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Restaurant Openings & Buzz

Week of Jan. 10, 2005: BLT Fish, Bellavitae, Sandia, Bar Sasa, and Aquavit. Plus, one of the "greatest winter dishes known to mankind" and a pocket-sized guide to Italian wine.

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Openings
BLT Fish
There aren’t many Frenchmen willing to concede that America has a cuisine—let alone one worth exploring. Happily, Laurent Tourondel is one of the few. After reinventing the steak house at BLT—to say nothing of proving that creamed spinach is indeed an edible substance—he tackles the New England clam-shack idiom this week with his first-floor menu at BLT Fish, dedicated to such national treasures as the lobster roll, the hamburger, the tuna sandwich, even—watch out, T.G.I. Friday’s—the fried stuffed jalapeño. After the ground floor is up and running, with its raw bar, plain oak tables, and waiters sporting GO FISH T-shirts, Tourondel will debut the triplex’s elegant third-floor dining room, with a sophisticated seafood menu that mirrors BLT Steak’s lucrative à la carte formula: sides sold separately.
21 W. 17th St., nr. Fifth Ave.; 212-691-8888


Bellavitae
After seventeen years of purveying artisanal Italian oils, pastas, and pestos to restaurateurs like Thomas Keller and Mario Batali, importer Rolando Beramendi has joined their ranks. Next week, after a quiet trial run, he and partner Jon Mudder will officially open a rustic Italian wine bar in one of Greenwich Village’s most off-the-beaten-track locales, serving sharable small plates like pancetta-wrapped figs, crostone topped with Taleggio and mostarda, and garganelli bolognese. It’s often said that ingredients speak for themselves, but at the synergistic Bellavitae, with its wood-burning oven and marble stand-up bar, they get a little help: Products from Beramendi’s importing company are cited on the menu, displayed on shelf-lined brick walls, and, naturally, for sale.
24 Minetta Lane, nr. Sixth Ave.; 212-473-5121

Sandia
Sandia means watermelon in Spanish, which explains the not entirely seasonal preponderance of that fruit in a fair share of the cocktails at this new Flatiron restaurant. The menu, devised by Roberto Pagan, a veteran of various Rodriguez-run venues (both Douglas and Jimmy), melds Latin and Japanese flavors in dishes like salmon-skin sushi roll with yuzu mayo; crispy chicken salad with cabbage, mung beans, and malanga crisps; and guava-glazed baby back ribs. The long, narrow room has gotten an infusion of color since its Snackbar days, and the welcome, exemplified by pre-meal gifts of kimchi jicama and smoked-fish taquitos, couldn’t be warmer.
111 W. 17th St., nr. Sixth Ave.; 212-627-3700

Sides
Aquavit
The Modern isn’t the only splashy midtown restaurant embracing Scandinavian design. Aquavit’s new digs teem with Panton lamps, Jacobsen chairs, and Kjaerholm tables. Marcus Samuelsson’s café and dining-room menus are each packed with delectably dressed herring, salmon both cured and cooked, and all manner of smoked and pickled fish and game, not to mention those ever-addictive meatballs
65 E. 55th St., nr. Madison Ave.; 212-307-7311

Bar Sasa
After opening to immediate critical acclaim, in these pages and elsewhere, Bar Tonno closed late last month, a victim of partners who couldn’t reach an operational consensus (when do they ever?). But look for the narrow Nolita space and onetime Bar Veloce branch to morph once again, this time into a streamlined sushi-and-sake bar tentatively called Bar Sasa, where Tonno chef de cuisine Kyohei Fukushi, a veteran of Morimoto, swaps the previous establish-ment’s “modern Italian raw bar” concept for a traditional Japanese one.
17 Cleveland Pl., nr. Kenmare Pl.; 212-966-7334


In Print
With their Vino Italiano, Joe Bastianich and David Lynch (Babbo’s co-owner and sommelier, respectively) wrote the book on Italian wine. That hefty tome is a tad cumbersome to lug around, though, which makes their new pocket-size Vino Italiano Buying Guide such a welcome follow-up. It surveys wineries with handy symbols for price and availability and pithy descriptive notes. You’ll learn, for instance, that Hofstätter, in the Alto Adige, produces “head-spinning ‘Kolbenhof’ gewürztraminer” and “smoky ‘Sant’Urbano’ pinot nero.” Lists like “Ten Great Whites You’ve Never Heard Of” and “Buy and Hold: Classic Collector Reds” simplify the intoxicating world of Italian grapes, from Abbuoto to Zibibbo.



Caveat Lector
’Tis the season for returns and exchanges, but some people, apparently, don’t know when to quit, and Katsu-Hama, the midtown Japanese restaurant specializing in superb tonkatsu, isn’t taking any chances. The owners have plastered their strict no-refund policy all over the restaurant, and it looks like they mean business.






Object of Desire
Winter Wonderfood
For his hearty new cassoulet at Five Points, chef Marc Meyer makes his own duck confit and pork sausage—a labor of love that might even mollify sticklers who look askance at the debatable addition of lamb, bread crumbs, and—gasp— cannellini beans, instead of the traditional flageolet or Tarbais. But the end result certainly proves the late Craig Claiborne’s belief that along with onion soup and choucroute, cassoulet is one of the three greatest winter dishes known to mankind.
Five Points
31 Great Jones St., nr. Lafayette St.; 212-253-5700


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