59 Maiden Lane, Financial District, 483-0117

This gourmet grocer vends the usual juices, sodas, and sandwiches from their front porch, but on an adjacent griddle find sizzling gozleme (“Turkish panini,” $3.99), a Turkish specialty that arose during the Ottoman Empire as the Anatolian answer to the French crepe. The thin dough is stuffed with either potatoes or feta cheese, both laced with fresh dill and parsley, folded into a square, grilled to brownness, then given a final lick with the butter brush. On warm summer days, I prefer the salty cheese version. Sietsema ¢



342 East 6th Street, East Village, 979-2900

Named after a curry-crammed London street, this newcomer presents English-style Balti cooking, plus other regional Indian specialties. It offers what might be the city’s hottest dish: phaal—choose chicken, lamb, shrimp, or mixed vegetables. The thick brick-red sauce delivers an alarming and lingering burn. Though the menu brags, “We will require you to sign a disclaimer not holding us liable for any physical or emotional damage after eating this curry,” it’s a disappointing bluff. What they will do if you finish is give you a free bottle of beer and inscribe your name on a chalkboard over the bar. Sietsema $$


99 MacDougal Street, Greenwich Village, 420-6517

One guy in the back warms flatbreads, and another grills chicken and beef brochettes, while a gal at the front counter assembles these raw materials into katis ($2.50 to $5)—tubular Indian concoctions that are Calcutta’s favorite street food. She places the brochette (vegetarian potato and paneer fillings are also available) into a paratha, adds chopped hot peppers and onions, squeezes lime, shakes on some masala, slaps on some chutney, then rolls the whole thing into a sandwich. To enrich this treat, you can also have it “unda”: The flatbread is heated with a coating of scrambled egg, rendering the kati richer and more proteinaceous. Sietsema ¢


432 East 13th Street, East Village, 228-7900

The East Village finally has its answer to Park Slope’s Coco Roco: a slightly upscale café that aims to popularize Peruvian food for the hip masses. Located on a quiet side street, the café spills a few tables onto the sidewalk; inside, pictures feature liquid-eyed peasants that could have been painted by Keane. The appetizers are especially good, including causa—a potato ball festooned with mayo-dipped chicken; a tangy fish ceviche; and, best of all, cold lemony mussels heaped with chopped onion and cilantro. Arriving tardily, the entrées lagged somewhat, with a tart chicken escovitch and aji de pollo—chicken again, this time in a thick yellow gravy—being our favorites. Skip the dry beef stew. Sietsema $$


359 East 12th Street, East Village, 614-0155

Noodles are the foodstuff of choice for many budget-conscious diners during this economically challenged era, and this new closet applies techniques of haute cuisine to inexpensive starches. Thus are sauces and aromatic oils squeezed from plastic bottles to perfume the plates and provide extra sensory diversion. We liked the mushroom-stuffed spring rolls; substantial salad of baby greens, sweet grapefruit, and yellow beets hosed with a salty citrus dressing; and the soupy soba noodles dotted with raw tuna and pickled ginger. The “tower of shrimp wontons,” however, was a big disappointment: no dumplings, but a stack of faux Doritos with a niggling schmear of chopped shrimp salad. Sietsema $

14TH TO 42ND


245 Park Avenue South, Gramercy, 475-9377

Dotted with paintings of tropical fruit, the pleasantly garish interior suggests South America—but Sushi Samba is mainly a sushi bar with a wildly experimental approach. While the conventional sushi and sashimi is adequate, the ceviches really shine: one a massive salad of cooked octopus with a ginger-and-mustard dressing, another an assemblage of thick slabs of raw yellowtail moistened with garlic-soy oil—although neither is really “cooked” in acid. Call them sashimi salads. Another pleasant surprise is a Bahian-style fish chowder loaded with lobster and sporting a flavorful slick of dende oil on the surface. Sietsema $$



1048 Fifth Avenue, 288-0665

Ensconced inside the diverting Neue Galerie, Café Sabarsky is a Viennese café and konditerei, an offspring of the West Village’s Wallsé that outshines its parent. The short dishes make for perfect museum-hopping snacks, including a charcuterie platter (the most challenging feature: double-smoked raw bacon), a generous salad of jumbo asparagus in a slightly sweet lemon-dill sauce, and savory smoked-trout crepes with horseradish crème fraîche. The hungrier can move on to sandwiches, to entrées like boiled-beef tafelspitz, or to pastries, of which plum crumble sided with a cloud of whipped cream was a favorite on a recent visit. Sietsema $



4456 Broadway, Inwood, 567-9325

Roll down the steep escarpment from the Cloisters, and you’ll find yourself at El Mundo. A neon sign in the window burns, “Fritura de Toda Clase,” and they’re not kidding. Chicharrón de cerdo are stunning pork-roast arcs, each piece artfully layered with paprika-dusted crispy skin, not-quite-rendered fat, and meat of concentrated flavor and intriguing density. The French would call it confit. This Dominican lunch counter also makes good chicken, either fried or rotisseried, but the more adventuresome will order sancocho, a rich chicken stew thickened with pumpkin and sporting all sorts of vegetables. Sietsema ¢



214 Smith Street, Cobble Hill, 718-625-3815

This newish Smith Street bistro flaunts the usual French-leaning style and decor, but the scarf is tastier and cheaper than what is usually found on this stale and generally overpriced strip of restaurants. The pressed sandwiches are a delight—whether you order their version of the Cuban, sporting big hunks of pork and melting fontana cheese, and shellacked with a powerful aioli, or the roast-vegetable sandwich, which is deliciously moist and herby. Both are sided with a salad and both are under $10. The space is airy and friendly—a triumph of architecture over a dull piece of real estate. Sietsema $


484 77th Street, Bay Ridge, 718-921-2400

This gem replaces the late lamented Casablanca as the city’s premier working-class Moroccan restaurant. As the brown ceramic cone is doffed, the inexpensive tajines explode with flavor, and the choices are breathtaking, too: lamb with peas and artichokes, chicken with raisins and caramelized onions, and the vegetable-heavy tajine tafrawatt, featuring chicken or lamb matched with a bounty of summer squashes, pumpkins, eggplant, carrots, and potatoes. Don’t miss the North African pastries displayed on the glass counter; wash them down with a pot of sugary mint tea. Sietsema $


206 Knickerbocker Avenue, Bushwick, no phone

Bushwick hosts quite a few micro taco spots—places that make it seem like you’re sitting in the cook’s home kitchen. At Asunción, a baby crawls on the floor, and apart from the deep red walls and a shrine to the Virgin up near the ceiling, there’s no attention paid to decor. Known to the locals simply as “mole,” The chile-and-chocolate sauce is fabulous: slightly coarse-textured and a little oily, so that a bright umbra forms around the edges, and thin enough to moisten a plate of soft corn tortillas and a big serving of rice—after you’ve eaten the tender poached chicken. Weekends only. Sietsema ¢



118-16 101st Avenue, Richmond Hill, 718-849-0990

Queens’ favorite banquet hall is a stone cave decorated with cherubs and other Roman statuary, making you feel like you’re an extra in a kitschy movie. Thursdays the doors swing open to the general public, and a $24.95 fixed-price meal is provided that includes a belt-busting five courses, each with several choices. While the food quality is uneven, who cares? Eat the stuff that’s good and pick at the stuff that isn’t. In the solidly good category find a rigatoni vodka rich with cheese, and a substantial swordfish fillet heaped, in the Sicilian style, with toasted bread crumbs. The best dessert is the selection of fresh fruit. Sietsema $$



19 Corson Avenue, St. George, Staten Island, 718-442-8909

In a rundown and topographically spectacular section of St. George, this establishment looks like a grocery store until you penetrate into the interior and find a trim dining room and a large open kitchen, where a talented family of cooks toils ceaselessly over their expansive menu. Blintzes (called “creps”) are fresher than you’ve ever had them, and neither do the chunky soups disappoint, including a thick lima bean tomato with little islands of sausage and ham. Offered with three sides, beef stuffed with bacon and a well-browned chicken roll jammed with cheese and vegetables are two of the more interesting entrées. Sietsema ¢