Can-Do Crew

October 11, 2004

Little Giant restaurant in New York.
Photo: Carina Salvi

Little Giant
Co-chefs Julie Taras and Tasha Garcia took a hands-on approach to their first restaurant, Little Giant. “We found the space ourselves, we did a lot of demolition ourselves, and my brother, who’s getting a master’s in architecture, milled our furniture,” says Taras. They also bike to local shops and farmers’ markets, building their seasonal American menu: a daily radish with sweet butter and salt; heirloom tomatoes with mozzarella from Joe’s Dairy; red-cooked pork shoulder with savoy-cabbage-and-Asian-pear slaw and frizzled ginger. They’ve carved out a corner of their tiny 35-seat spot to sell artisanal foods and specialty items, like condiments and vintage tableware. And they’ve whimsically categorized their desserts by utensil (or lack thereof): “with fork” (sticky quince pudding with warm toffee sauce), “with straw” (cognac-spiked vanilla float), and “with fingers” (trio of dessert panini).
85 Orchard Street

Almondine bakery in New York.
Photo: Carina Salvi

When Jacques Torres learned that his landlord intended to lease the space across the cobblestone street from his bustling Dumbo shop to a rival baker, the crafty chocolatier hatched a plan of his own. “I realized that if that happened,” says Torres, “I’d have a competitor who could eventually sell chocolate.” Instead, Torres recruited partner Hervé Poussot, formerly a pastry chef at Le Bernardin and Windows on the World, and persuaded the developer to lease the storefront to them. Almondine opens this week, under Poussot’s conspiratorial supervision, and will soon begin selling organic bread (baked thrice daily), muffins, and brioche, as well as pastries that span the Franco-American spectrum, from macarons to brownies. Machiavellian maneuvering, perhaps, but who’d complain, considering the just desserts?
65 Water Street, Dumbo, Brooklyn

Alfanoose restaurant in New York.
Photo: Kenneth Chen

Although his three-seat sliver of a Middle Eastern takeout joint, Alfanoose, suffered after 9/11, Mouhamad Shami stuck it out in the financial district until his landlord raised the rent and he was forced to close in March. Bad news for devotees of superb vegetarian kibbeh, juicy chicken shawarma, and the meticulously assembled falafel that won Shami an intensely loyal following. So loyal, in fact, that news of his plight prompted concerned customers to pitch in, directing Shami to the Downtown Alliance and ultimately helping him find a much bigger space just two blocks away. “Someone offered to finance a move uptown,” he says. “But the people downtown, they were so wonderful and so supportive after September 11, I felt it’s not fair to leave them.”
8 Maiden Lane

Hedeh restaurant in New York.
Photo: Kenneth Chen

Right in BondSt’s backyard lies Hedeh, an upscale sushi bar and restaurant named for chef Hideyuki Nakajima, a veteran of Aspen’s Matsuhisa. Under his direction, a lively team of snappy white-capped cooks turns out sushi, sashimi, and New Wave dishes like smoked mozzarella with Brussels sprouts and oba miso. The Andy Warhol soup-can print at the entrance is more than just décor: The loft upstairs once belonged to the artist and was the infamous scene of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s fatal overdose. More recently, before there was raw fish, there was raw meat—the premises used to house a refrigeration plant for local Chinese restaurants.
57 Great Jones Street

The new owners of Café Lebowitz—refugees from industry(food) and Bungalow 8—have retired the Vienna-via-McNally European-bistro concept, trading it in for crab cakes with mango-tomato salsa, lavender-mustard-glazed pork loin, and risotto with spiced shrimp and butternut squash. There’s brunch daily and a cocktail list that aspires to greatness.
14 Spring St.

Into the space recently vacated by Douglas Rodriguez’s Ola comes a new Manhattan outpost for Long Island chef Tom Schaudel, known for seafood-centric spots like CoolFish and Passion Fish. C is a pun on “sea,” which should give you a clue about the menu. So should dishes like sautéed Gardiner’s Bay flounder with panzanella and tomato vinaigrette.
304 E. 48th St.

Nolita House
One flight up from the Houston Street fray, the space previously known as Risa has developed a new American identity but kept the wood-burning pizza oven (and a couple of signature pies). Now there’s an intriguing mix of pub grub (chicken wings, barbecued ribs) and cheese plates organized by level of dairy connoisseurship (beginner, intermediate, and adventurous).
47 E. Houston St.

Sachi’s On Clinton
Run by a Japanese restaurateur and her two daughters, Sachi’s specializes in kushiage—panko-crusted, deep-fried meat, fish, or vegetables on a stick. But rather than put all her eggs on one bamboo skewer, the owner also offers sushi, noodles, and a selection of hard-to-find sakes.
25 Clinton St.

Silverleaf Tavern
Chef Kevin Reilly plays with old-style New York archetypes like shellfish pan roast and a short-rib knish, but keeps things appropriately modern and multicultural with dishes like lemon tagliatelle with spicy peeky toe crab, duck cracklings, and mustard greens. The omnipresent Dale DeGroff consulted on cocktails, and wines come by the three-ounce sip or the “bottomless” pour.
43 E. 38th St.

Hope & Union in New York.
Photo: Carina Salvi

Dinner Is Served
Sigrid Benedetti and her husband, John Baron, met cute, in the kitchen of Babbo. After that, their careers took them in different directions—his to various Italian kitchens in Manhattan, hers to Williamsburg, where she opened a café called Hope & Union. Inspired to team up again, they’ve expanded the café into a full-fledged (if minuscule) restaurant, with a new rear dining room, a bar, and a garden—plus a menu of small plates influenced by Baron’s stint at Otto. The small, snacky menu’s cured meats and cheeses all get their own distinctive condiments; there are also salads, like Israeli couscous with charred corn and scallions, and house-cured fish, like grapefruit-and-laurel-scented sardines. Benedetti continues to serve her popular sandwiches and contributes buttery toasted corn bread to Baron’s entrée special of balsamic-braised barbecued ribs with coleslaw—a match made in restaurant-world heaven.
366 Union Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Porchetta Panini at Il Buco Restaurant in New York.
Photo: Kenneth Chen

Object Of Desire
Big on Pig
Pork-lover alert: If you couldn’t make it to Il Buco’s fabulous Pig & Apple festival last month, you can still get a taste of what you missed. Chef Ed Witt is now serving porchetta panini every day at lunch. In true Roman-Umbrian fashion, Witt bones out the peanut-fed North Carolina pig, rubs it with a mix of lardo, rosemary, garlic, parsley, and fennel pollen, and then slow-roasts the not-so-little porker. He serves it on ciabatta with a deeply bronzed and crackling piece of skin that provides the kind of delicious textural contrast a lettuce leaf could only dream of.
47 Bond Street

Onera restaurant in New York.
Photo: Carina Salvi

Ask Gael
Can this be Greek, or am I dreaming?
Hellenes will recognize the flavors of home immediately at Onera. Michael Psilakis steeped himself in reveries of his mother’s kitchen, invited his uncle up from Florida to trade recipes for the classics, and then turned it all into a fantasy of Greek food for the 21st century. Seared sea scallops on wilted spinach with a tart cherry-caper-brown-butter-sauce. Crispy sweetbreads with foie gras dumplings in crushed chicken livers with crème fraîche. Braised goat in a brilliant “open” moussaka. Sheep’s-milk dumplings that float. His most audacious fantasies are the raw, jewel-like meze, each suffused with Greek touches. Taste them all. The pastitsio is truly Greek, but with Uncle Nick’s uniquely divine béchamel. Even the chef’s poussin is a marvel of intense flavor. Wife Anna dances around the stylish navy-and-white room; Mom’s walnut cookies melt in your mouth. The place is small, the menu still evolving (my friend is an investor), but Psilakis already has the makings of a star.
222 West 79th Street

Can-Do Crew