Week of December 8, 2003
Half Wine Bar Lounge
Prospect Heights’ new Half Wine Bar Lounge started out, like so many neighborhood spots, as the kind of place its owners wanted to hang out in. For art director Max Jerome and his wife, Patty (pictured), who live around the corner, the ultimate bar serves wine by the half-bottle and (as soon as the electric kitchen’s up and running) cheese, charcuterie, and upscale panini, like a sandwich of Neal’s Yard Montgomery Cheddar and mango chutney. Suede wall panels, chairs from Moss, and a wine-accessory-filled “lifestyle shop” inspired by the Paramounts and W’s of the world make for a hip setting; the backyard serves as the smoking section.
626 Vanderbilt Avenue, Prospect Heights
Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse
A 48-ounce dry-aged porterhouse, a 24-foot mahogany bar, twenty types of single-malt scotch, an “El Presidente” room, and an opening-party guest list that includes Judith Regan—if that doesn’t qualify the lavish new Manhattan branch of Bayside’s Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse as the most testosterone-charged launch of the year, we don’t know what does.
440 Ninth Avenue, near 34th Street
ONE Little West 12th
The lounge-restaurant-nightclub hybrid may not have originated in the meatpacking district, but it sure is thriving there. ONE Little West 12th, the latest contender, features the obligatory VIP lounge, a caviar-and-champagne bar, a Versace-clad staff, and the globally inspired cooking of former Aleutia chef Gavin Citron (pictured, with owners Erica Cohen, left, and Celeste Fierro). Nearly everything on his menu is meant to be shared, from Thai-marinated squid tempura and seared Kobe beef in butter lettuce to the $90 Celestial plateau de mer.
1 Little West Twelfth Street
It’s not quite like passing the manicotti at Tony and Carmela’s, but Coco Pazzo’s new Sunday supper, served from noon to 10 p.m., is as close as they get on the Upper East Side. Mark Strausman taps his inner Italian mamma to turn out an abbondanza of hearty dishes: baked clams, spaghetti and meatballs, lasagne, and seven-hour-roasted pork leg, all served family-style, of course. There’s a separate à la carte brunch menu, too, but ordering from it would be going against the family, capisce?
23 East 74th Street
the underground gourmet
New Kid On The Block
In the shadow of one Brooklyn success, another takes root.
Zagat’s recent and controversial christening of the Grocery as one of New York’s top-rated restaurants might have put Smith Street on the official foodie map, but the Brooklyn boulevard has been a dining destination for years. The newest arrival has more than a little in common with the suddenly oversubscribed star attraction: Like the Grocery, Chestnut celebrates seasonal American cooking—a legacy perhaps of Savoy, where the chefs of both Smith Street restaurants once worked. At the rustic, rough-hewn Chestnut, Savoy’s market-menu mania reveals itself in offbeat accents: Earthy pumpkin rounds pop up in an appetizer of semolina gnocchi with strips of pancetta and Parmesan shavings, a parsnip-soup special is enlivened with arugula pesto, red cabbage and pomegranates add color and crunch to one night’s duck salad. Even though chef David Wurth exploits the local harvest to the fullest, making soup from kale, garnishing grilled octopus with turnips, and stuffing ravioli with rutabaga, he’ll marry plantains and tapenade if he thinks they’ll jazz up striped bass. In fact, they outshine it. Leg of lamb speckled with gremolata makes a much bolder statement, and juicy, crispy-skinned chicken arrives in a flavorful puddle of pan drippings and white runner beans. Modest prices, warm service, and the latest hours in the neighborhood make Chestnut welcome on Smith Street and a good alternative to the fully booked dining room down the block.
271 Smith Street, Carroll Gardens
I Need Gifts For All My Obsessed Foodie Pals.
As soon as my new friend, the olive-oil king of Palermo, showed me these squat little ceramic carafes pretending to be black and green olives—midway between kitsch and classic—I had to have one. Better yet, two. But Manfredi Barbera, a fifth-generation olive squeezer, has only just dispatched the first batch to the U.S. Inside the roly-poly green fruit is a half-liter of unfiltered jade-green oil from hand-harvested ogliarola olives milled, Barbera boasts, within twelve hours of picking. It’s fruity and spicy, ideal for bruschetta, bean soups, and rustic Sicilian-style dishes. In the black carafe is oil from the same olive, picked later, ripe and wrinkled. It presses golden and lighter—ideal for seafood. At Todaro Bros. (212-532-0633), DiPalo Fine Foods (212-226-1033), and Fairway, where it sells for $16.99 (212-595-1888 or 212-234-3883).
At Casa Mono and Bar Jamón, the fabulous Babbo boys tackle another country.
Pig has always played a starring role in Mario Batali’s food, from guanciale-laced pasta to lardo pizza. It’s no different at Bar Jamón, Spanish for “ham bar” and Batali’s foray into the world of flavors that’s captivated a generation of chefs. At this wine bar showcasing Serrano ham and other Spanish snacks, and its adjacent 40-seat counterpart, Casa Mono, opening next week at 52 Irving Place, Batali and his partner, Babbo chef Andy Nusser, refrain from following their spellbound brethren down the avant-garde path forged by the Spaniards Ferran Adria and Juan Mari Arzak. “There’s no foam,” says Nusser, who’ll instead be searing vegetables and seafood à la plancha in Casa Mono’s open kitchen, showing “how simple and clean and perfect” more conventional Spanish food can be. The menu might consist of small plates like chorizo with pickled piquillos, pumpkin-and-goat-cheese croquetas, and fried anchovies, but don’t call them tapas. “I don’t like the T word,” says Nusser, who sees his Spanish sojourn as the logical progression of the distinct style he’s honed with Batali over the last decade. It’s true: Calf’s head and foot, cardoons, and baby eels with garlic and red chilis have Molto Mario written all over them.
125 East 17th Street