September 6, 2004
Nooch might be based in Singapore, where it has four branches, but this noodle bar’s menu is firmly rooted in Japan and Thailand, covering wide swaths of bicultural ground from soba and ramen to the inevitable pad Thai. It’s also the first New York restaurant designed by Karim Rashid, the man who made wastebaskets sexy for Umbra. He goes for the same effect here with a silk-screened glass façade, curvaceous furniture, and a bar that acts as the room’s focal point, dispensing thematic cocktails like the tom yumtini.
143 Eighth Avenue, at 17th Street
Object Of Desire
Alexandra Raij, the chef at the lovely new tapas bar Tía Pol, has a solution for the problem child with a sophisticated palate. She calls her chocolate-and-sausage concoction niño rebelde, meaning “rebellious child,” she explains, “because it’s for the kid who refuses to eat.” The melted bitter dark chocolate spread over toasted rounds of bread and topped with thin slices of hot Spanish chorizo and wispy threads of dried Korean peppers will win over picky old gastrónomos too.
205 Tenth Avenue, near 22nd Street
The East Side Company Bar will seem immediately familiar to anyone who’s penetrated the guarded fortress that is Milk & Honey, New York’s lowest-profile, most rigorously administered bar. It’s got the snug tunnel-like proportions, the pressed-tin ceiling, the intimate leather booths—and, we suspect, the same rare devotion to the craft of the cocktail. That’s because Milk & Honey’s Sasha Petraske is one of the owners, partnering here with party promoter Carlos Santamaria. Their more accessible spinoff offers a winnowed-down selection of classic cocktails at equally reduced tabs, but it has a few things its predecessor lacks, like a raw bar, a sign outside, and a published phone number.
49 Essex Street
Who knew the exotic chocolatier Vosges—home of the Aboriginal wattleseed truffle, not to mention the Taleggio-cheese-filled oddity named after Vincent Gallo—had a perfectly unthreatening “comfort food series”? The latest addition is a dark-chocolate-sheathed caramel marshmallow sprinkled with bits of walnut-pecan toffee, kind of a cross between a chocolate turtle and a Mallomar. ($25 for a box of nine).
132 Spring Street
Puff ’n’ Stuff
It’s a cream-puff war: Following in the big, hirsute footsteps of Beard Papa (which is poised to open a second branch near Astor Place) comes the Turtle Bay upstart Choux Factory, another Japanese-run shop specializing in irresistibly good, piped-to-order cream puffs. Choux’s softer, more traditional shell lacks Beard Papa’s signature pie-crust layer, and makes a somewhat fragile, to-be-eaten-on-the-spot receptacle for handmade vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry custard. Because man—as much as he might like to—cannot live by custard-filled pastry alone, the shop hedges its bets with Kona coffees and, coming soon, H&H bagels.
865 First Avenue, near 48th Street
The Underground Gourmet
Park Slope’s restaurant row gets a friendly new spot with eclectic fare and all-day appeal.
Ron Katz has lived in Park Slope for twenty years—long enough to reap the rewards of Fifth Avenue’s burgeoning restaurant landscape. But amid the bistros and trattorias, panini parlors and boutique beer emporiums, Katz still found something lacking: a neighborhood place serving high-quality, vegetarian-friendly, largely organic fare, for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. So after years of building up the kosher takeout business at Fischer Bros. & Leslie on the Upper West Side, Katz opened Surreal Café a half-block from his apartment. It’s spare and streamlined, and so, at first glance, is the (nonkosher) upscale-diner menu. But the eggs at breakfast are organic, the flavorful beef in the hefty burger is hormone- and antibiotic-free, and the deeply burnished fries are first-rate. Interspersed among staples like mac-and-cheese and steak-frites are Middle Eastern touches like a delicious meze plate, shakshoka (poached eggs with tomato sauce), and the seldom-seen sabich sandwich—an intricate construction of sliced potatoes, fried eggplant, boiled egg, preserved lemon, and hummus on a dense house-baked pita—courtesy of Israeli chef Nir Feller, who last cooked at Williamsburg’s illustrious Diner. Coffee comes from Gorilla up the street, and a local gallery has lent a few works of art—surreal, of course.
79 Fifth Avenue, at Prospect Place, Park Slope, Brooklyn
At The Greenmarket
You Say Tomato
They don’t call it the “love apple” for nothing: Union Square on a late-summer Saturday is an heirloompalooza of worshipful chefs and civilians, all pouncing on mounds of the lovably lumpy Quasimodos of the nightshade family. The Tasting Room’s Colin Alevras likes the Mexican currant variety (pictured, top right) and the smoky Cherokee Purples he gets from tomato king Tim Stark’s Eckerton Hill Farm stand. Heirloom mania has so gripped the collective culinary consciousness, he says, “it would be almost daring now to serve just a beefsteak”—even the good ones that come along in August. Although heirlooms get all the glory (Bayard’s sponsoring a festival on September 1), not all hybrids are inherently evil: Witness the intensely sweet Sun Gold cherries (bottom left), beloved by enlightened members of the tomato cognoscenti, Mario Batali included. But if this summer has an “It” tomato, it’s got to be the tart Green Zebra heirloom, currently starring in Matthew Kenney’s raw lasagne at Pure Food and Wine.
Lead me to some homey Pugliese cooking.
Mamma Dora Marzovilla is back in the kitchen every morning at I Trulli, leading a team that does nothing all day but roll and shape her Apulian pasta. “We wanted to get back more to our own food when the chef left last winter,” owner Nicola Marzovilla explains. Ideally, I’d sample the ceci e tria—broad pasta ribbons tossed with fried pasta, tomato, and chickpeas—in a six-course, $48 Pugliese tasting starring small rabbit roasted in a clay pot. Alas, I’m with a duo who won’t eat rabbit. We’re crowded into the popular garden, full of fans of this rustic cucina, sharing Dora’s lush cavatelli dumplings with broccoli rabe and roasted almonds, and her hand-made maccheroncini with Sunday meatballs à la carte. Easily enough for two is the grilled-seafood platter—a gathering of baby octopus, cuttlefish, and calamari to drizzle with the house’s splendidly perfumed olive oil. Linger for coffee-spiked panna cotta in caramel sauce and the Pugliese dolcini. Then pick up a bottle of the 2003 vintage olio at the door.
122 East 27th Street