Forging ahead on what seems to be a quest to feed patrons at every New York cultural institution (BAM, the Asia Society, and MoMA QNS among them), the caterers at Great Performances have just lifted the curtain on Café Opaline, the sleek, airy restaurant and tearoom at the relocated Dahesh Museum of Art. In keeping with the Middle Eastern theme (the museum’s namesake and founder was Lebanese), the menu features a broad selection of meze, cardamom-scented chicken-noodle soup, and entrées like seared lamb salad with harissa vinaigrette.
580 Madison Avenue, at 57th Street
First came Barocco, then Bottino, then Bot; and now, from the alphabetically fixated Danny Emerman and Alessandro Prosperi, comes Bivio, the latest in their line of cool, casual Italian restaurants. Situated where the West Village gives way to the meatpacking district—hence the name, which means “fork in the road”—the restaurant already hums with a fashion-and-art-world crowd. The enoteca-style bar menu of salumi and cheese is scrawled on slate walls, and wine is niftily stored in walnut-paneled niches. The rustic menu keeps things just as stylishly simple, with whole roasted branzino, tagliata of shell steak with rosemary and flageolet beans, and the singularly refreshing signature dish—fennel salad with arugula and Parmesan.
637 Hudson Street
After 22 years of catching trends and catering to the ever-broadening tastes of its jaded lunch clientele, Mangia is returning to its rustic Italian roots. At its fourth location, new Tuscan chef Roberto Lamorte focuses on à la minute preparations like baked asparagus with crumbled egg and Gorgonzola, fried-oyster-mushroom salad with Parmesan and sherry vinaigrette, and breaded cod alla romana with fried artichokes—while preserving enough old standbys to appease the faithful. The store was designed to ease the chain’s lunchtime logjams and truly live up to the “café al volo” credo—eat and fly.
22 West 23rd Street
The newest branch of this rapidly proliferating “Indian bistro” chainlet enters the expense-account midtown market with an updated wine list, stylishly spare décor, and multiregional fare like Hyderabadi chicken, Kashmiri lamb shanks, and Goan vegetable curry. A combination bread basket solves the nan conundrum for indecisive types.
54 W. 55th St.
The popular café and bakery has renovated, acquired a beer-and-wine license, and extended its hours, all of which can only mean one thing: Dinner is served, after years of bustling breakfast and lunch business. A Brazilian-Italian chef cooks French-accented American, from the flatbread amuse-bouche to the bananas-flambé bread pudding.
15 E. 12th St.
the underground gourmet
Plan on a cold drink after a visit to this Flushing sichuan spot.
If the name of the place isn’t a tip-off, then the bright-red, oversize chili pepper positioned atop a glass pedestal inside the vestibule at Spicy & Tasty is. When the owners closed the original Roosevelt Avenue basement-level space, located in a somewhat seedy mini-mall, fans of the iconic pepper and its multiple Sichuan applications mourned. With its recent reopening in comparatively posh quarters, they can once again rejoice. The food is as good as—if not better—than ever, and the mah-jongg players who hogged the old premises have given way to mostly Asian-American families, their teenage daughters endlessly chatting away on cell phones. You’ll want to turn yours off, the better to concentrate on the kitchen’s complex layering of powerful flavors. A good place to start is with cold dishes like the “jelly Chengdu style,” gelatinous but slightly snappy noodles infused with pungent, fiery heat derived from red chili oil, Sichuan pepper, minced garlic, scallions, soy sauce, and vinegar. Familiar classics like twice-cooked pork, “homestyle” bean curd, “dry-cooked” string beans, eggplant with green pepper, pork-stuffed wontons, dumplings, and dan-dan noodles are all exemplary, but that’s barely scratching the surface. If the choices overwhelm, just check out your neighbor’s table and see what looks good, like the chafing dish of whole carp and tofu cubes in a bubbling hot pool of red oil we spied and tried one night. Even Miss Cellphone took notice when that dish arrived. Rob Patronite
39-07 Prince Street, Flushing
You could fit an army of Marlon Brandos—young Brandos, anywayinto Osteria Stella, a whopping 250-seat, handsomely appointed Italian restaurant strategically situated to feed the herds clumping out of Radio City Music Hall and the Winter Garden Theatre. But an early visit suggests that bigger might be better after all, especially on a midtown stretch without a lot of competition. The pizza oven wasn’t working yet, so we happily made do with grill-marked rosemary focaccia. Soft ricotta dumplings added texture to earthy minestrone. Velvety eggplant parmigiana and pastas like lamb-filled tortelli were notches above the theater-district norm, as was the friendly, unpretentious service. If you’re in a rush to make a curtain call, grab a nibble and a seat at the 70-foot bar.
135 West 50th Street
Set me straight on the new Vietnamese spots.
Bao 111 and Bao Noodles are re-markably different from Nam or Cyclo, yet I’ll gladly make a long detour for any of them. Now comes Bôi, direct from Ho Chi Minh City to a rather sedate space near Grand Central. Though the staff seems a bit spacey, the kitchen shines with elegant layering of flavors and the tingling of tomato or lime perking up everything from grilled eggplant to the sensational Buddhist sweet-and-sour soup and the sizzling Saigon crêpe filled to overflowing with shrimp, meatballs, bean sprouts, and more. Crispy fried rolls, folded into tiny squares, hide a luscious mix of crabmeat, pork, and shiitake. The fresh vegetable rolls are also wonderfully complex. Ditto the seafood soup with shrimp, crabmeat dumplings, tomato, and peanuts. But portions seem small and prices high compared with the budget-friendly competition. True, Bôi has pastry wizard Bill Yosses moonlighting from Citarella. Taste his tamarind cake with red papaya or the jackfruit toffee pudding with homemade vanilla ice cream.
246 East 44th Street