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Where to Eat 2008


Mixology Madness

Death & Co.   

That noted mixologist Jim Meehan, who plumbed the glories of the Victorian-era gin cocktail at Pegu Club, in Soho, has moved on to an even more obscure, reservations-only speakeasy joint in the East Village called PDT. The name stands for “Please Don’t Tell,” and to obtain a seat among the rows of quietly murmuring hipsters at the Stygian, candlelit bar, you must call for a same-day reservation after 3 p.m. I recommend the mind-bending, off-the-menu absinthe cocktail called the “Corpse Reviver No. 2” (absinthe, Lillet, Cointreau, lemon), and, to go with it, a generous helping of fluffy gold tater tots from Crif Dogs next door. If I can still walk after that, I’ll stagger a couple of blocks south, to the raffish new cocktail hangout Death & Co., to dine on sophisticated bar snacks like lamb sliders, and quesadillas stuffed with braised duck, before delving into the legendary house punches, which have properly lethal names like “Spread Eagle” and “Jersey Lightning” and are mixed the old-fashioned way, by burly, bearded mixologists, in big communal bowls.

“Crumble” is the name of my wife’s favorite libation at Tailor, on the lower fringes of Soho, and the best place to sip this uncannily smooth potion made with buttered rum and cloves is not in the dim, sparsely populated dining room upstairs but down at the bar, with a perfectly matched portion of sweet, fatty pork belly garnished with miso-flavored butterscotch. The caboose-size bar is also the favorite gathering spot at Danny Abrams’s posh new bistro venture on Macdougal Street called Smith’s. The stylish little space features nine bar seats, plush green-velvet walls, and a worn Afghan rug on the floor. On weekends the crowded little room is packed with elegant booze hounds, so go on a weeknight, when things are quieter. Call for your classic martini straight up, then commence working your way through the accomplished roster of bar snacks like lobster deviled eggs, pickled shiitake mushrooms, and bowls of foam-covered country eggs served, in accordance with current fashion, over a mess of Anson Mills grits.

Junior Merino is the resident cocktail genius at Rayuela, down on Allen Street, and his most inspired creation is called “Coming Up Roses” (Bacardi, Champagne, lime, rose water, plus rose petals), which I like to sip in the lounge under the shade of the restaurant’s real live olive tree. In a town overrun with wine bars of every imaginable stripe, the fashionable new choice is Solex, on lower First Avenue, where the menu includes a blizzard of French-style puff pastries, and the ceiling of the beautifully appointed room looks like the interior of a long, glowing seashell. For the ultimate in a rowdy, stick-to-your-ribs feast, however, I like to join the mob of Australian expats and fashionista assistants at the boisterous double-sided bar at Kingswood. This perpetually hopping establishment in the Village feels, at first, like any other downtown gin joint. But the riotous atmosphere is offset by the surprisingly accomplished menu, which includes improbably delicious bowls of Goan fish curry, giant lamb chops crusted with herbs, and the imposing “Ruby’s Bronte Burger,” which is dressed with a carefully arranged fan of avocado and served with a twirl of frites scented with truffle oil.

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