Week of October 20, 2003
New York has never been much of a cheesesteak town—until now.
For ten years, Carl Provenzano has had practically nothing but cheesesteaks on his mind. “I really studied them,” says the former dot-commer and new owner of Carl’s Steaks in Murray Hill. “I studied different meats. I looked into rolls. I put a commercial grill in my house.” His wife was less than thrilled with that arrangement, but he may have redeemed himself with frequent trips to his in-laws’ house in Philadelphia—even though the visits doubled as scouting missions to Pat’s, Geno’s, Jim’s, even Ishkabibble’s. There, on Friday nights, Provenzano pondered the nuances of sliced versus chopped meat (he’s gone with the chopped), debated the attributes of Cheez Whiz versus provolone (he offers both, but for the record, he’s a Whiz man), and came to a startling realization: “It’s all about the roll,” he says. “It’s got to be soft enough to soak up the grease, but with a little crunch.” The exceptional result is a succulent cheesesteak as authentic as this town has seen since a short-lived Pat’s-related satellite on 23rd Street closed a decade ago. One menu item, though, is defiantly inauthentic: Carl’s low-carb cheesesteak platter, with everything but the bread. “Atkins people love them so much,” says Provenzano, “they’re ordering double.”
507 Third Avenue, near 34th Street
The Korean dumplings called mandoo are the main attraction of midtown’s Mandoo Bar, where they’re rolled and stuffed right in the storefront window. The Greenwich Village branch opening this week relegates all cooking to the basement kitchen, but still delivers a choice of ten variously filled dumplings, plus pumpkin noodles with tofu in coconut-dill sauce, beef-and-miso stew, a seasonal prix fixe matsutake-mushroom menu, and the oxymoronic “New York–style soy cheesecake.”
71 University Place
object of desire
Curd’s New Way
Aix chef Didier Virot’s irresistible rouget, accompanied by a tomato-anchovy compote and zucchini tian, is crisped up with panko, chervil, tarragon, and Parmesan—handily quashing the schoolmarmish rule banning cheese with seafood. “Even if some people say it’s a mistake,” says Virot, “I think it’s a matter of taste.” Hey, we’ve felt the same way ever since we sunk our baby teeth into our first Filet-O-Fish.
2398 Broadway, at 88th Street
at the greenmarket
As the memory of corn and tomatoes fades, the Greenmarket shifts into roots and tubers, like the Japanese sweet potatoes that some local farmers plant as a nuttier, denser, dryer alternative to the more common orange-fleshed variety. In Japan, they’re a popular street food, baked in hot pebbles and sold from carts. But the purple-skinned, white-fleshed beauties from Yuno’s Farm in New Jersey taste just as good baked in an ordinary apartment oven. (At Bowling Green on Thursdays, Union Square Fridays, and Abingdon Square Saturdays. For locations, see cenyc.org.)
In Marcus Samuelsson’s first cookbook, Aquavit (Houghton Mifflin; $45), the Ethiopian Swede reveals the eclectic wellsprings of his highly personal cuisine, from his grandmother’s Göteborg kitchen to New York’s Jewish delis. The beautifully photographed volume covers all the traditional bases (Swedish meatballs, glögg) and shows off some of Aquavit’s most innovative signature dishes, like the eye-rollingly rich foie gras “ganache.” Samuelsson makes lots of unexpected connections between Scandinavian and Asian cooking (pickled-herring kimchi?!), but even more surprisingly, he fondly confesses to a boyhood fascination with junk-food culture. “Before I knew how the English word was spelled,” reads the note beside his recipe for panko-and-cornflake-crusted crispy potatoes, “I used to write my own Swedish transliteration, djunk, all over my school notebooks.”
I’m a West Sider, and I hate to roam.
Dazzled by the gold rush of prime chefs to the neighborhood, I’d simply forgotten Calle Ocho. So, what a surprise to catch a remarkable renaissance, since consulting chef Douglas Rodriguez began stirring the pots. Expect a couple of pure Rodriguez jolts—like the panko-crusted oysters on a fufu-and-horseradish spinach bed and Cuban pork with sour-orange mojo. Most everything else we tasted was remarkably clean, elegant, yet dancing with flavor. Who knew the over-the-top creator of Patria and Ola had this vein of delicate finesse lurking inside? All the ingredients of a paella (even the rice, in the form of a crispy cake) appear in his elegant paella seviche. And there are bacon-wrapped dates nested in the royal palm salad. Luscious yuca fries straddle the Cuban-style sirloin alongside a rich tomato-manchego salad. Two could happily make a dinner of the grilled beef, shrimp enchilada, and chicken anticucho on its elevated platter with sauces and a ration of warm tortillas to stuff. No need to weep if you can’t get into Tom Valenti’s latest.
446 Columbus Avenue, near 81st Street