April 12, 2004
A Little Bit Country
From Miami-sleek to Provence-chic: Partners Galen Zamarra, former Bouley Bakery executive chef, and Hugh Crickmore, ex-Marseille sommelier, have teamed up to transform Isla into Mas, their urban evocation of a farmhouse in the south of France. Zamarra’s seasonal French-American menu spotlights the local and the seasonal, with a Neversink River brook trout stuffed with wild ramps and a Block Island squid tasting. Crickmore’s penchant for buying mature wines at auction has yielded an inventory that he calls “food-oriented, affordable, and fun.” It’s kept on display in a striking glass-and-steel wine room—a must-have accessory for the finest Manhattan farmhouses.
39 Downing Street
In a neighborhood not exactly lacking good, cheap Italian restaurants, Evviva hopes to stand out from the red-sauce pack with modern Southern Italian cooking and shockingly attentive service in a relatively refined white-tablecloth setting. The Puglian chef and co-owner Dino Castri brings a wide range of experience (Esca, Danube, Osteria del Circo) to the table, evident in dishes like a seafood crudo antipasto; fried gnocchi with sausage and broccoli rabe; and buffalo ricotta with strawberries and peas (pictured).
186 Avenue A
What’s the difference between the East Village’s tiny Itzocan Café and its spiffy new East Harlem spinoff, Itzocan Bistro? Legroom, ambience, and an even more pronounced French bent in chef-owner Anselmo Bello’s creative Franco-Mexican fusion. Burritos can be found on the menu downtown; uptown, an amuse-bouche of pâté on toast garnished with cornichons and ringed with drops of guajillo vinaigrette sets the elevated tone (even though the prices still peak at $16). The quesadilla appetizer is stuffed with duck confit and Brie; a tender lamb shank is braised in Merlot and mulato chilies (left); and the lime tart is infused with tequila. El Barrio meets Belleville.
1575 Lexington Avenue, at 101st Street
Manhattan restaurantgoers may remember Omar Balouma’s welcoming presence from Chazal or Ferrier; suburban bar mitzvah boys know him as Omar the Tent Man, owner of a Moroccan-themed event-planning company. One particularly successful Bedford bash inspired Balouma and his wife Lisa to open Barbès, a French-Moroccan restaurant in Murray Hill. After fifteen years cooking at Ferrier, Moroccan chef-partner Abdellah Ksiyer has mastered the moules-and-steak-frites idiom, which pleases a lunchtime crowd; his native couscous and tagines are relegated to the dinner menu.
21 East 36th Street
object of desire
Soy And Sauce
You’d think that after just receiving a rare, pope-like blessing from the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana—the pesky Italian trade group that travels the world declaring what is and isn’t real pizza—Naples 45 wouldn’t start experimenting with a soy-based pie. But that’s what talented head pizzaiolo Charlie Restivo has done. Made with a mixture of soy and regular flours, the new individual-size pizza della soia has 15 percent fewer carbs, three times as much fiber, and a delicious, nutty-tasting crust that looks even more rustically authentic than the regular pizzas.
In the MetLife building, 200 Park Avenue, at 45th Street
Candy Is Dandy
“I am not afraid to admit it—I like Snickers and Milky Ways,” says Café Sabarsky’s classically trained French pastry chef, Pierre Reboul, apparently off on a loose-lipped sugar high. “They have everything you want: moist, chewy, smooth, and crunchy.” His new multilayered chocolate-cake concoction, available by special order for Easter and Passover, has all that and more. Sandwiched between a crackly dark-chocolate wafer roof and a hazelnut-dacquoise base are a praline-hazelnut-and-cornflake layer; another one of thin, flourless chocolate cake; and a creamy center of milk-chocolate ganache. It’s rich and chompy, and even better than a deep-fried Cadbury Creme Egg.
In the Neue Galerie, 1048 Fifth Avenue, at 86th Street
the underground gourmet
Sabry Attiasoliman presides over Sabry’s Seafood’s raw-fish display like the mayor of Steinway Street, chatting with old friends and greeting new customers as he hacks up baby shark, grills octopus, and stuffs striped bass with crushed garlic and herbs. The avuncular Attiasoliman has lived on the block for fifteen years and used to own El Montaza, a similarly seafood-centric restaurant down the street; his triumphant return is a family-friendly cross between a Milos-style Greek fish house and a New England lobster shack, distinguished by delicious Egyptian touches like dill-dappled tahini, luscious fried eggplant, and puffy pita bread fresh from the oven. Every entrée comes with a simple green salad enlivened with cumin-spiked dressing; tagines are earthenware bowls of shrimp or cuttlefish in a pungent tomato-sauce stew. Bring cash but leave the booze at home: The Muslim management forbids it.
24-25 Steinway Street, Astoria
What do you eat when you’re feeling wicked?
A big, fat, squishy croque monsieur strikes me as the perfect defiance to both Atkins and Ornish. Lately, I’ve succumbed more than once to Mitch London’s crusty creation at Fairway Café. Thirty years ago, drawn by the lush smells of a Parisian crêpe stand, London tasted a ham-and-cheese crêpe with its unexpected dab of béchamel, the creamy classic French sauce he considers “much underrated.” His remembrance of crêpes past is reflected in the café’s rich and oozing croque monsieur, a billowing, grill-tanned beauty that proves you don’t have to be French to master béchamel. French boiled ham and imported Gruyère are layered between slices of bread with “lots and lots of béchamel—and it isn’t béchamel without a little nutmeg,” London warns. Monsieur comes with cornichons (of course), Dijon mustard, and a tassel of mixed greens for $7.50. “And there’s more grated Gruyère on top,” he says. “My God, they’re getting a frigging soufflé.”
2127 Broadway, near 74th Street