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Where to Eat 2003

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Aix marks the spot: The sleekly designed dining room.  

Upper West Side Feeding Frenzy

Ever since Tom Valenti hit the mother lode on upper Broadway, parties of intrepid chef pioneers have been flooding into the vast, uncharted Upper West Side, seeking to remake their careers. So while Scott Q. Campbell’s restaurant @SQC lacks the neighborly charms of Barney Greengrass (or even a local branch of Hunan Balcony), it has brought spiked hot cider to the drab confines of lower Columbus Avenue, along with a fine example of finnan haddie, and even a mess of scrambled eggs laced with Montrachet cheese, available on any morning of the week. Chef Neil Annis has worked similar magic at Compass, in the troubled restaurant space on 70th Street once called Marika. Although the odd battleship-colored cushions make the bar area look like it’s been heisted off a high-class Croatian cruise liner circa 1978, the restaurant is a fine place for an evening martini, a late-night snack (the grilled lamb burger), or even dinner, when $30 buys a perfectly acceptable prix fixe portion of saffron-spiked risotto fritters, a slice of organic calf’s liver, and apple strudel for dessert.

If you really want to splurge in the great non-foodie tundra above West 60th Street, fork over $118 for a taste of lemon-poached lobster, vegetable tapioca, and fragrant Gewürztraminer froth as part of the autumn tasting menu at Jean Georges (I didn’t), or spend roughly a quarter of the money on the surprisingly tasty cut of sirloin grilled right next to the organic-foods section at the new Upstairs Café; at the Fairway Market on Broadway. Much farther uptown, exactly $82 will buy you the entire menu at the diminutive A Café;, where the other evening I had to elbow aside platoons of jolly locals to get a taste of exotic house specialties like juicy rabbit sausage and pheasant pâté flavored with truffle rum in a brie crust. Similar mobs are gathering at Aix, where Didier Virot has salvaged several dishes from the wreckage of his doomed downtown restaurant and is serving them up in a lower-key neighborly setting. His truffle-juicedrenched gnocchi remain as melting as ever, and so does the very un-Provençal version of foie gras, which is crusted in a delicious sleeve of crunchy pistachios. For marooned uptown gourmets, though, the restaurant’s real strong point is its intelligent, accessible wine list, which is the best one you’ll find north of Picholine.





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