Sense of Place
The Starbucks-stocked coffee bar is already doing a brisk daytime business at Milieu, the ambitious new restaurant that recently replaced an old diner in the Starrett-Lehigh Building. It remains to be seen whether chef Andy Nguyen’s braised Kobe-beef shoulder and lacquered Chilean sea bass can snare customers away from the eighth-floor cafeteria or the ever-popular juice bar at the Stretch yoga studio on sixteen, but owner Peter Rabasco’s hedging his bets with a raw bar and a bevy of flat-screen TVs.
601 West 26th Street
Jean-Jacques Rachou changes with the times by going back to the culinary past.
When the mythic restaurateur Henri Soulé created La Côte Basque in 1957, he thought of it as a junior restaurant to his first-tier place. Le Pavillon for the poor, he called it, further explaining, “A man can take his wife to the Pavillon and his mistress to La Côte Basque.” By the time Jean-Jacques Rachou took title in 1979, the seedling had become quite grand. With grand grown fusty, the 69-year-old Rachou closed shop last March, stripped the place of its luminous murals, tossed out the dress code, and mortgaged his home to create LCB Brasserie. Thus dawns a new deal, with tufted black-leather banquettes, antique parlor treasures, and a traditional menu that will seem almost new to anyone born in the past 30 years. Navarin of lamb with spring vegetables. Pig’s trotters stuffed with foie gras. Quiche Lorraine? Yes, and it’s splendid in its delicate tart shell. The vinaigrette on a toss of mesclun sings with old-time zest. Of course, there will be céleri rémoulade on the charcuterie plate. Brush off the peppercorn excess to get at a fine steak au poivre. Quenelles de brochet, the totemic classic of pike-purée dumplings, sit in a lush puddle of sauce Nantua. And classic desserts sit on an étagère as they did when ladies who lunched wore white kid gloves. Expect entrées from $16 to $33 and a $28 menu du jour at lunch.
60 West 55th Street
Stuff Your Face
Before launching Dumpling Man, chef-owner Lucas Lin trained with the masters—the loosely affiliated consortium of Chinatown fried-dumpling shops that sprang from a single street cart in Roosevelt Park. There was room, he felt, for improvement. “Everyone’s dumpling has a little flaw,” says Lin, who spent a year researching the fine art of tang-mian, the northern-Chinese technique of making the dough with boiling water for superior texture and flavor. Colored with fresh vegetable juices and filled with pork, chicken, tofu, or calamari, the dumplings are either steamed or seared (Lin’s euphemism for fried). Marco Polo, the house specialty sauce, is an Asian-Italian fusion of crushed tomatoes with fried shallots, and dessert comes in the refreshing form of shaved ice topped with condensed milk and peanuts or sweet red beans.
100 St. Marks Place
at the greenmarket
Local corn has arrived in abundance well ahead of schedule. Good weather is part of the reason, but some farmers have also, in order to get a leg up on the competition, begun the labor-intensive practice of jump-starting the crop in greenhouses and then transplanting it to the field. Still, if you want what many corn fiends consider the sweetest, tastiest stuff around, you’ll have to wait until Friday, when Jeff Bialas of Bialas Farms expects to haul the first of his Orange County butter-and-sugar corn down to the West 97th Street market.
object of desire
Beige has never looked better than in Bôi’s sesame sundae, a monochrome masterpiece of sesame gelato from Il Laboratorio del Gelato: tahini loosened with cream, ribbons of caramel, toasted sesame seeds for crunch, and chunks of halvah—something you’ll never find in Vietnam, according to the Vietnamese restaurant’s pastry chef, Bill Yosses, who fortunately didn’t let that stand in his way.
246 East 44th Street
While Italians do many things well, beer isn’t one of them. Or so we thought, until we tasted Nora ale, a quirky brew made in Piedmont from the ancient grain called kamut, plus ginger, myrrh, and orange peel. Slightly fruity, floral, and spicily complex, Nora comes in a funky 25-ounce bottle and goes well with food (especially Asian), but you could pair it with pasta, too. ($13.99 at Whole Foods Chelsea).
Whole Foods, 250 Seventh Avenue
Is there life after green-apple-wasabi sorbet?
Chef Paul Liebrandt’s ride from three stars for his shockingly rude food at ill-fated Atlas to unemployment has now skidded to One Little West 12. Here he feeds the motley rabble that crowds this sprawling, shabbily unchic Meat Market gym, subtly tweaking smallish plates for a clientele that will never notice and doesn’t care. His crispy squid with hazelnut-and-yuzu dressing nests in sprouts and pea greens on a plate wavy as the ocean, streaked with a smart green slash of sauce. That’s a very complex red chutney on the black cod. The menu reads “fluffy tempura shrimp,” with no hint of the spiky rice-noodle crust or the sauce’s sophisticated complexity. Clearly Liebrandt is doing his time till some princely investor bails him out. (He’ll do a special tasting dinner if an old fan requests.) If I wanted to linger in this crush, I’d be perfectly content at a sidewalk table with an exotic cocktail, the sensational “Bad Ass” twin burgers, and splendid fries (but hotter, please).
1 Little West 12th Street