May 10, 2004
Franklin Becker is that not-so-rare bird, the well-reviewed New York chef who can’t seem to settle down. After stints at Local, Cucina, and Capitale, he might finally be ready to roost at Trinity, a 40-seat restaurant-within-a-restaurant just off the Tribeca Grand Hotel’s Church Lounge lobby. With appetizers running $10 to $22 and mains $25 to $35, Trinity spares no expense and squanders no opportunity to incorporate seasonal touches into its Asian-inflected American menu: White-asparagus velouté is anointed with spring garlic foam; the foie gras torchon comes with ginger-Riesling gelée and rhubarb compote. Ramps, asparagus, and morels pop up here and there, as do cocktails by Milk and Honey’s Sasha Petraske and assorted bonbons by New York’s top artisanal chocolatiers.
2 Sixth Avenue
Named for a volcanic peak outside Mexico City, Ixta aims high, with a splashy design and souped-up nouvelle Mexican cooking. Fresh off a stint as executive chef of Jimmy’s (Uptown and Downtown), Linda Japngie (pictured) stuffs shrimp with chipotle-spiced crab, crusts salmon with pepitas, and livens up seared tuna with a blood-orange margarita reduction. If that doesn’t perk you up, try one of Jerri Banks’s house cocktails, like the Tears of a Cloud: Bacardi, coconut milk, pineapple juice, and seltzer.
48 East 29th Street
object of desire
Get a Roomali
Think of the paneer tikka roll (pictured) at Roomali as a grilled-cheese sandwich with Bombay dreams. Another great example of New York’s growing number of not-so-fast fast-food joints, this tiny shop specializes in roti rolls—essentially Indian wraps like the ones served at downtown’s Kati Roll Company, but even better. Chicken tikka, chickpea fritters, and lamb kebab versions are among the offerings, but the yellow cubes of paneer cheese cooked on skewers, then folded into superb made-to-order griddle-fried flatbread along with peppers, cilantro, a dash of chat masala, and an optional layer of egg cooked into the dough, are our favorites. Have one ($4; two for $7) in the spare 25-seat room, or complete the childhood regression by taking it home and eating it with tomato soup.
97 Lexington Avenue, at 27th Street
In every gentrification tale, first come the byob bistros, then the handy, well-stocked wine shops. Fort Greene has long had its fair share of the former, and with Greene Grape, it finally gets its very own tastefully spare and track-lit boutique vintner specializing in estate-bottled wines from small producers. “Wine is passion and love,” says co-owner and Fort Greene resident Amy Bennett (pictured), who intends to spread the love via frequent tastings, online ordering, and convenient Sunday hours.
765 Fulton Street, Fort Greene, Brooklyn
The highly undersung pizzaiola brothers Saverio and Ciro Verde—practically born with a ball of dough in one hand and a pizza peel in the other—grew up in Astoria, and have made what they hope will be a triumphant return. After oven-manning stints around town, from Mezzogiorno and Mad.61 to Woodside’s quirky Sapori d’Ischia, they’ve joined forces at Astoria’s Thirty One. The onetime pizza and panini joint now has a dining room, not to mention a big menu that markedly resembles the one at Ciro’s popular Murray Hill restaurant, Da Ciro—down to his signature focaccia robiola, a thin, double-crusted phenomenon stuffed with the creamy cheese and drizzled with truffle oil. Moreover, at Thirty One, the same great bucatini all’amatriciana, an estimable brick-oven-roasted chicken, and righteous tirami su come with a fat Queens discount.
22-48 31st Street, Astoria
the underground gourmet
A home cook plants the Venezuelan flag in Chelsea.
“Since I’m a kid,” says Luis Quintero, who grew up in Venezuela preparing meals for his brothers and sisters, “I always wanted to have a place where I cooked what I like to eat.” Finally, after biding his time in New York waiting tables and dabbling in catering, he does. Last month, he and his brother Arturo, who owns the flower shop next door, opened El Cocotero, a bright, cheerful café specializing in arepas, the delectably dense, spongy corn-flour cakes stuffed with everything from chicken and avocado to soft farmer’s-style cheese. The small, affordable menu lists a few fresh, vaguely tropical salads enlivened with lime and orange vinaigrettes, pressed sandwiches, and spears of fried yuca meant to be dunked into rich, thick Venezuelan sour cream. (Or, even better: the oily, herby version of guacamole called guasacaca.) There’s only one entrée, but it’s a nap-inducing doozy: pabellon criollo, a heaping platter of slightly chewy stewed flank steak bolstered by mounds of white rice and black beans and decked with fried plantains. The fact that it’s dished out unceremoniously from a spotless steam table doesn’t diminish the room’s homey appeal, with its sky-blue walls and palm trees, colorful ceramic plates, and disarmingly friendly service. Quintero might not be cooking for his family anymore, but judging by the amount of time he spends socializing with his guests, he sure acts like it. —Robin Raisfeld
228 West 18th Street
Give my wallet a break.
Daniel Ko knew he wanted a wine bar like the one he once ran at Soho Kitchen. He knew he wanted diner food, dim sum, and low prices. But the launch of MetroCafé & Wine Bar was stuck in the mud when Frank Valenza passed by and offered to help. With the swagger and grandiosity Valenza cultivated at the Palace, once one of New York’s great restaurants (and where we became friends), a $14.95 Kobe burger got added to the comfort-food mix. There’s an Atkins burger, too, and a turkey burger with dried-cranberry-and avocado dressing on the side. At first, no one came, but then curious neighbors began to linger at the bar, nibbling barbecue chicken wings, steamed shrimp dumplings, and crackly thin pizzas like the white three-cheese combo with almonds and green apple. I’m here sniffing and sipping the $17 Syrah-Shiraz tasting, sharing splendid penne puttanesca and a respectable $23.50 sirloin with sensational haricots verts and baked potato, marveling at the sweetness of our waitress and thinking I’d give anything to have a classy joint like this in my neighborhood.
32 East 21st Street