Maximum Mexican…A New Milk Chocolate Bar…21st Century Brooklyn Bodega

May 17, 2004

Photo: Carina Salvi

Go East, Young Men
How well does boho-quaint West Village charm travel? That’s what Westville co-owners Jay Strauss and Jon Fox (pictured, from left, with new partner Uzi Silber) intend to find out at Westville East, the identically breezy, whitewashed spinoff they’ve opened within delivery distance of Stuyvesant Town. Every detail, from the banquette fabric to the chalkboard menu, has been reproduced, as has the snack-bar-style comfort food: juicy burgers, smoky mac and cheese, Niman Ranch’s Fearless Franks. But the bigger kitchen gives pastry chef Ivy Tack room to step up production of her irresistibly homey cakes and pies to meet wholesale (and neighborhood) demand.
328 East 14th Street

Photo: Kenneth Chen

Maximum Mexican
New York Mexican food has arrived at a critical juncture: The authentic stuff proliferates in immigrant enclaves in all its tongue-taco and barbecued-goat glory, while margarita mills and burrito joints continue to cater to the squeamish. Soho Cantina straddles the line with a sleek but rustic design, a Mexican chef, and a menu that aspires to universal appeal. A Kobe-beef “burrito gringo” vies with tilapia seviche and deep-fried striped bass with nopales-and-fava-bean salad. Botanas (snacks) range from cuitlacoche quesadillas to tortilla soup, and include the “plato mexicano de maiz,” a smorgasbord of sopes, tamales, tostadas, and huaraches. It’s a corn-flour carb fest, and just the thing to soak up the alcohol in the obligatory frozen margaritas.
199 Prince Street

Photo: Patrik Rytikangas

Jane’s Addition
Having cultivated a loyal downtown following at Jane, partners Glenn Harris (left) and Jeffrey Lefcourt (right) venture into the increasingly charted territories of the Upper West Side, where this week they open the Neptune Room. Devoted to Mediterranean-inspired seafood cooking, the menu traverses France, Italy, and Spain for dishes like rouget with pickled fennel and beluga lentils, braised cuttlefish bruschetta, and lobster with paella rice. The Bait Bar occupies the middle of the room, dispensing raw shellfish and $6 tidbits of yellowtail with honey and grapefruit, or shaved scallops with blueberries. And management enlisted a pair of heavy hitters for wine and dessert: Josh Wesson consults on the former, Wayne Harley Brachman on the latter.
511 Amsterdam Avenue, near 84th Street

The Boerum Hill seafood vacuum left by the closing of Smith Street Kitchen has been filled by two owners from nearby Savoia, a chef from Long Island’s recently shuttered Harvest Moon, and a menu rife with global touches. More than a few show up in a typical meal, which might begin with a smoked wahoo amuse-bouche, proceed to chicken samosas, and conclude with salmon served on a banana leaf with coconut milk and basmati rice.
174 Smith St., Brooklyn

Call it red-sauce regeneration: One Upper West Side Italian restaurant closes, another eventually opens in its place. In this case, Baci’s bowed out, and its suitably rustic successor offers dishes like lamb ravioli, pan-fried shad roe, and a pizza affumicata with smoked mozzarella, hot sausage, and cherry tomatoes.
412 Amsterdam Ave., nr. 80th St.

Jabz Joint
The Big Easy boomlet picks up at this “authentic Cajun” hole-in-the-wall run by two Brooklynites. If the gumbo doesn’t do anything for you, the house band, the Original New York Dirty Water Dogs, just might.
318 Grand St., Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Mix It
The name says it all at this Nolita newcomer, an offshoot of Jacques Brasserie uptown. The menu is emphatically all over the map: It’s unlikely that beef teriyaki, moules marinières, and Caribbean braised oxtail have ever come out of the same kitchen before—never mind a Philly cheesesteak.
20 Prince St.

Seeing The Light
When Robert Steinberg and John Scharffenberger launched their artisanal chocolate company, they swore they’d never make milk chocolate. Too mass-market, too déclassé, too … Hershey’s. Little by little, the tide has been turning in their bitter-and-semisweet favor, as tastes evolve. But most Americans still prefer milk chocolate, and when the boutique Bay Area company realized it couldn’t beat ’em, it deigned to join ’em: The new Scharffen Berger Milk Chocolate bar, made with an unusually high 41 percent cacao content, organic Wisconsin milk, and no more sugar than in the bittersweet bar, is a splendidly rich, uncloying take on the candy-store confection.
For store locations, see

Photo: Carina Salvi

Make It A Triple
Judging by Felidia’s first-ever bar menu, either a line cook from Mel’s Diner has taken over the kitchen, or the arrival of spring has found chef Fortunato Nicotra in a whimsical, Thomas Keller kind of mood. Happily, it’s the latter: A dish simply called Bacon and Eggs is a savory zabaglione infused with crisp bacon that’s been pulverized in a spice grinder, and served in a brown eggshell with a tiny straw. PB&J (pictured) is, yep, peanut butter—presumably not Jif—and Concord-grape jelly—presumably not Smucker’s—plus a silky slab of poached foie gras on brioche. Mac & Formaggio is simply the city’s richest, craziest, tastiest buffalo-ricotta-and-fontina mac and cheese—and, at $25 a cup, it ought to be. Have a sampling of all three for $30, or go for the excellent—and comparatively dietetic—daily market seafood crudo served in a bento-box-style compartmentalized tray. Available for lunch and pretheater dinner.
243 East 58th Street

Photo: Patrik Rytikangas

the underground gourmet
Grocery Score
A 21st-century brooklyn bodega opens in Williamsburg.
Andrew Tarlow and Mark Firth colonized Williamsburg’s southside with the beautifully restored Diner and its Mexican spinoff, Bonita. But even they realize you can’t eat out every night. So their latest enterprise, fortuitously located across the street from the Gretsch Building, which is soon to be ultraluxe condos, is the organic grocery of every outer-borough epicure’s dreams. Marlow & Sons (a hybrid of their names), all sidewalk flower boxes and cream-colored wood, wouldn’t seem out of place along some quiet West Tisbury road, though you’d be hard-pressed to find such stellar stock there. The mix is part health-food store (Tom’s of Maine toothpaste; organic, locally made granola), part gourmet (Ortiz canned tuna, Alwadi pomegranate molasses), and, because Firth is an Englishman who can’t help himself, part Anglo (Heinz baked beans and Hobnobs). For such a tiny space, the range is astonishing—Austrian pumpkin-seed oil rubs up against Rao’s marinara sauce, farm-fresh ramps and fiddlehead ferns cohabit in the produce bin. Refrigerated cases are stocked with Laura Chenel goat cheese from Sonoma and organic ground beef from Maine. But Firth and Tarlow didn’t stop there: They built a backroom oyster bar as cool and dim as the shop is bright and sunny, serving a selection of small plates like crudités with butter and salt, a luscious Spanish tortilla, artichokes marinated in lemon and olive oil, cured meats, and cheeses. Dark and wood-paneled, and outfitted with well-worn tables and benches, the space has a comfortably lived-in Old New York feel that makes you want to linger over a plate of the freshly shucked and a quartino of wine. For now, the vibe is exceedingly civilized, especially compared with the scene at Diner next door. But don’t expect that to last, as culinarily blessed locals make Marlow & Sons the place to shop and stop. —Rob Patronite
81 Broadway, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Photo: Stuart Isett

ask gael
I’m going to Paris. What’s the foodie spot du jour?
Two chef friends said “You must go.” So here we sit at La Table du Lancaster in what used to be the lobby bar and private dining room of the Lancaster Hotel—muffled in heavy swaths of drapery, tables far apart. Expectations sink as I scan Michel Troisgros’s menu, despite the silken lusciousness of tonight’s duck-liver mousse offering. Breads in a tall silver cup. Prices on men’s menus only. Puh-lease. The scion of the three-star Troisgros empire in Roanne has divided his dishes into categories translated freely as Witty, Zesty, Piquant, Sharp, Green, and Sour. I brace for more silliness. But then I’m knocked out by the brilliance of frog’s legs sautéed with tamarind and by the lush goat-cheese cannelloni. His crisp, exquisitely rare rouget on mint-touched grapefruit has me raving. At home, Michel focuses on Troisgros tradition. This fusion dance with citrus, vinegar, and acid tang is what he dreams about. Troisgros recently told a friend it’s still a work-in-progress, but I’m predicting the hotel may be pushing those tables closer together. About $175 all included for two.
7 Rue de Berri, in the 8th Arrondissement

Maximum Mexican…A New Milk Chocolate Bar…21st [...]