| Cooking cousins: Le Zinc is Chanterelle's cheaper outpost.
Even after an "expansion," this tiny BYOB café is as cramped as a car on the subway line it's named after, populated by a mellow mix of Columbia students and Upper West Siders communing over French-Caribbean-accented small plates with equally small price tags ($6–$10). There's a fiery kick to the escargots with cilantro-chili butter, and the hot grilled avocado with a dollop of spinach mousse where the pit used to be is a nutty experiment that works, smooth as butter in a puddle of shiitake-sesame vinaigrette.
947 Columbus Ave., at 106th St.; 212-531-1643
Bistro St. Mark's
Every Monday night, chef Johannes Sanzin composes a four-course tasting menu for $25, a spectacular bargain when you see what tasting portions look like in Brooklyn. (Skip lunch.) Sanzin, an alumnus of Bouley, inherited that kitchen's way with fish and the perverse knack of its ultrarich potato purée, which came one night alongside seared black bass with littleneck clams. He revels in unexpected touches, like toasted walnuts and Asian pear in a woody mushroom salad, and a summer succotash of limas, tomato, and corn with the rack of lamb. The high-ceilinged space is an echo chamber, and the staff gets stretched thin, but nothing seems to faze the multicultural clientele of brownstone renovators, bam-goers, and the upstairs neighbor making a solitary dinner of oysters and beer at the bar.
76 St. Mark's Avenue, near Flatbush Avenue, Park Slope, Brooklyn, 718-857-8600
All that can be crammed between two slices and deliciously smooshed in a sandwich press.
20 Spring Street; 212-334-1015
Arriving at Cosette on a dark Murray Hill side street is like being lost in the French countryside and stumbling upon a warm and welcoming sleepy-village bistro. From the moment owner Bernard Massuger insists on putting the Côte de Brouilly on ice when he senses it hasn't hit the perfect serving temperature, you know you're going to be well taken care of. Things only get better from there with chef Boubaka Segda's tasty phyllo-dough aumôniére filled with chèvre and grilled portobellos ($9), a gut-busting wintertime cassoulet ($19), and first-rate steak-frites ($18).
163 East 33rd Street, 212-889-5489
Le Zinc counters the will-you-marry-me? vibe of cousin Chanterelle with get-to-know-your-neighbor banquettes, a whadja-say? sound system, spicy lamb sausage, and $8.50 duck wings with a black-bean-chili sauce that bites back.
139 Duane Street; 212-513-0001
The French wine bar makes a mean pressed sandwich of duck rillettes and capers, and is perpetually packed.
8 Little West 12th Street; 212-463-8345
Panini... in the Bronx!
114 East 157th Street, the Bronx; 718-401-0545
Despite the demure Upper East Side– townhouse setting, the clientele of dapper gents and their well-preserved consorts, and the suave, proper service, Rouge is really a bargain bistro masquerading as a big-ticket restaurant. Nothing on chef-partner David Ruggerio's eclectic menu breaks the $20 barrier, decorative dabs of sauce and baby boutique-greenery garnishes notwithstanding. The framework is French, with occasional forays into trendy Italian and Asian territory, like the spicy miso-marinated Chatham cod with fanned slices of roasted eggplant and raw cucumber ($16.95). The "chef's wine list" is a bonanza of equally affordable bottles at laughably low mark-ups.
135 East 62nd Street, 212-207-4601
As Left Bank as you'll get on the right bank of Manhattan.
188 Avenue B; 212-358-1700