Week of December 15, 2003
Full City Coffee
When Natalie Krodel decided to jettison corporate law to open a coffee bar in a corner of the Lower East Side as yet uncolonized by Starbucks, she encountered the not-so-usual obstacles: worried parents (hers), a local clientele unfamiliar with espresso vernacular, and the unforeseen demand for kosher food to go with the joe. But the self-professed “complete coffee addict” persevered, along with her fiancé and partner, Nguyen Huynh, and Full City Coffee is on its way to becoming as much a neighborhood fixture as Kossar’s down the block. Besides brewing single-origin coffees from Washington State’s renowned Batdorf & Bronson beans, Krodel serves Zabar’s sandwiches, Gertel’s rugalach, and Yura & Company’s muffins and scones.
409 Grand Street
Abigael’s at the Museum
Besides dishing out kosher Cuban sandwiches, pastrami panini, and knishes, Abigael’s at the Museum has something other museum cafés don’t: a peerless view of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty. Operated by kosher celebrity chef Jeffrey Nathan, the cafeteria is ideally situated on the second floor of the Museum of Jewish Heritage’s lavish expansion, facing Andy Goldsworthy’s Garden of Stones, a work of art to rival the chocolate-covered marble halvah.
36 Battery Place
Even though Gaspare Villa is from Rome, he named his new Williamsburg restaurant after a favorite place in Tuscany. “I used to drive two and a half hours to get there,” he says. The trip to Aurora from Manhattan is much quicker, and well worth it for big bowls of chef Riccardo Buitoni’s maltagliati Bolognese; gnocchi with fontina, walnuts, and arugula; and Tuscan-style fish stew. Villa’s father-in-law flew in from Italy to help build the rustic dining room, and by next summer, Villa will be reaping the biggest benefit of a Brooklyn lease: a huge garden.
70 Grand Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
This recently opened spinoff of the romantic East Side bistro brings five different styles of its signature moules frites to the theater district, along with more elaborate Franco-fare like snail profiteroles, seared scallops with fried scallions and walnut vinaigrette, and duck confit shepherd’s pie. Added attractions: a $24.95 pretheater prix fixe, and a twelve-seat private dining room.
329 W. 51st St.
The late, lamented uptown institution and art-world hangout is reborn in the equally posh West Village, replete with its beloved cappuccino, gelati, and pastries. All-day service means the panini bar and small dining room should be hopping at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and the elegant, contemporary design forgoes its precursor’s wall and ceiling padding for wood and marble, Venetian glass lamps, and a striking wall mosaic.
259 W. 4th St.
object of desire
City Bakery’s spectacular—and untraditionally cylindrical—croquembouche is a fourteen-inch-high, ten-inch-wide tower of 75 profiteroles (give or take a couple), and just the thing for those prone to bûche de Noël burnout. Maury Rubin offers two versions of the caramel-spackled dessert, whose name means “crunch in the mouth”: the classic, made with vanilla-pastry-cream-filled profiteroles, and a chocolate one filled with bourbon pastry cream. The best—if not the only—way to eat it is to rip off a chunk with your hands. What could be more festive than that? ($150 by special order for pickup December 15 through 31)
3 West 18th Street
As fashionable as it’s become to credit purveyors on restaurant menus, you might draw the line at plugging your grits man. But that’s what drew our attention to Anson Mills, the ne plus ultra of the southern staple. Unlike the grocery-store variety, Anson Mills grits (and their Italian cousin, polenta) are coarsely stone-ground, fresh-milled, and hand-mixed from organic heirloom corn in South Carolina. The result cooks up fragrant, creamy, and chewy, and since the “live” corn germ is not lost in the process, full of lovely fresh corn flavor. Charlie Trotter, Thomas Keller, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Bill Telepan, and Tom Colicchio are fans, as is Marco Canora, whose menu at Hearth gives Anson Mills a shout-out. ($4 for twelve ounces at Dean & DeLuca)
560 Broadway, at Prince Street
the underground gourmet
Sample celebrates canned food, but not the Jolly Green Giant.
“This tastes like it came out of a can” is one complaint you won’t hear at Sample—even though most everything does. The low-key Boerum Hill tapas bar flies in the face of “fresh and local” conventional wisdom, showcasing preserved, cured, and canned goods from around the world. Even though conservas, as these foods are called in Spain, have a long and venerable history, the idea can be a tough sell in the land of Libby’s and Charlie the Tuna. But canned food can be surprisingly delicious as well as convenient; the preservation process can intensify flavors and alter textures in unexpected, appealing ways. (Sample’s chefs spend their time and energy sourcing obscure products instead of cooking.) At $3 to $6 a pop, it’s tempting to order a succession of small plates, comparing and contrasting: pungent, meaty Spanish white anchovies. Surprisingly mild, almost creamy baccala-stuffed piquillo peppers. Sweet and briny cockles. Intense grilled borettane onions and velvety Turkish fried eggplant. Giant white beans from Greece in a pool of tomato sauce, lightly warmed in the microwave (as high-tech as the back-bar “kitchen” gets). Perfectly ripe cheeses from Artisanal and cured meats make sense alongside all the aged, cured stuff, though too thickly sliced serrano ham was a tad dry. We recommend several return visits to work your way through the menu—not to mention the diverse wine list, which features choices by the glass and the bottle, and nothing by the can.
152 Smith Street, Boerum Hill, Brooklyn
To hell with moderation. I want holiday excess.
You're in the right place at the Strip House, where it’s impossible to resist the monstrous hulk of the wondrous chocolate cake. Even carbophobes fold before its awesome beauty. Of course, I always share one portion with pals—but whom am I fooling? It’s five inches high and almost two pounds per serving. And one decorous bite inevitably leads to . . . four or five more. Better yet, there’s now a bravura of lusty plus-size cheesecake, an Amazon bride to the cacao-bean giant. In our crowd, no one wants to choose. Only both will do. The satiny cheesecake on a graham-crumb crust, a collaborative design of Lynn Butler in the pastry kitchen at the Strip House in Livingston, New Jersey, and René Lenger, her Manhattan confrère, has some sour cream and yogurt to (ahem) lighten it, and vanilla buttercream between the layers. Take that, Dr. Atkins.
13 East 12th Street