Food

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BELOW CANAL


NEXT DOOR NOBU

105 Hudson Street, 334-4445

Trudging by on a snowy evening, we were surprised to see this popular spot—a slightly less formal version of Nobu—half-empty, so we went right in. The menu offers the innovative fare of its more expensive sister, including black cod varnished with sweet miso paste; “sashimi new style” (yellowtail strips bathed in oil and topped with precisely trimmed chives); and a generous bowl of rock-shrimp tempura that might be mistaken for Cajun popcorn. It obviously takes some experience to figure out which dishes are good value, and which are laughably small for the money. All those mentioned above fit into the former category. $$$


PHO VIET HUONG

73 Mulberry Street, 233-8988

Skip the legendary seven-course beef dinner that prefaces the menu at this restaurant decorated like a Southeast Asian village, and cherry-pick the constituent dishes that excel, including a warm salad of tender beef strips in a citrus dressing (goi bo), a delectable beef congee made with broken rice, and nuggets of beef charcoal-charred inside grape leaves (bo la lop). The menu is bewildering in its length, encompassing lots of dishes pitched toward Chinese tastes, as well as nicely prepared Vietnamese standards. Wafer-thin grilled pork chops are especially good, and so is duck with peanut sauce. ¢

CANAL TO 14TH


(new) BLUE 9 BURGER

92 Third Avenue, 979-0053

Zen-like in its simplicity, this bare-bones burger joint looks like a franchise waiting to happen. The menu is so small, it can be listed on a business card: hamburger, cheeseburger, Blue 9 burger, fries, soft drinks, and three kinds of shakes. The burger bedevils Ronald and his pals by being made with fresh meat and cooked to order, and not covered with glop. Shakes are of the thick variety that’s hard to find in these parts, and, like the burger and fries (you won’t find any dry-aged or designer beef here), aspire to be merely good and not great. Though my first impression was “So what?” I found myself returning a week later for another taste.


CROSBY CONNECTION V

172 Crosby Street, 677-8444

Founded by a Jersey ex-cop, the Connection rapidly became a favorite of Voice staffers when it opened last year. This takeout encampment features sandwiches and little else, dispensed under garden umbrellas and beside a snatch of suburban wooden fence as the sandwich makers gyrate in the narrow depths, trading jokes and pleasantries with their lined-up clientele. No big surprises, other than a choice of excellent breads, fine cold cuts leaning toward the Italian, and mild innovations of the sort you might not even notice, like ricotta on a meatball hero, fresh basil leaves in unexpected places, and generous add-ons at no extra charge. ¢


LUNCHBOX FOOD CO.

357 West Street, 646-230-9466

Tightly wedged between auto body shops, this streamlined chrome diner has somehow survived, though it’s gone through several strange incarnations in the last few years. Currently, it’s an upscale diner open from 8 a.m. till 4 p.m. seven days a week, serving a menu of sandwiches, salads, and all-day breakfasts. For a diner, the breads are of spectacular quality—the hanger steak sandwich, for example, comes on a brioche, while the standard “eggs any style” feature cranberry-pecan toast. Worth special mention are the homemade potato chips, often fried to order, and the dense doughnuts crusted with granular sugar. $


PROVENCE

38 MacDougal Street, 475-7500

The perfect antidote for the winter blahs is lunch at this Soho old-timer, where a bank of westward-facing windows fill with sunlight and turn the yellowish interior golden (there’s also a skylighted solarium in the rear). Focusing on seafood, the menu dredges up the by now standard menu of southeastern France, including a durable if not brilliant bouillabaisse, a thick-crusted and winningly moist version of the onion and anchovy tart called pissaladière, and a simply cooked Mediterranean daurade. The fish of the day is always worth considering; on this revisit it was a goodly hunk of boneless cod seared to crunchy brownness on both sides and served on a bed of sculpted vegetables. $$$

14TH TO 42ND


KITCHEN 22

36 East 22nd Street, 228-4399

When the lights at Alva flickered out, Kitchen 22 quickly jumped into the breach, a concept restaurant offering only a $25 prix fixe menu—appetizer, entrée, and dessert, five choices in each category—and the eager customers flooded in. While a little rough around the edges, the food is satisfying and well prepared. Our favorites included beef carpaccio littered with finely chopped pickled vegetables, like the aftermath of a tornado on a small town, and a pair of Spanish mackerel fillets perfectly sautéed. The plainish desserts were the biggest disappointment, especially a white chocolate pudding that tasted like it was poured from a can. $$


KLOE V

243 West 14th Street, 255-KLOE

Named after chef Erica Miller’s grandmother’s perfume, this Chelsea newcomer offers eclectic fare that judiciously incorporates elements from Asian, Middle Eastern, French, Mexican, and American Southwestern cooking. Recommended dishes include a geometric tower of beets and goat cheese, plump duck breast crusted with the Mediterranean spice mixture called zatar, and, especially, crisp sweetbreads rolled in macadamia nuts. Eligible for the most-daring-dish-of-the-year award: a medley of roasted winter vegetables served with a crock of a tasty Provençale brandade, made with tofu instead of salt cod. When was the last time you saw a tony and ambitious restaurant serve a consciously vegan entrée? $$$


KOKO

168 Lexington Avenue, 481-8088

If you’re one of those raw-fish enthusiasts who like to know a good sushi bar in every corner of town, add Koko to your list. This new restaurant specializes in sushi, while also offering a modest list of perennial Japanese favorites like katsudon, teriyaki, and a particularly good tempura. Though toro was unavailable the evening we visited, the regular tuna sashimi was sleek and fresh, and we chased it with sushi. “Water eel,” wonderfully funky mackerel, and a yellowtail-and-scallion roll were both exemplary, though not of Yasuda Sushi quality. Koko is a dependable purveyor, joining two other sushi parlors on the same block. If one more arrives, we can call it Sushi Row. $































¢ Cheap eat

($10 meal available)

$ $10-$20
$$ $20-$35
$$$ $35+
Price guide per person
V Vegetarian friendly
L Open late (past midnight)

For hundreds of more restaurants check out the eats page.

UPPER EAST SIDE


BEYOGLU V

1431 Third Avenue, 570-5666

Dispensing with entrées almost entirely, this walk-up Turk attempts to reproduce a type of restaurant common in Istanbul’s Beyoglu neighborhood that features appetizers exclusively. Assembling a meal in this rollicking warren has a pleasure all its own. Begin with crunchy pastry flutes filled with feta called boreks. Then proceed to uskumru lakerda—a bowl of barely pickled mackerel that might remind you of sashimi. Next, down a formidable Greek salad (Greek salad?) boasting stuffed grape leaves and artichokes around its circumference. Finally, dive into a bowl of hummus, subtly flavored with cumin and dribbled with olive oil. $$


CAFÉ SABARSKY

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. $

UPPER WEST SIDE


(new) CELESTE V

502 Amsterdam Avenue, 874-4559

One came wrapped in juniper ash, another had been cured with saffron, while a third was dropped into a sterile pit and aged 100 days. “And I aged it for another month,” noted the proprietor, who turned out to be a cheese fanatic. You’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t try one of the amazing all-Italian cheese plates, which come sided with little smears of homemade compotes and flavored honeys. Wood-oven pizzas, pastas, nut-crusted chicken cutlets, fried fish, cured meats, and salads complete the menu at this Upper West Side newcomer, where you can eat very well for $25. $$

BROOKLYN


COCOTTE

337 Fifth Avenue, Park Slope, 718-832-6848

The glossy mag that reported this Park Slope newcomer as just another bistro did the restaurant and its potential patrons a disservice. The relentlessly French menu nods toward haute cuisine, offering foie gras, salmon roulade, and, best of all, an amazing bouillabaisse that comes close to the Marseilles original by the novel addition of coconut milk, which stands in for rascasse, a gluey but unobtainable fish. There’s also a great steak frites. The drawbacks include boring and repetitive sides, tables so cramped that servers have to gyrate around the room to reach the customers, and the usual deafening noise level. Still, the food shows great promise. $$$


GOTTLIEB’S RESTAURANT

352 Roebling Street, Williamsburg, 718-384-6612

The brisket sandwich with gravy really rocks at this old-time Williamsburg kosher deli, which remains picturesquely unrenovated since the ’60s. Go for the large size, and side it with the usually excellent (unless they’ve been reheated a couple of times) fries. The chicken cutlets that beckon from the window are also fab, and I can’t remember tasting better Hungarian goulash, the potatoes and tender hunks of beef bathed in a mild, paprika-tinged sauce. Thursday the action really heats up with specials like chopped chicken liver and gefilte fish. ¢


NEW COMBINATION

568 Utica Avenue, Rugby, 718-604-0964

One of eight Nigerian restaurants in town, New Combo boldly offers American breakfast items like eggs and bagels, and a few English specialties like fish and chips as well. Heart of the menu, however, are the mashes, soups, and meats that make up the vocabulary of most anglophone West African cooking. For the jaded eater of Nigerian food, certain specialties offered here may be more interesting. Moi moi is a fish-laced patty made of ground black-eyed-pea meal and fried in palm oil—fluffy, brown, and altogether tasty. Now farm-raised, the giant land snails known to taxonomists as Achatina achatina are unique to New Combo—black, winged, and as resilient as rubber bands. $


(new) TACOS LA HACIENDA

96 Wyckoff Avenue, Bushwick, 718-821-8816

Dominating the busiest corner in Bushwick’s tony Wyckoff Heights, House Tacos occupies a streamlined diner that hovers over the L train station. Blue-plate specials like chicken mole poblano and bistec a la Mexicana are superb, served with perfect yellow rice and savory black beans, and there’s a juicy cheeseburger made from fresh meat that’s a couple of notches above the diner standard. Antojitos like tacos, huaraches, and, especially, quesadillas, are also recommended, the latter stuffed with chicken and decorated with mole verde and queso fresco and bearing no resemblance to bar food. ¢


TANOREEN V

7704 Third Avenue, Bay Ridge, 718-748-5600

When asked for a brunch recommendation, I often suggest Tanoreen. The Middle Eastern menu offers traditional Levantine breakfasts like vegetable fritters, hummus with meat, and foul madamas—tender fava beans dressed with olive oil, lemon, and garlic. Also brunch-worthy are two dozen hot and cold mezes, including a pungent olive spread flavored with capers, the dried Armenian sausage sojuk, and sambousek—little braided turnovers filled with potatoes and peas and served with a homemade cilantro pesto sauce. Sandwiches, grilled meats, and desserts broaden the culinary terrain. And don’t miss the Arabic coffee, ceremoniously served in a shiny brass pot. ¢


YEMEN CAFÉ

176 Atlantic Avenue, Cobble Hill, 718-834-9533

On a night of high winds and pelting rains, our inundated ride wouldn’t start and an expedition to a far-flung corner of Brooklyn had to be scuttled. Drenched, we dropped by Yemen Café and received a warm welcome, and dined sumptuously on a cumin-laced lamb bouillon, a salad of fresh greens bathed in spicy red dressing, a cauldron of bubbling salta topped with the foaming fenugreek jelly called hilbeh and sided with enormous flatbreads, and, finally, a festive communal platter of roasted halal lamb on a platter of fragrant white rice. We disappeared into the stormy evening happy and well stuffed. $

QUEENS


AYA’S CAFÉ RESTAURANT

25-60 Steinway Street, Astoria, 718-204-6040

You might as well be in Morocco, in this well-lit lounge furnished with couches and handsome inlaid tables, with an area at the front window for ostentatious hookah-smoking, in a manner that’s become de rigueur on this stretch of Steinway. The exemplary food is also emphatically North African in its subtle use of sweet spices and typical selection of tajines, couscouses, and kebabs. Best dish on a first visit was chicken bastilla, a round pie of flaky warka pastry interleaved with chicken and almonds and sweetened with a crisscross of cinnamon and powdered sugar topside. $


JAHN’S V

117-03 Hillside Avenue, Richmond Hill, 718-847-2800

This 80-year-old ice cream parlor stands across the street from the shuttered Triangle Hofbrau, once the largest German restaurant in town and favorite spot of Babe Ruth and Mae West. The interior of Jahn’s made me feel like I was back in Green Bay, Wisconsin: dark polished woods, dim tulip lamps, red-upholstered booths, and plenty of carved wood up near the ceiling. The butterscotch sundae is a thing of beauty—salty, buttery, and served in a giant goblet topped with clouds of whipped cream, and there are a couple dozen more sundaes, shakes, and egg creams to choose from. The food is strictly diner-style, useful only as a prelude to the ice cream. ¢


PEARSON’S TEXAS BBQ

71-04 35th Avenue, Jackson Heights, 718-779-7715

The city’s only real barbecue moved from Long Island City to Jackson Heights three years ago, and has since been prey to rumors that it’s going downhill. I revisited recently, and discovered that the cue maintains the same high standards. The pork ribs were luscious, sloughing tender, smoke-pink meat, and the two kinds of sausage, pepper-dotted hot links and Polish sausage (founder Robert Pearson’s innovation), were irresistible in their greasy saltiness. The brisket they’re currently using is a little too lean, and hence not quite so tender. That’s the way the patrons like it, according to the current proprietor. $


RAJ MAHAL

248-08 Union Turnpike, Bellerose, 718-831-0200

The far-eastern town of Bellerose boasts several grandiose Indian restaurants, and newcomer Raj Mahal welcomes guests with an ornate cloisonné door, a samovar the size of a small car, and a stadium-size dining room. In addition to standard Mughal fare, tandooris, and biryanis, the menu offers a handful of regional specialties, including a Kerala goat fry of flavorful meat with a piquant masala, and a wonderful bhindi masala featuring lemony baby okra. As we downed our excellent chicken tandoori, a wide-screen television presented colorfully turbaned Sikhs confronting Brit colonialists on the cricket pitch. Not the way I remembered it. $

ELSEWHERE


FRANK-N-FRITE

31 Victory Boulevard, Staten Island, 718-448-8073

Staten Island finally has its own upscale hot dog parlor. Like those in Manhattan and Brooklyn it has an innovation to offer, a “frite dog” that features a natural-skin frank piled high with french fries. Any sandwich with the fries inside is fine with me—certain New Orleans po’boys come to mind—and this version is tasty, even though the fries are not the twice-fried Belgian variety the name might lead you to expect. The real find here is the hamburger, a juicy and fresh-tasting quarter-pounder served on a seeded bun with all the usual fixings. The franks are pretty damn good, too. ¢

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