Week of September 8, 2003
For those who remember his fusion profusion at Aja and Match and last savored it at Mi, Gary Robins’s reappearance in a Manhattan kitchen is big news. Officially, his title at the Biltmore Room is “consulting executive chef,” and for now, at least, he’s firmly ensconced, brainstorming Asian-inspired fare like giant prawns wrapped in crispy noodles (pictured). The food may be newfangled, but the décor’s not: The floor-to-ceiling marble comes from the Biltmore hotel, fondly remembered by generations of collegians who rendezvoused under the ornate clock.
290 Eighth Avenue, near 25th Street
Jack’s Stir Brew
For a while, Jack Mazzola, like many other struggling New York actors, stuck to the role of bartender. But there was always another sort of drink the self-professed “coffee snob” would rather be serving. Inspired by Julia Alvarez’s book Cafecito Story, about her Dominican coffee plantation, Mazzola flew down for a short work-study stint, then proceeded to open Jack’s Stir Brew on the ground floor of his Greenwich Village apartment building. Jack’s is no ordinary coffee shop—besides having a small-town, swinging-screen-door feel, it uses only organic, shade-grown, fair-trade beans. They make a rich, smooth, flavorful cup, no doubt enhanced by Mazzola’s singular brewing technique (“like Mom’s sauce, it has to be stirred”). He’s equally discriminating about the rest of his sources: Brooklyn’s Blue Sky Bakery for muffins and croissants, Lifethyme for vegan pastries, and Red Jacket Orchards for rhubarb-apple juice.
138 West 10th Street
When Leshko’s, the beat-up Avenue A coffee shop, went upscale a few years back, the new owners extensively redid the room but kept a version of the diner’s signature pierogi on the menu. Now Leshko’s has given way to the Pan-Latino Yuca Bar, and the décor remains but those plump potato pockets are, sadly, extinct. Chef Ricardo Cardona (most recently seen at DRK in Washington Heights) is whipping up a nuevo-Latino menu that covers a lot of ground, from lobster taquitos and grilled shrimp on mashed plantains (pictured) to grilled tofu with guava barbecue sauce and brown rice—a spud-free concession to neighborhood tastes.
111 Avenue A
Big Red Machine
When you have your own 50-acre North Fork farm and, oh, around 10,000 heirloom-tomato plants, as does Bayard’s Eberhard Müller, you have a leg up come August. On September 10, Müller exploits his resources at Bayard’s First Annual Heirloom Tomato Festival, taking over the lovely cobblestoned street outside the restaurant with a buffet table of dishes and drinks made from twenty fancy tomato varieties. (Dishes and drinks are $5 each.)
Stone Street at Hanover Square
object of desire
A Currant Affair
For September’s Uncork New York promotion, Savoy is celebrating in a big way, pouring only New York State wines by the glass. That even extends to an elegant Empire State take on the kir royale, combining Château Frank Brut Champagne from the Finger Lakes with crème de cassis from the Hudson Valley’s Clinton Vineyards.
70 Prince Street
Fiery-food lovers are doubly blessed of late, with the publication of two exceptional cookbooks that demystify chili-centric cuisines. In Land of Plenty (Norton; $30), Fuchsia Dunlop explores the intricacies of Sichuan cooking, imparting lessons she learned at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine. Standards like dan dan noodles, ma po tofu, and double-cooked pork are placed in fascinating cultural context, along with less familiar specialties from the culinary home of 23 strictly defined flavor combinations and 56 cooking methods. And back in the Americas, where chilies came from in the first place, Diana Kennedy—who’s published more than twenty books about her adopted homeland—has produced From My Mexican Kitchen (Clarkson Potter; $40). It may be her most useful yet, incorporating vibrant color photographs of ingredients, equipment, and, most important, her own practiced hands demonstrating proper technique.
the underground gourmet
A delicious dose of Down Under says g’day on Avenue C.
The way the chef fastidiously wipes the rim of each paper plate of “roo” bangers and mash before the waiter swoops it to the table at Sunburnt Cow is the tipoff. Despite the mellow mood, the rough-hewn décor, and the backyard deck with its surfer-dude vibe, this isn’t your typical outback cookhouse. “We Australians love our food, we love our wine, we love to have a good time,” says owner Heathe St. Clair. “At the same time, I think we have a little bit of taste as well.” Which would explain why St. Clair convened the quirky consulting dream team of Stanley Wong (late of Sage and TanDa and soon to be running the kitchen at Spice Market) and pastry chef Eric Hubert (of Atelier). For Aussies, kangaroo sausage and the rest of Wong’s one-page menu may seem pretty basic, but unexpected touches abound. Fresh-corn-and-jalapeño salsa bump up the intensity of pepperberry-rubbed “shrimp on the bar-b,” and leg of lamb comes with a winning mélange of haricots verts, oven-dried tomatoes, olives, and pecans. For dessert, a traditional Australian pavlova with fresh whipped cream and kiwi more than holds up its end of the bargain. Even the short-but-sweet, all-Australian wine list impresses, topping out at $40, with every wine available by the glass—and that’s a real glass. Apparently, they decided to draw the line at Dixie cups.
137 Avenue C
Is Park Avenue the new Soho?
The cacophony stuns, and the downtown crowd lounging so cockily at the Lever House Restaurant is a shock in a Zip Code that’s not about hot. But we’re here for chef Dan Silverman’s grown-up, clear-headed food, most of it smartly seasoned with a savvy citric touch, as in the fluke tartare with spring onion, orange, and cilantro. Wasabi crème fraîche and tobiko enrich his tuna carpaccio. Diver scallops float in an intense celery nage. The sliced short rib with a side of frisée and the lobster tempura could be entrées, alongside fabulous seared tuna with a tangy beet-ginger chutney, his lush shrimp-and-lobster risotto, and a fine rack of lamb with fava-arugula-and-Pecorino salad. Butter is the velvet on his wild Alaskan salmon draped in crunchy ribbons of carrot and candy-stripe beets. And the veal chop is impeccable (at $42, it ought to be). Don’t resist the elegant milk-and-dark-chocolate tart or the mint-chip-ice-cream sandwich and the uptown Oreo on the cookie plate.
390 Park Avenue, entrance on 53rd Street