Cartoon characters have always appealed to restaurateurs in search of a mascot: Tintin at Petite Abeille; Max and Moritz at the late Park Slope bistro of the same name; and now Zipi and Zape, the Spanish comic-strip twins and inspiration for a new Williamsburg tapas bar. A collaboration between the former owners and the chef of nearby Allioli, Zipi Zape displays its traditional Spanish tapas in the sort of refrigerated cases you see in sushi bars; here, they house tuna-stuffed piquillo peppers, boquerones with caper berries, and seafood salad, all of which can be ordered individually or in “tasting menus” of five or ten.
152 Metropolitan Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Greek food has gotten all the glory, but after trailing in its Mediterranean wake, Turkish is making significant headway, with a sudden influx of kebab houses and the meze-slinging bars called meyhane infiltrating every New York neighborhood. Akdeniz, a kofte-cooking interloper on the midtown block known as Little Brazil, is the latest venture from the owners of Sahara in Kips Bay and Sahara Grill, its 24-hour Times Square takeout annex. The menu covers familiar territory, with an emphasis on seafood like fried anchovies and whole char-grilled sea bass, and the modest prices, puffy bread, and sweet service have already earned it an avid lunchtime following.
19 West 46th Street
Italian-born Marcello Maiorani named his new Tribeca bar and restaurant James Duane “because I am a little bit of an American-history-crazy guy, and although 99 percent of the people walking down Duane Street don’t know it, James Duane was the first mayor of New York after the Revolution.” (And we thought Ed Koch was the first mayor of New York after the Revolution.) Maiorani hopes his friendly neighborhood spot, with its framed historical documents and portrait of Duane hanging on the wall, will do much to increase the first mayor’s popularity. As for the menu (oysters, tuna salad, shrimp cocktail, and the like for now, but after Labor Day, halibut, hanger steak, and roast chicken with pineapple-chili sauce, too), historical accuracy is not the point. But Ed Koch would love it anyway.185 Duane Street
The Spice Is Right
At one new Curry Hill restaurant, the chef holds the keys to the seasoning kingdom.
Pity the poor servers at Kalustyan’s Café, the new incarnation of the restaurant formerly (and briefly) known as Kalustyan’s Masala Café. Not only are they expected to memorize the menu’s cornucopia of exotic ingredients, all procured from the owners’ Über-market up the street—they need to know how to pronounce them. Ours acquitted herself remarkably well, revealing that the aachar in the mesclun-salad vinaigrette was pickle; the urfabiber in the chicken-tikka marinade was Turkish pepper; and the striped bass’s poha crust was rolled rice. We briefly considered making her recite all 1,001 nuts in the roast-chicken sauce, just for kicks, but truth be told, we’re more interested in the final products than in the preamble: juicy minced chicken in a crisp pastry shell; Aleppo-pepper-glazed tuna carpaccio with its kicky edamame-and-candied-citrus garnish; and that tender, subtly spiced tikka. But at times, the menu’s spice-centric strength seems poised to become its weakness, or at least a distraction. A nicely cooked sliced strip loin was nearly overwhelmed by its Vietnamese-cinnamon-and-white-cardamom-scented sauce, and steamed halibut was simply overcooked. Challenging desserts like betel-leaf panna cotta, made from the medicinal plant, can be something of an acquired taste. Basil cake, though, with its distinctive aroma of pesto, requires no translation.
115 Lexington Avenue, at 28th Street
I crave a taste of summer.
The stunning intensity of a mint-touched pea soup and the heady bouquet of the roasted lobster’s pistou puddle distilled from the plantings of upstate fields send Blue Hill soaring to new heights for me. Driven by his longtime back-to-the-earth commitment, chef-owner Dan Barber now commutes most of the week to Blue Hill upstate, at David Rockefeller’s Stone Barns Center (914-366-9600). But he races back to town after dinner with the farm’s aristocratic gleanings and chickens that owe their astonishingly silken texture not just to brining and careful cooking but to a messianic cooling process involving five icy water baths en route to the cold box. Harvest permitting, morels and favas will jewel that miraculous bird. Poached and peppered foie gras wears a necklace of rhubarb. A sweet lettuce sauce naps spring-greens ravioli. Watch for anything in a pea-pistachio ragout. Luscious not-too-cooked pork (we ask for it rarish) is a festival of carrot-orange and romaine-green. Passion-fruit soufflé is justifiably a house signature, but I’d go with the season and finish on an organic high with fruit from nearby orchards.
75 Washington Place
at the bar
Strega, the saffron-yellow Italian liqueur made from a blend of herbs and bark, tastes, according to a wisecracking bartender friend, like “the stuff old-time barbers keep in a canister to delouse their combs.” How he knows what that tastes like, we can’t say. But Hearth’s new cocktail, the Baum, puts the citrusy cordial to good use. Mixed with soda, fresh lemon, and orange juice, it brings to the drink a subtle touch of anise flavor, and a refreshingly dry finish that won’t kill your palate before dinner.
403 East 12th Street