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See You in September

summerThis is usually point in August when everyone starts crowing about the end of summer even though there’s more than a month left and I get all needlessly wound up, except that I haven’t heard that gaffe much this year so maybe 2016 marks the moment in history when people got smart? Or I started tuning out? Maybe they are sweating too hard to notice the calendar counting down.

No matter. I’m just here to say I’m taking a summer break, not simply being more wildly sporadic than usual if anyone even pays attention to such things. I’ll be back sometime in September, definitely while it’s still summer.


The Best Dessert You’ll Ever Eat Off a Rubber Sheet

Recent dessert trolling (I don’t actually consider being contrary or even intentionally rabble-rousing to be trolling, but you know) got me thinking about my never-posted visit to Alinea last fall. I favor traditional desserts, by which I mean sweet, gooey and substantial. I’ll eat your spruce-and-stone soup, but how about a towering layer cake bulging with veins of frosting afterward? Accompanied with a quenelle of nasturtium sorbet and crumbles of “soil,” if you must.

Alinea, despite the pageantry and production, produced a real dessert. One that pushed me over the precipice from sated to stuffed while raising my impression of 13 creations I’d been presented with. At the end of the meal, you’re presented with a menu to remind you of everything you just ate, the procession sort of being a surprise if you ignore diners who arrived earlier. Each course represented by a circle with a circumference in proportion to the amount of food. The server even commented that the dessert circle, deceptively medium-large, didn’t seem drawn to scale.

king crab

First, an institutional gray waterproof cloth is laid down. And because I was on my tenth and final wine pairing at this point (never mind the pre-dinner pints at the only restaurant open before 5pm in the immediate vicinity, a seafood joint with an adorable crab with a toupee logo where I was preemptively warned against using Groupons during happy hour) I said, “Oh, a rubber sheet” aloud instead of keeping my bed-wetting thoughts to myself.

alinea creme de violette

A stubby glass of what appeared to be Creme de Violette and turned out to be exactly that was set down. Everyone secretly knows that the liqueur tastes like Sweet Tarts, but the color is so crystalline and pretty that you want to assign more sophistication to it.

alinea pate sucree, violet, hazelnut

I did not take a video because I don’t do such things (or even bring my SLR–half-way through I did start taking iPhone pics, despite a promise to myself to focus on the food and company, because the tables were so well spaced that the act was extremely unobtrusive) but if there was a dish crying out for such treatment, this would be it. Crumbles are set up in the round, bolstered by a metal mold, and topped with a layer of brown liquid. Then the purple liqueur is joined by a fuchsia partner and a white cream to be dotted and swooped across the table in a seemingly spontaneous, but clearly orchestrated manner. In the meantime, the centerpiece has gelled into a cake. Meringue moon rocks are strategically placed and the edible tableau is dusted with silver and purple glitter. Ok, and a leaf.

Now you can dig into what the menu calls milk chocolate pate sucree, violet, hazelnut.

alinea pate sucree, violet, hazelnut done

No one forces you to eat the whole thing.

alinea duck accompaniments

Up until this point, the duck only described as ……..?????…………!!!!!!!!!!!!! and accompanied by a board of condiments ranging from single leaves to a yolky blob topped with saffron to a white powdery cylinder, had been the most wowing. The duck is probably still my favorite, and just as fun, but I have to give props to a tasting menu dessert that over-delivers.

Alinea * 1723 N. Halstead, Chicago, IL

The Middle Ages: Quick Takes

Dynaco. Monday, 10:16pm. Extremely high concentration of beards and plaid, as well as two men with some serious white hair. In theory, the fireplace would be warming for ancient creaky bones.

Age appropriate? No.

Glorietta Baldy. Saturday, 8:08pm. The very dim lighting could be flattering for the elderly. There is a wi-fi network called “dr butt.”

Age appropriate? No.

Beloved. Friday, 9:48pm. Like a young immigrant’s interpretation of a damask wallpaper, tin ceiling bar, but crafted from what could be found at Home Depot. One benefit of being ignored at the bar is that when you walk out without paying for the drink you eventually got, no one notices.

Age appropriate? No.

Brooklyn Icehouse. Friday, 5:34pm. This is an old staple, and still suitable for a beer and a shot after the occasional trip to Fairway. It may seem weird to order pulled pork sliders now that Hometown is just down the street, though.

Age appropriate? No.

Most Photogenic

Refreshed and invigorated? I don't know what that means. In fact, I may be one of the few people who returns from vacations feeling exhausted, vaguely depressed and unable to get back into routines like typing words for a small number of strangers to read.

So, here are some photos while I get my act together:

Eaten, Barely Blogged: Nearly Sog-Free

Sripraphai crispy chinese watercress salad

As often, fried pork belly with chiles and basil, and duck with Thai eggplants were on the agenda, no need to rehash. But the Chinese watercress salad? What the heck?! Since when did they start serving it all deconstructed? I appreciate their new (to me) attention to sog (never mind my own personal sog brought on by my lack of waterproof shoes–that freak Saturday snow  caused wet soggy socks that I had to keep on my feet for hours) but I actually kind of liked the spicy and fishy goop, filled with softened shallots and stray pieces of batter that collected at the bottom of the plate. It reminded me of  how one of the best parts of an ice cream sundae is all the melted ice cream and whipped cream mingling with syrup (coffee, butterscotch, and hot fudge) that I used to call “the drink’ when Farrell’s still existed in Portland and I could order the Mocha Nut. Previously on Sripraphai.

Astor room
Astor Room
$1.50 oysters might not be the most suitable snow in October snack (I don’t associate chilled raw seafood with wintery weather) but paired with two for one classic (the Mary Pickford, pictured) and newfangled (The Mexican Firing squad, not snapped) cocktails, the 5pm-7pm happy hour is a fun pitstop before a movie at the nearby UA Kaufman Astoria multiplex. Except that we stayed beyond our showtime. Luckily, Drive was still playing at Kew Gardens Cinemas (and Cobble Hill Cinemas—they’re owned by the same company, which becomes apparent during the ‘80s-seeming, probably made in the ‘90s s pre-trailer sequence with a synth soundtrack to rival Drive’s—but I like my old, small, two-dollars-cheaper theaters bereft of people). Previously on Astor Room.

Jolie Cantina
BrooklynDid you ever eat at Jolie? I did not. It took a move and sprinkling Mexican touches into the French cuisine to get my attention. I like mish-mashes. And they were subtle. Like funky merguez links in tacos and duck confit in enchiladas. The blueberry strudel with pistachio ice cream was straightforward. It’s a low-key neighborhood restaurant, not one worth traveling to, but one I could revisit since it’s not one of those places where weeknight dining demands a lengthy wait. Plus, I like the roosters in a beret and a sombrero.

Duran duranRedFarm has moved onto its fancier digs. Now you have burgers, salads, sandwiches, and the new Mr. Wong’s, filling the Chinese void. It is kind of fun ordering duck wonton noodles by touchscreen. And it was one of the least offensive dining options near Madison Square Garden. It took nearly three decades (sweet jesus) but I’ve finally seen Duran Duran live. That is my view from above, and not my noodles (obviously).

Chip Shop
A plate with 90% of its surface taken up by stubby, gravy-soaked fried potatoes (at least two spuds) beef and kidney-filled pie centered on top should probably not be consumed unless one is bulking up for the winter. What else is the Chip Shop good for if not adding snow-in-October padding. Too bad they were out of Scotch eggs.

Beating the Heat

I don't know that anyone would notice one way or the other, but I am in San Francisco (well, was over the weekend) and Portland this week and will be back to posting some time soon.

So far: Bar Agricole, Benu, Bar Tartine, Lers Ros, Oakland taco trucks, Flora and Le Pigeon.

Coming up: Pok Pok, Char Burger, Paley's Place, Castagna, Tasty n Sons…and more.

Who knows if I'll write about it all.

Spring Break

CROQUETA So, I’m off to the land of Michelin stars and pintxos, the now-clichéd foodie honeymoon destination of San Sebastián. (I am still bummed that the Chowhound post about the destination involving a marriage proposal did not incorporate food. Couldn’t you imagine a croqueta encasing a diamond ring?) Luckily, I don’t consider myself a foodie and I’m not married or about-to-be. All should be well.

As usual when I’m out of town I won’t be blogging, but I’ll probably be Twittering (tweeting sounds even lamer) just not while on-the-go. Smartphones and travel haven’t been a successful combination for me.

I couldn’t get my phone to work in Oaxaca even though half the cooking class were using Blackberries and when I was stupid enough to pack my also non-working phone—the banh mi version I’m still mourning the loss of—in my suitcase while in S.E. Asia, it was stolen somewhere between Bangkok and Penang. Plus, I’m just way too cheap to pay for international data charges, despite the potential usefulness of digital handheld maps. How do others deal with phones when out of the country?

But more importantly, if anyone out there has been to Bilbao or San Sebastián—what did you eat?

Croqueta picture from La Más Bella

Too Tired For Words

Get the flash player here:

Clyde Common & Teardrop Lounge

As Stumptown set up its first dedicated NYC outpost in our new Ace Hotel, I was back in my hometown enjoying these exports on their own turf. Clyde Common is the restaurant affiliated with Portland’s Ace Hotel, and really tried my ability to suppress the White Trash S. I know for a fact I sent a few emails to friends referring to the place as Clyde Commons and said Fred Myers on more than one occasion last week. (New Yorkers are hardly immune—I came back to see a story about mob ties to Lucali, which the Daily News called Lucali’s.)

The cuisine is American and creative, in the vein of most popular seasonal/local Brooklyn restaurants of the moment, not screamingly Northwest. A college friend, Dassi, I visited in Eugene had recently stayed at the Ace Hotel and described the menu as “weird” and complained about $5 pimenton popcorn, the only thing she ate. I appreciate this skepticism, which isn’t synonymous with yokelism. My two local dining companions on this evening thought tomato caramel sounded strange but were willing to try it, nonetheless. And let’s just say that the decision to keep vegetables out of desserts was unanimous.

One surprise I found in my 11-year-absence was the pervasiveness of lines. I waited inordinate amounts of time everywhere I chose to eat. Don’t think there isn’t a 20-minute-line for Stumptown coffee even in Portland where it flows as freely as the Willamette. No one takes reservations for parties under six, which happens here too, but has never made sense to me. Why should larger groups be seated ahead of patient duos? At Clyde Common, my foursome waited about 45 minutes on a Saturday at 8pm, prime time, of course, so I wasn’t that surprised though I suspect that we were forgotten because after James checked on the list that my friend Adam has added us to, the hostess seemed like she had no recollection of promising us a table in the first place.

I didn’t mind the wait since it allowed me to sample the Norwegian Wood (Krogstad aquavit, applejack, Cinzano Rosso, Chartreuse, bitters) and catch up with chums I rarely see. Sometimes I do miss Portland, if only to hear Arlene Schnitzer references worked into funny yarns. We then moved onto a crisp Naia Verdejo Rueda, a total hit at the table. I’ll admit up front conversation and drinking took precedence. The food was top notch but ingredient minutiae eludes me.


Pork still rules in Portland (actually if I were writing a regional trend piece it would be about chicken livers—they were everywhere) as evidenced by rillettes on toast and pork belly with fried green tomato, piccalilli and pocha beans (these also showed up two nights later at Laurelhurst Market). I always expect rillettes to be more flavorful and am surprised by their creamy blandness. 

Porkbelly The soft,  fatty pork belly was grounded by the crunchy, vinegary hodgepodge that sat atop it. 


Ok, I don’t see trout much on menus here so that stood out, plus combined with lamb’s tongue and a yolky egg? No ignoring. The fish had a lot of smoky char and just enough oil to keep the flesh flaky moist. There could be no complaining that the main ingredient was masked by superfluous elements since the trout dominated by far. I don’t even remember the tongue and I couldn’t even tell you what else was hiding beneath the sea creature.

Others ordered tagliarini, cherry tomatoes, basil and orange breadcrumbs, arugula, castelvetrano olive, pecorino, butter fried croutons and oregano dressing, grilled flatiron steak, lettuce wedge, smoked tomato relish and cabrales cheese, and something lamby with grilled chiles.

See more photos here.

After Adam’s choice of carrot gnudi being unavailable, being forgotten on the list and later being given the wrong dessert, James remarked, “I thought Krista was the only person this stuff always happens to.” I’ve just always considered myself food and service unlucky, but it turns out that Adam is also constantly ignored/forgotten everywhere he goes. It’s bizarre, he’s completely concise and polite (just like me) and distinctive looking (he’s a redheaded down-to-earth dandy with a silver tooth) so it’s not as if you’re blending into the crowd or being abrasive. We were both born the same week, the same year, July Leos, both at the same longitude 122 degrees (though he in Washington, I in California with 9 minutes, 57 seconds difference) so I’m convinced we’ve been cursed similarly by birth.

I recently went to pick up a prescription at CVS, was asked my name, told to wait and literally 2 minutes later was asked my name and what I wanted by the exact same counter woman when she saw me standing near the register patiently waiting as told. Adam was recently in Europe and ordered dinner at a restaurant only to have someone come over 30 minutes later and re-take his order like he’d just walked in. His theory is that he’s speaking into another dimension and not being heard. I’m not so mystical but am starting to wonder. I call it the storm cloud theory, as I picture one hovering above my head at all times. Later in the week I was introduced to “manifesting” in Eugene, essentially the power of positive thinking. I say fuck that hippy shit.

Tomato caramel

None of us were gung ho on dessert until we noticed tomato caramel as an element in profiteroles filled with sour cream ice cream. It could either be repugnant or compelling. Why not at least share it four ways? Except that we were presented with a fig tart instead. Really, we just wanted to see what the hell tomato caramel was, I figured it was caramelized tomatoes cooked down into a jam, but our server was nice enough to bring us a little ceramic dish bearing the mystery sweet. And no, it was actually caramel that tasted of tomatoes.

Profiteroles And then they brought the full dessert too (comped, I might add). Sometimes whispering into other dimensions pays off. Throat-clenchingly sweet and vegetal, I didn’t hate the pale brown sauce as much as the others. It kind of worked with the savory sour cream ice cream but I would hardly call it versatile or crowd-pleasing.


We admired this niche still life that looked like it could be the subject of an old-fashioned  jigsaw puzzle.

Afterwards, three of us moved onto Teardrop Lounge (one member of our party was rightly scared off by the crowd and ran home), a mixology paradise that exemplifies all that is wrong with the new Portland. The bartenders have the Windsor-knotted ties and vests look down, the right mix of old and new with the bar playfully stacked with tinctures in eyedroppers and glass vessels of flavored liqueurs (though Adam thought the one with floating peach halves and thyme sitting in front of us looked revolting). Serious cocktails. Serious bartenders, maybe a little too serious.

Sophia loren Oh, but the scene, the décor, the people. Neon, glowing lights, rounded edges, kind of Vegas and early ‘00s. Hip-hop videos were playing on a large screen. Bacherlorette parties with girls literally falling down and grabbing me for balance, black-framed glasses, silver-haired 50-something German architect types who probably have Dale Chihuly (omg, two random NW references in one post) art in their homes, young non-hip Asian (I don't know, I tend to think of Asians as being hip, these were just regular kids) 20-somethings and generally what we’d call bridge and tunnel though Portland only has bridges and most interesting people live on the other side of the Willamette not in the lofted and condo-ized Pearl District. James who never gets hit on was being prowled by a cougar (I know, if you’re nearly 40, you’re hardly cougar-bait) who kept telling him how much she liked his glasses. The only thing missing were opportunistic panhandlers waiting to see if you were going to finish your drink so they could sip the remaining dregs. One cocktail was more than enough. I had hopes of trying the new game in town, Beaker and Flask; sadly, it was closed both Sunday and Labor Day.

The Sophia Loren (Boulard Calvados, Cherry Heering, Del Maguey Chichicapa mescal, bitters)

See more photos here.

Clyde Common * 1014 SW Stark St., Portland, OR
Teardrop Lounge * 1015 NW Everett St., Portland, OR

Time Out New York Eating & Drinking Guide

| 9224 3rd Ave, Brooklyn, NY
Flourishing in the shadow of the Verrazano Bridge, Delia's is a little
like Saturday Night Fever's Tony Manero: cocky, but likeably earnest.
Nine-dollar specialty martinis scream "big city," while Brooklyn
accents, such as valet parking and a larger-than-life Mona Lisa over the
bar, remind you that you're in Bay Ridge. Godiva chocolate liqueur, Stoli
Vanil and heavy cream flow freely, but don't worry about looking effete.
In these parts, even the young Travoltas grooving on Eminem sip key lime
martinis and share plates of chocolate-covered strawberries.

| 8123 Fifth Ave, Brooklyn, NY
Pink Houses, Bad Medicine, the Unforgettable Fire…It sounds like
the makings of an '80s jukebox, but these are just a few of the cover
bands that perform most Saturday nights. Despite wind machines and echo
effects, the bar is unlikely to draw a crowd beyond the usual Bay Ridge
singles, but you get the feeling that's fine with them. The music tributes
aren't only for the pros–during Monday-night karaoke, anyone can belt
out bygone Top 40 tunes. The rest of the week, this Irish pub feels more
like a typical sports bar: TVs are blared, beer is swilled, and darts
and pool are de rigeur.

Sunny's Bar
| 253 Conover St, Brooklyn, NY

Lore-choked McSorley's and the White Horse Tavern may get the attention,
but an evening at Sonny's feels like history in the making. On weekends,
this unassuming wharf-side tavern buzzes with intrepid curiosity seekers,
a mix of middle-aged and new-generation bohemians (the latter distinguished
by their cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon), and the odd salty dog (canines, not
sailors). Despite the nautical feel, you're more likely to hear bossa
nova or bluegrass than sea chanteys. This is the East River, after all

| 188 5th Ave, Brooklyn, NY
On some nights men nearly outnumber the gals at this easygoing lesbian bar.
Folk and bluegrass lovers show up for the live music, while neighborhood
families fill up on ribs and fried chicken. The Southern cooking is complemented
by down-home touches such as 1940s farmhouse furniture and a big metal tub
filled with Red Stripe and Brooklyn Lager. Lest you forget this a women's
meeting place, Tilt-a-Girl mixers are held on Tuesdays.


37 W 17th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves (212-366-0888). Subway:
F, V to 14th St; L to Sixth Ave; N, Q, R, W, 4, 5, 6 to 14th St-Union
Sq. Mon-Fri noon-2:30pm, 6-11pm; Sat, Sun 6-11pm. Average main course:
$23. AmEx, DC, MC, V.

Originally part of a

Tokyo-based chain, Basta Pasta draws a predominantly Asian clientele to the pink-linened

dining room, facing an open kitchen. Seared foie gras perched atop a brilliant saffron

risotto cake mimics a luxe piece of sushi (it’s too small but dazzling). Mussels, clams,

shrimp and squid are bathed in tomato sauce and piled over spaghetti; lobster salad with

snap peas and a lemon aioli is charmingly springlike, and a nice preface to heftier entrées

like grilled sea bass or braised short ribs. Service is gracious and personable, and

thank-yous from the staff abound.


200 Park Ave at Vanderbilt Ave. and W. 45th St (212-818-1333). Subway:
Average main course: $25. AmEx, DC, MC, V.

At this sprawling brasserie, looks matter. Rotisserie chickens spin in a giant

hearth; the curved, glass-enclosed kitchen demands attention; and streamlined light

fixtures create a clubby feel. Chef Franck Deletrain’s menu is heavy on surf and turf for

the expense account crowd. Nods to Morocco include a just-sweet-enough chicken b’steeya

with a hint of orange-flower water and garnished with spiced candied almonds. Raw-bar

choices are popular, as are meaty crab cakes and the butter topped filet mignon. Many of

the showy desserts are crowned with arabesques of spun sugar. A more casual meal is

available at the moodier adjoining Beer Bar.


201 W. 83d St between Broadway and Amsterdam Aves (212- 496-6031).
Subway: . Average main course: $9. AmEx, DC, MC, V.

Carbophobes, beware:

You’re in serious sweet-tooth territory. Upper West Siders and tourists mob this café,

especially on weekends. Brunch is served until 4pm daily, and light sandwiches and salads

are always available. But the real draw is the sugary siren song of display cases packed

with cookies, brownies, cakes, pies and more. Art Nouveau posters, exposed-brick walls and

French windows attempt European flair, though many of the desserts are unabashedly

American, from apple brown Betty to chocolate-covered Oreo cheesecake. It's no surprise

that scenes from the syrupy Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks comedy You’ve Got Mail were

filmed here.


203 First Ave between 12th and 13th Sts (212-673-3957). Subway: L to
First Ave. Average main dish: $13. AmEx, DC, MC, V.

Although less

trendy than the newer Bao and Boi, Cyclo is hardly a pho-slurper’s hole-in-the-wall.

Soothing pale hues and unobtrusive New Agey music allow quiet conversation, and the food is

mellow too: Papaya salad is more peppery than spicy, its piquancy balanced by salty dried

beef strips. Fresh DIY summer rolls require a deft hand (to manipulate the

sugarcane-skewered grilled shrimp with the accompanying pile of vegetables, herbs and

fragile rice-paper wrappers), but the results are worth the effort. Chilean sea bass,

cooked in a clay pot with creamy bean curd, eggplant and lemongrass, is hearty without

being heavy.

Oyster Bar

633 Third Ave at 40th St (212-986-8080). Subway:. Average main dish:
$23. AmEx, DC, MC, V.

The cacophonous, multilevel space almost feels like a glorified chain

restaurant (it is, sort of—there’s an uptown location). But Docks is a notch above places

that serve bottomless baskets of popcorn shrimp. This is a candlelit, white-tablecloth

affair (with a buzzing bar scene). Oysters are from Maine and British Columbia. Fried

scallops and fish are surprisingly light (the accompanying shoestring fries, however, can

be overdone). The creamy, tart key lime pie is ideal for cleansing a breaded and battered



149 West 4th St between Sixth Ave and Macdougal St (212-228-4267). Subway:
F to West Fourth St. AmEx, DC, MC, V.

Chopsticks? Broccoli in the curry? These are red flags to purists—but it would be

a mistake to write off sleek little Galanga. Ambient drum ’n’ bass and menu oddities like

lychee fried rice, merely veil the real deal. Tell your server that you want spice, and

there’ll be no pandering. The seafood salad of mussels, shrimp and squid is dressed with

just the right amount of sugar and lime, a perfect foil for the slow, creeping heat.

Curries, too, are appropriately rich with coconut milk and properly topped with the

shredded wild-lime leaves that are all too often omitted in Thai restaurants.

World Bar and Grill

3 Orchard St between Canal and Division Sts (212-925-9975). Subway:
F to East Broadway; B, D to Grand St. Mon-Fri 4pm-4am; Sat, Sun 11am-4am.
Average main course: $16. AmEx, DC, MC, V.

The occasional
shuttle bus to Ikea might be as close as most New Yorkers come to sampling
Swedish food. But there's more to the northern European cuisine than

meatballs and lingonberries. Good World's no-man's-land location on the
cusp of Chinatown and the Lower East Side doesn't deter anyone from seeking
out the stylishly scruffy alpine lair. Mismatched school chairs and moose
head above the bar lend appropriate quirk to the former barbershop. The
grill aspect is more apparent during lower key hours. A DJ-driven, clubby
scene sets in weekend nights and can make for claustrophobic dining, at
best. Many would be inclined to supplement the creative beer and aquavit
selection with tapas-style offerings like mustard sauced gravlax, lime
and chili marinated salmon cubes and herring served four ways. However,
ambitious mains are also worth more than a bite or two. Hearty, braised,
cinnamon and cardamom spiced lamb shanks with rich porcinis, parmesan
potatoes and rosemary spiked jus are satisfying. Morels, chanterelles
and truffles make woodsy appearances in many dishes, and beets and capers
gives the requisite burger added zing. Desserts aren’t afterthoughts,
a parfait constructed of Kahlua flavored ice cream studded with bits of
Dajm (a Swedish candy similar to Skor) and candied lime out-cools faux
Nordic Häagen-Dazs, any day.

6405 Roosevelt Avenue
Cross Street: Between 64th and 65th streets

are quintessentially Salvadoran, and this whimsically decorated Woodside
restaurant serves wonderful examples. Take in pictures of the namesake
volcano and clay-tiled indoor roof inhabited by fake iguanas and an armadillo
while trying the stuffed, grilled corn cakes. Choose from chicharron,
cheese, frijoles or revuelta, a mix of all three. Curtido,
a pickled cabbage slaw (sometimes available with papaya), thin, lightly
spiced tomato sauce and a bottle of Suprema beer are necessary accompaniments.
This isn't light fare; easily sharable meat-based entrees are served with
rice, beans, cheese, sweet plantains and corn tortillas. Simple and satisfying
res con salpicon, beef soup, is a weekend favorite.

Bonne Soupe

48 W 55th St between Fifth and Sixth Aves (212-586-7650). Subway:. Average
main dish: $13. AmEx, DC, MC, V.

This midtown bistro

is full of French country charm (red-and-white-checked tablecloths, exposed beams,

waitstaff with accents). The clientele is perhaps less authentic: shoppers, out-of-towners

and solo-dining old-timers. Cheese fondue, quiche, crêpes and omelettes are satisfying, but

the raison d’être is, of course, the namesake bonne soupe. Whether you’re in the

mood for classic cheese-topped French onion or smooth and creamy tomato andalouse,

you can get your bowlful à la carte, or as a prix fixe meal with bread, salad, an

unmemorable dessert and even a glass of house wine for just $13.95.

281 Lafayette St between Prince and Houston Sts (212-226-4944) Subway:.
Average main dish: $16. AmEx, DC, MC, V.

The staircase opens

into a cavernous subterranean brasserie that almost resembles a Cold War–era movie set.

Everything is just so: a cement ceiling, riveted metal, stainless-steel toilet seats.

Stylish couples and the Soho working class sit in curved red banquettes and leather

armchairs, sipping from colorful martinis. The bloomin’ onion on the menu may give you

pause, but your fears will be laid to rest by snacky Soviet fare like spinach and cheese

piroshki and blini with a choice of fish. Smoked sturgeon scattered with dill and

accompanied by a dollop of crème fraîche is a toothsome choice. Caviar is, of course, found

in various guises, including an unorthodox application atop smoked-salmon pizza. Sturdier

eaters can choose chicken Kiev or beef goulash. The bracingly bourgeois molten chocolate

cake is hard to say nyet to.

145 W. 53d St between Sixth and Seventh Aves (212-581-4242). Subway:.
Average main dish: $24. AmEx, DC, MC, V.

Deep-black risotto,

colored by squid cooked in its own ink, is a typical Venetian dish, and it’s frequently a

special here. But the lively, playful space—designed by architect Adam Tihany—is your first

clue that Remi isn’t too bound by tradition. Chef Francesco Antonucci’s cichetti (Italian

tapas), presented in whimsical angular plates, include fried stuffed olives and marinated

octopus. His tuna-filled ravioli is a classic, and gnocchi with baby goat is spiked with

olives and artichoke hearts. Semifreddo and gelato grace the dessert menu, but why be

predictable? Choose the chocolate-banana tart.