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Ho's or Hamburgers?

Restaurant space evolves as West Village property values rise

No address better symbolizes the current era of culinary gentrification than 455 Hudson Street. Not long ago, it was a Chinese carry-out named Ho's Wok. Its fried rice and noodles were lunchtime staples of students at P.S. 3, an elementary school across the street whose alumni include Claire Danes and Julia Stiles. But in an era when every red cent must be wrung out of properties, restaurants that do not produce high cash flow for the landlord are, it seems, destined to be replaced by more lucrative spots. So, while the average meal at Ho's ran $5, the tab at newcomer Alexandra—with wine, tax, and tip—comes to around $50 per person, a tenfold increase.

I'm pleased to report that Alexandra's food is quite good, though you won't see kids eating lunch there anymore—even ones destined to become movie stars. How the current proprietors made a cramped carryout into a comfortable bistro is probably a story in itself. The dignified decor is limited to a few whimsical black-and-white prints and an extensive mirror collection that encourages you to spy on your neighbors. Alexandra aims no higher than being a local hang, with offerings that range from quirky to predictable. Among the quirky find a wonderful plate of spaghetti ($16) owing almost nothing to Italy. Slammed with cauliflower, prosciutto, and—egad!—feta cheese, there's no tomato sauce in sight. In the predictable category lurks a perfect burger ($9). Thick, pink, juicy, and tossed on a good bun, it nests among salty fries. What more could you want?

Also on the predictable side is a steak frites made with a New York strip—rather than sirloin or skirt—which is steak overkill as far as I'm concerned. At $29, it's too expensive and too tough. Better to go for the salmon ($20), a good-size portion pan-sautéed to crispness on one side, delivered disappearing into a bed of creamy polenta. A few nicely cooked asparagus spears complete the ensemble. The sauce around the edge of the plate is way too lemony, but it's easy to ignore it completely. Excess lemony goodness also mars the diver scallops and the Caesar salad. Stick with the baby lettuce salad ($7), which varies the verdant terrain with hazelnuts and firm green apples. Not even figuring in the burger, the menu has enough pluses to draw me back. The mussels washed in coconut curry ($10), for example, come textured with little shreds of coconut. You can treat the remaining fluid in the bottom of the bowl as a soup, or you can order some fries and swipe them in the sauce, as they do in Normandy. Scented with shallots and rosemary, pebbled with new potatoes and button mushrooms, the chicken main course is also worth ordering.

Room for more
photo: Staci Schwartz
Room for more

Do I miss Ho's Wok? Not really—the food wasn't all that memorable. And a great burger is not to be denied. But I'm sad to see one less cheap eatery in the West Village, a neighborhood where useful stores like shoe repair shops, video renters, and green-grocers are being turned into designer showcases and real estate offices as we speak. Still, I couldn't help a pang of nostalgia as I descended the ancient stairs to the basement bathroom at Alexandra. Damned if it didn't still smell like a Chinese carryout down there.

 
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