May 31, 2004
Nesting And Noshing
Guided by the shrewd principle that a home-furnishings store should feel like home, the owners of Tribeca’s new Art et Maison have opened Bar Panini, where hungry customers can grab an Italian-accented bite or drink while mentally redecorating the living room. The stainless-steel standing bar opens at 8 a.m. for Danesi espresso drinks and La Bergamote croissants, then shifts to an all-day menu of “soft” panini and tramezzini, stuffed with everything from salami and pecorino to vitello tonnato, along with eleven proseccos by the glass. The owners have turned to friends and neighbors to stock their sumptuous display cases: Chocolates come from Soho’s MarieBelle, rice pudding from Rice to Riches, and mascarpone cheesecake from Silvano Marchetto of Da Silvano. “Customers leave the store when they’re hungry,” says co-owner Maria DeFilippis. “We figured, why not keep them here?”
31 North Moore Street
L’Asso, which means “the ace” in Italian, clearly wants to trump the local pizzeria competition. Out of the handsomely spare restaurant’s wood-fired brick oven come not only the usual suspects but pies topped with zucchini flowers and truffle oil, three types of onions, and five types of cheeses—not to mention the half-pizza-half-calzone concoction called a mezzaluna. A familiar array of pasta, panini, and salads rounds out the menu, but even the owner’s Neapolitan mother’s contribution goes against the grain: Her struffoli are savory rather than the conventionally sweet honey-bound balls of dough, and served with cheese and olives.
192 Mott Street
Frites, Don’t Fail Me Now
After years as a chef for hire, schlepping his signature goat-cheese tart and “smoked-to-order” salmon from Chelsea Bistro to Park Bistro to Montparnasse, Philippe Roussel has finally opened a rustic country-French kitchen of his own. Gavroche, named for the street urchin from Les Misérables, is a collaboration between Roussel and his partner, Camelia Cassin (pictured), former manager at Les Halles, who have gone for the ever-popular casual-farmhouse feel, rear garden and all. Although Roussel understudied the great Jean Troisgros and Michel Guérard, he’s keeping things accessibly simple with a crowd-pleasing menu of steak-frites, sautéed skate, and les planches—a snacker’s paradise of wooden boards laden with charcuterie, raw-milk cheeses, or smoked fish. Until the license arrives, it’s BYO.
212 West 14th Street
Through The Grape Vine
As wine buyer or waitress, respectively, at places like Lupa, Raoul’s, and Blue Hill, Patrick Watson and his wife, Michele Pravda (pictured), fielded countless questions about what to drink with dinner. Now they’re channeling their food-pairing expertise into new careers as vintners at Smith & Vine, their cozy new Carroll Gardens wine shop. Watson has lived in the neighborhood for nine years, long enough to see it explode with restaurants—not to mention new neighbors with disposable incomes. To attract them, the pet-friendly shop keeps Sunday hours and schedules weekly tastings, monthly wine and food pairings with local chefs, and cross-promotions with the video store next door: Roman Holiday, apparently, goes quite nicely with a Terlan Lagrein rosé.
246 Smith Street, near Degraw Street, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
À La Cart
Le Parker Meridien is one ritzy skyscraper hotel that hasn’t forgotten life’s simple pleasures. Burger Joint, a glorious greasy spoon, is tucked away behind the chic lobby, and now through Labor Day, an ice-cream cart has taken up residence outside the 56th Street entrance, just west of Sixth Avenue. The four classic flavors (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and coffee) and two sorbets come from Jane’s Ice Cream, the renowned Kingston manufacturer that supplies some of the Hudson Valley’s best restaurants. A scoop will run you $3, with or without sprinkles.
A Rare Treat
Jean-Georges does meat and potatoes—so to speak.
Jean-Georges Vongerichten has reinvented those musty New York steakhouse must-haves for his just-opened, unabashedly rococo V Steakhouse, in Time Warner’s collection of star-launched eateries. Tradition’s burp-making onions and tomatoes are now an elegant tower of fried onion thins and heirloom tomatoes. Shrimp cocktail, usually ossified, is reborn as gently cooked shrimp on chopped cucumber in a stirring puddle of cocktail-sauce essence. House-smoked salmon is gorgeous in its makeover. Caramelized foie gras and portobellos on the iceberg “Vedge” seem a bit silly, and I’m not sure I forgive the whipped and violated Caesar or the do-it-yourself onion soup. But the steak is a steak, and all the meat flaunts aristocratic provenance. Grilled Dover sole, boned and manicured tableside, is a classic; the halibut, sublime. V’s new “fripps”—ovals of baked potato fried in tempura batter with lemon zest—are splendid for sharing, and the buttery mashed potatoes give new nuance to buttery. Deconstructed lemon meringue pie and the cruelly tweaked cherry pie are simply annoying: Insist on the thrillingly old-fashioned sixteen-layer chocolate cake. Entrées, $19 to $45, plus a $76 rib-eye for two. Gael Greene
10 Columbus Circle, fourth floor
the underground gourmet
When looking for a good Cuban sandwich, Battery Park City might not be the first place that comes to mind. Yet that is where you’ll find one of the city’s best, at Pan Latin, an awkwardly laid-out, culinarily ambitious café on the ground floor of a luxury rental building. The neighborhoody spot has a Latino soul and a Pottery Barn aesthetic, and is so close to Stuyvesant High School it should offer a meal plan—and so close to Hudson River Park it should pack picnic baskets. Tropical batidos and a toothsome arroz con pollo are on the menu, as is a Spanish artisanal-cheese plate elegantly equipped with Serrano ham and membrillo. (Order one and the owner will recommend a sparkling apple cider from Asturias.) But the real draw is the array of irresistibly aromatic fresh-baked breads, which elevate the sandwiches. The classic Cubano is superb, pressed thin and crisp, and given a good dose of mojo; the medianoche, even better. The place is only a few weeks old, but moms pushing strollers have already taken to the pan dulce with a café con leche for breakfast. The after-school-snack pack goes for the dulce de leche and guava sandwich cookies—Pan Latin’s answer to the Oreo.
400 Chambers Street, at River Terrace
What happened to La Caravelle?
In 1968, an era of haut snoot in Manhattan’s imperious French restaurants, I was a quaking outsider, braving the avowed snobbisme of the terrible-tempered Robert Meyzen for a red velour banquette in La Caravelle’s farthest Siberia. Cruel insult: The menu, written in French, was not even translated. “If you belong here, you get a table,” Meyzen told me. “When I can have Mrs. Lytell Hull, why should I take Mrs. Nobody from Kalamazoo?” Periodic recessions over the years tempered the sadism, though it still had upper-crust club airs. (Funny, isn’t it, how we let lowborn waiters turned martinet entrepreneurs set the rules of our status games.) Then, in 1988, after a brief co-ownership, André and Rita Jammet took charge, bowed to democracy, spruced up the place, and nursed it through ups and downs with a parade of gifted chefs. As our town’s infatuation with nouvelle cuisine soured, and later, when fusion reigned, I found it a joy that Escoffier’s golden oldies could still be found here, the gossamer quenelles de brochet, the duck smitane, the soufflé poufs. Each talented chef’s glowing notices provoked a boomlet that ultimately cooled. Did we really crave an evening in that sweet old relic? In 2002, the heat fueled by its newest chef-chevalier, Troy Dupuy, and his sense-searing, obsessive layerings of tastes and textures filled the banquettes once again. Serious foodies checked in, clucking approval. But it wasn’t enough. Now, for many reasons—residual bitterness over a union walkout, weeks of uneven bookings, André Jammet’s desire to do less, our own fickle passions—La Caravelle joins the ghosts of the many grand Le’s and La’s where once VIP pets got macaroons and the rest of us ate humble pie.