Week of February 23, 2004
Taboon may be the first restaurant to coin the phrase “Middleterranean”—a Tolkienian-sounding hybrid of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean. The menu, conceived by Israeli consulting chef Haim Cohen (pictured), incorporates French technique and global ingredients in dishes like calamari seviche with bok choy and za’atar vinaigrette, oxtail stew with black lentils and gnocchi, and duck confit with Jerusalem artichokes. And the name? It’s the Arabic word for the domed oven built inside this Hell’s Kitchen restaurant and the blazing source of the puffy house flatbread.
773 Tenth Avenue, at 52nd Street
Shane McBride was Christian Delouvrier’s chef de cuisine at the late Lespinasse, where he met Jean-Philippe Leloup and Philipp Posch, his partners at the new Océo at the Time Hotel. Compared with their old St. Regis roost, with its frills and frippery, the trio’s new habitat is a sleek, sophisticated showcase for McBride’s global menu, which mixes luxury with rusticity in dishes like lobster soup with cured foie gras, and Casco Bay cod with clams and homemade chorizo. He even manages to impart a little of his southern upbringing with biscuits and grits at breakfast. Upstairs, La Gazelle lounge courts a theater-district crowd, with a lighter, less expensive bar menu.
224 West 49th Street
time warner watch
They’ll take Manhattan. But what about your reservation? Per Se opens this week in the Time Warner Center, but unless you started speed-dialing two weeks ago, it’s a moot point. All 64 seats in the Adam Tihany–designed dining room are booked through April 16, and probably will be in perpetuity. They’ve been claimed by well-heeled foodies who’ve been foaming at the mouth ever since Thomas Keller (below, left) announced he was re-creating the California hot spot French Laundry (“but not the French Laundry per se”—get it?) in New York’s newest and splashiest dining hub. What did it take to lure America’s most famous chef out of his bucolic Yountville existence? A gleaming, elaborate kitchen that dwarfs the elegant dining room—and the chance to dictate which other megastar chefs would be joining him. Masa Takayama, whose Masa opens next week down the hall, was one obvious choice. Fellow Californians and like-minded perfectionists, Takayama and Keller are kindred spirits, obsessive about the sublime ingredients they fashion into tasting menus of bite-size morsels costing anywhere between $125 (at Per Se) and $500 (at Masa). Details are paramount: Keller designs his own dishware; Takayama carves sake cups from bamboo. Like the majority of the sushi master’s esoteric ingredients, most of the materials used in architect Richard Bloch’s strikingly spare, luxuriously simple design for Masa came from Japan: textured ohya stone from the province where Takayama was born; a stunning bubinga bar top; a gnarly 2,500-year-old cedar door; and a 27-foot-long sushi bar made of traditional hinoki wood. With only 26 seats, Masa will be an even tougher ticket than Per Se. Luckily, both chefs have staked out space in the center for less expensive, easier-to-penetrate outposts—Bouchon Bakery and Bar Masa. Midtown Manhattan, meet California casual.—Robin Raisfeld
Gourmet In Toto
It wouldn’t go with the atmospheric glass-and-oxidized-tin design, but if they wanted to, the owners of Brooklyn’s Bar Toto could hang one of those signs you see outside 14th Street discount stores: EVERYTHING $10 AND UNDER. After a two-year try at running the space as the Italian restaurant Luce, partners Peter Sclafani and Kristen Hallett have rejiggered it into more of an enoteca, revised the menu, and slashed the prices. Judging by the early-evening swarm of young families one recent night, it’s working. Though every low-budget restaurateur these days seems to worship at the altar of the three P’s—pizza, pasta, and panini—Toto does them better than most. A nicely pressed tuna panino with provolone gets a righteous kick from a handful of hot peppers; the unusual grilled pizza is made with great toppings and fresh mozzarella, even if the crust is a little too soft; and penne with peas and prosciutto in a creamy tomato sauce hits the spot. Even entrées like fish and chips, and sausage and polenta hover below $10. The all-Italian wine list, decent beer lineup, and extensive selection of amaros and grappas make Toto a reliable watering hole, too, but barflies, take note: This is prime Park Slope toddler territory, and the happy hour starts well after the kids are tucked in, at 11 p.m. 411 11th Street, at Sixth Avenue, Park Slope, Brooklyn
The shared corporate parenthood of Au Bon Pain and California chef Joachim Splichal’s Patina Group has at least one unexpectedly delicious consequence: local access to Mandion’s, Splichal’s luscious hazelnut and chocolate meringuelike cookies. Concocted in collaboration with his French-pâtissier father-in-law, André Mandion, these crispy confections took first place in the 2002 International Pastry Exhibition in Paris, and can be found at an Au Bon Pain near you ($4.95).
Doesn’t Washington’s birthday mean cherry pie?
The hefty chunk of oversugared and proudly primitive cherry pie I devoured on a desperate winter night at Bubby’s recently reminded me how I crave the trashy confections of my Michigan childhood. But our town’s purist pastry stars don’t play with cherries out of season, not even to honor George. And the best sour cherry, the red Montmorency, has only a cruelly brief moment in May. Never mind. Canned cherries make sublime pie year-round, and they’re piled high in Little Pie Company’s smartly tart and homey classic. Kitchenette’s standard is pleasingly acerbic, too, and the crust is a tad flakier. Sarabeth’s small cherry crumb pie is stylish in a kind of shabby-chic way, with a lush cache of not-too-sweet fruit enclosed in rustic pastry folds sprinkled with cinnamon-touched streusel (full-size to order). I cannot tell a lie: I wanted to spank Sarabeth when she told me bay leaf and a touch of balsamic vinegar were the subtle seasoning I couldn’t identify, but I bow to the delicious subtlety of such intrusions.
80 W. Broadway; 212 267-6740
1272 Amsterdam Ave.; 212-531-7600
Little Pie Company
407 West 14th St.; 212-414-2324
424 West 43rd St.; 212) 736-4780
Grand Central Terminal, Lower Dining Concourse; 212-983-3538
1295 Madison Ave., Hotel Wales
423 Amsterdam Ave.; 212-496-6280