Cherche Midi

Bar, Cherche MidiIt was 25 minutes past our reservation time on a Tuesday night, and still our table at Cherche Midi hadn’t materialized. Aside from the wait, this can be a bad sign about a newish restaurant. Are the servers overwhelmed? Or the kitchen? Yet Shane McBride, the chef of Cherche Midi, who looks like someone you probably wouldn’t want to run into in a dark alley in Dublin, was leaning against the kitchen pass through, completely unperturbed.  (more…)

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Le Philosophe

There aren’t many truly French restaurants in New York, but Le Philosophe is one of them. This isn’t the fussy cafe setting of Hemingway’s Paris, but a pared-down, black and white aesthetic that cross pollinated from one side of the Atlantic to the other and back again. The photographs on the walls may be of French philosophers, but the sleek open kitchen and industrial chic dining room is, as they say in Paris, très Brooklyn(more…)

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The Wren

“Go ahead and grab a table.”

These words, spoken offhandedly by our server, could have knocked us over with a feather on the first night we dined at the Wren. It appeared that this newish place might not be like the rest of the new Noho establishments that claim to be “neighborhood” restaurants, where you can usually expect an hour or more wait followed by a bill of $70 or more per person. Multiply this by the amount of visits it takes to become a regular to skip the hour and or more wait, and the only “neighbors” in the so-called neighborhood place are the very wealthy.  (more…)

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For the last ten years, one man has dominated the French restaurant scene for downtown New Yorkers: Keith McNally. It’s hard to imagine the Meatpacking District without Pastis or SoHo without Balthazaar, two highly stylized restaurants that stole Paris bistro decor and food so effectively that the trend of antiqued mirrors, subway tiles and flea market fixtures has been stolen back by a copycat place in Paris.

But with Pastis closing for nine months in 2014 as a new building is constructed above and longtime chefs Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr leaving McNally’s empire, change is afoot. Now popular local chef Andrew Carmellini (Locanda Verde, the Dutch) is throwing his hat into the ring with the opening of French mega cafe Lafayette. The old Chinatown Brasserie (and Time Cafe/Fez) space has been overhauled with no expense spared, columns covered in glossy Art Deco patterns of inlaid wood, red leather banquettes ringing the raised dining level, walls opened up with huge plate glass windows, copper pans glinting in the saucier and rotisserie station and glassware glimmering above the bar. Baz Luhrman could walk right in and film another scene for the Great Gatsby.  (more…)

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Mile End Sandwich

Poutine: it’s the drunk food of Canada, the doner kebab of Montreal late-night eats. The real thing, a mess of squeaky cheese curds slathered with mystery gravy over thick fries, should not necessarily be exalted, yet several restaurants have pushed it on the New York market in the past few years. The latest to do so is Mile End Sandwich, a spinoff of Mile End Delicatessen in Boerum Hill. This is the restaurant that could finally change your mind about poutine. (more…)

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It’s hard to believe that Gabe Thompson and Joe Campanale’s new southern Italian restaurant L’Apicio, on the ground floor of a sleek new luxury condo building, is just two doors down from what was once the ultimate dive, Mars Bar (demolished to make room for another luxury condo). Somewhere the ghosts of Mars Bar drunks are spinning in their graves as the new visitors plunk down $13 for a cocktail, but that hasn’t stopped oodles of New Yorkers from descending on L’Apicio. Pretty attracts pretty, and the lofty ceilings, candlelight and rough hewn wood paneling of this restaurant’s interior have drawn a well-heeled crowd – some of whom may happen to live in the luxury condo above.  (more…)

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Il Buco Alimentaria e Vineria

I get a little nervous about going to an Italian restaurant in New York after getting back from Italy. If the meal is bad, will it somehow wipe out the memory of how real Italian food should taste? And just as knockoffs look particularly awful after you’ve seen beautifully-crafted designer goods up close, the comparison to the real thing often doesn’t do a New York restaurant any favors.

Back Dining Room, Il Buco Alimentari

So by the time the check came at the Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria on Great Jones Street, I breathed a sigh of relief. This new restaurant and Italian grocery, the younger sibling of Il Buco on Bond Street, may not be exactly like Italy, but the differences are purely New York.  (more…)

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Saxon + Parole

The Bowery was never the sort of place you’d expect to find a millionaire. Once home to brothels, flophouses, vaudeville shows, saloons and street gangs, this notoriously rough thoroughfare attracted an equally rough crowd – except, of course, for the odd millionaire or two. Peter Stuyvesant’s estate sat at the northern end of the Bowery in the 1600s, John Jacob Astor banded together with other wealthy families to build a theater here in the 1830s, and Gilded Age socialites flocked here at the turn of the last century.

Exterior, Saxon and Parole

There have always been a few of the one percent in the mix on the Bowery, the legendary destination for slumming it. But what’s changed is the setting – the luxe life has followed the one percent here. Now at 316 Bowery on the corner of Bleecker, you’ll now find sleek design and $15 cocktails where there used to be a hardware store and cheap hotel.  (more…)

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Hecho en Dumbo

If you’re opening a Mexican restaurant in New York, do you set out to please the general Tex Mex diner who expects chips and salsa to land on the table at the beginning of every meal? Or do you go the authentic route and offer things like cactus and rajas?

Open Kitchen, Hecho en Dumbo

Hecho en Dumbo, which just arrived on the Bowery in the old Marion’s space, toes the line between the two schools of Mexican food, offering amazingly good, deeply spicy, traditional Yucatan cuisine—but also a number of fun cocktails and some tortilla chips for the type of person who says “Let’s go out for margs!” When “authentic” can mean not just “truly Mexican” but true to anyplace that has adopted Mexican food (like those Mission-style burritos at Dos Toros), this approach seems like the best route to success for a new style of Mexican restaurant. (more…)

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DBGB Kitchen & Bar

DBGB-bar-menu-1When you think of tenacity and Daniel Boulud, maybe you think of the effort it takes to keep up four-star restaurant Daniel, launch Bar Boulud, or generally run a multi-national food empire. But no: the Boulud project that seems to have required the most effort in recent years is opening a restaurant on the Bowery. After being denied a liquor license in 2006 by Community Board 2 for a spot on the Bowery and 4th – bafflingly, because they thought a Boulud place would be some kind of nightclub – Boulud went back to bat for a space on Bowery between Bleecker and Houston and finally won in 2007. (Lord knows we wouldn’t want to attract the wrong element to the Bowery.)

But it’s clear from the outset: This ain’t no Mars Bar. (more…)

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On the day the markets imploded last week, dinner was planned with two people from the financial industry. Watching the Dow trip up and plummet down, it was hard not to wonder what would become of New York chic – would fall’s bags all be burlap? – and gastronomy. Going to the latest, hottest place for dinner seems so cool in an up market, but in a down one, it can feel like fiddling while Rome burns.

So it came as somewhat of a surprise to discover that Gemma, the latest, hottest place by Sean MacPherson and Eric Goode of Hotel Gansevoort fame, is actually down-to-earth. The prices were shocking – and not in a Kobe/Gilt kind of way. Pizzas: $12-16! Pastas: $15-16! What a relief to eat cheap after a day of losing billions. Cocktails were somewhat pricier at $10-12 a pop, but the bartender was kind enough to mix another traditional Italian cocktail when the first variety was not a hit – after carding me, that is. (Eri tu, CB3?) Try the Maldini for the perfect bittersweet 2007 summer libation.

Yet the Taavo Somer’s bewitching decor did not match the menu, because it looked as if no expense had been spared on the surroundings, which have been under construction for eons. The hearth-shaped arches and antiqued mirrors – not to mention the Italian theme – brought to mind obvious comparisons to Morandi, but while that design came off to this reviewer and others as fakery, Gemma’s has an amount of hand-crafted detail that seems veramente Italian. Above the wrought-iron chandeliers, dozens of white pillar candles twinkle in the dimness of the rafters, and wrought-iron gates open into an intimate side room lined with an entire wall of shelved wine. Even the ornate detailing of the scrolly logo seems more a genuine tribute to turn-of-the-last-century Italian culture than an imitation of it.

If there’s one thing Gemma lacks in giddy anticipation it is the fanfare that preceded Morandi’s mating of Jody Williams with Keith McNally’s market. This may turn out to be a blessing for Gemma, however, as diners arrive expecting solid fare by Chris D’Amico, known for his brick oven pizzas at La Bottega, and not mind-blowing culinary wizardry. When Gemma’s food turns out to be good, it’s a pleasant surprise.

As at Mercat, the server took one look at High Maintenance and me – both blond and not fat – and wrongly assumed we were anti-carb or otherwise finicky. “That’s a lot of crostini,” he warned, when we and Hands Honson placed three orders.

“Don’t worry, we’ll eat it,” High Maintenance deadpanned.

The tomato and basil crostini were made with too-tart grape tomatoes, an odd choice in the midst of the green market bonanza going on now. (At least one market is up.) But the crostini themselves were nicely garlicky and crisp. Olive tapenade crostini with Coach Farm goat cheese could have been longer on tapenade and shorter on goat cheese.

There’s not a lot of choice on the one-page menu, so there are not a lot of ways for the kitchen to go wrong. Offerings are fairly standard, like the arugula salad with shaved Parmesan with a light, mustardy dressing. In keeping with the fashion of the times, Gemma has a fancy meat slicer. Paper-thin bresaola was extremely good and served simply, fanned out on a wooden board with grapes.

Since we already heard from the Strong Buzz review that the oven-roasted branzino was nice, we did not feel obligated to go in that direction and stuck to the comfort of pizzas and pastas. Again the quality of Gemma’s cured meats shone through in the rigatoni with prosciutto, cream and peas, served on pretty china. The earthy perfume of the prosciutto permeated the whole dish, as if the rigatoni had been sauteed briefly in the pork fat before the cream and peas were added. It lacked a certain amount of coherence, but this dish was still a buy.

Gnocchi were less inspired, still a little doughy and raw in the middle, perhaps because they were left round and not flattened with a fork before cooking. Turns out that age-old Italian practice is not just for visual aesthetics but for taste. But Hands Honson praised the savory meat “gravy.”

Best of all was the simple margherita pizza, lightly charred on the bottom, topped with tangy tomato sauce interspersed with generous dollops of creamy mozzarella, and garnished with fresh basil leaves. In these new-fangled times, it’s nice to come across a place that just takes an old standard and does it well.

Of course we had to try the nutella calzone. This mammoth piece of pastry, plumped up with an obscene amount of nutella inside (that could have been more thoroughly warmed through), was just as decadent as advertised. But it also steered the restaurant more towards an over-the-top take that is more Italian-American than veramente Italian.
How to get in? Last week (pre-Styles article), the waits were down to 45 minutes or less from the hour and a half of two weeks before. There are no reservations taken. Best to get there after 10ish, when the industry crowd gathers, or before 8 o’clock, while the young Wall Street analysts are still chained to their desks.

That’s one trend that may be around for a while.

The Bowery Hotel
355 Bowery at East 3rd Street
[Full “borrowed” menu here below. (Thanks, Hands.) N.B. that prices have already gone up since Menu Pages published a version…]

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