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Vongerichten’s Soba Plans Back On; Japanese Food Superstore Coming Too?

Though a deal is not yet signed, we can report that Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s partnership with Japanese restaurateurs the Matsushita brothers is back on. The building that used to house 66will become a long-awaited soba restaurant and maybe something even better: a three-story Japanese megamarket. The soba restaurant, Matsu Gen, is envisioned as the anchor to what one source familiar with the project described as a “Japanese Zabar’s.” (A similar Japanese megamart, the Mitsuwa Marketplace, exists in Edgewater, New Jersey, and is a mecca for Japanese cooks and aficianados from all over the greater New York area.) It’s not definite that the full three-floor bazaar will come to pass, but the restaurant, at any rate, seems to be coming into focus. Earlier: Vongerichten's Soba Plans May Be in the Soup Vongerichten May Deep-Six 66, Serve Sushi and Soba Instead

LES Crackdown; Yogurt Wars Expand UWS Front

Chelsea: Patricia Yeo is out at Sapa. [Eater] Lower East Side: Turns out La Esquina’s basement is illegal! [NYP] Midtown West: Get your Charlie Murphy fix at El Centro; it’s his favorite Mexican restaurant. [Gridskipper] Soho: Former 66 chef Josh Eden has taken over the kitchen at Goblin Market. [Strong Buzz] Upper West Side: Yogurt Wars update: Pinkberry takes over Excel Fine Art’s space on Columbus Avenue. [Eat for Victory/VV] West Village: Something's fishy about the seafood sister restaurant to the Spotted Pig: Diners at the original heard staff chatting about the location opening soon as the 10 Spot. [Down by the Hipster]

‘Top Chef’ Auditions This Sunday; Patricia Yeo Doesn’t Buy ‘No Reservations’

Do you watch Top Chef and wish it were you getting abused by Padma? Here’s your chance: Auditions are being held Sunday at Craftsteak. [Gothamist] Related: ‘Top Chef’ Non-Winner Lia on What Went Wrong ‘Top Chef’ Biases Finally Out on the Table Believe it or not, Patricia Yeo doesn’t buy the kitchen material in No Reservations, especially Catherine Zeta-Jones’s spotless whites: “She was so perfect. There was no way she could have a worked a real service.” [NYDN] Is this curtains for the Hamburglar? McDonald’s announces that they won’t market unhealthy foods to kids under 12. [NRN]

Pret a Manger Set for Huge Expansion Here; Ramsay Bans Bluefin

British sandwich chain Pret a Manger is launching an expansion of Starbucks-like proportions, announcing plans to open 33 more locations in New York — four times the current number. “If New York could support one on every corner, we’d love that,” the company’s head says. [NYS] Related: Out to Lunch [NYM] Urged by the Marine Conservation Society, Gordon Ramsay pulls endangered bluefin tuna from all his restaurants. [NRN] The Department of Health’s current closure rampage continues with Union Picnic in Williamsburg, Café Angelique, and J’adore in Manhattan. [Eater]

Yep, 66 Going Soba; Trans Fats on the Run in Long Island

66 will become Matsu Gen in “late spring” and specialize in soba noodles. [NYT] Related: Vongerichten May Deep-Six 66, Serve Sushi and Soba Instead [Grub Street] Landmarc, in the Time Warner Center, is wildly inexpensive relative to its location and the restaurants around it, and Steve Cuozzo is predicting boffo business. [NYP] Related: Will Landmarc's Downtown Cool Play Alongside Its Ritzy New Neighbors? [Grub Street] Think you'll get your lard fix in Long Island? Not so fast: Nassau County is planning a trans-fat ban. [Newsday]

Tribeca’s 66 Turning Japanese in May

Bedford-Stuyvesant: The list of what to drink at Thursday's Wine & Cocktail Tasting fund-raiser includes Cockspur Rum and Beam Wines. [Bed-Stuy Gateway] Chelsea: The Frying Pan, the vessel recovered from the bottom of the ocean and turned into a bar in the eighties, has moved over a couple of piers and requires some work. [NewYorkology] Chinatown: Highgate Holdings will transform the Baxter Street Holiday Inn into a boutique hotel with a "hip" restaurant possibly from Tao's Marc Packer or Richard Wolf of Stanton Social. [NYP] East Village: The new Cooper Square hotel may get an outlet of L.A.'s Table 8. [Down by the Hipster] Harlem: Arlene Weston’s Southern-Jamaican Maroon's is expanding uptown to West 145th Street and may be open by June. [Uptown Flavor] Tribeca: 66 will be turning Japanese in May. [Eater] Williamsburg: The Brooklyn Kitchen will host a cupcake cook-off tomorrow at 6:30 p.m.; you may get handouts if bakers decide to bring more than the required six contenders. [Gothamist]

Why Go All the Way to Times Square? Read the Spotlight Live Menu Here!

Astoria: Arcos Portuguese restaurant has opened at 33-05 Broadway; porco à alentejana reported to be tasty, if not properly diced. [Joey in Astoria] Dumbo: Down Danish vodka cocktails to celebrate spring tonight at Scandinavian design shop Tivoli Home. [Dumbo NYC] East Village: Our own Gillian Duffy joins François Payard and Donatella Arpaia at Broadway Panhandler on April 11 to talk table settings and Champagne cocktails. [Gothamist] Fort Greene: The former T.G.I. Friday's on Fulton Street waits to fulfill an aspiring restaurateur’s dreams. [Brooklyn Record] Harlem: One fancy-pants eatery signified the end of the neighborhood that used to sell cooked chickens out restaurant windows. Damn you, gentrification! [Uptown Flavor] Murray Hill: Les Halles closed by Department of Health until flood recedes, should reopen tomorrow. [Eater] Times Square: Boozed-up karaoke fiends need to eat, too. Spotlight Live: Check out the menu. [Grub Street] Tribeca: 66 will close April 15 for “renovations” — or is this finally our predicted deep-sixing of 66? [Eater]

Vongerichten May Deep-Six 66, Serve Sushi and Soba Instead

Is 66, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s underperforming Chinese-themed outpost, closing? A restaurant consultant moving in international circles (whom we communicate with via self-destructing personal digital assistants) informs us that the superchef intends on partnering with a Japanese restaurant firm and executing a sushi-and-soba concept in the space. Vongerichten, meanwhile, tells us the story is “just a rumor,” and that he’s in fact considering a sushi-soba restaurant at another location. (Of course, closing announcements generally aren’t made until the last minute — they’re bad for business, and the staff needs to be told first.) Either way, we’re now craving Japanese.

Dishwashers, Culinary Elite Being Allowed Into Peter Luger’s Kitchen

Usually, an outfit with a name like Culinary Insiders is bound to be just the opposite. And yet a group calling itself exactly that has some of the city’s most promising restaurant events scheduled, starting with a behind-the-scenes tour of Peter Luger on Sunday the 21st. Also upcoming*: a truffle party at Alain Ducasse, a trip to Stone Barns with Dan Barber, and in February, a Chinese New Year extravaganza at 66. And though membership may have its privileges, accredited Insiders get only $25 off the $150 Luger tour ticket. And, yes, that does come with a steak meal. Behind-the-Scenes at Peter Luger [Culinary Insiders] * Correction, Jan. 5: The Stone Barns and Alain Ducasse events have already taken place.

Exotic Dessert (Supposedly) Enrapturing New Yorkers

We're not usually in the habit of perusing Indian news media — other than when the latest Amitabh movie opens, of course — but a food item recently caught our eye. Most New Yorkers probably have never heard of kulfi, the ultra-dense Indian version of ice cream that's traditionally made with water buffalo milk. But don't tell that to Mumbai Newsline, who published an exuberant feature last week on how the obscure dessert is supposedly taking the city by storm. The piece references NYC's handful of outstanding Indian and pan-asian restaurnants, including Devi, Spice Market, 66, and Tabla, going into loving detail relating the restaurants' particular recipes. Although the writer admits that "the man on the street" isn't yet fixated on the treat, the piece implies that a kulfi craze may well overtake the nation: "Could we be seeing the next popsicle?" Let's hope so — for Mumbai's sake.