152 Smith Street, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn; 718-643-6622
Taking its inspiration from a Barcelona tapas bar, Sample specializes in conservas, otherwise known as preserved food. These are not apocalyptic rations to store in your go-bag, but rather a very selectively amassed trove of gourmet goods culled from around the world. There are gigantes from Greece, giant white beans that bear no resemblance to Libby's limas; lush slices of Turkish fried eggplant; sweet Italian onions. Brined cockles and cod-stuffed piquillos hint of the great wide canned world beyond tuna. Cured meats and cheese are more familiar but no less appealing, and the international list of wines and sakes is full of perfect matches.
Schiller's Liquor Bar
131 Rivington Street, 212-260-4555
Even more impressive than Keith McNally's finger-snapping knack for creating fun, atmospheric places that grow old gracefully is his co-chefs Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson's ability to turn out such consistently satisfying, affordable grub. A deeply flavorful steak frites, an iron skillet of sizzling garlic shrimp, and an estimable penne arrabiata are better than they have any right to be, considering the hipster-haunted scene. The sticky toffee pudding passes muster with finicky Englishmen, and where else can you get a Welsh rarebit this goodor for that matter, a Welsh rarebit, period? If you can park yourself there on a late afternoon, you and whomever you're playing hooky with will practically have the whole white-tiled, sun-filled place to yourselves.
39-07 Prince Street, Flushing; 718-886-6331
Good restaurants don't die. They just move to this Flushing side street, where the relocated Sentosa, a topnotch Malaysian kitchen late of Manhattan's Chinatown, has materialized two doors down from the transplanted Spicy & Tasty (see below). Like its Sichuan neighbor, Sentosa has spruced up its décor but preserved the brash, taste-bud-grabbing flavors characteristic of its native cuisine. Malaysian is the ultimate fusion food, with a penchant for the pungent shrimp paste called belacan and a tendency to bury treasures, like shrimp and squid stuffed inside tofu. Roti canai, the fried pancake you dip into chicken curry, and beef rendang simmered in a chili-powered coconut-milk curry are our go-to litmus-test dishes for Malaysian restaurants; Sentosa's are smashing. So is its ice kanang ABC, a Southeast Asian kitchen sink of a shaved-ice concoction, full of red beans, corn kernels, palm seeds, and jelly.
35-01 Ditmars Boulevard, Astoria; 718-204-5553
With its concentration of seafood tavernas and souvlaki stands, Astoria is known more for its taramosalata than its duck terrinea fact that inspired three French expats to plant their culinary flag on virgin bistro territory. But 718 is no by-the-book bistro. Its bright orange and yellow scheme feels tropical, and so does the eclectic menu: Grilled calamari gets an avocado garnish and lime aïoli; tomato sauce and mango enliven Ecuadoran shrimp seviche; and that terrine is served with pineapple. Astoria stays up late, and 718 keeps similar hours, with a bar menu of global tapas and what might be northern Queens' only authentictarte flambée.
Madison Square Park, southeast corner; 212-889-6600
Everyone has a favorite Danny Meyer restaurant; ours is Shake Shack. A weekly visit could cause you to rethink the necessity of having to get out of town during the summer. The park is that lush, the all-American snack-bar grub that good. Yes, the line at lunchtime is as bad as your local Duane Reade. But go late in the afternoon, when the crowds have thinned, sit at one of the regulation-green Parks Department tables, and have one of everything on the menuperfect, smallish L.A.-style burgers that have no equal in New York; dressed to the nines Chicago-style dogs with authentic Day-Glo-green relish; a purple cow made with Grape Crush from the bottle; and frozen custard that tastes like a dream. You can even gulp beer or have a good half-bottle of wine inside a designated quaffing zone, no brown bag required.
Spicy & Tasty
39-07 Prince Street, Flushing; 718-359-1601
It was a happy day in Flushingor at least in midtown, where we heard the newswhen the defunct Spicy & Tasty reopened a block away from its original location. Don't be deceived by the new, spiffier premises:Drabness doesn't always equal authenticity. Sichuan specialties like dan-dan noodles and wontons in red chili sauce still resonate with delectable heat; fragrant smoked tea duck and rich double-cooked pork are as imbued with conversation-stopping flavor as ever. Up front, the designated cold-appetizers chef dishes up regional delicacies like chili-slicked sliced conch and shredded potato from the wackiest-looking salad bar you've ever seen.
The Spotted Pig
314 West 11th Street, 212-620-0393
A gastropub, a worldly English pal explains, is just like a regular pub-except that it's a place where "you needn't get as tight as a monkey before you summon up the courage to order something to eat." With April Bloomfield cooking at the Spotted Pig, you needn't even raise a glass.Bloomfield's cuisine is seasonal, and British only in the way that it is at London's Italian-obsessed River Cafe, where she (and Jamie Oliver) used to work. Dishes like gnudi cloaked in butter and sage and buffalo mozzarella with spinach and olives bump up against chicken-liver parfait to slather on potato bread. Pub grub-but just barely.
Wogie's Bar and Grill
39 Greenwich Avenue; 212-229-2171
Even though the kitchen at Wogie's once served us a Philly cheesesteak without the cheese, we're glad we gave them the benefit of the doubt. We've returned to chomp down authentic cheesesteaks, every one of them fairly oozing with Cheez Whiz. (If for some misguided reason you prefer American or provolone, they have those, too.) The cheesesteak has what aficionados call a good drip, the dream team of melted cheese mingled with beef-and-onion-tinged grease running off a soft roll like a leaky faucet.One of the two Philly expat brothers who run the joint used to manage bars for Rande Gerber, and as penance for all those $15 cocktails he once peddled, he now serves $3 drafts in a spartan room that looks like a frat bar built by monks.