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Spice Boys...A Cantonese Comeback in Queens...Lunch Break at 'Cesca


Week of February 2, 2004

Spice Boys
If you’ve wondered what happens when two megastar chefs join forces to start one restaurant, consider Spice Market, the sprawling, evocatively furnished joint venture of Gray Kunz and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. (If for some reason you want to play favorites, they’ll each be opening their own places later this winter at Time Warner Center.) The culinary concept, honed on a Far East expedition last summer, is Southeast Asian street food culled from places like China, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Burma, Singapore, Indonesia, and Vietnam. When Vongerichten says, “If 66 is minimal, this is maximal,” he’s referring to the boatloads of ornately carved wooden remnants salvaged from ancient temples and palaces after an earthquake in India. The 60-foot-long open kitchen has its own dining counter, where chef Stanley Wong oversees the family-style menu of satays and summer rolls, dosa and pho, and exotica like pulled-oxtail hot pots with coriander chutney and kumquats. A row of private late-night lounges gives the basement a very SubMercer vibe, as do Alpana Bawa’s sexy open-backed halter tops and low-slung drawstring pants.
403 West 13th Street

Between Feeding Frenzies
As much as we love a bustling dining room, ’Cesca’s new lunch (weekdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., in the bar area only) is a welcome opportunity to just get a foot into the place at an hour other than 5:15 or 10:45. Watch the kitchen crew prep for dinner while you tuck into a glorious frittata with sun-dried tomato and asparagus, grilled pizza topped with mushrooms, goat cheese, and arugula, or the best marinated seafood salad in town. And while you’re there, establishing yourself as a loyal customer, why not try your hand at snagging a table for 8 o’clock some night?
164 West 75th Street

the underground gourmet
Nature and Nurture
At this Chelsea Market cafe, mystery meat is never on the menu.
With its devotion to organic ingredients, local family farms, and sustainable agriculture, The Green Table occupies a timely, ecologically correct niche amid the mad-cow hysteria. But the quaint, countrified wine bar and café—an annex of the Cleaver Company, with which it shares a Chelsea Market kitchen—is more than a marketing-savvy mission statement: Even the most high-minded food has to taste good, and chef Margaret Morse’s does. She fortifies her small seasonal menu with daily specials like a spicy, rough purée of golden beets; triangles of soft, mildly pungent Timson cheese from Vermont Shepherd grace the “harvest salad” of North Fork greens, handicapped, alas, by lackluster dressing. Those greens, the menu proudly announces, come from Satur Farms, which also grows the sturdy kale that accompanied a lamb-chop special—a trio of tender medium-rare chops with truffle-scented mashed potatoes and multicolored baby carrots. Elsewhere on the name-dropping menu: charcuterie from Niman Ranch, the West Coast outfit renowned for its sustainably raised meats, like the pulled pork that materializes in a sublime sandwich. In an inspired bit of marketplace synergy, its brioche roll comes from Amy’s Bakery across the hall; so does the four-seeded toast served with silky slices of maple-cured wild Alaska salmon. Chocolate pot de crème, subtly infused with rosemary, is supremely dark and rich; so is the house-blend organic coffee, roasted upstate and named for that world-famous spiritual antecedent of the Green Table: Woodstock. —Robin Raisfeld
75 Ninth Avenue, at 15th Street

first taste
Right on Kew
Like red-sauce Italian, old-hat Cantonese cooking goes in and out of fashion, especially with so much competition from each succeeding wave of regional Chinese styles. But judging by the throngs of Asian-Americans at the brand-new Kew Garden Restaurant, the time may be right for a Cantonese comeback. A $12.95 opening-week lobster special has incited a near riot—and a half-hour wait—on the night we visit, but we’ll be back for a sizzling platter of sable in black-bean sauce, super-crisp fried chicken, and a fragrant house-special fried rice loaded with shrimp, scallops, pork, and vegetables. The gummy battered spareribs are something only a Chino-McNugget fan could love, but a soothing bowl of congee topped with sliced pork is just the thing on a cold night when you draw the table next to the exit.
1–3 Elizabeth Street

Milk Money
Everyone knows that man cannot live by bread alone; it’s a lesser-known fact that small dairy farmers can’t survive by just selling milk. Hence the surge of farm- produced yogurt from the likes of Ronnybrook, an Ancramdale dairy that has expanded into everything from ice cream to egg nog. Taking a cue from their down-state neighbors, Dave and Sue Evans of Evans’ Farmhouse in Norwich, New York, have joined their ranks with a delicious line of organic cream-on-top yogurt, subtly sweetened with maple syrup and flavored with fruit syrups and essential oils.
(Available at LifeThyme Natural Market, 410 Sixth Avenue, 212-420-9099; and the Garden, 921 Manhattan Avenue, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, 718-389-6448.)

ask gael
We’ve moved to Chinatown and crave variety.
Once you've wallowed in the dumpling riches of your new turf, you’ll be desperate for a hit of vinaigrette and a pure haricot vert. Hike a few blocks east on Canal to funky Les Enfants Terribles, where the accents are French and Brazilian, the look is cozy do-it-yourself, and the music pleasantly eclectic (with D.J.’s dropping by now and then). But what counts for us is chef Abdhul Traore’s obvious skills. He gives a Senegalese tweak to bacon-wrapped sea scallops, uses Côte d’Ivoire spices to flavor juicy sliced steak alongside cassava fries, and surrounds a luscious lamb shank with sensational root vegetables. The excellent duet of duck, its breast meaty as a steak, comes with shredded confit and fig-apricot-stuffed cabbage (all entrées $18.50 or less), perfect to pair with a $26 Côtes du Rhône. Finish up with spiced poached pear cloaked in a caramel Calvados sauce. It’s a rare interruption in Chinatown’s relentless spread that I’d treasure in my neighborhood.
37 Canal Street


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