Valley of the Dals…Southern Comfort…Required Reading for Foodies

December 22-29, 2003

Photo: Ellie Miller

Indus Valley
The Indus Valley was one of the earliest civilizations, extending from Afghanistan to northern India. It’s also the name of a congenial new restaurant that’s brought a bit of civilization to an ill-fed pocket of the Upper West Side, where grateful locals have been lapping up the Valley soup, a fragrant, slightly spicy chicken broth flecked with cilantro and tomato, and a full roster of moist, dye-free tandoori meats and seafood. After opening eighteen casual American and Italian restaurants, the Indian owners wisely staked out the perfect neighborhood for their first Indian kitchen—free from curry competition, and hungry for alternatives to the perpetually packed Gennaro and Pampa.
2636 Broadway, at 100th Street

Photo: Patrik Rytikangas

When Michael Vernon (pictured) cooked under Eric Ripert at Le Bernardin, he didn’t have much to do with meat. But at Geisha, the Japanese-inspired restaurant run by the owners of Serafina in collaboration with consulting chef Ripert, Vernon broadens his culinary horizons, supplementing his seafood repertoire with miso-marinated chicken salad in a spring-roll shell, and filet mignon with seven-pepper dipping sauce. Refined fish dishes like grilled shrimp “lollipops” on sugarcane skewers and Spanish-mackerel tartare still dominate the menu, though, as do signature sushi rolls, prepared by one chef recruited from Hawaii (Jon Maza), and another (Kazuo Yoshida) from Brasserie 360.
33 East 61st Street

Photo: Patrik Rytikangas

In Vino
“They call Aglianico the Barolo of the south,” says Luigi Iasilli, owner of Max and its offshoots, including the new East Village wine bar In Vino. “I call Barolo the Aglianico of the north.” No surprise there: Iasilli, like his beloved wine, hails from Basilicata, a poor, less traveled region routinely eclipsed by Tuscany and Piedmont in matters of gastronomy. A man on a viticultural mission, Iasilli has always showcased Aglianicos on his wine lists; at the cozy, cavelike In Vino, where the bar is built from barrels and the vaulted ceiling evokes a cellar, he limits his 350-bottle list to central and southern Italy. The wine-friendly menu features meats, cheeses, and Italian “tapas,” like dipping sauces heated over candlelight in terra-cotta bowls and served with crusty bread.
215 East 4th Street

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.
Judging by the growth of this movie-themed chain, whose domain extends from the Mall of America to the Tokyo Dome, there must be more fans of Forrest Gump—and Chilly shrimp—than we thought. In the market for a souvenir? You’ll find everything from boxer shorts to golf balls, not to mention the inevitable boxes of chocolate.
1501 Broadway, at 44th St.

David Burke & Donatella
After years of faithful service to Alan Stillman and his umpteen upscale kitchens, David Burke starts fresh with new partner Donatella Arpaia. But the change of scenery does nothing to disguise the chef’s inimitably whimsical style, on playful display in dishes like “crisp and angry lobster,” sea scallop “benedict,” and strudel with bubble-gum sorbet.
133 E. 61st St.

Dean & Deluca
The Soho institution spawns an impressive uptown satellite, two thirds the size of the original, with room for everything but housewares. Not that it matters: The posh—and pushy—clientele’s presumably got plenty of unused Le Creuset at home. Eli must be fuming.
1150 Madison Ave., at 85th St.

La Bottega
Whose super-stylish restaurant is this anyway? With its rows of bottles bordering white-tiled walls, atmospheric lighting, Campari serving trays, and swinging salamis, this fun, funky trattoria off the lobby of the fab Maritime Hotel seems like some kind of bizarro-world McNally-Batali hybrid. The kookily clad crowd is a hoot, and chef John DeLucie’s food—antipasti, wood-fired pizzas, chicken under a brick—is meant to please, not astonish.
363 W. 16th St.

Mara’s Homemade
The Union Square coffeehouse Java N Jazz may be gone, but its quirky spirit lives on in the curry-perfumed midst of Little India, where its hospitable owners have relocated. The American menu teems with comfort-food classics like meat loaf and macaroni and cheese, and on weekends, live Dixie jazz is served up alongside blintzes, latkes, and matzo brei.
338 E. 6th St.

Pho comes to Park Slope’s restaurant row on December 18, courtesy of the venerable Nolita Vietnamese kitchen. Lemongrass chicken, country-style stewed salmon, and a roster of spring and summer rolls add Far East flavor to the neighborhood’s ever-growing assortment of dining (and delivery) options.
259 Fifth Ave., at 1st St., Park Slope, Brooklyn

Photo: Cheryl Zibisky

Fish Fest
La Vigilia di Natale, the traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner also known as the Feast of the Seven Fishes, has become such a boffo hit in Mario Batali–land (at Babbo, Lupa, and Esca) that

Photo: Ellie Miller

Here’s to You
At Bemelmans Bar, a gift for the bon vivant who has everything.
“Name your poison” is a phrase that takes on new meaning with the Bespoke Cocktail program at Bemelmans Bar. The idea is that Bemelmans’s supertalented mixologist, Audrey Saunders, will custom-design a drink in celebration of a birthday or anniversary, or as a lavish gift for anyone with an especially deserving pal and $2,000 to spare. (Hello, Secret Santa!) Here’s how it works: You meet with Saunders; she’ll have you fill out a detailed questionnaire (favorite rhizome flavors? Check all that apply), you come back for a tasting, and then, in a couple of weeks, Saunders presents the lucky recipient with the cocktail and a framed recipe, a copy of which goes into the legendary bar’s archives. Presumably you can suggest a name for the drink, but hopeless romantics should note that Flame of Love is already taken.
The Carlyle, Madison Avenue at 76th Street

Photo: Cheryl Zibisky

We’re All Ears
By our count, the West Village branch of Flor’s Kitchen will be only the third Venezuelan restaurant in Manhattan. Why there are so few remains a mystery, especially if you’ve ever tasted owner Flor Villazan’s wonderful arepas (stuffed corn cakes), empanadas (made with corn flour), soups, seviche, and shredded beef with rice and beans. A couple dozen more seats than at Flor’s original tiny space may make it easier to get a table, but you’ll still have to wait the extra fifteen minutes it takes for a cachapa, the sweet corn pancake topped with creamy Venezuelan cheese that is the greatest thing to happen to yellow kernels since butter.
170 Waverly Place

Photo: Peter Berson

ask gael
Are too many cookbooks just barely enough?
Even as I deaccession my cookbook overload, I can’t resist the new. The Maccioni Family Cookbook (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) is a keeper, if only for Mama Egi’s ingenious and wonderfully moving memoir. Simple is this year’s mantra—pure, real, no fuss—and Rozanne Gold has found yet another 500 three-ingredient recipes for Cooking 1-2-3 (Stewart, Tabori & Chang), the latest collection of her popular haiku. As scandalous as it is to find canned broth in Tom Valenti’s Soups, Stews and One-Pot Meals (Scribner), I forgive him, since I do, too. And Valenti’s recipes always work. Here his mythic lamb shanks go Moroccan. Just when it seemed Madhur Jaffrey couldn’t squeeze one more thrill out of India’s cookery, she comes up with From Curries to Kebabs (Clarkson Potter), recipes from the Indian diaspora. Celebrate! (Workman), a gathering of American classics from Sheila Lukins, is reason enough to celebrate. James Peterson and I share an obsession, as is clear from The Duck Cookbook (Stewart, Tabori & Chang). Chef groupies will covet the newest pot-boiling-overs from their favorites. Even I feel a need for Douglas Rodriguez’s The Great Ceviche Book (Ten Speed) and David Bouley’s East of Paris (Ecco/Harper Collins)—I’m wild about that walnut-praline cake. And Spago’s pastry whiz, Sherry Yard, has so cleverly organized The Secrets of Baking (Houghton Mifflin) that I’m driven to making lemon-curd goodies and truffles for Christmas gifts. The New American Chef (Wiley), from my pals Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, explores flavors and techniques in the words of the chefs themselves. And what a joy to toss out a drawerful of wrinkled clippings now that Gillian Duffy has chosen the 100 best recipes from this magazine for New York Cooks (Stewart, Tabori & Chang).

Valley of the Dals…Southern Comfort…Required [...]