403 W. 13th St.
Considering its size (as big as a bus depot), location (in the middle of meatpacking-district hell), décor (like the palace of a Balinese drug lord), and stated theme (the street foods of Southeast Asia), it’s a minor miracle this restaurant works so well. I could eat Mr. Vongerichten’s pork vindaloo for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Okay, maybe just for lunch and dinner.
24 Fifth Ave.
The 65,000-bottle wine collection has been rightly hailed, but you could be a 12-stepper and still be thrilled by Cru. Not only has the management finally conquered the design problems of this ungainly split-level space that foiled both Washington Park and Rose Café (they’ve fashioned separate-but-equal spaces of dark Brazilian wood and muted color), but chef Shea Gallante has created a menu that features some of the brightest and least precious examples of New American cuisine. Skate wing with a dusting of pine nuts and saffron, venison in prune glaze, and a dandy jellied lemon dessert called Day at the Beach hint at the range of Gallante and crew’s talents. As for those 65,000 wines? No wonder Cru’s all a blissful daze.
8 E. 18th St.
The sophisticated touches—clever cocktails, canny wine matches, luxurious saffron silk hangings, after-dinner chocolates—are unexpected dividends. What really counts are the simple, clarion flavors of the brilliant tasting menu. Silken scallops alongside torrid Manchurian cauliflower. Prawns quickly snatched from the tandoori beside the crunch of okra in an addictive salad. Tandoori lamb chops with a yogurt tang. Elegant chutneys: spicy bitter-orange, sweet-and-sour pear, and chili-tomato. And finally, sweet falooda noodles with tapioca lushness.
295 Flatbush Ave., Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
With its reliance on local and seasonal ingredients and its devotion to sustainable agriculture, Franny’s seems like an East Coast Chez Panisse masquerading as a pizza parlor. But even minus the philosophy, the pizza rocks—unsliced, feather-light, expertly charred, and topped with meats the chef cures in the basement. And it’s a rare pizzeria that’s also capable of stunning salads like shaved Brussels sprouts with pecorino and walnuts, and a cocktail menu distinguished by fresh juices and a swell Negroni.
Frankies 457 Spuntino
457 Court St., Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
All the little old ltalian ladies in the neighborhood must be seething with jealousy and plotting their revenge. Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli make the best meatballs, braciole, and eggplant marinara around. Their innovative sandwiches, sometimes served on Sullivan Street Bakery pizza (inverted, so the toppings morph into exquisite condiments), are superb, and there are enough beans, grains, and vegetables on the small-plates menu to satisfy the pickiest vegetarian. This, plus a lovely backyard garden, a decent wine list, and a friendly vibe, create a neighborhood restaurant worth leaving your neighborhood for.