Week of November 17, 2003
Al Di Là Vino
Regulars of Park Slope’s perpetually packed, no-reservations Al Di Là know the routine. You line up twenty minutes or so before the doors open at 6 p.m., or you park yourself across the street at Moutarde, waiting for the host to call your cell phone when your table is ready. Now, however, the new annex Al Di Là Vino provides another option. Part holding pen, part cichetti bar, the twelve-seat spot has a snacky menu almost as enticing as the one next door, with dishes like sarde in saor, lardo, pepperonata, one daily pasta, and one main dish, plus 25 wines available by the glass. It all sounds so good, you’ll probably have to wait to get in.
607 Carroll Street, Park Slope, Brooklyn
A very Vietnamese midtown kitchen sweetens the deal.
The Tran family has been in the food business in Vietnam since the sixties, enduring war, imprisonment, emigration, and a subsequent return to Ho Chi Minh City, where Chau Tran still runs a restaurant. This week, with the opening of Bôi, the resilient family establishes an American beachhead in midtown, where siblings Antee and Tamie (Bôi’s general manager and cook, respectively) have an unlikely partner: Bill Yosses, Citarella pastry chef and a longtime family friend, who’s doing the desserts. “There’s a lot in Asian-style desserts that Americans will never accept,” says Yosses. “Americans like crunchy and smooth. Some Asian desserts are, but others are gummy and sticky.” Yosses describes his tamarind cake and jackfruit toffee pudding as American in shape, Vietnamese in inspiration. The desserts may be interpretive, but everything else on Bôi’s menu, from an assortment of cold rolls and herb-scented salads to sizzling Saigon crêpes, is “very authentic, very Vietnamese,” according to the French-trained Yosses, who remains at Citarella but relishes the chance to veer off in a Vietnamese direction. “I love the aesthetics, I love the philosophy. And the food is delicious.”.
246 East 44th Street
There’s a sizable community of French expats living in Astoria, apparently, and as they all seem to work in the restaurant industry, it was only a matter of time before someone opened a bistro where they could congregate for duck terrine and steak-frites. Hence Restaurant 718, the collaborative effort of three Frenchmen who met working at L’Absinthe: pastry chef Raphael Sutter, manager Guillaume Magnani, and Alain Allaire, whose day job is executive chef at Suba. That, no doubt, is where Allaire acquired the Spanish accent that has insinuated its way into his 718 menu, in dishes like grilled tuna with chorizo and soy-cherry sauce, and roasted duck with Serrano ham. The bar menu is even more multiculti, featuring tarte flambée, chicken-chorizo skewers, and, in a nod to the neighborhood, tsatsiki with endive.
35-01 Ditmars Boulevard, Astoria
Thomas Keller and the rest of the big guns won’t make their Columbus Circle debuts till next February, but the ballyhooed Time Warner Center is scheduled to get its first serious restaurant this week at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Chef Nori Sugie trained in France and Japan, cooked at Charlie Trotter’s and Tetsuya’s in Australia, and has an enviable backdrop for his French-Japanese fusion: Central Park and the Manhattan cityscape from 35 floors up.
80 Columbus Circle, at 60th St.
In an effort to support local suppliers, the owners of this bright, roomy café buy their coffee beans from Irving Farm, their muffins from Clinton Street Baking Company, and their bread from Blue Ribbon Bakery—all of which make it a welcome respite for the hungry hordes departing the Lower East Side Tenement Museum across the street. There’s oatmeal and waffles for breakfast, salads and sandwiches for lunch, and soon, beer and wine.
88 Orchard St.
When pastry chef Claudia Fleming left Gramercy Tavern for a corporate position at Pret A Manger, sweet tooths mourned all over town. Now that she and the incredible shrinking chain have parted ways, Fleming has reentered the confectionery arena as consulting pastry chef at Five Points, a restaurant whose elegantly rustic aesthetic matches her own. Fans of her work have probably already detected her presence in the tweaked but wholly recognizable pear-and-sour-cherry crisp and buttermilk panna cotta with spiced fig compote, not to mention her light, fluffy new sweet-potato pie, topped with ethereal marshmallow and ringed with vincotto, or sweet-and-sour “cooked wine.”
31 Great Jones Street
object of desire
Jazz aficionado and restaurateur Danny Meyer and chef Ken Callaghan must have felt remiss in their ’cue duties, having up until now omitted Kansas City–style barbecue—with its thick, sweet, and subtly hot tomato-based sauce—from the repertoire at Blue Smoke. Not only did the strong connection between barbecue and jazz originate in that city, but a large number of Blue Smoke’s cooks and waiters happen to hail from the Show-Me State. “We used them as guinea pigs,” notes Callaghan, who after much tweaking has added the meaty spareribs to the menu—and, he says, to widespread staff approval.
116 East 27th Street
With an upstairs bar and cantina, a more intimate dining room downstairs, and a streetside taqueria takeout window, Zona Rosa wants to be as accessible as the touristy Mexico City district it’s named for. Chef Adrian Leon’s menu covers all the trendy bases from seviche to sopas, and offers up a few nouvelle twists like Mexican lasagne and jalapeño fried chicken.
40 West 56th Street
I want a discreet spot uptown for breakfast.
I can’t promise that your mate, your aggressive business rival, or the “Intelligencer” won’t spot you sharing an indiscreet breakfast BLT with a tattooed ingenue. I’ve already spied a few power powwows and hungover duos at Nice Matin, alongside moms-attached-to-strollers and telecommuters lingering over breakfast. Till autumn grows wintry, the doors are flung wide, and the early a.m. crowd can sit at sidewalk tables shuffling papers over a plate of “perfect” grapefruit segments, sliced apples, honey, and granola; an egg-white frittata with asparagus; or a “New York Heart Attack”—two fried eggs, sausage, and cheddar on a toasted roll. Of course, having chosen to evoke a Provençal bias by naming his place after Nice’s morning paper, Andy D’Amico just had to do breakfast. This being Amsterdam Avenue and not Nice’s Cours Saleya, you’ll find blueberry muffins, McCann’s Steel-Cut Irish Oatmeal, lox and bagels, and iced cappuccino, as well as a Roquefort omelette and bowls of café au lait.
201 West 79th Street