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Where to Eat 2007

Gourmet Bar Food


I always get the feeling these kinds of places are built for elves,” my rotund, un-elflike companion declared, as we bellied, ever so delicately, up to the tiny dining counter at Degustation, the latest addition to Jack and Grace Lamb’s mini dining empire (Jewel Bako, Jack’s Luxury Oyster Bar), on East 5th Street. I told my friend to get used to it. These days, miniature, bar-centric restaurants are taking the city by storm. After we’d ingested our single, tiny, delicious sweetbread (dipped in tangy yogurt sauce) and mini roast-beef sandwich (dabbed with mayonnaise on a round of buttered toast), we were still feeling a little peckish, so we continued on to Tia Pol (for the croquettes), Casa Mono (for a platter or two of grilled lamb chops), and Bar Carrera (the exceptional chorizo sandwich), before concluding our late-night tapas binge at Boqueria, which opened a couple of months ago in the Flatiron district. The co-owner of this terminally popular new establishment happens to be French and the chef owner is Irish-American, but the paella is served in big cast-iron salvers, the way they present it in Valencia, and it’s also made with properly Spanish Calasparra rice. The tapas-accented menu is good all the time, but go in the middle of the week for a taste of the suckling-pig special, which the chef roasts to a proper Iberian crispiness and serves with roasted apples and cardoons. Pork sausages are my favorite dish at the swanky new Soho restaurant and wine operation Centovini, where you can bolt down your glass of, say, Friulian Ribolla, then scamper next door to the establishment’s wine store to buy a bottle or two of the stuff to imbibe at home. You can’t do that (yet) with the Speckled Hen ale at The Spotted Pig, although there’s still no better bar in town for a platter of Beau Soleil oysters, followed by several large bites of April Bloomfield’s magisterial new interpretation of the Cubano sandwich (melted Gruyere, pulled Berkshire pork, and scattering of pickled jalapenos, pressed between slices of toasty ciabatta), which is served—for the time being, sadly—at lunchtime only.

Similar fresser specialties are available on the bar menu at the new Le Cirque, where it’s always enjoyable to hunker down on wintry afternoons and dine on classic Sirio Maccioni favorites, like crisp rolled pig’s trotter and decorous pots of tripe a la armagnac, while watching the aged plutocrats totter around the great canopied room. For a slightly more updated, late-evening bar feast, I like to waddle downtown to Parea, in the Flatiron district, for a taste of Michael Symon’s sweet, charcoal-finished lamb ribs and several helpings of the fluffy zucchini dumplings, called “keftedes,” which are shaped like little zeppelins and designed to be dipped into bowls of soothing, lightly whipped Feta cheese with lemon zest. If that doesn’t fill you up, then join the rest of the discerning Beatnik fatsos at David Chang’s oddly conceived Momofuku Noodle Bar offshoot, Momofuku Ssam. The polished, strangely antiseptic room is empty most of the time but comes alive after 9:30 p.m., when Chang’s after-hours menu includes a wealth of pork-centric delicacies, like steamed buns with hoisin and thick slabs of pork belly, little baguettes filled with headcheese, fresh coriander, and slabs of pâté, and, if you call in advance, the impressively massive, $180 “Bo Ssäm,” comprising an entire Berkshire pork butt, gently braised for seven hours in flagons of sugar, soy, and rice wine.