All Mexed Up

September 16, 2004

Mercadito  restaurant in New York.
Photo: Carina Salvi

Patricio Sandoval (brother of Richard, of Maya and Pampano fame) and Darin Rubell (nephew of Studio 54’s Steve) met at Chango, where they decided to join forces and make a name for themselves. At Mercadito, the Mexican menu emphasizes sophisticated seviches like shrimp with serrano coconut milk and grilled pineapple (pictured) and smoked mahimahi with cactus. And tacos filled with things like ancho-pasilla-rubbed pork and beer-battered tilapia come, if so desired, by the kilo.
179 Avenue B

Tempo restaurant in New York.
Photo: Ellie Miller

Park Slope’s Fifth Avenue has been transformed since the pioneering Italian restaurant Cucina opened in 1990, and now, after a few short-lived chef and menu changes, that culinary landmark has undergone its most radical shift yet. New owners have given the double-storefront space a fresh Mediterranean identity as Tempo, and a minor cosmetic makeover featuring Murano-glass sconces, pleated silk draperies, and a cork-tiled wine and food bar. Chef Michael Fiore expands on the spot’s Italian legacy with dishes like duck pastilla roll, pulled-lamb pressed panini with mint pesto, and prosciutto-crusted hake with caramelized cauliflower and raisin-caper emulsion.
256 Fifth Avenue, Park Slope, Brooklyn

Beard Papa
The Japanese cream-puff chain colonizes Greenwich Village with the worst (or best, depending on your point of view) threat to blood-sugar levels and waistlines since Krispy Kreme.
740 Broadway, near 8th St.

Ciao Bella Café
Custard Beach might have melted away in the recesses of Grand Central’s food court, but superpremium ultra-butterfat fanatics can still get their fix at its snazzy replacement. Besides three dozen gelati and sorbetti flavors, like sticky bun and cherry sake, the scoop shop ensures a messy commute with crêpes, gelato cakes, and waffle cones.
Grand Central Terminal, lower level

The brothers Lesort—Frederick and Laurent—have resurrected their early-nineties lounge, and while you don’t have to be a member to patronize the quasi-private club, it probably helps. There’s bottle service, a concierge, and a private room accessible only by fingerprint scanning—technology that we imagine could easily be foiled by Pan-Asian finger food like spicy duck dumplings and lobster spring rolls.
8 W. 58th St.

Kelley & Ping
Soho’s long-standing noodle shop spawns a Gramercy branch with an identical menu of Pan-Asian soups, salads, and summer rolls, plus entrées like marinated grilled pork with sticky rice.
340 Third Ave., at 25th St.

La Masseria
In a town where Italian restaurants blend together like so much Sunday sauce, you need a gimmick. In this case, it’s a design in keeping with the theater-district locale: a rustic Puglian farmhouse, stone walls, ceiling beams, and all. The wide-ranging menu integrates Italian imports like burrata and bottarga, finds compelling uses for the region’s abundance of beans, and gets creative with dishes like limoncello-flavored tirami su.
235 W. 48th St.

Lure Fishbar
Canteen has undergone a sea change. Where there once was comfort food and modish orange chairs, there is now a surplus of seafood and white-leather banquettes—all in keeping with the new nautical theme.
142 Mercer St.

Playing the Field
Picking up the makings of dinner at a Hamptons farmstand is one thing; sitting down to a communal al fresco feast in the middle of a cultivated field is something else entirely—at least according to Jim Denevan, the Santa Cruz–based chef who’s on a Chez Panissean mission to unite diners with the unsung heroes who grow their food and make their wine. On September 26, he brings his farm-dinner series, Outstanding in the Field, to Long Island, where guest chef Seth Caswell of Nick & Toni’s collaborates with Channing Daughters winemaker Christopher Tracy on a multicourse family-style meal at Quail Hill organic farm in Amagansett. The $130 ticket price is all-inclusive and benefits the Peconic Land Trust; call 877-886-7409.

Vitello Tonnato  at the Spotted Pig in New York.
Photo: Kenneth Chen

You Say Tonnato
Most people associate the classic dish vitello tonnato with summer—to say nothing of poached, thinly sliced veal. Some kitchens, though, are tweaking their recipes, substituting another protein for the veal, and allowing the dish an extended run this fall.The Spotted Pig
April Bloomfield lives up to her gastropub’s name by subbing roast pork rubbed with garlic and sage for veal, which gives her version (pictured) a meatier flavor. The rich sauce, made from Sicilian canned tuna, egg yolks, olive oil, anchovies, and capers, is doled out to accent rather than suffuse the pork.
314 West 11th Street

Chef Amanda Freitag must really love tuna: For her inspired herb-and-caper-berry-strewn take, she drizzles a light tuna sauce over rare grilled slabs of tuna steak and a crostino topped with cured tuna and oven-roasted sun-gold tomatoes on the side.
164 West 75th Street

In a world of vitello tonnato insurgents, Marco Canora is an adamant purist. He sticks with veal—slow-poached, sliced thin, and deliciously marinated in lasagne-like layers with the sauce for at least 24 hours before serving, the Zen idea being that the vitello shall become one with the tonnato.
403 East 12th Street

Crisp Jewish-style fried artichokes served afloat a pool of thick, creamy tuna sauce with red onion and chopped parsley make for a delicious meatless variation on the tonnato theme.
242 East 81st Street

Cipriani le Specialità
A tonnato-sandwich solution for the sophisticated desk jockey on the go: sliced turkey slathered with tuna sauce on a fluffy Cipriani roll.
110 East 42nd Street

The Cevape at 5 Ninth in New York.
Photo: Ellie Miller

Object Of Desire
A Taste of Queens in the Meatpacking District
When 5 Ninth’s Zak Pelaccio says he cooks “global,” he means it. Right alongside the Cuban sandwich and the bánh mì on his new late-night menu (available Wednesday through Saturday, 11 P.M. till 2 A.M.) is cevape, the savory Serbian beef-and-lamb sausage usually relegated to outer-borough social clubs and borek shops—which is where Pelaccio’s Serbian-American wife introduced him to it. You’d think 5 Ninth’s prime meatpacking-district location (steps away, coincidentally, from another unexpected cevape-serving spot, the trendy, Serbian-owned Meet) would give Pelaccio an edge on purveyors, but instead, the famously hunting-and-gathering chef ventures to Astoria to buy all the makings of the rustic do-it-yourself sandwich: the sausage, the airy loaves of Serbian bread, the red-pepper condiment called ajvar, and kajmak, a light, buttery spread.
5 Ninth Avenue

The crispy potatoes at Vento in New York.
Photo: Kenneth Chen

Ask Gael
Is there one new dish that haunts your dreams?
I’ve become an absolute fool for the rosemary roasted potatoes at Vento. All I can think about as the taxi streaks down Ninth Avenue toward the meat market is whether I will have my roast potatoes—“extra well done, please”—as a starter, a main course, a side, or possibly dessert or some variation thereof. These are not just your usual oven-crisped potatoes. No. They start the day as baking potatoes, skin on, and are broken into cunningly uneven chunks, drizzled with olive oil, barely touched with rosemary, baked to a savory crunch, and then slightly oversalted. You get your three most essential food groups—fat, carbs, and salt—in one bite. And when your friends beg to share, you won’t feel driven to deny them because the $5 portion is so huge. Once they’ve had a taste, they’ll want their own order anyway—or two for the table—and you can cadge an extra chunk if you’re still breathing.
675 Hudson Street

All Mexed Up