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The keen lantern: Diners hit the scene at TanDa.

Ladies and gentleman of a certain age are frantically congregating in the tiny, cable-car-like dining rooms at Swifty's — it's still the happening place for Upper East Side Hooray Henrys — and I have to admit that my lunch of tasty creamed chicken hash was weirdly enlivened, on a recent visit, when Liz Smith herself came hurrying by, trailing eddies of perfume. A few blocks south, members of the younger, leather-jacketed set are swarming into Commissary to enjoy the stylishly simple cooking of Matthew Kenney (fresh halibut in lemon butter, seared foie gras with salty hazelnuts and a smear of red-currant jam, like some gourmet peanut-butter-and-jelly treat), even though the gloomy Donald Trump space resembles the hippest in late-night dining circa 1979.

The giant dracaena tree at The Park seems to be turning a little brown around the edges, but I liked the "red room," strung up with Chinese lanterns, and the pleasure of flipping through Eric Goode's complete set of National Geographic magazines while waiting for my sour-apple martini and a glass of perfectly decent wild-striped-bass seviche (seasoned with mint, pepper, and lots of lime) at the bar. Midway, on Charles Street in the West Village, may resemble a clamorous nightclub after hours, but the clean, economical dishes that emerge from Bill Schutz's kitchen (hanger steak with Belgian frites, monkfish with braised cabbage and bacon) are refreshingly gourmet.

I prefer the Pan-Asian kitsch motif at Tao to the Pan-Asian kitsch motif at Man Ray, although my perspective may be warped by having been banished several nights in a row to a table in Thierry Kléméniuk's conspicuously celebrity-free basement, next to a row of urns that look suspiciously like Mandarin chamber pots. As far as I could tell, there are no chamber pots at the new Moomba offshoot, TanDa, although the lanterns hung here and there in the former Park Avenue OTB parlor are actually old Vietnamese fishtraps. You can procure a semi-authentic bowl of green chicken curry at two in the morning, however, and a few of the South Asian fusion items on the menu (lacquered five-spice squab, Maine lobster dusted with green mango) don't taste nearly as grisly as they sound.

 

Swifty's, 1007 Lexington Avenue, near 72nd Street, 212-535-6000
Commissary, 1030 Third Avenue, near 61st Street, 212-339-9955
The Park, 118 Tenth Avenue, near 17th Street, 212-352-3313
Midway, 145 Charles Street, 212-352-1119
Tao, 42 East 58th Street, 212-888-2288
Man Ray, 147 West 15th Street, 212-929-5000
TanDa 331 Park Avenue South, near 24th Street, 212-253-8400
 
PHOTOGRAPH BY KENNETH CHEN.
   



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