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Restaurant Openings & Buzz

Week of Oct. 11, 2004: Una Pizza Napoletana, Juan Valdez Café, Szechuan Gourmet. Plus, City Bakery goes Hollywood and Gael Greene visits Café Gray.

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Openings
Una Pizza Napoletana
This is how dedicated Anthony Mangieri is to his craft: After signing a lease in Manhattan, rather than attempting to run two places at once, celebrity-chef-style, he sold his original pizzeria in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey. “My mother used to drive me around since I was 15, taking me to John’s on Bleecker, bakeries I read about,” he says, recalling the tristate area’s golden age of brick-oven pies. “John’s, Totonno’s, and Frank Pepe in Connecticut were so amazing.” And now? “In my opinion, there’s no good pizza.” This weekend, he challenges the status quo with four classic styles, all baked in a wood-burning brick oven and topped with varying combinations of Neapolitan mozzarella di bufala, San Marzano tomatoes, Sicilian sea salt, fresh garlic and basil, and extra-virgin olive oil. And he plans, like certain vaunted pizzaioli before him, to keep the same idiosyncratic hours: Thursday to Sunday, “till the dough runs out.”
349 E. 12th St.; 212-477-9950


Juan Valdez Café
The National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia takes on Starbucks with a sleek new café intended to bolster Colombia’s reputation in this competitively caffeinated age. If you’ve had Maxwell House, you’ve probably had Colombian coffee, but chances are you haven’t sampled a tinto cardamomo or a dulce-de-leche-enhanced macchiato. Already embraced by the Latin American community, the café hasn’t quite mastered counter service yet and the snacks need work, but who knew that mustachioed, donkey-riding Juan was such a design geek? The façade features his abstract image etched onto a stainless steel screen, and a free-flowing styrene wall, meant to evoke coffee, wraps around the lounge, where vintage Valdez commercials are projected in a continuous campy loop.
140 E. 57th St.; 917-289-0981

Szechuan Gourmet
The sea bass with hot pepper merits five chilies on the menu’s three-pepper scale, but this new Flushing transplant has made a few concessions to timid midtown palates. “This one is more General Tso’s chicken,” says the manager, “but the real Chinese food is 100 percent.”
21 West 39th Street; 212-921-0233


Buzz
Barnstorming
The New York epicenter of outlandishly rich hot chocolate and modernist tarts known as City Bakery is going Hollywood. Next spring, owner Maury Rubin plans to open a 5,000-square-foot outpost at the Brentwood Country Mart, a 56-year-old retail cluster of red barns built, Rubin quips, “back when L.A. was a cow town.” Except for a skylight and 150 outdoor picnic-table seats, the design will mirror New York’s, and so, for the most part, will the food. Rubin already considers savory chef Ilene Rosen’s multiethnic salads and sandwiches pitch-perfect for the West Coast palate, but admits the move might inspire him to branch out. “I’ll experiment a bit with alternative baking,” he says. “Soy-based items, more exotic grains.” As if pretzel croissants weren’t exotic enough.

Applegate
In case you haven’t heard, as of today, the tart-but-sweet Newtown pippin (indigenous to Queens!) is the official apple of New York City, presumably having edged out the unfortunately named Esopus Spitzenburg. To commemorate this auspicious moment in agricultural history, Mayor Bloomberg has declared October 11 to 17 Apple Week, with a bushel of “Appletivities” organized by Slow Food NYC and participating restaurants with proceeds going toward . . . planting more pippins. Due to scheduling (and harvesting) difficulties, though, the guest of honor won’t make its fashionably late appearance until the end of the month, which means the apple clafouti you order this week could very well be harboring an impostor.

Truffle Madness
Sapori D’Ischia, the Woodside wholesaler, Italian-foods retail store, and restaurant, has entered into a partnership that has obtained the exclusive rights to distribute the products of Italian truffle giant Boscovivo. What does this mean? “Right now, we’re truffle headquarters,” boasts Sapori D’Ischia’s Antonio Galano. “We have truffle creams, truffle jams, truffle oils, truffle flours, truffle honeys, truffle juices, not to mention truffles. It’s amazing, over 100 truffle products, stuff like you can’t believe!” To share their good fortune, Sapori chef William Prunty will be whipping up a four-course fresh-white-truffle $50 tasting menu every Tuesday through November 9.

Do-nut Despair
The very bad news: After 85 years in business, Dreesen’s grocery store, the famous East Hampton source for doughnuts, will close on October 17. The good news: The doughnuts will live on next door at Scoop du Jour, which is taking over the doughnut-making operation.


Ask Gael
You got into Café Gray early. And . . . ?
What a sweet conceit to call it Café Gray. It’s an ebullient fantasy, Lespinasse-at-a-discount (entrées $22 to $34) with Gray Kunz hustling in his Bulgari of a kitchen overlooking Central Park. He’s been saving the silver cassolettes he scavenged from the St. Regis and his complex, layered cooking for just this moment. And he’s anxious. But savvy eaters will be pleased to rediscover the Kunzian signatures and authority. Ethereal kalamansi-soused yellowtail with a punch of a peppery finish. A delicacy of puffed-rice-crusted fluke with mellow creamed spinach. Cream and a float of crab mark the lobster chowder. Chopped chicharrónes crackle atop a juicy chunk of sweet-glazed pork shank atop a savory bean stew. You’ll believe the rumors that it cost $6 million plus when you see the details—silver engraving on the armchairs, leather you must touch on the walls and in the Lavender Bar (small dishes from 5:30 p.m. at first; breakfast soon). And what a kick, as we sip espresso, to spy on the cooks dutifully scouring every inch of the kitchen in submission to Kunz’s obsessive Swiss perfectionism.
10 Columbus Circle; 212-823-6338


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