Raw Ambition

June 21, 2004

Highline restaurant in New York.
Photo: Patrik Rytikangas

Thai in the Sky
Named for the overgrown railroad trestle it abuts, Highline is the latest in a long line of mod, stylish Thai restaurants loosely affiliated with the Spice chainlet and its Soho offshoot, Peep, which is where chef Peter Pitakwong (pictured) comes from. At Highline, which opens June 18, he expands his culinary purview with offbeat fusion fare like foie gras–fritter soup and strip steak with lemongrass-cumin mole. The menu covers more familiar Thai territory, too, from sates to mix-and-match meat curries. But don’t expect to find Peep’s notorious one-way-mirror bathrooms; the visual drama here comes from the three-story waterfall that trickles into the basement lounge.
835 Washington Street

Sarma Melngailis and Matthew Kenney at Pure Food and Wine in New York.
Photo: Carina Salvi

Raw Ambition
When Matthew Kenney opens Pure Food and Wine on June 17, he and co-chef Sarma Melngailis (pictured) won’t exactly be cooking. They will, however, be chopping, blending, juicing, sprouting, and dehydrating all manner of fruits and vegetables to create ultrafresh facsimiles of gnocchi (from red beets), green-curry noodles (from coconut), and pizza (with a spelt crust and pignoli cheese). In keeping with the environmental theme, the wines will be organic, the decorative materials (like hemp) will be sustainable, and the utensils at the takeout shop, scheduled to open later this summer, will be made from corn and wheat—handy for when you’re hungry enough to eat the dishes.
54 Irving Place, near 17th Street

Solo restaurant in New York.
Photo: Patrik Rytikangas

Singular Sensation
Restaurateur Joey Allaham isn’t lacking for confidence: He hopes to parlay his success at the Prime Grill kosher steakhouse into Solo, his new and—wouldn’t you know it—solo venture in a notoriously unlucky Sony Building space. (Remember Berkeley Bar & Grill? Or Shallots?) Here, though, the menu is kosher Mediterranean with a dash of Asian, an unusual fusion concocted by chef Hok Chin and evident in dishes like tamari-miso-glazed Chilean sea bass with truffle essence and Dover sole with litchis and champagne beurre noisette. The culinary crossover continues outside in the atrium, where the Kosher Kiosk dispenses approved Danish and cinnamon buns baked by Swedish pastry chef Morgan Larsson.
550 Madison Avenue, at 55th Street

New York Burger Co. in New York.
Photo: Patrik Rytikangas

Medium-Size Me
Neither practically virtuous like Better Burger nor unapologetically greasy-spoon like Burger Joint, New York Burger Co. claims the high middle ground in the city’s burgeoning beef-patty wars. The menu’s fancy but not too: Counter-service char-grilled beef, chicken, and veggie burgers come on brioche buns with homemade condiments, plum-tomato slices, and romaine lettuce, if you like, and the fries are cooked in soybean oil. (Still, it’s the only menu we’ve ever seen give a shout-out to Land O’ Lakes American cheese.) The mid-century décor (Arne Jacobsen–ish chairs, George Nelson fabric on the banquettes) harks back to a more innocent, pre–Super Size Me time, when burgers were on the brink of becoming our national food.
303 Park Avenue South, near 23rd Street

The Salade Nicoise at Jewel Bako Makimono in New York.
Photo: Carina Salvi

object of desire
Salad Spinner
Taking a dish that is emblematic of a certain cuisine and giving it a cross-culinary makeover, then putting quotation marks around it, often spells disaster—the pizza bagel comes to mind. But the Japanese “salade Niçoise” at Jewel Bako Makimono—the new casual spinoff of Jewel Bako—is a winning exception. Chef Ann Redding cuts bigeye tuna in sashimi slices and lays them atop a heap of wakame and hijiki seaweed interlayered with soft-cooked quail eggs and daikon. The piquant kishu plums even look a little like olives.
101 Second Avenue

Orhan Yegen of Sip Sak restaurant in New York.
Photo: Ellie Miller

the underground gourmet
Kitchen Wisdom
Turkish cooking’s whirling dervish settles down—again.
Turkish cuisine isn’t the best cuisine in the world—it’s the only cuisine. That’s the conclusion that the outspoken and peripatetic food guru Orhan Yegen has reached after twenty-odd years flitting about the restaurant business. Actually, he kind of knew that all along. What he didn’t know, at least by his own account: His gift—a mysterious sixth-sense taste memory that allows him to re-create the dishes of his Istanbul youth with such great success—is a blessing not universally shared, especially among his fellow expats. Also, New Yorkers don’t know much: They expect pita with their Turkish food (even though its appearance in a real Turkish restaurant is somehow outrageous); they’re certainly not cooks, and can’t even be trusted to reheat a dish in the microwave; and they don’t like to tip at lunch. All this hard-earned insight is put to practical use at Sip Sak, Yegen’s latest venture, a few brazen blocks south of his short-lived restaurant Efendi, renamed Taksim after he had an acrimonious falling-out with a partner. At the much larger Sip Sak, he’s reprised all of Efendi’s fabulous meze, including what might be the best hummus and tarama in town, not to mention steam-table dishes like baked lamb served over a heavenly eggplant purée. A choice of counter or waiter service, fresh-baked pita, and heat-and-eat dinners to go suggest that Yegen’s become sensitive to the absurd demands of his devoted clientele. So sensitive, in fact, that he’ll soon offer cooking classes, imparting his valuable expertise in anticipation of that inevitable day when, once again, he moves on, taste memory and tarama in tow. —Rob Patronite
928 Second Avenue, near 49th Street

Salmon at Ixta in New York.
Photo: Ellie Miller

ask gael
Are you a chef groupie?
I think of myself as a stalker, quick to follow a promising whisk on the climb. I first noticed Linda Japngie’s assertive way with citrus and chili heat when she was in the kitchen at Jimmy’s Uptown, gentrifying soul food and island classics with tricks picked up at Bouley. Now she’s toying with Mexican idioms at Ixta—a narrow room with not many tables and a cafeteria look warmed by relentless orange. Japngie’s idea of guacamole, undiluted by tomato, is uniquely buttery and addictive. Squash-blossom quesadillas with fresh pico de gallo, “blooming” diver scallops spicily glazed, and lobster-and-black-bean taquitos are just what gringos like us appreciate. Not so, crumbly corn tortillas with fast-food shrimp. A Tijuana ranch steak with poblano creamed corn pleases the hard-to-please Road Food Warrior, and my pals are locking forks to get at my double appetizer order of cleanly and crisply fried soft-shell crabs nested on fabulous lime-spiked corn salad. With entrées at $18 to $22, three courses and a drink could run $50 per person, tax and tip included.
48 East 29th Street

Raw Ambition