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Meet's Market

Gansevoort Street is shifting from a hot spot into tired culinary territory. But Meet -- with subtle, delicate food and good feng shui -- turns a meat locker into a mecca.

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If ever a piece of real estate needed spiritual realignment, it's the meatpacking district. In the past few years, the neighborhood has been losing some of its bohemian cachet; a few restaurants have closed, and many of those still in business look a little forlorn. That's especially true along Gansevoort Street, where most establishments have been shoehorned into pokey storefronts and old beef lockers. No wonder, then, that the savvy owners of Meet, which opened on Gansevoort a couple of months ago, hired a feng-shui consultant, Master Tin Sun. Feng shui, as even chowhounds know, is the ancient Chinese practice of establishing spatial harmony. "The place used to be a meat freezer," explained one of the owners. "It was storing the spirits of a lot of angry cows."

To placate the angry cow spirits, Master Sun (who has done work for superstitious local bigwigs like Donald Trump) decreed that mirrors be placed along the walls to elevate the level of harmonious qi -- good energy in the feng-shui lexicon -- and that a walkway made of coconut wood run through the room to give it the proper sense of movement and flow. The walkway divides the space into two different dining levels, each filled with polished rattan chairs and cream-colored ostrich-leather banquettes (no cows). The restaurant's two illuminated bars are canted toward the entrance at a welcoming angle and are covered with a translucent yellow stone called amber onyx, which suffuses even the most darkly dressed patron in a pleasant, golden glow.

The food at Meet does nothing to disrupt this happy balance between buzz and tranquility, and in some cases even enhances it. Executive chef Ten Vong has a fondness for bite-size dishes packed with disparate, subtle flavors. On my first run through the appetizer menu, I enjoyed a single crisply grilled quail -- stuffed to bursting with toasted falafel -- and an inventive strudel sliced open like a blintz and filled with tangy chèvre. The house risotto looked like it had been served out with an eyedropper, but was nicely cooked and flavored with fresh spring peas, morels, and a hint of cinnamon. Delicate eaters will also enjoy the sea-bass carpaccio, the Altoid-size portions of cured tuna, and the langoustines, which were served as an off-the-menu special on the evening I sampled them, set over a slip of fresh uni and stippled with small, dissolving spoonfuls of saffron jelly.

Vong's light touch extends to seafood entrées like fillet of dorade, stacked on shavings of fennel and a warm compote made of sun-dried tomatoes, and red snapper, served in a soothing broth tinged with cardamom and more saffron. My seared-scallop-and-cauliflower combination seemed a little wan by comparison, although all the hipsters at our table enjoyed the monkfish, which was smothered with sections of artichoke, in a thick, lemony gremolata. The peppercorn sauce covering the decorous cut of sirloin was equally tasty, but the rack of lamb was too meager for a fat man like me -- there were only two chops. Among poultry items, the duck breast was perfectly edible (it comes with freshly made basil gnocchi), while the roasted chicken was cooked to crackly perfection and served in a pool of savory sauce sweetened with white raisins.

Meet has all the trappings of a late-night hot spot, including felt ropes at the entrance, a discreet D.J. box, even a snack bar (serving not very inspired pastas and panini) for midnight dining. But the reasonably priced, uncomplicated wine list is better than you'll find at the average downtown mosh pit, and so are the desserts. In the high-cholesterol category, I enjoyed the round of spiced custard decked with a burnt-sugar top, though the rice-pudding fritters were almost too rich. I could have devoured several thousand more of the Oreo-shaped ice-cream sandwiches, which came with a bowl of hot chocolate for dipping. There was also a tottering confection called the "chocolate pistachio pinnacle," which seemed dry and a little structurally unsound to me. Not that this kept the hipsters at my table from gobbling it uncontrollably. After all, with Master Sun on the payroll, prosperity is guaranteed.

Meet 71–73 Gansevoort Street (212-242-0990); Dinner, Sunday to Wednesday, 6 to 10:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday till 11:30 p.m. Appetizers, $8 to $16; entrées, $18 to $32. All major credit cards.


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