When Laurent Tourondel opened BLT Steak — the flagship of his burgeoning BLT empire — food snobs took one look at the glorified meat-and-potatoes menu and winced. What's a fine French chef doing serving stacks of onion rings and hunks of unadulterated USDA Prime? Giving the people what they want, bien sur. And Tourondel, who made his name at the French seafood specialist Cello, has built a booming industry doing just that, with variations on a crowd-pleasing theme at BLT Fish, BLT Prime, and as of yesterday's surreptitious opening, BLT Burger.
Slavering outer-borough Chowhounders have recently been storming the unmarked gates of Carroll Gardens's newest brick-oven pizzeria, a rustic establishment being compared on that contentious, cultlike Website to such sacred pizza cows as Di Fara's. It's not only the posters who've evoked that mythic name — chef-owner Mark Iacono has as well. "My favorite pizza is Di Fara," says Iacono, who looks a little like a Pope of Greenwich Village–era Eric Roberts. "The recipe is pretty much the same. Difference is, mine is made in a brick oven." His pie is also imbued with a feisty smokiness, courtesy of a wood fire, and has a flavorful crust that's comparatively soft and puffy, closer to classic coal-oven practitioners like Totonno's and Grimaldi's than Di Fara's. "I call it old-school-Brooklyn style," he says. "That's what I'm going for."
The recent closing of Bivio, the laid-back West Village Italian spot, seemed that much more unjust with all the gaudy new clubs opening in the area. But now comes word that Bivio and Bottino impresario Danny Emerman and Glass owner Anthony Briatico are opening a new wine bar — confusingly, or perhaps conveniently, named Bovino. Construction starts in two weeks at 306 West 13th Street, a block and a half from the old Bivio space. This will be a simple wine bar, with Bottino chef Alessandro Prosperi overseeing a menu of cold antipasti and salumi as well as a selection of Italian, Spanish, and Argentine wines. They expect to open at the end of this year or the beginning of next.
It's no great hardship living in Tribeca and points south, but the quality of life just inched up even further thanks to a new high-end Japanese delivery service, Rosanjin, which debuted this month (call 212-346-7999). In a novel marketing twist, the service presages a restaurant set to open at 141 Duane Street in a few weeks, and the food is in fact excellent. The Kyoto-style dishes are very good — notably a sushi roll wrapped in a diaphanous egg crêpe, and a standout piece of braised freshwater eel. And the vessels, made from folded oribe paper and Japanese cedar, are a cut above. The sales patter on the Website, though, is a little over the top:
"Rosanjin is a Japanese food service that encompasses all that is beautiful and pristine about Japanese cuisine … Our Authentic menu caters to those who desire a traditional Japanese dining experience that is served in ceremonial splendor … Rosanjin delivers each meal wrapped like a gift to reflect the beauty of the food. It is a wonder to taste and see."
Okay, Rosanjin, we get it! We're peeling off 100 dollar bills now. But even Tribeca millionaires don't want to be leaned on that hard.
Rosanjin, 151 Duane St., nr. W. Broadway, 212-346-7999.
If you still don't know what an izakaya is (or haven't lately been to St. Marks Place, where most of them are clustered), enlighten yourself at Izakaya Ten, the latest iteration of the space that was the French-Korean D'or Ahn, and then, for a nanosecond, the sushi restaurant Anzu. Owner Lannie Ahn has hired a veteran of Morimoto and Nobu to supplement the raw fish with a selection of small plates of the home-style Japanese fare one finds in a sake bar or pub — not your basic mozzarella sticks or buffalo wings but more exotic tidbits like natto omelettes, ginger pork belly, pan-seared rice balls, and the ever-popular chicken-meatball skewer.
With the closings of Caffe Bondi and Bussola (and with the exception of Don Pintabona's Dani and some venerable outer-borough focaccerias), Sicilian food continues to be woefully underrepresented even in this Italian-food-crazed city. That's one reason we were happy to hear about Cacio e Vino, a new "wine bar, pizza, and Sicilian spuntino" opening this week in the former East Village location of A Salt & Battery. The other, of course, is the installation of a wood-burning pizza oven, to be manned by ex-Mezzogiorno pizza chef Alessandro Ancona, who's named one of the menu's 27 pies after his Sicilian hometown. The Castellammare del Golfo features anchovies, shrimp, ricotta, capers, oregano, and the Sicilian herb mixture called ammogghiu — not a topping you're likely to find at your neighborhood slice joint. That oven will also be put to use for flatbreads called schiacciate, and stuffed calzones called farciti. Beyond the wide world of baked dough, Cacio e Vino honors its Sicilian roots with regional specialties like caponatina, stuffed sardines, and cassata, the love-or-hate-it fruitcake of Italy.
Cacio e Vino, 80 Second Ave., nr. 4th St.; 212-228-3269.
— Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld
It's always a sad day for Francophiles and nostalgists when yet another beloved old-school French restaurant shutters its doors, but in the case of Provence — which served its last bowl of bouillabaisse on Saturday — it could be a lot worse.
Vicki Freeman and Marc Meyer, the owners of Cookshop and Five Points, have taken over the space with plans to completely gut the kitchen, redo the dining room, put in a raw bar, and reopen by January as — guess what? — a nice French restaurant called Provence.
New Orleans, New York: They both start with the word "new." But recently, there seems to an even greater affinity between the cities. Earlier this week, we mentioned the (now booked) Southern Foodways Alliance party happening Thursday night at 5 Ninth, where N.O. chefs will team up with our own Zak Pelaccio for a free-that's-right-free culinary blowout. Last night, meanwhile, Brooklyn welcomed a new Louisiana-themed restaurant, NoNO Kitchen, to Park Slope. Greg Tatis, a veteran of Paul Prudhomme's kitchen, opened the place just blocks down from the N.O.-themed Two Boots on Seventh Avenue — close enough for the untethered tots that crowd the latter to wander on down and check out former before their parents even look up from their bloody Marys. But we digress. NoNo will serve a limited menu until Monday, when they roll out the gumbo, jambalaya, étouffée, and other bayou standards.
NoNO Kitchen, 293 Seventh Ave., nr. 7th St.; 718-369-8348
When we heard that Periyali, the much-admired Flatiron Greek restaurant, was closing for a six-week renovation, we wondered if the food would be changing too. After all, the restaurant may have been the final word in high Greek cooking back in the Clinton era, but a wave of superb Greek restaurants including Thalassa, Estiatorio Milos, Molyvos, Onera, and Dona have opened in the intervening years. Would Periyali risk tarnishing their superb menu to adjust? The place reopened this week with new mirrors, a marble bar, and a big mural of Greece, all apparently in hopes of acquiring a younger, hipper crowd. But happily, Periyali is still serving the same very fine, if familiar, moussaka, grilled salmon, grilled lamb chops, and other classics foods which, as Rob and Robin point out, "can still surprise and beguile with their cultivated polish," even if the restaurant lacks the up-to-the-minute sex appeal of some of the newer places. We honor Jim Botsacos's head-on prawns with hot pepper at Molyvos and Michael Psilakis's sheep's-milk dumplings with spicy lamb sausage and dandelion greens at Onera. But for a simple rabbit stew, we'll first visit Periyali — no matter what the bar is made of.
It's been rough for Queens barbecue enthusiasts. Since "English Bob" Pearson's last outpost went under last year, there haven't been any smoked meats worth eating there. But that changed this week, thanks to "Big Lou" Elrose, a six-foot-four former police officer who made his bones assisting Daisy May's chef Adam Perry Lang in barbecue competition. Elrose has just launched Big Lou's Breakfast and BBQ, a lunch wagon in Ozone Park open weekdays from 6 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. On the circuit, Big Lou is known for prepping egg-and-bacon breakfasts for everyone. But his barbecue is the real draw here: pulled pork, chopped brisket, and pulled chicken, all slow-smoked over mild fruitwoods like apple and cherry, and served, with his original sauce, on soft but substantial Portuguese rolls from nearby Rosa Bakery. Add in a dollop of his homemade coleslaw and you have a sandwich worth driving to Ozone Park for.
Big Lou's Breakfast and BBQ, Rockaway Blvd. at 105th St.
Not that we remember ever eating there who does? but New York has never seemed the same without the Russian Tea Room, which closed in 2002. (A lone dividend: Former RTR chef Muhammed Rahman went on to launch his famous midtown lunch cart, Kwik Meal.) Now, however, Restaurant Girl reports that the Tea Room will reopen in late October or early November. They're taking on former Biltmore Room chef Gary Robins but losing the chandeliers. The new Russian Tea Room will be a lot like the old one, in spirit anyway, with 40 vodkas (some making their New York debut) and four sommeliers. Now if only they could get Rahman back!
Hell's Kitchen's Film Center Cafe, heretofore a coffee-and-wraps joint plastered with movie posters, has just gotten one of the fall's most dramatic, least expected renovations, at a cost of $2 million. (Tonight is the grand reopening.) The cheesy film memorabilia is all gone; expensive-looking Art Deco touches now define the room. The café's owners, a deep-pocketed group led by Robert and Enrico Malta, have also upgraded the cuisine. New chef Joseph Cacace, formerly of JUdson Grill and Gramercy Tavern, has created a menu of elevated comfort food (pork chops marinated in mustard and sage, wild-mushroom risotto with white-truffle oil), and there will be twenty wines available by the glass. Not that the Film Center has completely abandoned its roots: They've also hired a D.J., a restaurant feature somewhere on par with old movie posters.
Brooklyn's Ditmas Park, known primarily for its immense Victorian houses, may never be as hip as Red Hook. But, in a sea change reminiscent of Red Hook's Van Brunt Street, a cluster of new food ventures are springing up there along Courtelyou Road. The strip began its upswing last year with Picket Fence, whose kitchen we've praised as "disarmingly daring." This past summer, the Farm on Adderley, an equally ambitious restaurant with a first-class bar, opened. (They just began serving inventive brunch items on Sundays.)
Now comes word that on November 1, TB Ackerson Fine Wine Merchant will open a store specializing in organic and biodynamic wines at 1205 Cortelyou Road and that Park Slope candy shop–ice-cream parlor Rapper's Delight will move to Ditmas Park. There's no equivalent of Sunny's or Fairway in the neighborhood, but who's to say what the next year might bring?
Six or so months ago, we heard about a Queens restaurant calling itself the "Cheesesteak Factory" that naturally had been sued by the Cheesecake Factory. We didn't give it another thought until one day recently, when we were walking dejectedly to Katz's for a stukel pick-me-up and noticed another place called the Cheesesteak Factory, open and doing business on the same block for all the honest world to see. Soon enough, our day brightened.
Given the almost cultlike following of Woodside Thai shrine Zabb, the opening of its Manhattan branch hasn't inspired the kind of celebration one might expect. The Roosevelt Avenue location became a beacon thanks to the food's intense flavors and incendiary spicing. The food is almost as good, if not quite so radioactive, at the East Village outpost. So why aren't more people eating there?
Fact: Chinatown Brasserie, an out-and-out Chinese restaurant without, happily, even a hint of French fusion, opened in August and has done a fairly brisk business ever since.
Fact: Mainland, one of Chinatown Brasserie's primary rivals in the high-end-Chinese sweepstakes, announced last week that they're morphing into ...Ollie's Brasserie.
In theory, a chophouse is a pretty simple place. You go there to eat chops, pork, and otherwise. But such isn't the case at 7 Square, the "American chophouse" from Venezuelan-born, Tokyo-based restaurateur Alvaro Perez. The chef, Lespinasse alum Shane McBride, is known for his ornate, rarefied cookery and standards that are "a little more modern."
This week in the magazine, Rob and Robin track two openings: the wildly successful Hollywood frozen-yogurt chain Pinkberry, and Goblin Market, a new Soho eatery named after lascivious young men in a poem by Christina Rossetti. Pinkberry, they report, is "the talk of the L.A. food blogs." We tracked down a few of those blogs.