Affleck), both of which Yegen is completely over. Yet he's quickly rebounded and opened two new restaurants, Divane and Sip Sak, both of which have made our list. The theater district's Divane is the P. Diddy-flashier of the pair. It's a relatively posh place for a pre- or post-theater feast of absolutely delicious doner kebab propped up with pita croutons and smothered in yogurt and a tangy tomato sauce, perfectly grilled whole sea bass, and a small list of supremely tasty Turkish appetizers. The brand-new Sip Sak, though, turns out to be Yegen's main squeeze—a homey, Marc Anthony kind of place with red-and-white-checked tablecloths and a garden out back. This is where the chef really lets his ponytail down, offering the full range of meze and steam-table dishes, like moussaka and baked lamb served over a smoky purée of eggplant, all of which he calls "fast-served" Turkish food. May the honeymoon never end.

Dosa Diner
35-66 73rd Street, Jackson Heights; 718-205-2218
Perhaps in emulation of nearby Jackson Diner-one of the multiculti neighborhood's biggest success stories-this vegetarian restaurant has picked a name that conjures short-order cooks flipping dosas like pancakes. Rather, the chefs stay behind the muted beige-on-beige scenes, customizing the signature oversize crêpes made from fermented rice or lentil flour. Plain filled with masala potatoes. Butter filled with spinach. Pondicherry for fire-eaters. Or our favorite, lacy rava dosa with chili paneer, a spiced soft cheese that melts on contact with the hot crêpe.

Fiesta Mexicana
75-02 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights; 718-505-9090
Seeing two hairnetted señoras of a certain age hard at work in the open kitchen of Fiesta Mexicana bodes well for the hearty, homestyle meal to come. So do the delicious green and red salsas that arrive in Styrofoam cups with the chips. The menu bypasses burritos for more sophisticated stuff, like shrimp enchipotlados and Yucatecan cochinita pibil, but the enchiladas de mole poblano prove impossible to resist once the waiter proffers a sample taste of the complex, genre-defining sauce. A pair of roses on each table, fabric-upholstered booths, and the lack of a liquor license enhance the family-friendly charms of this Jackson Heights sleeper.


Franny's unsliced pies, fresh from the wood-burning oven.  

Franny's
295 Flatbush Avenue, Park Slope, Brooklyn; 718-230-0221
To the fussy diners who make a production over Franny's unsliced pizza pies, we say: Get over it. Use a fork and knife if you must. Better yet, tear a piece off with your hands, you big sissies. Just don't let manners stand between you and what might be New York's best pizza since the coal-oven era. Chef Andrew Feinberg burns wood, but the fuel is less important than the technique, which results in a miraculously textured crust, light and tender and full of moky flavor. Toppings excel, too rom house-cured salami and organic-beef meatballs to parsley pesto. And t's a rare pizzeria that can serve up an ethereal panna otta with sweet ocal strawberries.

Galanga
149 West 4th Street, 212-228-4267
The young owners of Galanga apprenticed at Wondee Siam, a Hell's Kitchen hole-in-the-wall with a cult following. The training paid off, especially in Thai standards like refreshing and remarkably fragrant crispy duck salad; larb gai, minced chicken redolent of mint and lime and dotted with toasted ground sticky rice; and the Chiang Mai curry noodles, a soothing chili-spiked broth loaded with pungent pickled cabbage and strewn with crispy fried shallots. And the stylish space, with its grass-guttered concrete bar and bright-red back wall, proves that in some departments the student can surpass the master.

Gumbo Cafe
950 Columbus Avenue, near 107th Street; 212-222-2378
Shocked and dismayed by what passes for gumbo here in the restaurant capital of the world, New Orleans native Dexter Stewart did what any civic-minded culinary ambassador would do: He sent for the family recipe and opened a place of his own. Everything about his storefront shop is minuscule, from the twelve seat dining room to the brief menu. Everything, that is, except the portions and the flavors. If you can't choose between the gumbo, the jambalaya, and the red beans and rice, order a sampler of all three, neatly served in ceramic soup bowls. The muffaletta sandwich is as close as you can get to the real thing without having one FedExed from Central Grocery.

Ici
246 DeKalb Avenue, Fort Greene, Brooklyn; 718-789-2778
You can't toss a baguette without hitting a French restaurant in Fort Greene. But Ici, with its fashionable emphasis on seasonality, its farm contacts, and its deft execution of the classics, succeeds where most only suffice. The unfailingly charming (and Manhattan-restaurant-seasoned) mom-and-pop proprietors patrol the whitewashed dining room and peaceful garden, bearing unfussy plates of locally grown greens, uncommonly tasty upstate chicken, and tender skate adrift in a sea of brown butter. The all-French wine list ventures beyond Burgundy and Bordeaux, yielding better values farther afield—not unlike the concept of the Brooklyn bistro itself.

inoteca
98 Rivington Street, 212-614-0473
This Lower East Side offshoot of New York's panini pioneer 'ino takes it to a mercifully bigger space—all rustic wood tables, walls lined with wine bottles, and service so chipper you'd think there's nowhere else your well-trained waiter would rather be at two in the morning. The jovial atmosphere is infectious, and the kitchen knows what New Yorkers like to nibble, including fried olives, mini-meatballs flecked with orange zest, and—next to 'ino's—the city's best panini and tramezzini.


Ancho-chili-crusted duck at Itzocan Bistro.  

Itzocan Bistro
1575 Lexington Avenue, at 101st Street; 212-423-0255
From humble beginnings at Itzocan Café in the East Village, chef Anselmo Bello has progressed to an only marginally bigger, markedly more ambitious bistro in East Harlem, where he cooks the Franco-Mexican fusion that won him a following. South-of-the-border ingredients insinuate themselves into bistro fare in creative ways: A tequila-and-serrano-pepper broth animates steamed mussels. Rajas poblanas garnish duck pâté. Pork chops are seasoned with Negra Modelo beer. Happily, Itzocan's low prices and gracious service traveled equally well.

Jewel Bako Makimono
101 Second Avenue, 212-253-7848
Cheapness is relative—never more so, perhaps, than when talking about sushi. It's true that if so inclined, a couple could drop a C-note on an omakase dinner at this Jewel Bako spinoff. Formerly Blue Goose Cafe, it's now dedicated to playing to its owners' strengths, at a decided and welcome discount. Maki rolls in the $6 to $12 range make it easy to resist that temptation, as do a $4 bowl of white-miso soup, graced with a feather-light quenelle of wild striped bass; a $14 trio of delectable tartares, scooped up with lotus-root chips; and a blushing pink king salmon en papillote with briny sea-urchin sauce (a $9 appetizer or an $18 entrée). Daily specials like medium fatty tuna are a splurge within reason ($7), especially figuring in the cosseting service, elegant tableware, and fabulously fresh fish.

Kasadela
647 East 11th Street, 212-777-1582
The polar opposite of the St. Marks Place rumpus rooms that define the downtown izakaya experience, Kasadela is downright civilized, yet equally cheap. It's a peaceful place for leisurely snacking, in-depth sake sampling, and audible conversation. But once the Japanese tapas hit the table, talk might turn exclusively to the food before you: Crisp, salty sheets of roasted nori that dissolve in your mouth like cotton candy. Steamed "black" (actually dark-green) edamame that's ten times better than the regular variety. Creamy squares of wasabi-dotted goma tofu that taste halfway between hummus and halvah. And, as a sometime special, some of the city's best chicken wings, marinated in garlic, ginger, and two kinds of soy.

Kenka
25 St. Marks Place, 212-254-6363
Just our luck. With the kitchen fresh out of turkey testicles and bull penises, both $5.50 specials, we were left to choose from the list of 100 or so other small plates, none of which costs more than $7 at this raucous izakaya. We gnawed on grilled corn on the cob drizzled with the house sweet sauce, wallowed in a gooey okonomiyaki (cabbage-and-egg pancake), and almost sparked a flame jousting chopsticks over an unctuous miso-marinated grilled mackerel. Codgers and Bloomberg beware: This place is as loud as a Times Square pinball arcade. Speakers that the owners must have scored cheap from the MTA don't help.

Kombit
279 Flatbush Avenue, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn; 718-399-2000
The name sounds like an off-brand pest-control product. Some menu items are often unavailable—others perpetually AWOL—and the friendly service sure can dawdle. But when it gets around to it, this Haitian restaurant serves a righteous lambi (conch stew). Ours contained a boatload of the feisty mollusks vigorously beaten into tender submission and simmered in an herby, tomato-based broth. Griot (crisp cubes of marinated, fried pork) and tassot (the goat version) are equally impressive, and come with a tiny cup of the delicious and fiery homemade hot-pepper condiment called piklis. Chew on a stalk of sugarcane for dessert. "It helps your digestion," says the waitress.


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