Week of August 18, 2003
Lever House Restaurant
The Seagram Building has The Four Seasons and the Brasserie, and as of this week, the gracefully restored Lever House, its architectural contemporary, has a hyperdesigned corporate cafeteria of its own. The team behind Lever House Restaurant—Canteen’s John McDonald and Time Cafe’s Josh Pickard—brings a downtown sensibility and the requisite hipness to a location lacking both, and Marc Newson’s edgy design, with its podlike curves, recurring hexagonal motif, and fish-bowl private dining room, puts a twenty-first-century spin on original architect Gordon Bunshaft’s idea of modern. Chef Dan Silverman (pictured), formerly of Union Square Cafe and Alison on Dominick Street, likewise brings classic American luxury up to culinary speed with carpaccios, tartares, and oysters “for the table”; grilled foie gras with pickled peaches; and lobster bolognese.
390 Park Avenue, entrance on East 53rd Street
As slick as New Yorkers are about all things food- and-wine-related, when it comes to coffee, we’re just a bunch of bumpkins. That’s not quite how Jonathan Rubinstein, the owner of the new West Village coffee bar Joe, puts it, but it’s close. “Half the people in Seattle will talk your ear off about the qualities of great coffees,” he says. “Here, not so much.” Hoping to stir up some serious coffee talk, the talent agent turned barista imports his beans from a boutique Massachusetts roaster that, unlike Starbucks, specializes in a light roasting style, and he brews espresso in a $14,000 machine. He’s also a practitioner of the mysterious art of painting intricate leaf patterns onto the foam of his caffe latte. “It’s not an aesthetic thing,” he says. “It shows that the espresso has the right amount of crema to hold the design. It means that the barista has the technique down.”
141 Waverly Place
New York’s first branch of the national gourmet-burrito chain brings Niman Ranch–pork carnitas, kosher-salted tortilla chips, and cilantro-seasoned steamed rice to midtown. Award-winning industrial décor, a fetish for freshness, and the conspicuous lack of freezers and microwaves might make you forget it’s owned by McDonald’s.
150 E. 44th St.
If El Rio Grande means anything to you, so will this tequila-fueled Tex-Mex spot. They share more than a mania for margaritas: El Rio’s original owner snagged its original chef to crank out stuffed jalapeños, barbecued ribs, and fried ice cream on the ground floor of Howard Johnson’s in Hell’s Kitchen, where the bar has been festooned with five neon “dancing margaritas.”
851 Eighth Ave., at 52nd St.
ING Direct sells orange mountain bikes, Peet’s coffee—and home mortgages. But of all the inducements to open a savings account, the delicious new Greek pastries at ING’s café might be our favorite. The baklava, orange-scented honey-walnut melomakarona, and sesame-seeded biscotti are baked by Pat Varvatos Turner, a Dix Hills housewife and part-time waitress who has a very special relationship with the Dutch bank: Her son, sales associate Kimon Psihudakis, works there.
45 East 49th Street
object of desire
Cornelius Gallagher’s Atlantic halibut at Oceana gets the full summer treatment, with a garnish of sweet corn, toasted pine nuts, and basil-corn milk. But the acclaimed young chef adds his signature touch to the snowy fish: a crust of slightly grainy, vaguely sweet espresso butter, just the thing to wake up jaded taste buds.
55 East 54th Street
As the tortilla is to Mexican cuisine, the arepa is to Venezuelan: a corn-flour canvas subject to infinite permutations, many of them available at the new Caracas Arepa Bar in the East Village. Used in place of bread, the griddled arepas are split and variously stuffed with shredded beef, smoked salmon, tuna salad, black beans, plantains, guacamole, and four kinds of cheese (a German-immigrant contribution to the national diet). For variety, the tiny kitchen turns out empanadas, yet another version of stuffed corn flour. Small but deceptively filling, the savory snacks ($2.25 to $4.50) are served in plastic baskets, clam-shack-style, and energized considerably with the addition of house-made hot sauces. Once home to Harry’s Burritos, the small storefront has inherited some of its predecessor’s bohemian spirit, appealing to vegans with tofu and to professional slackers as a place to, as the menu advises, “hang out and chill in.” “It was sort of a hippie idea,” admits owner and former TV-commercial producer Maribel Araujo, to whom the frenetic pace and long hours of the restaurant industry came as something of a surprise: “That’s not hippie at all.”
91 East 7th Street
Chefs Gone Wild
What some of our favorite foragers are buying at the greenmarket right now.
The Cook: Wylie Dufresne, WD-50, 50 Clinton Street, 212-477-2900
The Crop: Epazote, “a Mexican herb I’m using for oils”; white-grape juice.
The Grub: Skate with fresh corn, baby romaine hearts, and epazote oil; white gazpacho with white-grape juice, steamed littlenecks, and smoked paprika oil.
The Cook: Alfred Portale, Gotham, 12 East 12th Street, 212-620-4020
The Crop: Corn, corn, and corn.
The Grub:Cold corn soup with warm corn custard topped with chanterelles and roasted corn.
The Cook: Ilene Rosen, City Bakery, 3 West 18th Street, 212-366-1414
The Crop: “Very-dark-green-skinned Raven zucchini, with supposedly five times the usual amount of vitamins, from Paffenroth Farms.”
The Grub: “The way I always do it: roasted and served at the salad bar, but now you only need to eat one slice instead of five.”
The Cook: Kurt Gutenbrunner, Wallsé, 344 West 11th Street, 212-352-2300
The Crop: Apricots, blueberries.
The Grub: Apricot dumplings, “a classic Austrian dessert”; blueberry sorbet with wild blueberries.
The Cook: Peter Hoffman, Savoy, 70 Prince Street, 212-219-8570
The Crop: Peaches. “They’re coming on strong now.”
The Grub: Peach-and-squid salad with purslane; peach tarte Tatin.
The Cook: Bill Telepan, Judson Grill, 152 West 52nd Street, 212-582-5252
The Crop: “The first of the heirloom tomatoes.”
The Grub: Fried-green-and-yellow-heirloom-tomato “sandwich” made with brioche bread crumbs and served with tomato-basil vinaigrette.
The Cook: Meredith Kurtzman, Otto, 1 Fifth Avenue, 212-995-9559
The Crop: Nectarines, verbena.
The Grub: Nectarine sorbet with verbena cream and sliced nectarines.
What suits a summer appetite in the Hamptons?
I’m always in the mood for Nick & Toni’s (136 North Main Street, East Hampton; 631-324-3550) for its homey family feel. Everything emerging from Joe Realmuto’s kitchen is big and rustic and slyly rich—salads fresh from nearby fields, lively pastas as well as whole roasted branzino from the wood oven. Morels and leeks prop up wild salmon, and pan-roasted scallops are boldly paired with fatty caramelized nuggets of bacon. There’s a new owner and a late-night bar crowd at Farmhouse (341 Montauk Highway, East Hampton; 631-324-8585), but the kitchen lineup is unchanged, still searing my favorite horseradish-crusted salmon on beet risotto and turning out superlative profiteroles. The weekday $22.95 prix fixe is served till seven on weekends. It’s a drudge driving to East Quogue from my East Hampton cottage, but we dare it for the country elegance of Stone Creek Inn (405 Montauk Highway, East Quogue; 631-653-6770), for the $28 prix fixe (Monday through Thursday), and for chef-owner Christian Mir’s skillful French ways with crisp Scottish salmon and whipped potatoes on lemon beurre blanc as well as his grilled pork chop with a wonderful hash of chopped asparagus, artichoke, and Yukon golds. Besides, where else on this strip will you find coq au vin?