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The Platt List

A trio of desserts at the Simone.  

Makeovers and Second Acts

Every new dining season brings openings and theatrical debuts, and like actors on the Broadway stage, chefs are constantly shuffling from one production to the next and reinventing themselves in all sorts of strange and unpredictable ways. This season’s Comeback of the Year Award goes to Manhattan’s own Bobby Flay, who after the unceremonious shuttering of his longtime flagship restaurant, Mesa Grill, and various star-crossed forays into distant frontier destinations like Atlantic City and Vegas, returns to town in a blaze of glory with a boisterous, crowd-pleasing production called Gato. In tone and style, the barn-size Lafayette Street establishment feels a little like a mash-up of the casual Mesa Grill and Flay’s more high-minded (and also long-gone) Spanish-themed restaurant, Bolo. But like any practiced dramatic impresario, Flay has always been a master at adapting to the fickle fashions of the day, which means the menu here is larded with a blizzard of user-friendly finger-food options to go with the Bolo-like big-ticket entrées such as crisped tarragon chicken, an excellent duck confit (scattered in high Mediterranean style with pomegranate), and slices of charred prime sirloin dressed with crumblings of blue Valdeón cheese. Pay special attention to the bountiful tapas selection on the bar menu (the chorizo crépinette, the artichoke heart topped with uni and a single quail egg), and the flatbread pizzas (with lamb sausage), and be sure to book your table soon, before the peripatetic, easily distracted chef leaves his kitchen again to open another one of his signature burger or steakhouse joints in some far-flung culinary outpost like Tokyo or L.A.

With the former Corton chef Paul Liebrandt now toiling in relative obscurity out in Brooklyn, Drew Nieporent has painted the white walls of his former multi-star Tribeca restaurant dark gold, removed the table linens and the space-age light fixtures, and rechristened the venerable and endlessly made-over space Bâtard, in honor of his beloved Burgundy. If you have the resources, the numerous trophy-quality Burgundies from the Nobu mogul’s famous cellar are stupendous, as always, but the real discovery is the polished, accessible cooking of the Austrian chef Markus Glocker, who has a knack for taking stodgy old-world recipes (tête de cochon, strudel) and reimagining them in all sorts of elevated, delicious ways.

The arrival, in the middle of last year, of the talented 33-year-old former pastry chef Emma Bengtsson has given a similar shot of energy (not to mention a second Michelin star) to the tired old menu at the august midtown Scandinavian restaurant Aquavit (order the milk-soaked sweetbreads, the cod, and the uncannily realistic “bird’s nest” dessert), and if you’ve been pining for another taste of Floyd Cardoz’s signature brand of boom-era South Asian–accented fusion cooking, you’ll find it at Dan Abrams and David Zinczenko’s posh new Tribeca scene restaurant, White Street, where, on my last visit, it was a pleasure to dine on what is arguably the finest braised short rib being served now in all of New York City while watching the timeless spectacle of Charlie Rose himself, moving from one table to the next, greeting his admirers in the dim restaurant gloom.

Whenever my mother inquires hopefully about the latest hot spot in her perpetually restaurant-challenged Upper East Side neighborhood, I tell her to join the boulevardiers and old-line gastronomes who are making a beeline for the cozy dining room at The Simone on East 82nd Street, where the former downtown refugees Tina Vaughn and her chef-husband, Chip Smith, have finally found an audience for the kind of intimate, elegantly mannered Continental-style cooking (try the pan-seared duck breast and thigh, the rabbit and foie gras terrine, and a slice of the opulent espresso-cream dacquoise cake) that has been out of fashion up until now in the trendy dining precincts below 42nd Street. Meanwhile, down in those trendy precincts, the legions of portly, bewhiskered David Chang disciples I know are desperately trying to hack the arcane Momofuku-empire reservation system in an attempt to get one seat at the newly rebooted, much larger version of Momofuku Ko on Extra Place by the Bowery, which, according to my spies, now boasts two big round tables that might be used for future feasts and a horseshoe-shaped tasting bar.

There’s no tougher online reservation in town these days than Cosme, in the Flatiron District, where the much-heralded chef from Mexico City Enrique Olvera is making his grand New York debut. With its spare wood tabletops and rows of wine bottles and designer cookbooks lining the walls, the dark, tall-ceilinged dining room looks a little too much like it’s been designed with generic local trends in mind. But there’s nothing generic about the chef’s satisfying, deceptively sophisticated cooking, which when I was there included little pyramids of fat, salty quesadillas nestled in wax paper, crinkly purple-corn tostadas piled with salmon tartare and wedges of fresh guacamole, and bountiful helpings of braised duck and soft, rosy chunks of lobster, served with stacks of steamy, featherlight tortillas that Olvera’s cooks roll with a special strain of finely ground “single origin” corn and stamp by hand in the basement.