Pea-Brainstorming…Brave Old World…Not Your Corner Bodegas

March 8, 2004

Photo: Patrik Rytikangas

In the competitive restaurant world, it’s hard to make a name for yourself. Erez Itzhaki and Eric Salomon didn’t even try. Instead, while they were busy transforming the old St. Marks Pizza into what might be New York’s sleekest falafel joint—copper counters, Moroccan star-light fixtures, even a lounge—they organized a Name Our Restaurant contest with a grand prize of $2,500. Chickpea, the winning submission, is a fitting moniker for an Israeli joint that specializes in falafel, shawarma, and their illegitimate offspring, shawafel, all served on puffy house-baked pitas.
23 Third Avenue

Photo: Carina Salvi

August owner Jason Hennings has designated his new West Village restaurant a regional European bistro, and the adamantly old-world menu backs him up with Tarragonian-style salt-cod fritters, Macedonian bass with fennel, orange, and black olives, and spaghetti carbonara “in the style of Lazio.” Until recently, this storefront was home to Cafe Picasso, and August has inherited its predecessor’s romantic garden as well as its wood-burning oven, which now dispenses not only pizza margherita but also Spanish-inspired coca Mallorquina and Alsatian tarte flambée.
359 Bleecker Street

Billed as New York’s first meyhane—the Istanbul equivalent of Cheers, where drinkers bond over meze and raki—this new restaurant promises between 25 and 30 meze a night—including a complimentary one—like sun-dried mackerel with dill and vinegar, poached egg with garlic yogurt, and cracked-wheat patties stuffed with ground meat.
98 Ave. B

George O’Neill’s
A fancy Manhattan offshoot of the 73-year-old O’Neill’s in Maspeth, known for its on-premise OTB and acclaimed brick-oven pizza. This midtown steakhouse has neither, but it does share Peter Luger’s hungryman approach to serving porterhouse—portioned for two, three, or four.
145 E. 50th St.

The East Village lost one of its most popular sushi spots when Iso closed, but this week, two Iso veterans reopen the restaurant with a refreshed, woodier décor, a new name that means Asian carp, and a similar menu that has built on a core collection of old favorites.
175 Second Ave.

La Table O & Co.
Known for its artisanal extra-virgin olive oils, O & Co. has gone from selling bottles and tins of the high-grade stuff to serving food made with it. The in-house restaurant of the chain’s new Soho store has a Mediterranean small-plate menu conceived by California chef and baker Pascal Rigo, who launched the first American outpost in San Francisco last fall with fresh-baked breads, pastries, sandwiches, and salads.
92 Prince St.

The East Village sibling of a Brooklyn Peruvian restaurant features a similarly seafood-centric menu, rotisserie chicken, and a satisfying version of aji de gallina, the traditional chicken stew drenched in a chile-spiked creamy yellow sauce with sliced potatoes, hard-boiled egg, and olives.
99 First Ave.

39 East
Thai chef Taweewat Hurapan mastered Pan-Asian fusion at Rain; at this theatrical new Bayside restaurant, he takes an even more multicultural approach with dishes like tempura lobster roll, pesto curry fusilli, and osso buco with lemongrass-lime sauce.
213-41 39th Ave., Bayside

Photo: Kenneth Chen

object of desire
Sole Survivor
Consider Crispo’s superb sole impanato and zucchini fritti as fish and chips, Italian style. A frequent special, the wonderfully fresh, lightly herb-and-bread-crumb-coated fillets and crisp deep-fried zucchini slivers come on a plate, not wrapped in newspaper, and lemon-butter sauce fills in for malt vinegar.
240 West 14th Street

Photo: Ellie Miller

the underground gourmet
Convenience Store
A good Bodegas is what every neighborhood needs.
Clinton Hill locals have already embraced Bodegas, a low-key restaurant and bar that sprung up recently among the barber shops and nail salons lining Fulton Street. To say that this particular stretch of Fulton has not achieved culinary-destination status is putting it mildly: The spare but sleek restaurant’s closest competition, Lucky Chinese Takeout, conducts transactions through a bulletproof Plexiglas slot. But it’s not only demand that has made Bodegas an instant hit—nor the fact that, like any good bodega, it’s open virtually nonstop, from breakfast through dinner. Owner Christian Dennery also operates Liquors in nearby Fort Greene, and both kitchens share the considerable talents of West African chef Gerard Kiki, whose deceptively diner-sounding menu abounds with global accents and a pervasive soul-food flair that’s deliciously evident in dishes like whole roast porgy. Crunchy outside, firm and delicately flavored within, the fish is crusted with bread crumbs and served with cornbread. Kiki’s “pizzas” are actually hand-shaped flatbreads embellished with a choice of sauces and toppings, some—like hot pickled peppers and dates—unlikely to be found at your neighborhood slice joint. And it would be a mistake to forgo sides like bread-crumb-crusted mac and cheese, earthy black beans, and tangy, vinegar-kissed collards, not to mention the homemade strawberry-cinnamon cheesecake for dessert. This summer, Bodegas will live up to its name, once Dennery opens an adjacent market featuring fresh fish, meat, cheeses, and prepared foods. “But no diapers or lightbulbs,” says Dennery, who lives in the neighborhood and knows exactly which niches need to be filled. —Rob Patronite
860 Fulton Street, at Clinton Avenue, Clinton Hill, Brooklyn

Photo: Carina Salvi

Puff Daddy
Although Beard Papa Sweets Café sounds like a funky club run by a hirsute sugar daddy, the specialty of this Japanese chain is overgrown cream puffs. Made with an unusual shell that’s part choux pastry and part pie dough—but better than both—the amazingly great snacks are filled with a vanilla-flavored custard and come in a carrying case adorned with a picture of a whiskery pipe-smoking fisherman—the talented Beard Papa himself.
2167 Broadway, near 76th Street

Photo: Carina Salvi

ask gael
What did Jean-Georges and Gray do to deserve this?
When Jean-Georges Vongerichten has nothing else to do, he opens a restaurant. This time he enlisted long-lost Gray Kunz to orchestrate a Far Eastern street-food duet while the pair wait to open a steakhouse (J-G) and brasserie (Kunz) in the Time Warner mall. Spice Market, their giant sprawl stuffed with old pagodas shipped in from India, is as big as some small towns and already pulsating. With Kunz sweating behind the 64-foot cooking line, Jean-Georges speed-walks the room, greeting congenital first-nighters. “How do they find us?” he asks, in sly innocence. “We open quietly. No name out front. The wrong address printed.” The mostly American kitchen crew flipping and sautéeing in full view already scores. Thai fried chicken wings, yes. Sensational salads too: complex green papaya, or crunchy squid with ginger, papaya, and cashews. Our sixsome—struggling to eat in the prescribed “family” style at a too-tiny table—is wowed by char-grilled chicken, steamed lobster with butter-fried garlic, wok-fried sea bass, and a complex toss of lime noodles. Even plain-Jane broccoli and baby corn explode with flavor.
403 West 13th Street

Pea-Brainstorming…Brave Old World…Not Your Co [...]