Week of September 22, 2003
There are rock stars, and there are rock-star chefs; starting this week, Josh DeChellis will know what it’s like to work for both of them. After passing through the kitchens of David Bouley and Rocco DiSpirito, DeChellis auditioned for the owner of Sumile (the singer of the Japanese pop act Dreams Come True) and beat out the competition with flights of Japanese-inspired culinary fancy like Kumamoto oysters with pineapple vinegar, and bean salad dressed in XO sauce and uni. Perhaps the chef’s own rebellious youth—he was a preteen skate punk in the Jersey ’burbs—helped get him the gig.
154 West 13th Street
In contrast to its sister restaurant, Alicia’s, demurely tucked away on a secluded street in Brooklyn Heights, Café Luise seems to have landed right in the heart of the Lower East Side action. (Though the owners must feel a twinge as they see the crowds vacuumed up by Schiller’s, Keith McNally’s latest hot spot across the street.) Luise, however, has its mellow charms, chief among them low prices and a freewheeling, eclectic menu that ranges from braised oxtail and lima beans to Provençal potato pizzettes. For now, it’s cash only and byo.
129 Rivington Street
What’s the best way to celebrate tomato season? With bacon and lettuce on bread, of course.
Check out our top five picks.
In her never-ending effort to bring the nuances of Mexico’s diverse cooking styles north, Zarela Martínez has launched a bimonthly series of weeklong regional menus. From September 17 through September 24, Zarela showcases the cooking of Jalisco, a state better known as the birthplace of tequila and mariachi than for its food—even though the attractions, like pozole (pictured) and garlicky roast-pork sandwiches with tomato-chipotle sauce, are considerable. Next up, in November: Michoacán.
953 Second Avenue, near 50th Street
After Ouest, Tom Valenti heads south with ’Cesca.
Without any reality-TV cameras prodding him along, Tom Valenti took a leisurely year to open ’Cesca, his congenial answer to the sudden spate of rootsy Italian restaurants. The lengthy gestation period seems to have paid off: Only a few days into service, the wait staff is sure-footed, large parties celebrate in round booths (just like they do at Valenti’s Ouest), and nearly every dish we try resounds with typical Valenti oomph. Bite-size arancini are stuffed with mushrooms. Parmigiano fritters, like gougères on a Roman holiday, are light and airy and irresistible. A shallow bowl of tiny veal meatballs and pastina in a deeply flavored broth will make the winter easier to bear; we’d like to buy it by the quart and freeze it for cold and flu season. Wood-roasted sardines with soft egg are deliciously reminiscent of Ouest’s smoked sturgeon-and-egg appetizer, and marinated baby artichokes with fresh ricotta and Parmesan croutons make terrific deconstructed crostini. Tender gnocchi with rich braised duck is exactly what the neighborhood has come to expect from a Valenti kitchen (though pastas priced $17 to $25 might not be). Unlike many Italian restaurants that excel with antipasti and primi and then flag by the main course, ’Cesca impresses with a first-rate hunk of swordfish edged with caponata and meaty mackerel accessorized with sun-dried tomatoes. Desserts hew to the Italian-by-Valenti theme with luxe inner-child-pleasing pairings like a frozen chocolate pizzelle and pistachio ice cream. There’s even a plate of those Italian cookies that always look better than they taste, but here, removed from the Little Italy context, they’re not half bad.
164 West 75th Street
Fruits of His Labor
The dwindling supply of local stone fruit signals the end of this so-called summer, but Blue Hill pastry chef Pierre Reboul has harnessed its peak flavor to extend the season with his luscious Greenmarket-fresh preserves. Exceptional Finger Lakes fruit from Red Jacket Orchards has gone into his stunning apricot and apricot-pistachio varieties ($10 a jar), which are delicious stirred into yogurt or slathered on the buttery financiers he serves with dessert.
75 Washington Place