Weeks of January 19-26, 2004, 2003
Suzanne Lai has lived on the Lower East Side for years, watching Clinton Street erupt with restaurant after new restaurant. Last month, she joined the fray, converting a nail salon into Cube 63, a sleek, stylish Japanese place with a sushi bar. An investment-bank controller by day, Lai designed the twenty-seat spot and left the kitchen in the capable hands of her husband, Ken Lau, and his brother, Ben Lau, veterans of raw-fish redoubts like BondSt and Otabe. They’ve put together a greatest-hits menu that starts with gyoza and works its way up to omakase dinners starting at $30.
63 Clinton Street
It must be a hellish commute for the overalls-clad waiters and busboys at Carvão: That OshKosh B’Gosh look can’t go over too well on the subway. The uniforms are part of chef-owner Antonio Francesco’s transformation of Enoteca Antonio into a rustic country taverna specializing in hearty Iberian-influenced dishes like a Portuguese clam pot, caldo verde, and whole sardines, steak, and chicken churrasco cooked over a wood-fired grill. A warm welcome, low prices, wood beams, and a working fireplace add to the down-home effect.
1477 Second Avenue, at 77th Street
On January 17 and 18, coinciding with “The Haitian Experience” at the American Museum of Natural History, the 77th Street lobby will be temporarily transformed into a Haitian café serving national specialties like lambi (conch chowder), barbecued goat with red beans and rice, and the creamy rum-and-coconut-milk drink called crémasse.
Central Park West at 79th St.
Part quasi-industrial coffee shop, part gleaming bar and lounge, this Hell’s Kitchen newcomer is named for its neighborhood and determined to satisfy all its food-and-drink needs—from bagels and Belgian waffles to new-wave martinis and late-night escargots.
523 Ninth Ave., at 39th St.
Sugar Sweet Sunshine
The West Village’s beloved Magnolia Bakery begat Buttercup, and now its ex-employees have started spreading the buttercream gospel to new lands, like Billy’s in Chelsea and this funky Lower East Side storefront, where childhood can be revisited for the price of a brownie, cupcake, or slice of old-fashioned layer cake.
126 Rivington St.
Sushi Sennin @ 81
Long a secret of Murray Hill sushiphiles, this little-known, much-loved sushi bar spawns an uptown outpost that’s twice the size (and just a bit more upscale). Master chef Matsu will be shuttling between them, overseeing the meticulous production of sushi, sashimi, and novelties like “carpaccio crunch” and sautéed foie gras.
1420 Third Ave., nr. 81st St.
Is Blue Hill courting a younger audience? Well, just for one night. On January 25, co-chefs Dan Barber and Mike Anthony will showcase the raw-milk cheeses of Jonathan White’s Bobolink Dairy for a special family-oriented evening. White, a passionate advocate of sustainable farming, will give a talk, and the kitchen will turn out dishes like a melted-Cheddar sandwich with braising greens, yellowfoot mushrooms, and quail eggs (pictured), as well as—shockingly—macaroni and cheese. “It’s a wonderful way to get a taste of summer, and to introduce the idea of seasonal cheese,” says Barber, who likes the fact that White milks his cows and makes cheese only when the herd is feeding on grass during the warmer months. “I’ve always dreamed of doing a mac-’n’-cheese night,” Anthony says.
75 Washington Place
Point Reyes Original Blue Dip and Dressing could be the thing that bridges the culinary gap between the French-onion dippers and the foodies at your Super Bowl party. Made from the award-winning California artisanal blue cheese, it’s a maddeningly good spread—creamy, rich, and tangy, absolutely addictive with potato chips and crudité. Our early game-day prediction: A seven-ounce container will last no longer than Rush Limbaugh’s sportscasting career, so buy a few. ($5.99; available at Dean & Deluca.)
the underground gourmet
At Crave, the room is small, but the ambition is big—like the burger.
Chef-partners Debbie Lyn and Marco Morillo have two babies: their 2-year-old daughter, Camille, and their six-month-old Carroll Gardens café and catering company, Crave. While they were busy working for other people (Jean-Louis Palladin in his case, François Payard in hers), the couple dreamed of opening a little place of their own, and with a kitchen that dwarfs the twelve-seat dining room, Crave is certainly that. It’s also a catering company and a takeout and delivery service that aims to offer the residential neighborhood something a bit more upscale and elegant than the competition, despite a $20-entrée ceiling. Something like crispy, meaty duck-leg confit over vinegary frisée with sweet caramelized pearl onions. Or a moist, flavorful pork-tenderloin special accessorized with luscious mushroom risotto. Carrot-ginger soup was rich and soothing, despite barely discernible “chocolate-lemon oil,” and the best thing about the vegetables en papillote was the optional add-on fillet of nicely cooked arctic char, which made up for gritty Swiss chard. So did affordable wines and microbrewed beers, plus friendly, low-key service, and a relaxing vibe that’s won as many local fans as the towering ten-ounce burger, a formidable answer to the most deep-seated craving. —Robin Raisfeld
570 Henry Street, near Summit Street, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
I want to impress my pals with this year’s news.
My guys’ eyes keep wandering to the muted Japanese animation projected on the wall beyond the sushi bar at Geisha. I’m jealous. But careering spaceships, origami birds, and lush architectural detail transform this gawky duplex into a Japanese-fusion playpen. It’s early, and the kitchen is still green, even with Le Bernardin’s Eric Ripert coaching. So far, starters—cockles in fragrant miso consommé, Spanish-mackerel tartare with wasabi tobiko, and one night’s luscious spicy salmon roll—show better than entrées. Hideously sweet port-plum sauce spoils pork tenderloin, and bland lobster suffers from too long in the oven (though its udon-noodle side quickly disappears). Barely cooked salmon and the rack of lamb on silken taro-root purée are better choices. The toll mounts if you toss in a few sushi rolls, fruity fusion cocktails, and specialty sakes. But can you resist a tea of silvered young leaves scented with jasmine and wrapped around a rosebud?
33 East 61st Street