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The Platt List

The burger at the NoMad bar.  

The Bar-Food Revolution

Not so long ago, the gin joints along the Bowery and the surrounding streets on the Lower East Side were places where unreconstructed boozehounds went to furtively drink themselves silly, then quietly pass out on the sidewalk. These days, however, you’re more likely to find dedicated gastronomes eating themselves into a merry stupor at the legions of deceptively sophisticated gastropubs that have sprung up around the neighborhood over the past couple of years.

To the expanding list of destination bar-restaurants like Wylie Dufresne’s New Age gastropub, Alder, and Richard Kuo’s excellent Bowery wine bar, Pearl & Ash, let’s add the new Basque-inspired establishment Huertas, which opened last spring in a beamy space on lower First Avenue. Chef-owner Jonah Miller was one of the original cooks at Danny Meyer’s fine Italian restaurant, Maialino, but his theme here is the intricate small-plates cooking of northern Spain. The $55 five-course “El Comedor” tasting menu served in the small back dining room is one of the better gourmet deals in the neighborhood, but whenever I visit, I like to plant myself at the long, sturdily built wood bar and graze on the revolving menu of small plates and “pintxos” dishes, like roasted duck hearts with scallions; mussel-like goose-neck percebes spritzed with wedges of lemon; and the superb specialty, “huertas rotos,” made of potato, poached egg, and chorizo, which goes surprisingly well with the lightly intoxicating “Vermut Spritz,” which the local barkeeps mix with cava, citrus bitters, and a generous shot of housemade vermouth.

You’ll find a similarly inventive selection of Iberian bar snacks at Seamus Mullen’s excellent new tapas bar, El Colmado, which opened last year among the jumble of high-end ramen and barista bars at the Gotham West Market in Hell’s Kitchen. On my last visit, the assembled tapeadors were dining on expertly fashioned smoked-eel croquettes and delicate tea sandwiches stuffed with curls of serrano ham and little deposits of crispy squid. Pay special attention to the well-chosen roster of reasonably priced Spanish wines (14 by the glass), the seven warming varieties of sherry, and the signature house sangria, which the bartenders mix according to a closely guarded secret recipe.

There’s a predictably impressive 200-bottle list at the posh new Aldo Sohm Wine Bar, which the Le Bernardin chef, Eric Ripert, and his longtime sommelier, Aldo Sohm, opened last fall a stone’s throw away from their famous mother ship. You can pay a cool $2,650 for a bottle of ’01 Romanée-Saint-Vivant red Burgundy to go with a plate of the $8 short-rib skewers or the architecturally impressive “Tower,” which is stocked with elegantly arranged wheels of salami instead of the usual random shellfish from the raw bar. If you’re wise, you’ll spend your time exploring the impressive wines-by-the-glass list (there are 35 choices) and be sure to save some cash for the whole baked cauliflower (scattered with a strangely addictive substance called “roast chicken salt”) or the truffled fettuccine, which Ripert and his chefs bind in a creamy blend of butter and melted yak cheese.

I miss the wacky, unpredictable qualities of the old Japanese-centric menu at Gabriel Stulman’s tiny West Village watering hole Bar Sardine, but there’s a certain streamlined charm to the newly remodeled room (thanks to folding French windows, you can now sip your Manhattan in temperate weather while feeling like you’re standing on the sidewalk) and to the new, more standard roster of bar foods like the Fedora burger (dressed with pickled cucumbers and smoked Wisconsin Cheddar) and an elegant version of arctic-char tartare, which was dusted, not unpleasantly, with crushed Everything pretzels and set over a hidden deposit of popping flying-fish roe.

Trout roe with rye crackers is just one of the sneakily sophisticated new bar dishes on chef Gabriel Martinez’s menu at the dependably excellent Long Island Bar in Cobble Hill, and if you’re looking for a snack of frizzled artichokes, or a first-rate short-rib tagine to go with your evening martini, you’ll find it at Bar Bolonat, which the talented Israeli chef Einat Admony opened early last spring not far from Taïm, her falafel joint in the West Village.

But this year’s blue ribbon for highest achievement in the category of bar dining (and in the increasingly overheated, overworked category of mixology itself) goes to The NoMad Bar, which Daniel Humm and his crack staff of comfort-food savants opened last summer in a dimly lit, double-height space on 28th Street behind the NoMad Hotel. The gloomy room isn’t much to look at, it’s true, and on crowded evenings it tends to fill up, like an exotic shark tank, with all sorts of strange creatures from the city’s high-roller demimonde. But call for one of the five inventively lethal house daiquiris, or the impressively faithful version of that old Yankee favorite Philadelphia Fish House punch, and chances are, in a minute or two, you won’t notice. Instead of mustard and the usual dank pickle, the $14 hot dog at this posh drinking establishment is wrapped in bacon and topped with truffled aïoli. The vaunted $36 chicken potpie is tricked up in a similarly aggressive gourmet way, but the bar snack I can’t get out of my head is the perfectly sized house burger, which is made with dry-aged prime beef, topped with a melting wad of Cheddar, and leavened, for an extra trencherman’s kick, with sinful amounts of bone marrow and melted suet.