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Restaurant Openings & Buzz

Week of Sept. 12, 2005: Zucco: Le French Diner, Cercle Rouge, D'or Ahn. Plus, caper leaves, and a diet-be-damned amuse.

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Openings
Zucco: Le French Diner
Like Diddy and Ghandi, to say nothing of Cher, Zucco, the owner of the eponymous Zucco: Le French Diner, goes by just one name, and with his cool demeanor and smooth French accent, he pulls it off. His month-old restaurant is stylishly equipped with vintage French bric-a-brac and amenities like fine cloth napkins tucked into silver napkin holders and teensy wineglasses (it’s BYO for now) from Paris. Which is why it’s surprising to learn that Zucco took as his business model the typical French truck stop. “If one day you are driving along the Routes Nationale,” he says, “and you pass a restaurant with a lot of trucks parked outside, you can go in knowing that the food will be good and cheap.” For now, Zucco’s menu is limited to tasty French sandwiches served on crusty baguettes, salads, and a few main courses like a toothsome steak haché that can be cooked in an electric kitchen. As soon as Con Ed and the State Liquor Authority—the restaurant-world equivalents of the cable guy—come through with the goods, Zucco’s menu will encompass French truck-stop favorites like cassoulet, moules marinières, and grilled tuna à la Provençale, as well as an all-French wine list.
188 Orchard St., nr. Houston St.; 212-677-5200


Cercle Rouge
Cercle Rouge might be the latest in Georges Forgeois’s line of atmospheric bistros (Cafe Noir and Jules among them), but, as is the wont of French restaurants these days, it doesn’t take its Frenchness so seriously. Chef David Féau, late of Lutèce, intersperses ever-popular bistro staples like leeks vinaigrette and moules frites with such brazen Americanisms as lobster rolls and a blue-cheese steak sandwich “phillies style.” Like Laurent Tourondel—and Tom Colicchio before him—Féau offers up his meat and fish courses straight, with a choice of sauces (from Szechuan carrot jus to Penja peppercorn) and sides (curried bok choy, fork-mashed potato). Every so often, vestiges of his haute past surface in dishes like beef carpaccio with feta, green tomato, and dried cherries—not quite as daring as the jewel thieves in the 1970 Jean-Pierre Melville caper film that the restaurant’s named for, but almost.
241 W. Broadway, nr. N. Moore St.; 212-226-6252


D’or Ahn
Until recently, Korean food has largely evaded the fusion treatment afforded Japanese and Thai cuisines, maintaining its sometimes intimidating insularity. Not so at D’or Ahn, a concrete-fronted nook of a restaurant nestled between Tía Pol and an Exxon gas station in West Chelsea. Owner Lannie Ahn takes a modern approach to the décor, with its industrial metal mesh and concrete-slab bar, and to the food. Korean-American chef Rachel Yang, late of Alain Ducasse and Per Se, marries Korean flavors to French technique in dishes like pressed veal feet with sesame leaf and honshimeji mushrooms, and pepper-crusted rib eye with oxtail ragoût and mung-bean cake.
207 Tenth Ave., nr. 23rd St.; 212-627-7777


The Ingredient
Caper Leaves
If you like caper buds and caperberries, you’ll love pickled caper leaves. From the waste-not-want-not school of food management come these seldom-seen delicacies whose intense flavor is equal to buds, plus they add an interesting textural dimension when served as a garnish to meat and seafood. Casa Mono chef Andy Nusser perks up striped bass à la plancha with a small tangle of the pungent plant’s leaves and stems. He gets his, thorns and all, from a wholesale distributor, but Dean & Deluca carries a thorn-free version from Italy ($13 for a nine-ounce jar).


Innovation
Main Squeeze
As nice an idea as petits fours are in theory, even the most hedonistic of appetites has trouble paying them their proper respect, coming as they often do after an amuse, an appetizer, a main course, some cheese, perhaps, and dessert. Enter Thor pastry chef Pierre Reboul, who has concocted a petit four that’s hard to resist. His bittersweet-chocolate-and-hazelnut cream comes in a sleek cylinder that looks like a fancy travel-size tube of toothpaste. You’re meant to squeeze it into indented rounds of financier-like cookies, and then pop them in your mouth with a diet-be-damned flourish. Best of all, you can take the tube home without having to ask for a doggie bag. And if you book a room at the hotel, you might get a tube as a turndown treat
Thor at the Hotel on Rivington, 107 Rivington St., nr. Ludlow St.; 212-796-8040.


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