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Where to Eat 2008


We’re All Locavores Now…

Park Avenue Winter  

The great Greenmarket tsunami, which began on the downtown fringes of the restaurant world three decades ago, has now spread to the grand, upmarket joints in midtown, engulfing everything in its path. Park Avenue matrons don’t have to travel down to Blue Hill anymore for their fix of seasonally correct veggies. They’re gathering at Michael Stillman’s antic new restaurant, Park Avenue Winter, a place where the menu, the décor, even the name change according to the rhythm of the seasons. In summertime, the daisy-yellow walls were affixed with tortoise shells; now, they’re colored a silvery igloo white. This loopy exercise in seasonal dining sometimes tips toward the bizarre, but it’s held together, in the end, by the steady high quality of Craig Koketsu’s cooking. If it’s July, try the soft-shell-crab tempura, served with avocado and sticks of jícama; in wintertime, stick to the beef, particularly the milky grilled veal chop, which is caked in a luxurious blanket of garlic and bread crumbs and surrounded by drifts of sautéed chanterelles.

Similar earthy specialties are on display at BLT Market, in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, where that canny franchiser Laurent Tourondel is busy indoctrinating hordes of business lunchers and eager out-of-town millionaires into the cult of the artisanal, the farm-raised, and the locally grown. You can purchase pickled dilly beans and pots of locally raised honey at the front desk, and instead of carefully wrought foie gras canapés before dinner, every table receives a bowl of pickled vegetables and a baguette of fresh garlic bread in a paper bag. Tourondel began his career as a seafood maestro, so the real specialties on the menu are dishes like halibut, which is painted with layers of basil and parsley pesto, and the delicious Chatham cod, which the chef sinks, along with wheels of fresh eggplant, in a faintly spicy, curried broth. After that, wash down your meal the way the rest of the barnyard snobs do, with a weirdly bracing basil-cucumber Mojito or a Tom Collins–style drink called the Jackrabbit, which is spritzed, not unpleasantly, with carrot juice.

Marco Canora learned all about the art of high-minded Greenmarket cooking at Craft, where he ran the kitchen for one of the original high priests of the movement, Tom Colicchio. And if you wish to taste the purest kind of Slow Food cooking, done in high Italian style, you’ll find it these days at his new midtown restaurant, Insieme. From the typeface used on the studied menu to the stripped-down, workmanlike white-oak tabletops, the boxy little theater-district establishment echoes Craft in all sorts of derivative, mildly annoying ways. But you won’t find a rich, multilayered lasagne like this anywhere in the vicinity of Times Square, nor the pink, pasture-fed “baby beef tartare,” which Canora folds with lemon and porcini mushrooms. Pheasant eggs make the occasional appearance on the “contemporary” side of the restaurant’s menu, but the real delicacies here are the traditional ones, like the great fried-veal specialty fritto misto alla Lucchese, and the medley of softly boiled meats called lesso misto, which the chef leavens with horseradish cream and spoonfuls of freshly made salsa verde.

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