This week's Review Roundup includes: Ida Mae Kitchen-n-Lounge, Green Table at Chelsea Market, Zerza, Nice Matin, Five Front, Dominic Restaurant/Social Club, Home, K.R Space Untitled, Suenos, Sichuan Dynasty
NYTimes Restaurants, William Grimes reviews Ida Mae Kitchen-n-Lounge: As Tabla is to Indian cuisine, Ida Mae is to Southern cuisine? Sounds intriguing to this fried chicken, collard greens, buttermilk biscuit lover.
Sweet potatoes, whipped into a silky purée, make an ideal filling for skillfully made ravioli, very thin yet firm to the bite. A chive-butter sauce adds a voluptuous sheen, while cutting back, just a touch, on the sugar in the potatoes. Skewered shrimp, lightly breaded and deep-fried, come out as crunchy and light as tempura. The dipping sauce, a thick peach compote fired up with chilies, is a simple but clever Asian-Southern combination. Even a highfalutin ingredient like foie gras can do the two-step, if you put it together with an apple fritter and a little salad of black-eyed peas. Mr. Collins makes a tactical error with his crab cakes, however. He serves them in a pool of sweet, pungent saffron consommé, which might work brilliantly as a dipping sauce on the side but does damage on the plate. The fat little crab cakes get soaked by the sauce, and slow eaters might find themselves eating crab soup after about five minutes.
You can stop at Green Table for a snack or a full meal, but I'd be tempted just to go for dessert. House-made ginger doughnuts ($6), served warm, are great dipped in applesauce, while cherry cobbler ($6) is sweet and tart. I know that lemon-lavender sounds more summery than chocolate, but I'd be willing to sacrifice this seasonality for the rich, dense chocolate pot de crème ($6).
You can't franchise a place like Green Table. It exists as part of its milieu, and by itself is a good enough reason to visit Chelsea Market.I am embarassed to admit that I have yet to visit the Chelsea Market, but I have a good excuse. . . I didn't know about the ginger donuts!
The atmosphere in this two-story night-life complex, despite its rich red walls and heavy incense smell, is less opium den than East Village genteel. Upstairs in Zerza’s airy, minimalist dining quarter, with its wooden tables and banquette, nose-ringed Oberlin grads talking about Dean’s chances in 2004 sit across from black-haired Eurasian beauties in halter dresses and their rich older husbands with tans and gold watches. Downstairs, the addictive dance music of Cheb Khaled and other Arabic artists plays over a scattering of wicker sofas, tile tables, and leather hassocks that seem designed to make you feel incredibly short unless they’re piled on top of one another.
Five Front serves dishes like these: a solidly packed, sweet-and-spiky crab cake; mussels in a thin velvet of curry; sweet-pea ravioli as sparkling as captured fireflies; a green salad that absolutely startles with lightness and balance; a striped bass with beets; a superbly spicy San Vito Lo Capo seafood stew; delectably shredded short ribs; and a burger that doesn’t need foie gras or anything else to be just right. Plus great banana-bread pudding and fruit buckle, in a no-frills room or garden where a T-shirt seems right at home, and the staff makes you feel that way, too.
Just as Space Untitled, the artsy, high-ceilinged café and coffee bar, fits seamlessly into its Soho environs, its new Koreatown spinoff, K.R Space Untitled, blends into the kimchi district. Perhaps too well: Its 32-item cafeteria-style buffet menu, with everything from spicy squid to boiled pork belly, bears a striking resemblance to Woorijip’s up the street (but costs slightly less, at $5.25 per pound). There’s also a noodle bar, Korean-style sushi, and a few intriguing examples of East-West fusion like the bulgogi sandwich with Swiss cheese.
If you can't sweat the four-course, $50 chili tasting menu, go for the regular fare, which features tacos, empanadas, tostados and more of the like. Of course, they come with such delectable accompaniments as drunken goat cheese or ancho vinaigrette. The house sommelier, Steven Olsen, keeps this 'casa de suenos' stocked with New World wines and expensive tequilas.
In spite of a love affair with the cuisine that goes back decades, New York has probably never had a true Sichuan restaurant. Those that first materialized in Chinatown 30 years ago were geared to Western tastes, stanching the burn by deploying only a modest quantity of chiles and eschewing peppercorns entirely. Though the Wu Liang Ye and Grand Sichuan chains have recently repopularized Sichuan food in Manhattan, the spicing is still restrained, and the menu's larded with all sorts of dishes that don't belong. And most of the Sichuan places in Flushing—including the now defunct and much lamented Spicy and Tasty—alter the cooking for Taiwanese tastes.
With its shifting use of multiple chiles, hurricane of garlic, intemperate admiration of fat, deployment of oddball ingredients, and emphasis on variety meats and animals more likely to be caught in a trap than purchased at the supermarket, Sichuan Dynasty is our most authentic yet.
Review Roundup is updated every Wednesday and Friday