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Where to Eat 2003

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Citarella is among the restaurants getting revamped with a new chef.  

The New-Chefs Parade

Flux is the normal state in the food world, as in the rest of the cosmos, although this year the usual game of musical chairs between chefs and restaurants has seemed downright chaotic. Since Wylie Dufresne pulled the rip cord at 71 Clinton Fresh Food, his old lieutenant, Matt Reguin, has infused the new menu with a strangely cloying brand of sweetness. The tiny space is mobbed as usual, but it was a little perplexing to find my too-rare Wagyu sirloin doused with strawberry relish, and my companion’s perfectly acceptable piece of sea bream crusted in lavender and drowned in tepid broth made of honey and lime. Most of the restaurant’s classic desserts are still intact, although I’m not sure a taste of melted-chocolate-and-peanut-butter tart is worth the arduous downtown trip.

David Bouley seems to have developed a similar sweet tooth since returning, with great fanfare, to the revamped and slightly renamed Bouley. Some of the kitchen’s new fusion experiments seem to work better than others; I liked the lunchtime veal loin (with fresh Canadian chanterelles and Pinot Noir sauce). It’s almost worth paying the outlandish $16 fee to sample the chef’s operatic appetizer of orange-flavored Thai curries, lobster, artichokes, and Serrano ham named, with characteristic Bouley flourish, “Return From Chiang Mai.”

Among seafood loons, the word is that Citarella’s new chef, Brian Bistrong, has steadied that listing ship, adding semi-esoteric items like sand dabs (mini sardines from the Pacific) to the kitchen’s repertoire, and a nice fillet of rouget in a slim, crispy envelope of potatoes, which I discovered one evening while rooting around in the tasting menu. Wunderkind Cornelius Gallagher is the second chef to occupy the kitchen at Oceana since Rick Moonen’s abrupt departure, and if his fancy renditions of seared cod (presented, when I visited, on a bed of lentils infused with a sweet carrot emulsion) and striped bass (served with a thin, cigarillo-size tube of brique pastry filled with truffle-laced mousseline) are any indication, he’ll be cooking at that stately establishment for years to come.

The same appears to be true at La Caravelle, where chef Troy Dupuy continues his decorous experiments in haute cuisine, and also at Olica, the newly remodeled and renamed home of the talented Alsatian chef Jean-Yves Schillinger. On the ever-expanding brasserie circuit, the formerly dreary midtown establishment Montparnasse has been transformed by chef Philippe Roussel into a kind of mecca for traditionalist Francophile devotees. Begin with the little crock filled with escargots, then dip into the old-fashioned coq au vin, poured over mashed potatoes and bacon, or a proper serving of onglet, covered in red-wine-and-shallot sauce and buried in a golden tangle of salt-speckled frites, naturally.


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