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Where to Eat 2003

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Blue Man: Danny Meyer-- the maestro of Blue Smoke-- with his ribs.  

The Apotheosis of Neighborhood Chic

It’s taken a few months, but Danny Meyer’s approximation of a honky-tonk neighborhood bar (albeit one in Tuscaloosa, Alabama) is beginning to achieve that smoky, lived-in barbecue feel. The Texas-style beef brisket tasted like shoe flaps when I first sampled it during the early days of Blue Smoke, so imagine my surprise when I dropped in for a quiet, unhurried lunch not long ago and found the meat in my brisket sandwich strangely tenderized, even juicy, with satisfying bits of burnt crackle around the edges. The “salt and pepper” ribs have undergone a similar transformation—now they’re chewy and densely flavorful—and the little racks of baby backs, from Mr. Meyer’s hometown of St. Louis, are as compulsively edible as ever.

Lunch also happens to be my favorite time at Washington Park, when light pours in through the oversize windows facing Fifth Avenue, and the waiters serve Jonathan Waxman’s refreshing West Coast delicacies with sunny, faux-California smiles. Mr. Waxman probably won’t like hearing his bustling enterprise referred to as a neighborhood restaurant, but it happens to be two blocks from my home. So whenever I wander in for a lunchtime snack, I like to indulge in a joint of crispy duck leg (part of a $30.03 prix fixe, matched with three tasting glasses of wine), or possibly the grilled skirt steak smothered in a cilantro-infused salsa verde, and for dessert, the house ice-cream sundae, accompanied by small cups of butterscotch, whipped cream, and crumbled cookies and served in a tall martini glass, of course.

A restaurant usually has to marinate in a neighborhood for a good decade or more before it is called a joint, but chef and co-owner Jimmy Bradley has achieved this status at The Harrison, in Tribeca, in record time. His formula for comfortable dining includes lots of exposed, beamy wood and a long bar you can spread out in. It also entails a menu filled with artful gourmand dishes like ricotta cavatelli decked with veal cheeks, thick wood-smoked pork chops, and great ham-size Colorado lamb shanks, so well braised they fall from the bone.


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