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Where to Eat 2003

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And Finally, A Week of Specials

In the table-hopping, helter-skelter world of the professional eater, consistency is a rare virtue. So sometimes, when I lie in bed late at night, burping dyspeptically, I like to dream about that perfect week when all the gastronomic stars align. I’d spend this perfect week dining each day on blue-plate specials offered at restaurants around town, and I’d begin, as most weeks do, on Monday, when The Union Square Café; rolls out its masterly lobster shepherd’s pie, a layered disk of vegetables and nuggets of lobster topped with a cheesy mashed-potato crust. This grand confection sits in a pool of lobster sauce and is so astonishing to look at that, like when I ordered it recently, it causes gasps of wonder among all the friendly, blue-haired Martha Stewart de-votees at the bar. Tuesday would mean a visit to Le Cirque 2000, when the “weekly classic” is a sweet, vaguely citrus-tasting osso buco, replete (for the robust price tag of $37) with a little pot of smooth, cheesy polenta. Wednesday, I’d dine on mustard-scented braised duck and duck sausage at the cozy Cornelia Street establishment Home. The following day, I’d waddle up Park Avenue to Artisanal, where the Thursday-evening special is a daintily sized, exceptionally nourishing “cassoulet Toulouse.” Like the classic example of this dish at La Côte Basque, Terrance Brennan’s cassoulet achieves that elusive balance between moisture (veal stock, tomatoes) and bulk (garlic sausage, tarbia beans, duck confit, etc.) and is presented, for the benefit of his persnickety, cheese-fiend clientele, with a topping of chewy Parissiad cheese, in a bouquet of white napkins.

Friday is sacred bouillabaisse night for many of the more observant chefs around the city, and my favorite is the rust-colored, aromatic version served by chef Boulud at DB Bistro Moderne. On Saturday, I’d line up with the rest of the breathless revelers at Balthazar, where the kitchen serves its majestic short ribs, braised to extreme softness in port wine and presented with fresh steamed vegetables and a pile of whipped potatoes.

After that, it’s on to Babbo for Mr. Batali’s weekly Sunday-evening serving of Bollito misto (a sturdy Italian pot-au-feu of calves’ tongues, beef bris-ket, capon, and assorted sausages, among other fatso items), before ending my binge, at long last, with a second stop, at Ouest. There I’d squat at the bar, with a football game on, pop my little green tablets of extra-strength Mylanta, and feed peacefully on a slab of Tom Valenti’s signature meat loaf, which, as every trencherman knows, is caked in bacon, smothered in mushroom sauce, and leavened with just a dash of crushed saltines.


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