Week of September 15, 2003
Chef Mark Shenk makes a delicious habit of serving creative comfort food in small, neighborhoody places (at small, neighborhoody prices). He mastered the formula almost twenty years ago at A Stray Cafe, where he turned West Village locals into regulars with walnut-and-Stilton-studded Boston-lettuce salads, pork tenderloin, and raspberry-crowned crème brûlée—all of which have been revived at Red Café, Shenk’s new itty-bitty bistro in Park Slope. The menu, like the crimson-walled restaurant, is petite but intriguing, with appetizers like risotto cakes with chicken-liver sauce and pancetta, and an open-faced sandwich of beets, goat cheese, walnuts, and chard (pictured).
78 Fifth Avenue, Park Slope, Brooklyn
Suzie Wong’s Late Night Cafe at Lotus
Lotus has a new chef (Tyson Ophaso), a new menu (Southeast Asian), and as of this week, a vaguely illicit after-hours gimmick: Suzie Wong’s Late Night Cafe, an homage to the 1960 William Holden movie about an artist and his Hong Kong–prostitute muse. From midnight to 3 a.m., the back room is staffed by cheongsam-clad look-alikes toting exotic cocktails and miniature takeout containers of satays, baby back ribs, Vietnamese spring rolls, and shu mai, alluringly priced from $5 to $9.
409 West 14th Street
Yujen Pan isn’t anti-sushi—he worked for Nobu, after all, launching branches around the world—but for his first solo venture, he decided to build an izakaya, defined in A Dictionary of Japanese Food as “a simple tavern where customers eat and drink at small expense in a cheerful atmosphere.” Kasadela, a cozy, brick-walled East Village sake house, where Pan serves a concise, affordable assortment of rice wines and $10-and-under traditional Japanese snacks, fits the bill. Unless you grew up in Kyoto, you might not consider custardy goma tofu (made from sesame seeds) or miso-steeped cod bar food, but you should—the small, artful plates pair perfectly with sake.
647 East 11th Street
Mix In New York
Alain Ducasse, take two—this time, with two prix fixe menus that borrow freely from the American-comfort-food canon, and décor that combines French tradition with ultra-modern attitude. The celebrity chef isn’t gunning for four stars, just a loyal following happy to bask in his exalted aura. Expect to find his signature elegance and refinement, even lurking in the bottom of a bowl of macaroni and cheese.
68 West 58th Street
The Lighthouse Tavern
This homey pub puts a new spin on bar food: Rounding out the predictable lineup of burgers, nachos, and wings is an assortment of Costa Rican bocas, snacks like chicharrones, tortas, and enyucados (stuffed yucca balls). Factor in fifteen beers on tap, a kitchen that serves past midnight, and owners who consider the place an extension of their own home—black leather sofa and all.
243 Fifth Avenue, Park Slope, Brooklyn
After a decade, Pino luongo and Mark Strausman reunite.
Italian-restaurant feuds are like dry-aged salamis: They have long shelf lives. Pino Luongo and Mark Strausman took ten years to mend fences, and their improbable rapprochement is taking some by surprise. “To see those two together, you’d think that they were high-school sweethearts,” says Steve Villamor, general manager at Coco Pazzo, Luongo’s trend-setting Upper East Side restaurant that Strausman opened to raves in 1990 and then famously abandoned (or, depending on who’s telling the story, narrowly escaped) to open a place of his own. That place was Campagna, the Flatiron trattoria that recently succumbed to a wobbly economy and a rent dispute, putting Strausman in the conciliatory mood that led to lunch with Luongo at Le Madri a few weeks ago. “After an hour,” says Luongo, “we were just talking and kidding around.” Not to mention laying the groundwork for a reunion: Strausman is back at Coco Pazzo, if not quite as conquering hero then at least as the chef-partner. After suffering individual setbacks (remember Strausman’s Chinghalle and Luongo’s Sfuzzi debacle?), the older, wiser restaurateurs are determined to restore the uptown fixture to its former glory.
To that end, Luongo closed for a quick refurbishing, returning the color scheme to its original pastel hue. The menu, too, will revisit the past, adding, according to Luongo, “the classical dishes we used to have when Mark was here—cacciucco, lasagna, rigatoni with sweet sausage.” Expect more than a little Campagna and a decided Tuscan component, all geared to the neighborhood’s tony taste. “It’s New York Italian for the Upper East Side,” Strausman says pointedly. “So it’s gotta be light.”
23 East 74th Street
the in cut
Is Flatiron Steak The New Hanger?
‘It’s the same thing that happened with hanger steak a few years ago,” says butcher Jerry Ottomanelli. A slew of smart chefs are just discovering the flatiron steak, a remarkably flavorful, surprisingly tender, and—most important—cheap cut from the shoulder that old-school butchers call “chicken steak.” “You always have to give the public something new,” Ottomanelli says. “But it is a very tasty piece of meat.” And don’t worry: It doesn’t taste like chicken.
See Who’s Serving It!
Can you send me somewhere romantic for an exotic drink?
Even on the hottest night of Indian summer, there’s a cooling breeze as you sip strawberry caipirinha coolers under the stars in the funky High Bar on the roof of the Gramercy Park Hotel (the top-of-the-town fantasy of a longtime pal, I confess). True, the eager servers, saronged as if auditioning for Gauguin, seem a bit disorganized, and the Astroturf squishes with every step after a storm. Relax. Just join a savvy crowd, savoring the jeweled spires of Manhattan dressed for evening. Idle over a Georgia-peach mint julep or a Singapore Sling with salmon tartare, lush lobster salad, or a mound of sweetly sticky baby back ribs to share. Drop a ring in her drink, or your keys in his pocket. With the Chrysler Building’s crown aglow over one shoulder, you’ll feel like you own the town.
2 Lexington Avenue, at 21st Street