Bar Food Becomes an Entrée
Bar food has always been a culinary specialty in this hectic, 24-hour town. But as the Gospel of David Chang continues its inexorable spread throughout the restaurant world, there has never been a better time to belly up to your local gin den, or whiskey joint, or noodle bar for a slap-up feast. My favorite haute-Brooklyn-style dinner in Greenpoint these days is the $95 Scandinavian-themed tasting menu that the ex-Momofuku chef Daniel Burns and his bewhiskered band of cooks serve every night at Luksus, which you’ll find behind a small door in the back of neo-Danish beer hall Tørst. The studiously exacting Swedish chef Fredrik Berselius serves similarly ascetic, locavore-themed treats at his seven-table restaurant, Aska, in Williamsburg, although if you’re looking for a proper rib-sticking dinner, the place to find it is at the long, burled-wood bar, where the rotating menu includes winter specialties like skate wing cooked in vinegar; richly fatty, deboned pig trotters sweetened with apples; and an excellent rendition of the classic Swedish potatis dumpling served in a pool of smoky farmer’s cheese flavored with lingonberry and fennel fronds.
There are no Changian steamed pork buns available at Wylie Dufresne’s modernist gastropub Alder, which opened last summer several doors down from the original Momofuku Noodle Bar in the East Village. But Dufresne and his army of madcap chefs have created an interesting interpretation of pigs in a blanket, made with sweet Chinese sausage instead of hot dogs, to go with the impressive house selection of cocktails, draft beers, and rarefied, highbrow sakes from Japan. In Dufresne’s competent hands, foie gras turns out to be an excellent drinking dish, too (it’s served in terrine form), although if you’re wise, you’ll save room for the great chef’s interpretation of New England clam chowder, which is as thick and creamy as melted ice cream and sprinkled with actual dehydrated oysters, instead of oyster crackers, for an elevated, big-city crunch.
Similar pleasures are available at the bar of Hooni Kim’s new Flatiron bar-restaurant, Hanjan, where I like to repair, after a long, bilious night on the town, to graze on restorative Korean joomak bar-food specialties like pig trotters with fermented-shrimp dipping sauce on the side, hot bowls of bokkeum bap rice mixed with fresh eggs and chunks of brisket, and skewers of Kim’s signature “fresh killed” chicken marinated in bowls of sake and soy. If brown spirits are your elixir of choice, however, I recommend you stagger across 26th Street to Maysville, where you can supplement the bar’s impressive collection of more than 200 single malts, bourbons, and rye whiskeys with elegant southern delicacies like roasted Brussels sprouts feathered with crispy pig’s ears and buttermilk dressing, and a superb fried-chicken leg, which the former Gramercy Tavern chef Kyle Knall composes on the plate with gourmet-quality collard greens, a dainty spoonful of whipped potatoes, and a smothering of deliciously tangy vinegar gravy.
After years wandering the culinary desert, dabbling in an endless variety of cooking styles and techniques, the talented chef Ignacio Mattos seems to have found a home at the new bar-restaurant Estela, in Soho, where food-loving boozers line up early in the evening at the long marble bar to nibble on Mediterranean-themed small plates like whipped cod with matzo crackers; cool, plump mussels escabeche; and bowls of classic ricotta-gnudi dumplings, which the chef soaks in butter and serves over drifts of white-button mushrooms and Pecorino cheese. Connoisseurs of the gin-and-tonic are flocking to Cata, on the Bowery, where you can complement the excellent tapas menu with over twenty varieties of this great Victorian libation, flavored, the way gin-and-tonic-mad Spaniards like to do these days, with such exotic garnishes as star anise, Thai basil, and plumes of fresh mint.
If fine wine is your addiction, there’s no better place to end an extended culinary bar crawl than Pearl & Ash, on the eastern fringes of Soho. This self-styled “progressive wine bar” features 53 white wines from the Loire Valley alone and 49 different varieties of Champagne. But if you’re wise, you’ll focus on Richard Kuo’s deceptively artful menu, which includes lozenges of deboned quail wrapped in chicken skin, bites of octopus rolled in Japanese togarashi spice powder laced with Sriracha, and ice-cream sandwiches for dessert, touched in high-boozehound style with the Italian digestive liqueur Fernet-Branca.
Steak Trumps Bolognese
My portly pasta-loving friends still dutifully devour the mountainous noodle dishes featured at the nouveaux red-sauce joints that are all the rage in Italian-dining circles these days. Lately, however, the dishes they can’t stop talking about are the old-fashioned rustico-protein specialties, like bowls of tripe gently simmered in fresh tomato sauce, heaping platters of Tuscan rib chops, and classic veal Parmesan, served in great saucers under mattresses of melted cheese.
At the center of this Italian meathead movement, in midtown, is Michael Stillman’s new steakhouse on 57th Street, Quality Italian, where the menu features a startlingly tender, bone-in Tomahawk rib chop for the expense-account price of $42 and a delicious flap of veal Parmesan for two that is so large the waiters dole it out in generous slices, like a giant pizza. There’s also a very fine Gulliver-size veal Parm on the menu at Carbone, down in the Village, although, in my opinion, the one dish that manages to live up to the hype at this madly overhyped, overpriced, faux-red-sauce establishment is the excellent “mixed grill cacciatore” for two, which is hoisted to the table on a butcher board the size of a manhole cover and contains sausages, chops, and other assorted specialties.
I’m not a big fan of the way the talented chef Michael White has put together his helter-skelter global restaurant empire, but if you have the urge for a protein fix while wandering the boutiques of Soho, you could do much worse than the generously sized (and, at $61 per person, steeply priced) “Fiorentina” porterhouse for two, which the chefs at White’s new Italian-themed steakhouse, Costata, scatter with frizzled sprigs of rosemary and bulbs of roasted garlic.
I like to order the excellent pastas whenever I visit the elegant garden dining room at Piora, on Hudson Street in the West Village, but whenever I’m in the mood for a proper feast, I’ll call for the off-the-menu côte de boeuf, which was dressed, last I dropped in, with an elaborate New Age hollandaise sauce flavored with rosemary and maple. The great canoe-size marrow bone is the dish my friends get whenever they visit Harold Dieterle’s slightly muddled new Italio-German mash-up restaurant, The Marrow, in the West Village, and if you’re in the market for a superior piece of beef in the East Village, you won’t do better than the classic Red Angus tagliata di manzo, which the former uptown chef Roberto Deiaco cuts in tender, juicy slices and finishes with more generous spoonfuls of bone marrow at East 12th Osteria on First Avenue.
For the ultimate in beefy, sophisticated Italian cooking, I direct you to the sleek, matchbook-size new Soho restaurant Charlie Bird, which has been more or less mobbed with revelers ever since it opened, early last summer, in a tiny, pie-shaped space off Sixth Avenue on King Street. All of the rustic specialties on the former San Francisco chef Ryan Hardy’s unpretentious, user-friendly menu are worth the trip, but the dishes that work best are the old fresser classics, like the fat, milk-fed veal chop, garnished with wedges of lemon; the smooth, almost silky “Lovely Style” tripe, served on slices of thick peasant toast; and the large-plate dry-aged beef rib eye, which you can wash down with co-owner Robert Bohr’s expertly chosen Rhônes, red Burgundies, and Brunellos, all of which are available, if you’re in a parsimonious mood, by the half-bottle.
Sushi Goes Tuna-Belly Up
Not so long ago, assorted tin-pot prognosticators and gasbag critics (like yours truly) were prophesying the demise of the boom-era sushi culture. Well, not anymore. For a new generation of big-money diners, o-toro tuna belly has replaced foie gras and the white truffle as the ultimate power food, and the city is in the grips of a miraculous sushi renaissance. If you don’t believe me, I suggest you try to book a seat at Toshio Oguma’s wildly popular Tanoshi Sushi Sake Bar, up on York Avenue, where it’s more difficult to reserve one of the ten seats at the diminutive, slightly ramshackle bar than it is to score a table at Le Bernardin or Per Se. Oguma’s selection of fish isn’t elaborate by old, midtown-sushi standards, but everything on the constantly changing omakase menu is impeccably sourced (Santa Barbara uni, fresh scallops flown in from Hokkaido, silvery Atlantic shad), and at $65 for a ten-piece dinner, you can’t beat the price.
For a few dollars more, you’ll find similar treats on the menu at Kura, which has been attracting crowds of discerning East Village sushi freaks ever since it opened last year on the fringes of Tompkins Square Park. The genial sushiya, Norihiro Ishizuka, offers a variety of elaborate non-sushi options on his omakase menu, but if you’re wise, you’ll focus on the fish, which has included four different grades of pink, top-quality tuna, along with a clean, deeply refreshing hand roll filled with shreds of shiso and salty, popping salmon roe.
My favorite dish on John Daley’s inventive omakase menu at New York Sushi Ko, down on Clinton Street, is the o-toro tuna belly, which the New Jersey–born sushi chef drips with blowtorched tuna lardo and dresses with curls of fried tuna chicharrónes. But if you’re on a slightly tighter budget, you won’t do better than the $45 ten-piece sushi option that the city’s other prominent non-Japanese gaijin sushi master, David Bouhadana, serves at Sushi Dojo, which has been doing a brisk business ever since it opened its doors on First Avenue in the East Village. Whenever my deep-pocketed friends want a more traditional and (at $160 per head) classically priced sushi experience, they travel down to the eight-seat bar Ichimura at Brushstroke, where the well-traveled Tokyo sushi master Eiji Ichimura doles out his slices of edo-mae-style tuna belly and goldeneye snapper piece by glistening piece, with the friendly but firm instruction to “not use too much soy sauce, please.”
Similar subtly traditional pleasures are available at the discreet new Soho establishment Hirohisa, where the small-plates expert Hirohisa Hayashi specializes in serving the quirky dishes beloved by Japanese omakase purists, like squares of warm sesame tofu topped with spoonfuls of fresh uni, which I washed down, on my visit, with icy carafes of expertly curated junmai ginjo sake. Sake is also one of the specialties at the city’s most eagerly awaited new sushi palace, Sushi Nakazawa, which opened in August on a tree-lined townhouse street in the West Village. The ebullient chef, Daisuke Nakazawa, is famous in sushi circles as the former apprentice of the great Japanese sushi god Jiro Ono. Unlike Jiro’s famously monastic Tokyo establishment, this restaurant features custom black leather swivel chairs at the gleaming white marble omakase bar and a dimly lit, poshly appointed dining room. And unlike his severe sensei, Nakazawa exudes bonhomie and good cheer as he serves his spare, often locally sourced omakase dinner to his customers. Everything I sampled during my visits was worth the $150 price of admission, but pay special attention to the sweet, pale, almost vanilla-colored uni from Santa Barbara, which is scooped from its spiky shell by Nakazawa himself, and the elaborate sake pairing, which, at $40 for six to seven glasses, is one of the best drinking deals in town.
Brooklyn Sells Out, Tastefully
Once upon a time, Brooklyn restaurants were known for their locally sourced, rigorously seasonal menus, their loyal, neighborly clientele, and their tiny, tiny rooms. Now that Kings County has officially morphed into an international dining destination, however, more local chefs and restaurateurs seem to be abandoning the tiny-room formula and expanding their successful franchises by leaps and bounds. Or so I thought to myself as I contemplated my perfectly charred, faintly spicy clam pizza pie at the larger, more user-friendly version of Franny’s, which those legendary Brooklyn culinary demigods Francine Stephens and Andrew Feinberg opened in April on Flatbush Avenue.
This Franny’s 2.0 version is more impersonal than the original, it’s true, but there’s much more space in the new setup for the inevitable fleets of strollers that tend to pile up by the entrance in the evenings, and if you pine for the classic, old-shoe feel of the original, you can always wander a few blocks down Flatbush to the old Franny’s space, which now houses Feinberg and Stephens’s excellent new neighborhood trattoria, Marco’s. There are no pizzas on the menu of this slightly dowdy-looking establishment, and thanks to the Stygian lighting, the brown, parchmentlike menus can be difficult to decipher. Once you’ve acclimated yourself to these challenging conditions, you’ll find all sorts of authentic wonders on the menu, in particular the skewers of roast duck gizzards drizzled with a Concord-grape mosto, tangles of buttery tagliatelle speckled with salty shreds of prosciutto di Parma, and plump, perfectly charred lamb chops scottadito served, like in a home kitchen in Rome, over wedges of toast.
Andy Ricker has just moved Pok Pok NY from its original, cramped, perpetually oversubscribed space on Columbia Street to a larger room down the block, while up on Court Street, the talented Battersby chefs Joseph Ogrodnek and Walker Stern have recently opened a capacious new restaurant called Dover, which has a good-size outdoor dining patio and, unlike their famously Lilliputian Smith Street establishment, a stand-alone kitchen. Farther north, in Greenpoint, all the stylish Manhattan food nabobs I know are making pilgrimages out to Glasserie, where the accomplished young chef Sara Kramer cooks rustic, Middle Eastern–accented dishes (try the lamb croquettes folded with bulgur, the sweet-potato dumplings, and anything served with fresh-baked Yemeni “flaky bread”) on the ground floor of a refurbished former glass factory on Commercial Street.
For a real dose of the new-Brooklyn big-box style, however, I suggest you book a table at Paul Liebrandt’s new hotel restaurant venture, The Elm, which opened in July on the fringes of McCarren Park in Williamsburg. The triple-height atrium dining space features a gleaming, state-of-the-art open kitchen, a wall covered in vines, and not one but two counters (one for drinks, the other for Liebrandt’s elaborate multicourse tasting menu). Order anything the peripatetic, ex-Manhattan chef cooks in a Le Creuset pot, in particular the generously portioned big-ticket items, like lobster cassoulet; the sweet, almost candied Iberian-style pork belly with pan con tomate; and the delicious turbot, which Liebrandt serves, when it’s in season, with a thin layer of mashed ramps in rich lemongrass broth stippled with summer beans and tiny cubes of bacon.
The Taco Is the Burger
Forget boutique barbecue shacks, chef burgers, and carefully rendered platters of faux-southern-fried chicken served in the Low Country style. These days in the city’s voracious, ever-widening comfort-food community, the lowly taco is all the rage. The trendy late-night dish for off-duty chefs is the ropy, deliciously textured short-rib-pastrami taco on the menu at Alex Stupak’s groundbreaking East Village haute-Mexican establishment, Empellón Cocina, although if it’s a classic corn-masa taco you’re after, you’ll find it at the recently opened Otto’s Tacos, on Second Avenue in the East Village, where it’s a pleasure to perch at the metal counters, devouring one messy, crispy-edged taco after the next (try the shrimp, with crema sauce and fresh cilantro, and a side of masa fries), while watching the cooks stamp circles of yellow corn masa on their gleaming tortilla press.
You’ll find slightly more ambitious recipes on the expanded menu at Ken Friedman and April Bloomfield’s glitzy Murray Hill taco shack, Salvation Taco, including an elevated interpretation of the famous Korean Kogi-truck taco from L.A., which consisted, on the evening I enjoyed it, of grilled beef in Korean galbi marinade, a basket of fresh-made corn tortillas, and five varieties of inventive toppings (pickles, kimchee, etc.), all delivered to my table with a pair of dainty, do-it-yourself bamboo tongs.
Similarly elegant Mexican-themed treats are available at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s latest foray into the realm of populist comfort food, ABC Cocina, which opened last year on the ground floor of ABC Carpet and Home. None of the great gourmet chef’s taco plates costs under $13, so if you’re looking to justify the lavish sticker price, go with the old favorites, like cubes of chicken breast marinated with chipotle and onions, or chunks of glazed short ribs piled in drifts of frizzled onions. If you’re still hungry, you can complement these dense umami bombs with the more delicate crudo and vegetable selections from the “light and bright” section of the menu, but be sure to save some calorie space for the deceptively deadly house margaritas, which the resident mixologists touch, as in the tropics, with fresh grapefruit juice, sprigs of basil, or disks of jalapeño.
Until the full liquor license comes through, there won’t be any margaritas at Danny Bowien’s latest Lower East Side dining venture, Mission Cantina, although it’s possible to addle yourself with something called a Dirty Horchata, consisting of sweetened almond milk and a bracing shot of Stumptown cold brew. The tall corner space is much brighter and more inviting than the one farther down Orchard Street at Bowien’s original Manhattan outlet, and in this critic’s opinion, the food is brighter, too, in particular the fresh, inventive ceviches (try the scallops with chopped beef heart), the hungry-man masa tacos (the lamb shoulder, the grilled brisket), and the superb, large-format to-share plates (the whole rotisserie chicken stuffed with chorizo and rice), which are big enough to feed a family of prosperous Oaxacan farmers for a week.
Southeast Asian Becomes the Go-To
Over the years, almost every region of Asia—from Sichuan to the Indian Punjab to the imperial cuisine of Kyoto, Japan—has had its fifteen minutes of fame. Now, thanks to the success of Andy Ricker’s ever-expanding Pok Pok empire, it’s Southeast Asia’s turn. If you don’t feel like joining the hordes of food tourists and bearded spicy-larb experts who gather each evening for a taste of Ricker’s uncanny brand of northern Thai cooking at the mother-ship establishment on Columbia Street, then I suggest you wander across the street to the brand-new Whiskey Soda Lounge, where the friendly barkeep sells tamarind whiskey sours for $8 during happy hour. The real specialties at this bar, however, are the drinking dishes, like bowls of crackly, coral-pink shrimp chips, platters of the famous Pok Pok chicken wings tossed in chile peppers and spoonfuls of sticky fish sauce, and a strangely addictive delicacy called sai muu thawt, which look like dark, inky-colored potato chips but turn out to be a Thai version of fried chitlins, which Ricker’s cooks stew in five-spice powder, deep-fry to a frizzly crisp, and serve with a dipping bowl of sweet black vinegar on the side.
Ever since my discerning colleagues at Underground Gourmet anointed Bún-ker as the finest cheap-eats destination in town, members of the city’s Vietnamese-food cognoscenti have been making the long trek out to chef Jimmy Tu’s charmingly ramshackle restaurant, which opened in January among the old scrap yards out in the wilds of Ridgewood, Queens. Everything I sampled on the carefully edited menu is excellent, but pay special attention to the nontraditionalist bánh mì sandwich creations (stuffed with lemongrass short ribs or crispy flounder and tartar sauce) and the velvet coconut curry, which Tu pours over tender cuts of Bo Bo chicken for $15 and serves with a stack of fresh-made roti.
The best version of Hanoi-style beef phô that I’ve enjoyed outside of Hanoi in the past few years is the one that Rob Newton makes with gently boiled strips of brisket at his inspired new Smith Street establishment, Nightingale 9. And if hipster Laotian food is your passion, you’ll find decent facsimiles of tongue-twisting dishes like ping-nok-noi (ginger quail) and tam-mak-hong (smashed papaya salad) at Marc Forgione and Phet Schwader’s latest Tribeca restaurant, Khe-Yo, where the friendly waiters bring mounds of steamed sticky rice to the table in wicker baskets and encourage you to eat it with your hands.
For the ultimate in lip-smacking, Southeast Asian–style verisimilitude, however, you won’t do much better than Matt Danzer and Ann Redding’s affectionate ode to ye olde expat dive bars of late-twentieth-century Bangkok called Uncle Boons. Redding and Danzer met in the kitchens at Per Se, but she spent much of her childhood in Thailand. There are mementos of her former life on the walls of this small Soho restaurant (photos of dancers and old Thai monarchs, pastel paintings of water buffalo). There’s a decent version of southern-Thai massaman curry on the menu (made with braised beef short ribs), and an improvised home-style Thai larb salad made with lamb instead of the usual pork. The house chicken is grilled on the rotisserie and served with a small flotilla of dipping sauces, the way they do in Thai boxing arenas, but be sure to save room for the festive ice-cream-sundae dessert, which is dressed with swirls of whipped cream and drifts of toasted coconut.
Seafood Feeds the Locavore
The days when seafood palaces of the twentieth century flew in exotic ingredients from oceans around the globe are largely a thing of the past in this era of declining fish stocks and ever-expanding carbon footprints. But thanks to the great locavore revolution, top-notch chefs are focusing on local, East Coast Atlantic seafood dishes like never before.
My uptown friends can’t stop yammering about the dainty, midtown version of the Atlantic lobster roll that the former Eleven Madison Park cook Bryce Shuman whips together with crème fraîche instead of mayonnaise at his new upscale establishment on 57th Street called Betony. The perfectly cooked Chatham cod with parsnips, miso, and brown butter is one of the many fusion highlights on the menu at the youthful New Zealand chef Matt Lambert’s curiously named (and now Michelin-starred) new Soho restaurant, The Musket Room, and if you ever find yourself wandering the borderlands of Koreatown in search of a first-class seafood dinner, you’ll find it at Shaun Hergatt’s latest haute-fusion restaurant, Juni. Like at the Australian chef’s last feng shui–challenged establishment down on Wall Street, the fluorescent country-club décor isn’t particularly inspiring to look at. But there’s nothing wrong with the beautifully plated, high-wire cooking, in particular the seafood entrées, like silvery squares of poached black bass from Long Island, garnished with gnocchi and a rich, old-fashioned truffle sabayon, and soft, candy-bar-size bricks of Atlantic salmon, which Hergatt composes with painterly precision on the plate alongside crispy, flattened strips of Greenmarket fennel, fresh-cut chives, and a lemony square of savory yogurt “cotta” cheese.
There are all sorts of worthy, non-seafood delicacies available at The East Pole, which the owners of the popular East Village establishment the Fat Radish opened recently in a lively, if somewhat overly loud, space on 65th Street off Lexington Avenue. But the dish I can’t get out of my head is the great fish pie, which chef Nicholas Wilber constructs with fresh Atlantic pollock, chunks of Maine lobster, and assorted other seafood goodies, all sealed together with fennel purée in a properly buttery pastry crust. The last time I dined in the hushed, priestly confines of Daniel Humm’s great showcase restaurant Eleven Madison Park, roughly half the dishes on the fifteen-course, $195 tasting menu consisted of locally inspired seafood treats, including slices of old–New York–style smoked sturgeon scented with applewood smoke, and a single, startlingly fresh New England scallop, so beautifully arranged with slivers of radish and fresh-cut pear that the two ladies from Beijing at the table next to mine paused over their lunch to take a picture of it.
For a slightly more raucous (and economical) taste of the new seafood boom, I suggest you elbow your way into the battleship-size tapas establishment Toro, which the celebrated Boston chefs Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette opened in September on the westernmost edge of the meatpacking district. The name comes from the Spanish word for “bull,” not the Japanese word for “tuna,” but the menu features a veritable blizzard of seafood specialties, like great salvers of Valencian paella piled with fresh shrimp and assorted shellfish; little tapas plates of tenderized octopus tentacles and chewy a la plancha razor clams doused in garlic and lemon; and a toasty, finger-size uni sandwich called “bocadillo de erizos” that was so addictively delicious that the uni freaks at my table ordered it twice.
French Extends Its Encore
The great postmillennial French-restaurant boom, which we reported on last year in this space, shows no signs of abating. The latest prominent New York chef to rediscover his love for old-fashioned French cooking is Daniel Boulud’s famous disciple Andrew Carmellini, whose glittering new full-service Noho brasserie, Lafayette, features soft scrambled eggs “vol-au-vent” with chèvre and leeks for breakfast; crocks of soft, gamy tripe “Bourguignon” for dinner; and a glittering patisserie counter, where you can purchase fresh-baked madeleines for $1.75 apiece and five kinds of éclair. Carmellini’s restaurants tend to get better with age, and right now dinnertime service in the large, crowded room can feel harried and overrun. So, go at lunch, when the menu is chocked with old-fashioned bistro specials (beef tartare decked with a raw quail egg, bacon-wrapped slabs of pâté maison, a fine big-city facsimile of niçoise salad), and you can enjoy the wintry, Parisian-style light streaming through the tall café windows in relative peace.
If you’ve forgotten what an expert, non-microwaved version of duck à l’orange tastes like, I recommend you run, don’t walk, to Le Philosophe, on Bond Street, where the executive chef, Matthew Aita, serves an exceptional, New Age version of this forgotten dish: a single, perfectly seared duck breast, a streak of gourmet-quality potatoes mousseline, and a sauce that tastes like the delicate essence of oranges, instead of something you’d find at the bottom of a carryout order of General Tso’s.
There’s also a fine example of canard à l’orange on the menu of the neighborly new Soho bistro Little Prince, along with textbook renditions of other ageless bistro favorites that the original chef, Paul Denamiel, learned to cook at his family’s restaurant Le Rivage, in the theater district. He has since been replaced by Matt Conroy, who still makes the onion soup the old-fashioned way (with a deeply flavored duck, pork, and chicken stock, and a gooey cap of melted Emmentaler cheese), and the classic “sole meunière pour deux” is crusted with a light dusting of fish roe and sizzled in a cast-iron pan. But the dish I keep going back for is an addictive version of tartare de boeuf, which is hand-chopped, then folded with shallots, cognac, and the lightest, nontraditional touch of Frank’s hot sauce, for a surreptitious, down-home kick.
My favorite Franco-style beef burger of the year is currently available at lunch at Montmartre, in Chelsea; the restaurant’s new chef, Michael Toscano, makes it with a béarnaise cheese and slabs of buttery toast, and if it’s a good country chicken you’re after, the choice is Rotisserie Georgette, on 60th Street, where Daniel Boulud’s longtime public-relations czar, Georgette Farkas, has drafted another Boulud alumnus, executive chef David Malbequi, to help her resurrect classic rotisserie specialties like spit-roasted culotte d’agneau flavored with lemons and mint, whole-cooked piglets dripped with bacon and onion marmalade (which you have to order in advance), and fat Label Rouge Poule de Luxe chicken for two, stuffed with a crumble of mushrooms and bread crumbs and garnished with foie gras.
For the ultimate in Continental style, however, my discerning, Upper East Side mother recommends you pay a visit to Villard Michel Richard, which the accomplished former pastry chef Michel Richard has recently opened in the old Villard Mansion, at the New York Palace Hotel on Madison Avenue. If it’s lunchtime, be sure to ask to sit in the sun-splashed Madison room, and order the double-decker mushroom feuilleté layered with puff pastry, followed by the great ocean-liner-size napoleon, served in a pool of crème anglaise. For dinner, I suggest you proceed to the small, wood-paneled Gallery tasting room, where it’s a pleasure to sample Richard’s playful pastrylike creations, like tuna napoleon niçoise and the delicious, sugar-capped foie gras brûlée, while watching the French chefs move back and forth in the kitchen, dressed in their tall white toques.
A Word From Ms. Platt, Miss Platt, and Miss Platt
My wife and I used to spend our time distracting our restless, occasionally riotous daughters with great stacks of coloring books when we took them out to restaurants, if we took them at all. But now, as they enter their precocious adolescent years, the Platt girls have morphed into full-blown restaurant snobs, with their own voluble opinions on everything from ramen to pasta to where to find the best new iteration of southern fried chicken. The correct answer to the previous question, as Daughter No. 1 will happily tell you, is the thin-crisped, expertly seasoned fried chicken at Michael White and Eben Freeman’s posh Tribeca restaurant, The Butterfly. And if it’s a perfectly al dente bowl of spaghetti al pomodoro you’re after, she recommends Rosemary’s, in the West Village, although for the best possible results order this classic dish in the summertime, when tomatoes are at their peak, and always go at lunch, when the pleasant, sunny room on 10th Street is much more peaceful than at dinner.
Daughter No. 2 is the Platt family’s resident ramen connoisseur, and until we get a chance to visit Ivan Orkin’s just-opened Ivan Ramen Slurp Shop, at the new Gotham West Market in Hell’s Kitchen, her choice for best new ramen joint in the city goes to Ippudo Westside, on 51st Street, where we like to repair on chilly winter afternoons and slurp down generous, milky bowls of the great Japanese noodle chain’s signature Akamaru Modern ramen, while sampling the impressive selection of “specialty appetizers” that you won’t find at the original Ippudo downtown. The best new burger in town, both girls agree, is the classic Cali Burger that the harried chefs at the new Umami Burger outlet on lower Sixth Avenue construct with caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes, and umami-laced American cheese, although if hipster barbecue is your thing, their father recommends Mighty Quinn’s Barbeque, down on Second Avenue, where the blimp-size, elegantly messy pulled-pork sandwich (served with artisanal pickles on a puffy brioche-potato hybrid bun) puts most haute hamburgers in this town to shame.
Ms. Platt’s favorite new brunch dish is the deliciously savory Parmesan French toast that Gabe Thompson cooks on weekends only at his modish downtown establishment L’Apicio, but if it’s a truly sturdy weekday breakfast you’re after, her husband respectfully recommends a bite or two of the exceptional bacon-and-egg sandwich that is part of the newly expanded breakfast program at Mile End Delicatessen, followed by a small taste of the sublime house porchetta and eggs that the rustico geniuses at Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria serve each morning to grateful neighborhood fatsos around the corner on Great Jones Street. The best all-around new brunch currently being served in the distant border regions uptown, the Platts agree, is the one at The Cecil, on 118th Street in Harlem (try the chicken dumplings, says Daughter No. 1), and the blue ribbon for best pancake goes to the great hat-shaped German pancake served weekend mornings and afternoons, with a proper frosting of powdered sugar and a wedge of lemon, at Calliope, in the East Village.
The grilled, soy-and-papaya-marinated pork chops are this critic’s favorite dish on the predictably inventive menu at RedFarm, which has been overrun by a rabble of grateful neighborhood Chinese-food addicts ever since Joe Ng and Ed Schoenfeld opened the latest outlet of their popular Chinese restaurant a couple of months back in the old Fatty Crab space on Broadway. For a more classic Chinese feast, however, the Platt family’s default choice, these days, is Han Dynasty, which the frenetic Philadelphia restaurateur Han Chiang opened in August on a busy corner of Third Avenue and 12th Street, in the East Village. My daughters prefer all the noodle dishes (particularly the one drenched in the tangy, beautifully balanced housemade sesame sauce), the dumplings (which you can order with spice or without), and anything with the words “dry pepper” in front of it. To experience the impressive range of flavor and technique, their father suggests that you call ahead for a tasting menu, which, starting at $20 per person for six people, is one of the best tasting deals in town.
Dessert Mania Wasn’t Just About Cronuts
For a moment, let’s ignore Dominique Ansel and his half-croissant, half-doughnut Internet sensation, the Cronut. All you have to do is join the riotous mob of chocolate-babka freaks who form most mornings around the counter at Breads Bakery, off Union Square, to know that it’s been a bumper year for first-class pastries and desserts. The babka in question glistens with sugar on top and is riven with seams of dense dark chocolate in its soft interior. Its architect is a master baker from Tel Aviv named Uri Scheft, and he and his staff also bake trays of golden, puffy croissants every morning, great loaves of peasant bread studded with walnuts and figs, and thousands of twirling rugelach shot full of chocolate. The baguettes are world-class, too, and so are the olive-and-cheese bread sticks, threaded with Gouda, which I like to purchase by the bag and snack on as I waddle down the avenues on my gastronomic rounds. But the Scheft creations I dream the most about, when sitting chastely at the computer or grimly beginning one of my periodic, doomed diets, are the palmiers, which are flaky around their edges but get more sugary and brittle as you work your way toward the middle, just like the palmiers in the grand patisseries of Paris.
Marc Forgione’s inventive, pepper-caked pastrami rib eye has its charms, but the dish I couldn’t stop eating at his new Tribeca steakhouse, American Cut, was the populist, crowd-pleasing Cracker Jack sundae, which is made with a strangely addictive substance called “popcorn ice cream” and laced with kernels of freshly popped caramel corn. This year’s healthiest dessert in town is the soothing Icelandic yogurt specialty called skyr, which the cooks in the Icelandic-themed restaurant Skál down in Chinatown enliven with bits of beetroot, a spoonful of bracing sorrel granita, and dissolving shingles of meringue.
Pastry chef Mark Welker’s exotic, caramel-dipped lemon tart is my favorite new item on the always interesting dessert menu at The Nomad, in the Nomad hotel adjacent the flower district, and if you have the cash and the fortitude to sit through the slightly laborious, Scandinavian-influenced omakase menu at the new Tribeca tasting atelier called All Good Things, you will be rewarded at the end with another delicious lemon-curd creation, this one tastefully arranged by the pastry chef Amadou Ly under a cap of meringue, with huckleberries and a scoop of goat-milk sorbet on the side. There are also plenty of elaborate lemon and non-lemon confections to admire behind the glittering counter at Dominique Ansel Bakery in Soho, should you not feel like standing in line at 7 a.m. for your Cronut. After my first unsuccessful Cronut attempt, I enjoyed one of the classic chocolate éclairs, and the next time it was a festive-looking pavlova tinged with litchis. When I finally did get my fat fingers on Ansel’s famous pastry, it was the chocolate-Champagne edition, made, as you may have heard, with the finest Valrhona. Did it live up to the fabulous hype? Sort of, provided you enjoy gouts of custard cream in your doughnuts, which I don’t. Was it worth the hassle? Of course not. So try the weirdly named Kouign Amann (“DKA”) instead, which is a kind of popover muffin, made of dense, buttery, caramelized croissantlike dough. They’re sold by the bucket at Ansel’s bakery, you don’t have to wait in line, and unlike the Cronut, it’s impossible to eat just one.