January 5, 2004
Marc Solomon and Blue Grant don’t open restaurants—they open hangouts. What their A and Ivo & Lulu lack in size, menu selection, and liquor licenses, they make up for in a disarmingly welcoming vibe, laid-back atmosphere, and tabs kept astoundingly low by a BYOB policy. Funky Nassau, their latest low-key venture (opened in collaboration with A alumna Laura Little), takes the bring-your-own philosophy to a creative conclusion: A $5-per-person fee buys the evening’s use of a mini-fridge to stash your booze. Conveniently, the appliances double as tables, which makes for civilized consumption of organic sandwiches like roast-pheasant pâté with truffle herbed brie, and jerk-duck confit with blue cheese and mango mayo.
122 East 7th Street
Radio Perfecto Uptown
Radio Perfecto is known for its delicious herbed rotisserie chicken and its offbeat retro décor—both of which can now be found 106 blocks north, in the Morningside Heights neighborhood sly real-estate agents have rechristened Soha (south of Harlem). Radio Perfecto Uptown, like its Avenue B sibling, displays a collection of vintage Bakelite radios, and also shares its executive chef, Pedro Cruz, who supplements the $10.95 half-chicken-and-fries house specialty with empanadas, quesadillas, and specials like seafood risotto. A live-jazz program is in the works.
1187 Amsterdam Avenue, near 118th Street
It’s a not-so-secret—and frustrating—fact that some of the best restaurant meals never make it out of the kitchen. So low-budget restaurant whiz Jean Claude Iacovelli (Jean Claude, Soho Steak) and partner Danforth Houle have opened Cubana Café, a lively pastel-splashed spot inspired by years of staff meals prepared by Iacovelli’s mostly Latin kitchen crews. Cuban classics like ropa vieja abound, but so do tripe tacos, Cotija-dusted corn on the cob, and arroz con pollo. Though the presence of a hanger steak—albeit one served with chimichurri sauce—proves that old French habits die hard.
110 Thompson Street
object of desire
The Chocolate Show
It’s not quite like crêpes Suzette, flambéed before your eyes, but the Mexican hot chocolate at Lucy includes a little dramatic tableside flourish of its own. This pleasingly lighter-bodied, cinnamony style of the drink—made from two types of Mexican chocolate—is served from an earthenware pitcher and frothed up at the table by a waiter wielding a wooden molinillo (chocolate beater). Even before you’re ready for a refill, he’s back for an encore.
35 East 18th Street
at the greenmarket
Long Island’s Hydrogarden Farm has carved out a pungent niche for itself at Union Square, giving everything from radish greens to edamame the spicy Korean kimchi treatment. This fall, farmers David and Julie Yen have figured out something else to do with their locally grown soybeans: turn them into fresh and roasted tofu and soy milk, which they also sell hot by the cup for a high-protein, unsweetened alternative to the omnipresent apple cider.
Drum Roll, Please
With one flashy move, Aquavit’s Marcus Samuelsson handily nails two of the culinary world’s hottest trends: the stylish hotel restaurant and the upscale sushi bar. This week, he and partner Hakan Swahn open Riingo at the David Rockwell– designed Alex hotel, where chef Johan Svensson gives so-called American dishes a global spin (harissa-spiced buffalo skewers, whole snapper with red-miso broth), and sushi chef Shigenori Tanaka turns foie gras and Kobe beef into luxurious rolls. Green-tea-jelly doughnuts, house-infused sake cocktails, and a “bento booth” for four enhance the cross-cultural appeal.
205 East 45th Street
Will Merry Prankster David Burke Ever Grow Up?
His fans hope not. They’ll be oohing and giggling over designer dollhouse touches on the plates at davidburke & donatella: little silver dishes hiding sea-urchin panna cotta. A veal filet mignon, on the bone, he designed at his Bronx butcher’s. Glass-brick serving pieces, halved so that “cool” tuna rides above a still life of seaweed and crabs (Burke wanted them live, but partner Donatella Arpaia nixed it). It took less than an hour’s talk for this odd couple—the rough-cut Brooklyn boy who grew up in New Jersey and the ambitious but very properly dutiful Italian daughter—to decide that their visions meshed. Witness the salon elegance of mirror and blown glass with some silly bird paintings on walls the color of black-bean soup. And Burke is thrilled to be back at the range. Even a grouch will warm to luscious scallops disguised as eggs Benedict, marvelous mustard-crusted tuna, his familiar lobster “steak” with curried shoestrings and rich ribeye. His chocolate park bench is recycled here, too, along with marvelous chocolate praline torte, and a custom-made dollhouse stove piled with candy. À la carte, or $65 for the tasting.
133 East 61st Street