It’s always a pleasure, in the big city, to find good food in unexpected places. So if you tire of chasing all the hot new restaurants downtown, I suggest a restorative trip up to the otherwise innocuous, traffic-clogged corner of Lexington and 92nd, where Ron Suhanosky and his baker wife, Colleen, opened the New York branch of their Nantucket restaurant, Sfoglia, several months ago. At this unassuming little mom-and-pop, it’s not unusual to find ravioli stuffed with inventive combinations of zucchini and mint, platters of risotto studded with wild mushrooms and blueberries, and bowls of handmade pasta folded with nuggets of fresh uni. The Suhanoskys’ menu has a seasonal, farmhouse quality to it, so pay attention to the simple things, like Colleen’s salty, crunchy fresh-baked bread (a combination of focaccia and ciabatta), and the fat dessert tart, which was filled with plums on the evening I sampled it and big enough for three.
The Little Owl is another small, neighborly place (this one on Bedford Street, in the West Village), where the high quality of the cooking is out of all proportion with the room’s unassuming style and pint-box size. Chef Joey Campanaro produces the kind of rich, crowd-pleasing bistro specialties that his mentor, Jimmy Bradley (the Red Cat, the Harrison) is famous for, like fat scallops sunk in bowls of cheese-rich risotto, grilled New York strip steak muffled in piles of sauteed radicchio and pancetta, and sizzling, fennel-scented pork chops, served with heaps of Parmesan-soaked butter beans. Alex Urena’s great teacher was David Bouley, and at Urena, on a scruffy stretch of 28th Street, in the Flatiron district, the prize student faithfully reproduces a series of reasonably priced, Bouley-style dishes, like gently cooked lobster with vanilla puree, soft blocks of pork belly dabbed with plum sauce, and chicken poached to a delicate tenderness and wreathed, in the precious Bouley manner, with a foie gras foam.
My preferred time to dine on the excellent beef tenderloin at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s spare neighborhood canteen, Perry St., is lunchtime, when all the spindly models have cleared out and the mood in the severe Richard Meier space turns soft, even vaguely contemplative. In our own neighborhood, Bellavitae is my wife’s choice for a quick infusion of artisanal Italian treats like Sardinian figs wrapped in pancetta, or bulbs of radicchio, picked by hand in the hills of Treviso. For something a little more substantial, we repair to the long, beer-hall-style space at Blaue Gans, in Tribeca, where Wallse chef Kurt Gutenbrunner turns out a variety of rib-sticking specialties from his Austrian youth, like plump “Spinat Knodel” (spinach dumplings) swimming in butter, disks of “Blutwurstgrostl” (blood sausage) delicately flavored with nutmeg, and for dessert, a log or two of cherry strudel flavored with mint, and spoonfuls of the imposing Salzburger nockerl, made with real huckleberries and clouds of meringue.