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Book smart: The tartare of scallops from Papillon.
Hearty eaters, as a rule, do not always have the most adventurous palates. Maybe that's why it took me months to travel up to Atlas, where the mad Englishman Paul Liebrandt had been terrorizing diners with creations like parsley and licorice soup and slivers of eel oddly decked with chocolate sauce. When I arrived, however, our waiter murmured that Mr. Liebrandt had recently abandoned the kitchen. It turned out he'd fled downtown to the West Village bistro Papillon, where he showed up at my table the other evening displaying a large côte de boeuf chop, which was baking in a smoldering thatch of hay. That was after the licorice-steamed rouget fillets (decorated with a tar-colored but tasty chocolate tuile) and before a whiskey zabaglione dessert and a selection of petits fours consisting of "nori-o's" (chocolate fondant between squares of caramelized nori seaweed), among other items. These Harry Potterish concoctions are in their early stages, so the nori-o's tasted a little too experimental, while the côte de boeuf, carved in pink slices and flavored with a coffee and cardamom jus, was actually delicious.

The same is true of Marcus Samuelsson's notorious lobster roll at Aquavit. Wrapped in slivers of pear, with a drizzling of sevruga caviar, potato foam, and a shot of nose-clearing ginger-ale granité, it tastes naturally sweet, like some intricate seafood version of roll-up pastry. Samuelsson's crispy salmon — wrapped in the thinnest pastry briqué and cut lengthwise, with a spoonful of Meyer-lemon zabaglione for dipping — had a similar confectioner's quality, as did a subtle bowl of raw-Kobe-beef ravioli floating in a light truffle-and-tea-flavored broth. For dessert, try the white-chocolate fennel crème, made with ascending layers of apple sorbet and apple foam, white-chocolate crème, and a hard-candy cap of nougatine. A spoonful of sorbet melts magically to cream, which gives way to the sweet crunch of sugar candy. You're left, in the end, with the pleasing sensation of coolness and a vague, aromatic whiff of fennel seeds.

Atlas, 40 Central Park South, 212-759-9191
Papillon, 575 Hudson Street, 646-638-2900
Aquavit, 13 West 54th Street, 212-307-7311
 
PHOTOGRAPH BY KENNETH CHEN
 
   



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