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Altar Ego...Dinner Theater...The Beard House


February 16, 2004

Monkey Temple
Mary Warren put herself through grad school waitressing at bars like Park Slope’s legendary McFeely’s. But Monkey Temple, the lounge she opened New Year’s Eve, is another breed of watering hole entirely, furnished with Asian exotica, tufted-cushion seats, and flat-screen TVs silently airing Indian films. Warren’s husband, Rajeev, comes from Nepal, and so does bhujia, the Asian-flavored “Chex mix” she serves along with tapas like nan pizza, samosas, and curry-chicken ciabatta. “Spicy is the common denominator,” says Warren, who’s brought a little Eastern intrigue to the west-Soho strip colonized by Ivo & Lulu next door.
558 Broome Street

The timing for opening Repas, a cozy, clubby bistro on sleepy Minetta Lane, couldn’t be better. When Cookin’, a kind of Stomp–meets–Iron Chef show in which the cast prepares a seven-course Korean feast onstage, moves into the Minetta Lane Theater next door on February 20, Repas will have a practically captive (and hungry) audience. The food is French-American, not Korean, but that shouldn’t deter the hungry hordes from devouring spectacular wood-burning-oven breads and rustic pizzas, courtesy of an Amy’s-trained baker, and artful if busy main plates like herb-crusted rack of lamb.
24 Minetta Lane

Jonathan Waxman has had it with white tablecloths, tasting menus, and sommeliers. And so, he thinks, have the rest of us, which is why, just weeks after closing Washington Park, he’s teamed up with photographer Fabrizio Ferri to run Barbuto, the in-house restaurant at Ferri’s Industria Superstudio in the West Village. (Barbuto is Italian for “beard,” one of which each owner has.) “Fun, funky, straightforward,” says Waxman, reeling off Barbuto’s defining characteristics. “And nothing over twenty bucks.” To get in the “small-town Italy” frame of mind, Waxman visited Ferri at his Pantelleria home, but except for including one elaborate couscous special his partner requested, Waxman’s not targeting any particular region. Instead, he’s adhering to the simple-and-seasonal mantra—as in whole fish, roast chicken for two, and pizza (lunch and late-night only) cooked in the wood-burning oven and grill. The rustic, industrial space will soon be open for breakfast and lunch, satisfying the all-day appetites of the neighborhood as well as the celebrity subjects upstairs.
775 Washington Street

object of desire
Ich Bin Ein Krapfen
You do not eat a krapfen, or Austrian jelly doughnut, without a game plan: To become one with the doughnut, “you need to locate the hole, bite into it, and not breathe while you’re eating it, so as not to be coughing on the powdered sugar and having jelly all over your shirt,” says Café Sabarsky’s new pastry chef, Pierre Reboul. His irresistible rendition of the treat, traditionally eaten on the day after the Epiphany and on the day before Lent, is plump, fragrant, and filled with the exquisite jam he makes from Red Jacket Orchards apricots. Tackling the petit four version at Wallsé, where Reboul pulls double duty, requires less Zen-like precision.
1048 Fifth Avenue, at 86th Street

Trail of Cookie Crumbs
How a couple of biscotti led us to a Brooklyn bakery bonanza.
It wasn’t Sigrid Benedetti’s reputation that preceded her—it was her biscotti. The thin, superlatively textured chocolate-hazelnut and pistachio-cranberry-chocolate-chip versions arrived with the bill one night at Paola’s, the uptown Italian restaurant where we learned they were the handiwork of the chef’s wife. Said chef, the talented John Baron, had been recruited from Mario Batali’s kitchens, where he’d met his future wife in the pastry department—a fact we didn’t learn until days after that meal, when we coincidentally stumbled across her in Brooklyn and she told us herself. It turns out that when Sigrid isn’t baking biscotti for Paola’s, she’s running Hope & Union, a cheerful Williamsburg café and bakery that opened last summer and has kept an inexplicably low profile, except to regulars who’ve embraced its homey vibe and excellent pastries. But Benedetti doesn’t stop at rich, flaky banana-chocolate turnovers and dark-chocolate cupcakes with burnt-marshmallow frosting—she even bakes the brioche and focaccia she uses for hefty made-to-order sandwiches, like Italian-tuna and Dijon egg salad. Nor are biscotti her only sideline: She also does the desserts for Pequeña, the tiny Fort Greene cantina whose owner is partners with Benedetti’s partner—got all that?—at the neighboring bar Moe’s, a gig that’s sure to earn the well-connected chef another flavor of fan base. —Robin Raisfeld
366 Union Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Big Wheel of Cheese
Oysters, chocolate, caviar, and bird’s-nest soup are fine. But for sheer aphrodisiacal oomph this Valentine’s Day, you want cheese. Or so you would think after perusing the little signs (like the one pictured) that describe the fromage on offer at the excellent Bedford Cheese Shop in Williamsburg. The signs—some of which make bawdy reference to Heidi Fleiss and Ron Jeremy, smoking hash, and Jean-Claude Van Damme—are the handiwork of owner Francis Schuck, who manned the delectably funky counters at the Harlem Fairway, Balducci’s, and Murray’s before coming into his own as the Dennis Miller of the ancient art of cheese-sign writing.
218 Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

A Not-So-Secret Ingredient
Having scolded Lutèce chef David Féau for slathering foie gras in hot-fudge sauce, I am seriously offended when SQC Restaurant’s beyond-obvious, beyond outrageous Xtreme Chocolate Valentine Menu pops up on my e-mail. Cocoa baba ghannouj? Braised beef with chocolate stout? Slow-cooked pork with chocolate-and-cocoa fettucine? The purist in me is disgusted, but my inner junk-food queen is curious. Chef-owner Scott Campbell whips up a preview. Hmmm. Amazing how cocoa powder gives feist to normally bland eggplant purée. Chocolate in the barbecued ribs is like a hit of mole. And it adds a musky note to homemade ketchup with remarkable fries. I don’t even mind the whiff of chocolate in the chipotle framing a duo of crab cakes. Could be the chocolate martini blurring my brain? Clearly, chocolate balsamic is cloyingly sweet on a clumsy raviolo, and not even fudge-nut-swirl would help the mushy smoked tenderloin. Xtreme Chocolate menu runs through February 25, but SQC’s hot chocolates stay till spring. Chili hot chocolate with anchos and cinnamon, anyone? —Gael Greene
270 Columbus Avenue, near 72nd Street

ask gael
Remind me of someone’s Italian grandma.
The team that charmed the Upper West Side with tiny Celeste has channeled the spirit of a Romagnese granny at Bianca, with its embroidered café curtains, milky walls, and country-cottage tchotchkes. Chef-owner Giancarlo Quadalti’s menu pays homage to his family’s kitchen with lasagna Emilia-Romagna-style (with béchamel and meat ragù) and a wonderfully chewy noodle called gramigna, studded with sausage and sweet red pepper. And he’ll be teaching the chef de cuisine to fry pastry pillows of gnocco to serve with fragrant imported charcuterie or lush and runny stracchino cheese, as the house signature. Mama’s passatelli in brodo are spaetzle-like curls of breadcrumb-Parmesan paste in chicken broth. Use the homey ciambella cake to scoop up exquisite waves of mascarpone. Like Celeste, Bianca takes no reservations or credit cards, and has underground prices as well as artisanal cheeses selected by Carmine, Celeste’s cheese whiz.
5 Bleecker Street


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