213 E. 45th St., nr. Third Ave.; 212-867-5454
There are two ways to dine in this spiffy new Japanese restaurant: in private, like an international tycoon furtively conducting business behind the curtains of a sequestered nook, or in public, at the congenial counter by the robata grill, where poker-faced cooks painstakingly monitor the progress of the skewers and planks they prop amid the embers. As at Kinnosuke’s sister restaurant, Yakitori Totto, there’s plenty of grilled chicken parts, and even more variations on a freshly-made-tofu theme—soothing yuba and greens in a subtle broth, and a black-sesame-tofu special chilled and presented like pot de crème. But here, diners have the option of grilling their own food on small contraptions conveyed to their tables, and the affordable small-plates menu is more extensive. Delicious chicken meatballs figure prominently in both restaurants; here, they’re more like tiny meat loaves, cooked and served on weathered wooden peels.
54 Stone Street, nr. Hanover Sq.; 212-248-3838
Any New Yorker serious about his or her pizza knows Nick’s—the tender-crusted, sprightly sauced, milky-cheesed chainlet that started in Forest Hills and expanded to Long Island and Yorkville. Adrienne’s (named for partner Harry Poulakakos’s late wife) is essentially the fourth branch of Nick’s, a slicker, sleeker outpost that appeared this spring like a beacon in the culinary wilderness that is the financial district. Here, besides charming the neighborhood with old-school favorites like manicotti and an ethereal eggplant parm, Nick Angelis is undertaking a couple things he’d never dared before: individual slices (a notorious no-no for certain old-school pie guys) and square pizza, otherwise known as Sicilian or, in a thinner-crusted, cheese-below-sauce variation, grandma pie. He acquits himself well on both accounts, while maintaining the top-notch quality of the round marvels that made his name.
638 Bergen St., at Vanderbilt Ave., Prospect Heights, Brooklyn; 718-399-6855
Depending on how you look at it, Beast is either a not-strictly-Spanish tapas bar, an American bistro with a dark, pubby vibe, or a casual place to grab a burger and a beer over a spirited game of Tapper at the bar. This multifunctionalism—and some prime corner outdoor seating—comes in handy on the slowly burgeoning restaurant row. Few bars serve food as thoughtfully considered as arugula salad with feta and fennel pickled with mustard seed and fenugreek, or juicy skirt steak cooked rare, its slices gently draped over flavorful fritters made of corn and red pepper. Breaded and fried bits of manchego make an addictive snack to nibble along with a glass of sherry or quartino of wine, and the burger is a righteous hunk of salt-crusted meat. Informed, helpful service is a big plus.
24 Minetta Lane., nr. Sixth Ave.; 212-473-5121
New York has seen its fair share of Italian wine bars, but Bellavitae, discreetly tucked away down a nondescript Greenwich Village alley, manages to make its own distinct mark. It’s not so much the décor (prototypically rustic), or the menu (Italian small plates, standard-issue). It’s not even the increasingly prevalent Chez Panissean practice of sourcing nearly every ingredient on the menu. Rather, it’s the fact that most of said top-notch ingredients, from the Sicilian olives to the Abruzzese garganelli, are imported by a company that happens to be owned by one of Bellavitae’s partners, a canny businessman who saw a great cross-promotional opportunity. Shelves of product function as both décor and merchandise: If you fall in love with the orange-infused olive oil that dressed your salad, you can buy a bottle to take home.
237 Columbus Ave., nr. 71st St.; 212-362-5446
With a few Morningside Heights exceptions, the wine-and-panini-bar craze that’s overtaken New York has steered clear of the Upper West Side. Handsome, snug Bin 71 fills the void with an appealing small-plates menu that extends beyond pressed sandwiches and cured meats to pink-snapper sashimi, polenta baked with Vermont’s pungent Bayley Hazen blue, and a papa-bear-size bowl of cold, delicately chunky beet soup. Predictably packed at night, the spot’s a bit neglected and extremely inviting during the day, when it caters to solo lunchers watching tennis on the flat-screen and sipping generous pours by the capacious Ravenscroft glass.
Blue Ribbon Bakery Market
14 Bedford St., nr. Downing St.; 212-647-0408
Although the English rank it among their greatest culinary achievements—according to the Oxford Companion to Food
—we uncouth Americans have yet to fully appreciate the wonder that is toast. Enter this new bakery-cum-general-store, an annex to Blue Ribbon Bakery restaurant and a showcase for its extensive line of artisanal brick-oven-baked loaves. The all-toast menu lists a hodgepodge of intricately conceived toast toppings, from the simple (raw Mexican honey and Vermont butter) to the more substantial (housemade pork rillettes and cornichons). Our favorite—hard-cooked egg with hot peppers and a squiggle of homemade mayo on densely crumbed, golden-toasted Pullman—makes for a deceptively hearty snack that you can nibble at a leisurely pace outside on the wooden bench. All the gourmet provisions, from sardines to cave-aged Gruyère, are for sale, should you be inspired to toast your own at home.