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Where to Eat 2003

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Marseille: A theater-district mecca for gourmet food on the cheap, and home to the finest (lunchtime) croque monsieur in the city.  

For More Delicate Palates

The town’s operatic claque of food connoisseurs are waiting breathlessly for the curtain to open at WD-50 on Clinton Street later this month, where, according to the grapevine, boy-wonder chef Wylie Dufresne has been conducting all sorts of tantalizing experiments. Until then, however, they’re flocking to Pazo, the new Mediterranean-fusion venture by Patricia Yeo and her co-executive chef, Pino Maffeo. As at Ms. Yeo’s elegantly overwrought restaurant AZ, meals here unfold in a painstakingly mannered style, replete with theatrically dim lighting and flocks of waiters who seemed to bomb our table in waves, like seagulls over a lobster boat. The best dishes tend to be the simplest, like pan-roasted chicken dusted in Moroccan spices, and a paella-inspired concoction of big whiskery prawns, Valencian rice pilaf dotted with savory bits of chorizo, and, on top of it all, a haunch of moist, crispy-skinned duck confit. Pastry chef Nicole Plue’s desserts are nearly all exemplary, although if you have to choose just one, try the beignets, lightly rolled in sugar and filled with caramel.

Whenever my friend the food aristocrat doesn’t feel like paying a small fortune for a single perfectly articulated, perfect-tasting scallop at Craft, she repairs next door to craftbar to feed gingerly on little boats of stuffed sage leaves ($7), bruschetta piled with whipped salt cod ($7), and those crackly hot panini sandwiches stuffed with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, duck ham, and taleggio cheese ($11). For a truly high-minded meal, however, she pays a visit to Atelier, at the Ritz on Central Park South, the celebrated new home of chef Gabriel Kreuther. Even nonfoodies are partial to his version of chicken en cocotte (cooked to a kind of creamy tenderness in a little cast-iron pot); his nouveau version of boeuf Wellington, made not with beef but fat slabs of squab and foie gras; and the pan-roasted loup de mer (French for sea bass), served with lovage and a little platoon of Hon Shimeji mushrooms.

If you don’t like the preening, jackets-required atmosphere of dinner at the Ritz, sprint west to Marseille, where chef Alex Urena, a recent graduate of the refined kitchen at Blue Hill, serves artful little tasting plates of meze—tangles of marinated squid, mashed short ribs wrapped in fried phyllo cigars—along with an elegant rendition of the croque monsieur constructed with buttery slices of sourdough bread, smoked ham, and a burnt topping of Gruyère.


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