126 Union St., nr. Columbia St., Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn; 718-855-4405
fragrant broth and potent rouille, but there’s much more to Neil Ganic’s blackboard menu. For example, his tender poached pear bolstered by a brick of blue cheese—offered as an appetizer, even better as dessert; his moist and meaty crab cake; carefully cooked fish fillets, paired with the potatoes and vegetables of the night (often buttery, sometimes gratinéed, invariably delicious). The space is unfussy and comfortable, the service efficient and friendly. And this new Bouillabaisse has something the old one lacked: a fish-friendly wine list.
173 Third Ave., nr. 16th St.; 212-598-1200
Chow Bar’s Gramercy offshoot shares its parent’s Pan-Asian sensibility, but lops just enough off its menu prices to make it feel like a real bargain—even if, as we’re prone to do, you order way more than you intended. That’s inevitable once you taste chef Peter Klein’s zestily dressed salads, greaseless tonkatsu, comforting curried noodles, and especially his ingenious roast-pork sandwich, luscious morsels of caramelized meat stuffed into a grilled “bao” bun and served with hot Chinese mustard. Don’t let the barlike setting and specialty cocktails fool you—there’s seriously tasty food to be had here, and some big flavor wedged into those small plates.
64 W. 22nd St., nr. Sixth Ave.; 212-989-1307
The trend toward fast-food joints with a cheeky singleness of purpose continues at this mod little shop specializing in sandwiches made with the unleavened romagnolo flatbread called piadina. As sandwich fanatics know, a great sandwich is all about the bread, and Daniele’s is light and tender, the dough rolled out in a Wonkaesque machine like batches of Krispy Kremes throughout the day, then filled with cured Italian meats and cheese and crisped to order on the griddle. The signature stuffing—prosciutto di Parma, tangy stracchino cheese, and peppery arugula—makes a light but satisfying meal that falls somewhere on the hunger-abatement scale between a crêpe and a panino, and tastes markedly different from either.
Fig & Olive
808 Lexington Ave., nr. 62nd St.; 212-207-4555
Like a ray of Provençal sunshine on a shabby stretch of Lexington Avenue, this sunken café evokes the Mediterranean with its unwavering devotion to olive oil, a featured ingredient in nearly every dish. Olives swim in it. Vegetables are marinated in it. Fresh, artfully arranged salads are dressed with it. Once you’ve found one you particularly like—the Moulin Baussy paired with the salmon tartine, say, or the Koroneiki that anoints the fig-and-olive salad—you can repair to the on-premise shop and buy a bottle to take home. The market-like ambience, the wicker armchairs, the Provençal rosé all conspire to create a convivial European air that attracts neighborhood suits, hospital staff, and gossiping girlfriends, all mixing much better than oil and water.
Frankies 457 Spuntino
457 Court St., nr. Luquer St., Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn; 718-403-0033
If spuntino means “snack” in Italian, then why is a trip to Frankies 457 Spuntino more like a no-holds-barred Sunday supper at Grandma’s house? True, there are no little old ladies pressuring you to overindulge, but who can resist slow-cooked braciola swimming in red sauce? Ditto the meatballs and sandwiches like an elegant eggplant marinara wedged between a halved square of Sullivan St. Bakery pizza bianca? Deftly dressed salads, bountiful soups, and carefully roasted vegetables add a healthful note to the proceedings. Snack or gorge or whatever you wish to call it at the mahogany bar, or in the tavernesque dining room with its tin ceilings and vintage fixtures. But this time of year, the gravel-strewn courtyard and converted stable out back may exert too strong a pull. The peace and quiet feel otherworldly—except when the elevated F train slides by.
Hong Kong Station
128 Hester St., nr. Bowery; 212-966-9382
There’s cheap, there’s dirt cheap, and then there’s Hong Kong Station, the snappy new Chinatown noodlery that invites its picky patrons to create a customized bowl of soup much the way patrons of Sizzler make their own salads. One dollar buys a heaping helping of your choice of springy noodles (e-fu, udon, mai fun, ho fun, or lai fun) and a couple of carefree sloshes of fortifying broth, from mild to very spicy. Steam-table add-ons, from the exotic—curry fish balls, chicken gizzards, and various pig parts—to the familiar—chicken wings, briskety beef, and mushrooms—will run you an additional dollar each. Theoretically, you could order the whole shebang for $27, but three add-ons do nicely.
203 Lafayette St., at Kenmare St.; 646-613-7100
The neon sign reads corner, a nod to the deli that preceded it, but that’s just a colorful ruse. If La Esquina is as much stage set as restaurant, that’s because it’s owned by Serge Becker, the designer and nightlife entrepreneur behind such hipster loci as Bowery Bar, MK, and Area. The counter-service taqueria on Kenmare dispenses tacos and tortas (made, unfortunately, on baguettes instead of proper Mexican teleras), and a more extensive menu is served at the adjacent café around the corner, a double-height room with recessed shelves full of books and old record albums. A cool tomatillo-avocado soup was refreshing and mildly spiced, and the char-grilled string beans called ejotes do wonders for an oft-overlooked, overboiled vegetable. Authentic as East Harlem? Maybe not, but the chicken tacos are tasty and the prices surprisingly gentle for a neighborhood straddling the Soho-Nolita border.