June 14, 2004
The new Chelsea outpost of Bar Veloce has something its long, skinny East Village and Soho siblings lack: space. “Everyone wants me to put in tables,” says panini-bar pioneer Frederick Twomey, who’s opted instead for the uncluttered look of stools and ledges along the wall. The signature Veloce style has remained intact, from the backlit wine-bottle display to the staff’s lab-coat uniforms, as has the excellent Italian-sandwich menu. Should one inexplicably tire of drinking Italian wine, Twomey offers grappas, amaros, and even sake—a perfect match, he says, for the anchovy-and-mozzarella house bruschetta.
176 Seventh Avenue, near 20th Street
Coal-burning ovens are hot commodities for pizza makers. Thanks to city codes, the only way to get one is to inherit it—which is what Charles LoPresto has done at Luzzo’s, his new East Village restaurant. At one time, the spare, bare-bones space housed a bakery; later on, it became the short-lived pizzeria Zito’s East. LoPresto installed new wood booths and an extensive Sicilian-inspired menu, but one look at the pair of ancient ovens in back, with decades’ worth of soot trailing up the white brick wall, is incentive enough to order a pie. Exceedingly thin and crisp, minimally slicked with a sweet and tangy tomato sauce, the pizzas don’t disappoint—and neither do the friendly service and the calm, anti-sceney ambience. Cash only and BYOB, for now.
211–13 First Avenue
There is a holy grail for frozen custard, as it turns out, and it’s nowhere near Coney Island. That’s one of the discoveries Richard Coraine made as he traveled the country, familiarizing himself with the custard landscape, lick by creamy lick, in preparation for the opening of Shake Shack, the Madison Square Park kiosk and newest addition to Danny Meyer’s restaurant empire. Coraine, a partner in the Union Square Hospitality Group, found custard enlightenment at Ted Drewes, the St. Louis landmark and “the benchmark that inspires all of us.” Back in New York, he worked with Eleven Madison Park’s Nicole Kaplan on a recipe, which makes its unofficial debut this weekend at the second annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party in the park. By the time it’s up and running on July 1, the shack will serve burgers, crinkle-cut fries, and the Chicago-style hot dogs that drew immense lines to the gourmet cart Meyer operated the past three summers. Custard (vanilla and chocolate only, in cups and wafer cones) is Shake Shack’s unmitigated star, and sets a predictably nostalgic tone. “Danny and I are fanatics about old-time ice-cream stands—waiting on line, hanging out in the parking lot at all hours,” says Coraine, recalling his north-of-Boston youth. “We’ve realized our boyhood dreams.”
For information on the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party, see www.bluesmoke.com.
With the introduction of her dessert tapas menu, Bolo pastry chef Vicki Wells has taken the small-plates craze to its logical confectionary conclusion. Mix-and-match exquisite mouthfuls like tiny squares of chocolate cake crowned with caramelized bananas and whipped passion-fruit curd, warm miniature crêpes stuffed with mascarpone and cherries, or dense lemon-ricotta ice cream and macerated raspberries; any three from a list of twelve go for $11. Choosing is tough, but in true tapas tradition, you can always order another round.
23 East 22nd Street
What do chefs do between gigs? If it’s summertime, they work at Luna Park, the alfresco restaurant in Union Square Park that’s cleverly developing a habit of recruiting new talent every year. Last year it was Joey Fortunato (between the Tonic and Extra Virgin); two years ago, Matthew Tivy (between Chez Louis and Metro Diet). This season it’s Pippa Calland (pictured), who left Le Madri to open Della Rovere, a Tribeca restaurant that’s been delayed so long that Calland gave up. Luna Park tends to attract a rambunctious drinking crowd, but those who come with an appetite will be pleased to discover well-prepared Mediterranean fare like watermelon-and-feta salad, fritto misto, whole roasted fish, and a gloriously garlicky bowl of spaghetti with burst cherry tomatoes and Calabrian hot peppers. Through October, weather permitting.
Union Square Park
the underground gourmet
Wheel of Good Fortune
Meze fit for a pasha.
Those sturdy Fräuleins you’ve seen juggling a half-dozen steins of beer in each hand have nothing on the busboys at Maia, the new East Village meyhane, or Turkish meze house. Like any good meyhane, Maia offers a great variety of cold meze (up to 35, enough to satisfy a hungry pasha), all arranged on a tray the size of a satellite dish that’s ceremoniously presented to the table by one of these Olympian power lifters. On Wednesday nights, when a live band (oud, kanun, riq, dumbek, clarinet) induces diners to take to the aisles and practice the type of free-form dancing you might have seen at a Phish concert, the busboy’s skill and agility become even more impressive. Once he balances the tray on a neighboring table, though, a waitress takes over, hurriedly describing each dish while you attempt to cross-reference with a rumpled menu. The more dishes you order, it seems, the more complimentary meze you get. It’s a tactic that works: For every familiar standby like cacik (cool cucumber-and-dill-laced yogurt), muhammara (excellent red-pepper-walnut-and-garlic paste), or patlican tava (melting fried eggplant with tomato and yogurt), you might discover a new favorite like topik (spicy chickpea balls stuffed with black currants and pine nuts) or a tangy Turkish goat cheese. The bar serves a slew of newfangled martinis and a few rustic Turkish wines, but for the true meyhane experience, opt for raki, the traditional—and strong—anise-flavored liqueur. Three rakis, and you might feel capable of hefting the meze platter yourself. —Rob Patronite
98 Avenue B
object of desire
Among old Yankee salts and aficionados of spoon pies—you know, crisps, crumbles, cobblers, pandowdies, and brown betties—the grunt, a.k.a. the slump, may be the least enticingly named, and also the most contested. Some say the name of the dish derives from the gurgling noise it makes as it’s steamed on the stovetop. But Alias chef Anthony Rose—a Canadian!—says that whipped cream folded into the dough is what distinguishes his atypical baked rhubarb grunt from a cobbler. Whatever you call it, it’s superb: a moist, biscuity lid atop tart pieces of stewed rhubarb with a side of crème fraîche gelato. It goes down much easier than his exhortations to the wait staff: “I try to get them to make the sound when they describe it.”
76 Clinton Street
What’s that exotic rhythm on Rockefeller Plaza?
That would be the keening ghazals of the sitar and the drum chant that herald Chinatown lion dancers leaping across the flower-decked esplanades of Rockefeller Center at Taj Hotels’ Feast of Many Moons—a giant cookout on June 14 in the garden below Prometheus. Normally this annual James Beard tribute benefiting Citymeals-on-Wheels draws America’s star chefs. But a major gift from India’s venerable Taj Hotels group—seeking to showcase a worldwide makeover and its newest luxury properties—prompted Restaurant Associates and Citymeals to dream Asian. Litchi mar-tea-nis, Peking duck, giant-clam salad, green-tea milkshakes, and Kama Sutra chocolates are on the menu as hometown wok stars like Nobu Matsuhisa, Masa Takayama, and Spice Market genies Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Gray Kunz steam, stir-fry, and tandoori-grill side-by-side with legendary chefs from Australia, Seoul, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Honolulu. Restaurant Associates’ Ed Brown (pictured, middle left) will welcome Shun Lee’s Sun-Dao Man (right), Ian Chalermkittichai (middle right) of the forthcoming Kittichai, and Floyd Cardoz (left) of Tabla.
For information: 212-687-1290.