July 12, 2004
Frank Prisinzano’s soulful Italian joints always outgrow their cramped East Village premises, which is why he’s expanded every one of them. First came Frank’s adjacent wine bar, Vera; then Supper’s Sugo; and now Lil’ Frankie’s gets Big Cheech, a cozy new room with its own dedicated spaghetti kitchen and deep-fryer. The limited menu offers six simple pastas; terrific, tender fried calamari and zucchini (pictured); Uncle Joe’s chicken; and two more opportunities for Prisinzano (often seen wearing a BIG MEATBALL T-shirt) to show off his ground-beef handiwork: polpettini with spaghetti in a rich ragu, and a “pizza burger,” essentially a meatball hero—and a good one—on a ciabatta roll.
19-21 First Avenue
Nature And Nurture
Quartino’s off-the-beaten-track South Street Seaport location ensured that the rustic downtown ristorante remained something of a secret. As of last week, with the opening of a sleek new Noho branch, the secret’s out. The 25-seat spinoff has high ceilings, a small garden, and the same simple, satisfying menu, but it makes more of an effort to use organic ingredients in its house-baked breads, fresh pasta (like gnocchi, pictured), ice cream, and desserts. In the proud Italian tradition, the menu highlights the provenance of its high-quality ingredients, from Ligurian olive oil and stracchino cheese to Sicilian tuna. The salmon is wild, the salad greens are seasonal, and some of the wines are organic, biodynamic, and served, naturally, by the quartino.
11 Bleecker Street
You Gonna Finish That?
The upscale diner isn’t exactly a novel concept, but it is an ever-popular one—hence Diner 24, the latest venture from industry(food) partner Alex Freij (pictured), who calls his design “desert modern” and outfits his staff in designer jeans. Freij plans to serve (and deliver) his urban comfort food 24/7, which means instant gratification for Chelsea nightcrawlers craving duck meat loaf with peas and carrots, overstuffed Dagwood sandwiches, and buffalo-chicken dumplings. Milkshakes are available in a dozen flavors, and all-day breakfast bears no resemblance to the rise-and-shine meals of your suburban youth—unless the grill cooks back home stuffed their omelettes with duck confit and goat cheese.
102 Eighth Avenue, at 15th Street
Capitulating to what many see as lapsed standards of dress and decorum, and the assumption that fancy French restaurants are an endangered species, master chef Jean-Jacques Rachou has transformed La Côte Basque into a looser, more free-wheeling—but by no means cheap—brasserie. The faithful will no doubt return, joined (Rachou hopes) by a younger crowd enticed by the new zinc bar and crowd-pleasing fare like fruits de mer, bouillabaisse, and cassoulet.
60 W. 55th St.
Just a few months into its brief life, this Curry Hill restaurant closed and reopened with a new chef and a new concept (but the same owners, who happen to run one of New York’s premier gourmet markets). Mohan Ismail, late of Spice Market and Tabla, cooks globally and seasons boldly: Forbidden rice with kokum chili fry and Greenmarket beans, anyone? Aix’s Jehangir Mehta consults on desserts, and Tony (Lenox Room) Fortuna runs the front of the house.
115 Lexington Ave., at 28th St.
Men Kui Tei
The midtown noodle shop that lost its financial district branch after 9/11 has expanded into a section of the East Village already rife with sake bars, yakitori joints, and rival ramen shops, making it a particularly fertile feeding ground for NYU and Cooper Union students on a budget.
63 Cooper Sq.
Le Pain Quotidien
Almost as prolific as Starbucks, this Belgian bakery chain has spawned a new Greenwich Village branch, bringing a European sensibility, meet-your-neighbor communal tables, and spectacular baguettes to a street better known for its clunky-shoe stores. Other attractions: open-faced sandwiches, vegan salads, and good coffee served in bowls.
10 Fifth Ave.
at the greenmarket
A Sour Disposition
Are sour cherries cherrier than sweet?
It’s not easy being a sour cherry in this town. The sweeter varieties get all the attention, especially now, as the local season reaches its peak. The slightly smaller, softer-fleshed, shorter-stemmed sours “tend to spook people,” says Greenmarket spokeswoman Gabrielle Langholtz. “Aside from pie, no one really knows what to do with them. But cooked with sugar for just a few minutes, they’re much more cherry-y than sweet cherries.” Not to mention sublime on yogurt, ice cream, or pancakes. Yet according to Savoy’s Peter Hoffman—who throws caution to the wind and eats them raw, and also poaches them to accompany a mean lavender mousse—the situation may be even more dire than Langholtz realizes. “I don’t know if you’ve ever had clafouti or a cherry pie and thought that it wasn’t a very interesting dish,” he says. “I have.” The culprit, he says, is a sweet cherry masquerading as a sour—a travesty that seems to occur everywhere outside Michigan, which is sour-cherry country. “You don’t get the complexity of flavor by cooking a Bing or any other hard-fleshed cherry,” says Hoffman. “But when you make those dishes with fresh sour cherries, it’s a totally transformative experience.” Persuaded to go the sour-cherry route? Keep in mind: Pits are full of flavor, so leave them in while they cook if you’re using the cherries as a condiment. But if you’re baking a pie, or if you’re of the opinion that life is a bowl of pitted cherries, Langholtz offers this valuable pit-removal tip: Get yourself an extra-large Starbucks straw. “The big green one was made for pitting cherries.” —Rob Patronite
objects of desire
Into The Frais
Summers are made for strawberries and cream—whether at Wimbledon, in a down-home shortcake, or in the latest ethereal confection from Café Sabarsky pastry chef Pierre Reboul. Flouting the current culinary convention of buying locally, Reboul imports fraise des bois, or tiny wild strawberries, from his native France, and folds them into a Bavarian cream flavored with Trockenbeerenauslese, an Austrian dessert wine made from late-harvested Muscat grapes. Then he slathers the cream between two ladyfinger layers and garnishes the cake with apricot glaze, pistachios, and a diplomatically multinational smattering of French and New York State berries.
1048 Fifth Avenue, at 86th Street
Pretty In Pink
If you arrive at the Hotel Gansevoort rooftop bar Plunge at the right hour on a balmy summer evening and order a Blushing Ono, your drink will coordinate perfectly with the fuchsia sun setting over the Hudson. A sparkling combo of prosecco, the Japanese liquor shochu, and white grape and pomegranate juices, the cocktail tastes like a slightly tart Kir Royale with an extra kick. And the view from the 5,000-square-foot space with its retractable glass roof and wraparound terrace offers something for everyone: planes landing to the east, landmark buildings to the north, and, for voyeurs, the Soho House pool right across the street. —Beth Landman
18 Ninth Avenue
What Have You Found in the Raw-Food Craze?
I’ve been ignoring this nutty trendlet, hoping it would go away. And when Matthew Kenney started soaking nuts and sprouting grains, I wrote it off as a midlife crisis. But I’ve sat in Pure Food and Wine’s magical garden, learned that rice distresses one’s colon, and popped rice-free sushi into my mouth with chopsticks made of corn. To my amazement, I actually like the little rolls stuffed with pignoli and jícama. Indeed, our quartet of gourmands is beguiled by tomato tartare, the spicy Thai lettuce wraps, and a pineapple-cucumber gazpacho (anywhere else, it would be dessert). Soft corn tortillas with chili-spiced “beans” taste surprisingly Mexican. After zebra-tomato lasagne, hummus-slathered flatbread pizza topped with a savory salad, “creamy” golden-squash pasta with summer truffles, and dessert, I cancel plans to stop for a burger on the way home. All around us, vegans are rejoicing: “I’m a vegetarian and kosher,” says the perky twentysomething at the next table. And “my guy’s a vegan, so we couldn’t be happier.”
54 Irving Place, near 17th Street