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Arts and crafts: Craft's diver scallops and hen-of-the-wood mushrooms.

My friend the food aristocrat is a woman of fine-tuned, almost monkish tastes who favors quality over quantity, sautéed over fried, and the freshest summer vegetables over the richest hollandaise sauce any time. These days, she's dining at her usual dainty hangouts: Prune, for deviled eggs and the fresh-off-the-cob corn succotash; The Tasting Room, for the clam chowder; 71 Clinton Fresh Food, for the smoked green-pea ravioli; and Blue Hill, for the poached duck. Lately, I've also spotted her sneaking up to Town, in the basement of the Chambers Hotel, where Geoffrey Zakarian serves up fragrant bowls of chilled pea soup laced with crunchy bits of prosciutto; thrillingly (her word) tender venison carpaccio drizzled with juniper oil, with slivers of green apple; and a melting (my word) duck steak, nearly soft enough to cut with a fork. My helping of lunchtime lobster roast was exemplary in a lavish, creamy sort of way, as were the desserts, particularly the mildly tangy sourdough chocolate cake and the chilled mound of melty Café Brulout, accompanied by a little crowd of beignets filled with molten chocolate.

At Craft, even the most lumpen chowhound gets to comport himself like an effete food expert, at least for an hour or two. Tom Colicchio's original do-it-yourself conceit seems to have given way to a kind of upmarket, family-style free-for-all, which doesn't keep his waiters from rhapsodizing obtrusively about the bouquet of today's batch of shiitake mushrooms, say, or the lucent quality of the diver scallops, hoisted from the waters of Maine only hours before. My advice — and the food aristocrat's, too — is to order every mushroom you can (the hen-of-the-woods, in particular) or if you're feeling modest, the lunchtime Market Menu ($32 for three courses), with a glass of wine from the impressive house list. The belon oysters actually do taste like they were hauled from the ocean just hours before, and the loin chops of lamb have a pure, almost torolike freshness, and, at roughly $14 per chop, are priced almost as high.

Prune, 54 East 1st Street, 212-677-6221
The Tasting Room, 72 East 1st Street, 212-358-7831
71 Clinton Fresh Food, 71 Clinton Street, 212-614-6960
Blue Hill, 75 Washington Place, 212-539-1776
Town, Chambers Hotel, 15 West 56th Street, 212-582-4445
 
PHOTOGRAPH BY KENNETH CHEN.
   



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    From the January 7, 2002 issue of New York Magazine.