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Restaurant Openings & Buzz

Week of Jan. 31, 2005: Plate, Della Rovere, and English Is Italian. Plus, a glorious choucroute.

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Openings
Plate
For their second venture south of Houston Street, the Soho Cantina team has rendered the old M & R Bar nearly unrecognizable with modern furnishings and a Latin-Asian menu courtesy of Soho Cantina’s versatile chef, Ricardo Hernandez. His dishes suit any appetite, starting with small plates like soybean cakes with tequila-cured salmon, and working all the way up to groaning family platters of jalapeño-honey-glazed rack of lamb with tostones and baby bok choy. In between, choose among appetizers (teriyaki-glazed quail with garbanzo-bean pico de gallo), bowls (lobster mofongo), and mains (grilled skirt steak with pink-grapefruit salad and sweet corn croquettes). The made-to-measure fusion Cuban ($7 per person) is stuffed with Cantonese roasted pork, Serrano ham, Gruyère, pickled jalapeños, and ginger-tamarind mustard, and the bar specializes in inventive “saktails” like the Thai-tini, made with ginger-and-basil-infused sake and chilled with Thai iced-tea cubes.
264 Elizabeth St., nr. Houston St.; 212-219-9212


Della Rovere
The Della Rovere family, which extends back to Renaissance Italy, produced two popes, one of whom commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. More significant, for New York epicures at least, is the current crop of Della Roveres—Frank LaRuffa and his son, Frank Jr., who this week commemorate their maternal lineage with a new Tribeca restaurant. They’ve hired husband-and-wife chefs Roberto and Monica Bellissimo, who met working at Le Cirque, to concoct a modern Italian menu of dishes like osso buco ravioli with broccoli rabe and marrow, Dolcetto-braised veal cheeks, and chestnut-stuffed quail with pickled-date purée. (Snackers, take note: The menu’s also heavy on salumi, formaggi, the Venetian-style tapas called cicchetti, and crudi like tuna with black-truffle coulis and anchovy mayo.) The interior, which has the dubious distinction of being designed by Leona Helmsley’s decorator, is an unexpectedly chintz-free zone of sturdy rosewood furniture, stained-glass windows, and a stone waterfall. And wine director Aaron von Rock, a veteran of Verbena and Alta, has big oenophilic plans: a hundred wines by the glass, a monthly regional focus, and the Oaken Circle, a wine club of sorts. All it takes to get your own brass plaque, private locker, and personal glassware is to work your way through a hundred different wines and spirits.
250 W. Broadway, at Beach St.; 212-334-3470

English Is Italian
Jeffrey Chodorow pioneered (some might say milked) the concept of family-style dining at places like China Grill, Asia de Cuba, and Tuscan Steak. This last Italian-accented venture has undergone a few modifications in its short life, and this week, it reopens as English Is Italian, a collaboration between Chodorow and Todd English, of Figs and Olives fame. English, it turns out, is Italian—his mother grew up on Arthur Avenue—and he channels Sunday suppers past to create prix fixe menuless feasts ($29 at lunch, $39 at dinner) meant to simulate a home-cooked meal. Expect to be plied with pizzas, focaccia, and crostini, but remember to pace yourself: English’s version of home-cooked meals involves antipasti like cauliflower caponata and pappa carciofi, ricotta mezzaluna with beef ragù, and whole duck stuffed with pork, veal, rice, and duck eggs.
622 Third Ave., at 40th St.; 212-404-1700


Object of Desire
Kraut Control
Candidly, choucroute has never been one of my myriad cravings, but a seriously glorious version should not be denied. That’s what Brasserie Les Halles is about all of February. At a cozy promotional pig-out, I tasted the house’s traditional choucroute garni: a tangy drift of sauerkraut heaped with smoked pork loin and belly, boudin blanc, a worthy frank, and a token few boiled potatoes. In a smartly chauvinist move, the kraut had been slow-cooked in Riesling from New York’s venerable Konstantin Frank. Variations celebrate fish or duck (spiked with Frank’s Gewürztraminer) and the ultimate champagne-simmered royale.
—Gael Greene
Brasserie Les Halles
411 Park Ave. So., nr. 28th St. 212-679-4111
15 John St., nr. Broadway; 212-285-8585


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