At ’Cesca, Tom Valenti rediscovers hisroots.“It stunk up thewhole house,” recalls Tom Valenti of his grandmaSettimia’s tripe with tomatoes. His voiceisn’t exactly quivering with Proustian emotion,but he’s only warming up. “A big pot ofsimmered love” is how the Ouest chef remembersthe Valenti family’s Sunday sauce. AndDad’s stromboli? “Couldn’t getenough of it. I love that stuff.”With childhood memories like those, it’s nowonder Valenti feels compelled to open ’Cesca,named for partner Godfrey Polistina’s daughter,Francesca. And besides, “it was a natural nextstep, because that’s what Godfrey and I opt toeat way more times than not,” he says. The factthat the Upper West Side isn’t quite teemingwith good Italian restaurants didn’t escapethem, either.But just in case a Pepe Le Pew cloud from a pot oftripe stew doesn’t elicit the same Pavlovianresponse from squeamish locals, Valenti and chef decuisine Amanda Freitag (late of Lavagna and Il Buco)are hedging their bets with an alluringly accessiblemenu that covers all the au courant southern-Italianbases, with an emphasis on the sort of hearty,full-flavored food that distinguishes Valenti’soeuvre: arancini, bucatini con le sarde, and bakedmaccheroni with meat ragu and Parmesan“puddin’. ” And the chef clearlyhasn’t forsaken his sophisticated-comfort-foodroots either: Signature lamb shanks show up onSaturdays, and Mondays belong to a variation on thechef’s crowd-pleasing meat loaf. —RobPatronite• Details: ’Cesca, mid-September (164West 75th Street; 212-787-6300).
With a new Upper East Side barbecue joint, it’s the pits again for British hairdresser turned brisket boss Robert Pearson.Before Robert Pearsonopened Stick to Your Ribs on a Long Island City sidestreet in 1992, New York was a town bereft of greatbarbecue. That it took an Englishman to teach us whatreal ’cue was all about is remarkable, if not abit embarrassing—like a Brooklynite introducingLondoners to the pleasures of the Scotch egg. Butwho’s complaining? With a new partner (KenAretsky), a new location (the former Butterfield 81space), and a new $20,000, 3,000-pound pit,Pearson—who retired after his Upper West Sidesatellite branch burned down—is back in thebarbecue business.What are some common barbecue misconceptions?A lot of places call themselves barbecue joints, andthe food they serve is fine, and I wouldn’tknock it for a minute, but it’s not barbecue.Good barbecue doesn’t allow the fat to drip intothe fire. Good barbecue is cooked slowly for manyhours, and the heat source has to be wood contained ina pit; that heat—if you have perfectcombustion—is the source of the flavor, not the smoke. I don’t want smokein the cooking process.You once said that all the best barbecue joints areon the wrong side of the tracks. Does East 81st Streetqualify?When I looked at the space, I knew it had all themakings of a barbecue place: It’s funky with oldbanquettes, and the bar has been painted with aboutten thousand coats of paint. The only thing thatreally had to change was the kitchen floor, because Ilike to hose down the place at the end of the day.You’ll be doing beef brisket, chicken,chopped pork, ribs, and hot links. Anything elseyou’re thinking of tossing into the pit?Wild boar, that’s always nice when it’s inseason. I used to do rattlesnake and alligatortail—big chunks of alligator meat—andI’ll do those again. Fresh ham is nice; wholesalmon comes out almost poached-like, and I like theidea of getting a pair of legs—the hind quartersof a sheep that you used to see in butcher shops. Ifyou barbecue them just the way they are and leave allthe fat on and take it out 24 hours later …uhhhh!, To die over. —RobPatronite• Details: Pearson’s Texas Barbecue,September (170 East 81st Street; 212-288-2700).
Alain Ducasse goes Franco-American.It took Alain Ducassemonths to recover from the cold reception New York gave hiseponymous restaurant at the Essex House, whereunimpressed New Yorkers eschewed the pomp, thecircumstance, and especially the $160 prix fixe pricetag. He’s not taking any chances at Mix, a moremodest, less formal—and, probably thanks topartner Jeffrey Chodorow of China Grill and Asia deCuba, patently style-conscious—enterprise justdown the street, which the mega-starred chef has beendiplomatically calling “a culinary bridgebetween the French and American continents.”You can’t be too careful in this freedom-fryera, we suppose, but Ducasse is no Jeanny-come-latelyto American food. An unabashed devotee of locallygrown ingredients, he’s even written a book onthe subject (Harvesting Excellence), whichhelps explain the Mix menu’s down-home-ishemphasis on dishes like New England clam chowder,bison rib eye, and “farm pork casserole withbarbecue sauce, bitter greens and corn bread.”As Ducasse has an empire to run, he’s delegatedthe cooking duties to Douglas Psaltis, a veteran ofhis kitchens, and entrusted the design to PatrickJouin, a frequent collaborator and Philippe Starckprotegé.Macaroni and cheese and a bar crowd are two things wenever expected from Alain Ducasse, but so be it. If hecan’t beat ’em, the perfectionist chefwill do his meticulous utmost to join ’em.—Robin Raisfeld• Details: Mix, September 8 (68 West 58thStreet; 212-583-0300).
The Best of theRest of September
Call Bao Noodles (391 Second Avenue) a babyBao: The boys from Avenue C’s Bao 111 go rusticwith a menu featuring Vietnamese noodle soups… .
Christopher Chesnutt of Tribeca’s ElTeddy’s ventures into the Village, where he andhis wife, Ewa Olsen, open Twilight 101 (64 West10th Street; 212-505-7777), devoted to Mediterraneansmall plates (but don’t call them tapas) andwines from the same region… .
Matsuri, thehigh-style Japanese restaurant at the Maritime Hotel(363 West 16th Street; 212-243-6400), marks the returnof Tadashi Ono and the elegant Asian cooking thatearned him a following at Sono… .
Josh DeChellisunderstudied Rocco DiSpirito at Union Pacific; atintimate Sumile (154 West 13th Street;212-989-7699), he delves deeper into Japanese-Frenchterritory with dishes like poached hamachi withpickled melon… .
It’s two trendy treats inone at Lucy (35 East 18th Street), where Patriachef Andrew DiCataldo takes on the cuisineswe’re betting will be particularly big thisyear: Mexican and barbecue… .
Good-bye,line-dancing; hello, mambo: Alex Garcia (Calle Ocho)turns the Denim and Diamonds space into a restaurantand nightclub called LQ (511 Lexington Avenue),short for Latin Quarter… .
Jack’s LuxuryOyster Bar (246 East 5th Street; 212-673-0338)promises to be yet another little gem from JewelBako’s Jack and Grace Lamb: The raw bar’son the ground floor of the couple’s East Villagecarriage house, and chef Allison Vines worked atDucasse and Brennan’s in New Orleans, whichexplains the pig cheeks with langoustines en cocotteand bananas Foster for dessert… .
Sui (54Spring Street) brings unagi crêpes, buffalocarpaccio, and scallion-pancake pizza to an aquaticNolita nook furnished with fish tanks and a waterfall.…
After the aforementioned Alex Garcia settlesinto LQ, he opens Zona Rosa (40 West 56thStreet), with a taqueria takeout window, tequila andseviche bars, plus a few of those dreaded communaltables… .
We’ll take a square foot withanchovies: At Pinch—Pizza By The Inch(416 Park Avenue South), they measure the pie the waya tailor measures a pair of pants and charge you bythe inch.
Marcus Samuelsson checks into the Alex hotel with a New American menu and a nouvelle sushi bar.Aquavit chef MarcusSamuelsson may have suffered a stinging Iron Chefdefeat and shuttered his Minneapolis outpost, but hehasn’t been sitting around licking his wounds.He’s going where many talented toques have gonebefore—into the high-profileboutique-hotel-restaurant business. At Riingo (adeliberate misspelling of the Japanese word for“apple”), in midtown’s swanky newAlex hotel, Samuelsson deviates from the nouvelleScandinavian style that made him this year’sBeard-award-winning Best New York City Chef,fashioning instead an inventive American-Japanesehybrid: contemporary riffs on Caesar salad and roastchicken executed by Samuelsson compatriot JohanSvensson, and porcini rolls with truffle aïoli ata sushi bar overseen by Shigenori Tanaka, late ofJewel Bako.Riingo will serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner, andcomes equipped with the requisite lounge,house-infused sakes, and attention-getting décor.The woodwork is dark ebony, the floors are bamboo, andthe mezzanine accommodates semiprivate dining withmovable screens of rice sandwiched between glasspanels. It’s unlikely the built-in Sub-Zerofridges in the residential suites upstairs will begetting much use. —Robin Raisfeld•Details: Riingo, October (205 East 45thStreet; 212-867-4200).
Geisha brings refined cuisine to the lounge set.If you’ve developeda particular fondness for Le Bernardin’s patchwork of hamachi and tunabrushed with yuzu vinaigrette, don’t mourn itssudden absence. It’s not gone forgood—it’s just migrated to Geisha, theAsian-inspired restaurant whose owners recruited LeBernardin’s Eric Ripert to consult on the menu,and where he’s installed his longtime sous-chef,Michael Vernon, to execute it.Geisha is a culinary departure for its owners, FabioGranato and Vittorio Assaf, known for their livelychain of Serafina pizzerias and the air-kissingclientele that frequents them, and it’s anopportunity for Ripert to delve more deeply into theAsian flavors that pervade his own haute cookingstyle. “We studied a lot of the Japanese culturein terms of food, and then we studied a little ofVietnamese, a little of Thai, a little ofChinese,” he says. “We created the menuinspired by those cultures but mostly using Frenchtechniques.” Concoctions like fluke marinated inponzu and coconut broth, and Sichuan-pepper-crustedpork tenderloin with plum-wine sauce don’taspire to be strictly authentic—just delicious.Not to mention affordable (for Ripert-caliber food,anyway). “The target is for a fun, hip kind ofplace where you can go and have cocktails andappetizers and then really good food,” saysVernon, who had the chance to perfect his menu in LeBernardin’s kitchen. The Far Eastern flavor extends to the sleek DavidRockwell design, which features basket-weave andpleated-maplewood walls, a room-dividing glass lightbox embedded with red algae, and cherry-blossom lightfixtures above the sushi bar. Considering itsprovenance, the place will undoubtedly attract itsshare of the young, the hip, and the culinarilyoblivious, a prospect that doesn’t seem to fazeRipert. In fact, he says good-naturedly, “I willprobably go as a customer if it’s a goodscene.” —Robin Raisfeld•Details: Geisha, early October (33 East 61stStreet; 212-734-2676).
Lespinasse’s Christian Delouvrier revisits the cooking of his grandmère at Terre.The closing of thebrilliant but fusty old Lespinasse may have been thebest thing to have happened to Christian Delouvrier:After 40-plus years of working in other people’skitchens, he’s on the verge of having not onebut two to call his own.Early next year, the fastidious four-star chef willloosen up his toque a tad when he opens Delouvrier,which he swears will be “high-class but notstuffy.” Up first, though, is Terre, which opensin the meatpacking district in October and celebratesthe foods Delouvrier remembers from his Gascogneboyhood, an idyllic time he spent climbing fig treesand gulping down freshly hatched raw eggs out in thebarn—much in the manner of Rocky Balboa, heclaims. “Terre,” he says, “is myroots. Gascony—the corn field, the ducks, thegeese, and the cows, and don’t forget the beautifulchickens.”He won’t be flying poultry in directly, but heis insistent on using the same local suppliers andpristine ingredients that he used atLespinasse—milk-fed baby lamb cooked in therotisserie and finished in the custom wood-burningoven, for example, plus confit of baby pig, Tarbaisbean soup, pâté de campagne, and terrine ofrabbit. “It’s soul food, butFrench,” he says. “High-quality butsimple, nice, and relaxed—and cheaper.”Which, coming from the man who once made a case for a$35 bowl of soup (langoustines do not grow ontrees, mon ami), is quite a relief.—R.P.•Details: Terre, mid-October (861 WashingtonStreet; no phone yet).
The Best of theRest of October
Alex Freij follows Industry (Food) with Diner24 (102 Eighth Avenue), a comfort-food canteenbuilt in “desert-modern” style, featuringall-day (and night) breakfasts, TV dinners, and a VIProom… .
For his tri-state debut, the king ofCalifornia cuisine unleashes not a Spago or Chinois on Main but the more proletarianWolfgang Puck Express (111 Sinatra Drive,Hoboken, N.J.; 201-876-8600), home of thebarbecued-chicken pizza and Chinois chicken salad….
Inspired by the popular London restaurant theProvidores, and developed in consultation with itschefs, Public (210 Elizabeth Street;212-343-0918) specializes in global-fusion fare likesmoked foie gras with grape-sago compote… .
No,Vento was not the Marx brother whocouldn’t remember to zip his fly. The word means“wind” in Italian, and it’s the nameStephen Hanson and Fiamma chef Michael White aregiving their tri-level trattoria in the meatpackingdistrict (675 Hudson Street). Think Fiamma but morecasual and a tad cheaper, with wood-oven pizzas,braised meats, and 30 wines by the glass… .
WhenSant Ambroeus (259 West 4th Street;212-604-9254) returns not to Madison Avenue but to theWest Village, the posh pasticceria will allowsandwich-eating at the espresso bar and offer lighter,small-plate fare in the dining room, plus the usualgelati galore.
Two hot chefs turn the meat market into an Asian-flavored street market.Star chefs Gray Kunz andJean-Georges Vongerichten shine brightly enough ontheir own; as a team, they’re a culinarysupernova. It’s ironic, then, that when it comesto revealing details about their impending jointventure in the meatpacking district, tentativelycalled Spice Market, they choose to leave theiradoring public in the dark. “We want it to be ahuge surprise,” says Kunz, who’s beencasting about for just such a project ever sincevacating his lofty four-star perch at Lespinasse fiveyears ago.Maybe he doesn’t want to jinx it. After all,there’ve been other grand plans that nevermaterialized, and the occasional rumor of the elusiveKunz checking out Tribeca real estate or looking tosign a lease at Lever House. In the meantime, he wrotea cookbook. And then Phil Suarez, Vongerichten’spartner, suggested he team up with Kunz. The idea wasto bring two classically trained, Asia-obsessed,astoundingly inventive chefs together in a space bigenough for both of them. The menu, Kunz concedes underduress, will explore Asian street-market food, a vastrealm the chefs spent the last two weeks of Augustvoraciously exploring firsthand. Implementing theirexotic discoveries will be executive chef StanleyWong, a Vongerichten associate since his days runningVong in Hong Kong before landing here to open thePan-Asian TanDa. With a trio like that, pre-openingbuzz is inevitable, Kunz’s reservenotwithstanding. “We’re trying to keep itvery, very low-key,” he says. Good luck.—Robin Raisfeld• Details: Spice Market, November (29–35Ninth Avenue; no phone yet).
The Best of theRest of November
Marco Canora (Craft, Craftbar) steps out from TomColicchio’s shadow at Hearth (403 East12th Street), where he’ll infuse his signatureseasonal-American style with Italian influences indishes like duck pappardelle with black olives and redwine… .
After departing Park Avenue Cafe, the inventive David Burke teams up with Bellini’sDonatella Arpaia; their David Burke Donatella(133 East 61st Street) showcases his Italian-accented American fare and her enlightened, unstuffyservice… .
At the sprawling Megu (62 ThomasStreet; 212-964-7777), dinner is cooked over specialtycharcoal imported from Japan for its purifyingproperties and historical significance… .
Mr.“Brooklyn Global” turns meatpacking mogul:Zak Pelaccio (of Williamsburg’s ChickenboneCafe) decamps for 5 Ninth (5 Ninth Avenue), a three-story brownstone equippedwith two fireplaces and a garden.
COOKING THE BOOKS
This fall, five favorite foodies reveal theirsecrets—and offer tips on how to get out ofdoing the dishes.
The Balthazar Cookbook
By Keith McNally, et al (Clarkson Potter; October)
The Dish: When you’re not up for thesensory stimulation of a bustling brasserie—oryet another Anna Wintour sighting—whip upsteak-frites and duck shepherd’s pie in theprivacy of your own home.
Saucy Quote: “In building Balthazar, asmuch time and effort went into the details … as onthe grander aspects of the decor. We felt the same wayabout the French Fries.”
East of Paris
By David Bouley and Mario Lohninger (Ecco; November)
The Dish: The Tribecan titan’s firstcookbook pays homage to the Austrian gestalt thatinspired his restaurant, the Danube, and its modern,lightened-up, seasonal take on an old-world cuisine.
Saucy Quote: “A fresh beet, still withits greens attached, is tender and sweet, almost morelike a fruit than a vegetable. It’s not …tough or dry, like a potato. It’sbeautiful.”
Tom Valenti’s Soups, Stews, and One-potMeals
The Dish: At home, the chef-owner of Ouest and’Cesca is a self-described “one-pot kindof guy” (read: lazy) who loves big, bold,complexly layered flavors but hates to do the dishes.
Saucy Quote: “I can’t talk aboutbeef cheeks without thinking about my friend andfellow chef-in-arms Mario Batali. We have nicknamesfor each other based on our favorite cuts of meat. Hecalls me Shanks. I call him Beef Cheeks.”
Mastering Simplicity: A Life in the Kitchen
By Christian Delouvrier (Wiley; September)
The Dish: The master French chef with tworestaurants in the works (see above) recounts a fascinating life in food, from Paris kitchen commis to four stars at Lespinasse.
Saucy Quote: “She watched me accompanyLouis to the barn… . Louis milked the cow rightinto my bowl and I slurped down the frothy, warm andso delicious cow juice.”
By Wayne Harley Brachman (Clarkson Potter; November)
The Dish: A survey of sweets, from the firstThanksgiving’s whortleberry pudding to a primeron crisps and crumbles, cobblers, buckles, slumps, andgrunts.
Saucy Quote: “There are two types ofbrownies: the crumbly cake style and the chocolaty,rich and chewy fudge style. I imagine that someone,somewhere prefers a cakelike brownie, but I have yetto meet him.”