Today's review roundup includes: La Bottega, Shanghai Pavilion, Océo, OMS/B, Fatima, The Spotted Pig, Masa.
NYTimes Restaurants Amanda Hesser gives La Bottega a "satisfactory" review without much worth quoting (363 West 16th Street, in the Maritime Hotel; 212-243-8400):
At the moment, La Bottega feels more like a restaurant on automatic pilot — one built simply to fill a space in a hotel — than an inspired place to dine. Iceberg dead ahead.(Unleash the hounds!)
RECOMMENDED DISHES Escarole salad with fava beans; warm calamari; margherita pizza; grilled salmon; whole grilled sea bass; cheesecake; affogato.
NYTimes $25 and Under Eric Asimov reviews Shanghai Pavilion (1378 Third Avenue (79th Street); 212-585-3388):
The chef, Zong Xin-tu, had previously cooked at Joe's Shanghai in Flushing, Queens. While I was not familiar with Mr. Zong, I certainly knew the Flushing Joe's, to my mind the best of the small Joe's Shanghai chain.
Shanghai Pavilion is not technically a new restaurant, but a reincarnation of what had been a branch of Evergreen Shanghai. . .
Most New Yorkers know Shanghai for its soup dumplings, or juicy dumplings, as they are called on this menu. The crab and pork soup dumplings ($7) are superb, bright and rich, twisted into little tulip shapes that invite careful nibbling. If you worry the dough while holding the dumpling with chopsticks above a soup spoon, the juice will dribble into the spoon. You can than pop the dumpling with a soup chaser.
Mr. Zong's versatility is evident in two bean curd dishes. In one, bean curd squares as soft and delicate as the lightest shimmering flan are topped with a subtle crab meat and ginger sauce ($12) that I could not stop savoring. In the other, pan-fried bean curd in chef's special sauce ($8), the tofu was firmer and tougher, but the sauce, almost like a Chinese barbecue sauce, was just as subtle and evocative.
. . . I wouldn't let any meal go by without ordering the lion's head casserole ($13), with baseball-size pork dumplings soft enough to cut with chopsticks, served in a savory soy broth with onions and greens. It is wonderful over rice. Nor would I skip bamboo's dual delight ($18), a steamed fish dish served in two parts. First comes a wonderfully rich tofu soup made from a fish stock. Then the tender fish arrives, cut into pieces, doused in a light, slightly sweet rice wine sauce and arrayed in a boat carved of bamboo. It looks good and tastes even better. Red-cooked carp's belly in a tangy ginger and vinegar sauce ($13) is not as elaborate but no less delicious.
BEST DISHES Crab and pork juicy dumplings; pork juicy dumplings; bean curd with crab sauce; bean curd with chef's special sauce; beggar's chicken; eight treasure duck; lion's head casserole; bamboo's dual delight; red-cooked carp's belly; seaweed with tangerine peel.
NYPost Steve Cuozzo reviews Océo (224 W. 49th St., Time Hotel; 212-262-6236):
Waiters never stop asking whether you're "still enjoying." We didn't enjoy black sea bass ($27) or steamed cod ($26) very long; although expertly cooked, neither entrée was much bigger than a toothpick snack.
McBride's best dishes draw forth powerful, pure flavors from first-class raw materials, and he pulls off some dazzling effects. Yukon gold potato gnocchi ($19) take on rare texture from flash-sautéing; their resulting tactility complements the crunch of Tasso ham, garlic chips and celery root.
Crepe-wrapped braised lamb shoulder spiced with tomato marmalade and cooled by cilantro-laced raita moved my earth; with two juicy chops, it was worth $32.
Amish organic chicken ($26) is presented four ways - fried, poached, braised and as confit, each a virtuoso turn on the bird's natural flavor. It comes with potato skins filled with bleu cheese that would make a luxurious bar snack.
But the kitchen is as erratic as the lights. You need directions to tackle a fussy, sandwich-like stack of hickory-smoked wild salmon ($18) inserted between Granny apple crisps.
NYPost reviews OMS/B (156 E. 45th St., between 3rd and Lexington; 212-922-9788):
The current Japanese food wave that brought the $500 omakase menu to town has also washed ashore a $6.50 omusubi meal at Oms/b, a stylish little rice ball café.
The omusubi maker in the front window shows how the rice balls are made: She places rice in a mold, then a dab of filling, more rice, then wraps the disc with nori and finishes with a dollop of filling.
Like sushi, but bigger - meant as a snack, lunch or even breakfast to go.
They come in various shapes, layered with everything from traditional eel to Western-inspired novelties such as pastrami. Three pieces and soup make a $6.50 set; individually, they cost $1.50 to $2.50.
"This is our best seller," advises the server, pointing to Shrimp Popcorn, chunks of tender shrimp bound with gently spiced mayonnaise atop rice bundled in lettuce that's a tad messy to eat. Pick it up, off plops a shrimp.
Village Voice Robert Sietsema review Fatima (789 Franklin Ave., Brooklyn; 718-221-8679):
Not to be confused with Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Guyana, Ghana, or New Guinea, Guinea is an arc-shaped country on the southwest coast of West Africa with a verdant and mountainous interior that gives rise to the sobriquet "the Switzerland of Africa." Partly derived from this area, but also representing a pan-national cuisine, Fatima's menu is largely a series of sauces to be ladled over rice. Demonstrating French underpinnings, "beef soup" ($6) is a dead ringer for beef bourguignonne—big chunks of rich meat in a tomatoey brown gravy. In contrast to Senegalese food, the chile heat is kept to a minimum. If you seek spiciness, reach for one of the chile condiments scattered on the tables. One minces uncooked jalapeños, while another offers steamed whole habaneros. If you want the tears to stream down your face, pick the latter.
I recommend enjoying your rice with sauce de feuilles ("leaf sauce"), the national dish of Guinea. At Fatima, it comes in two varieties: potato and manioc. The potato leaf version (really made from sweet potato leaves) is a shade of green found only in the deepest part of the forest, a dark puree with even darker oil oozing around the edges. Dotted with chunks of beef, it tastes of scallions and, sometimes, stockfish, the sun-dried seafood used to flavor many West African recipes. The manioc version is subtly different, with less oxalic tang. (Oxalates are what make your mouth feel funny when you eat spinach.) Both have an intriguing taste that will leave you licking your lips, and both are tendered in such quantities that you won't be hungry for a good long while.
NYMetro reviews The Spotted Pig (314 West 11th Street; 212-620-0393):
In its culinary ethos of sourcing high-quality seasonal ingredients, the Pig is more Chez Panisse than Corner Bistro—a convivial place to have a pint, sure, but also a wonderful place to eat and, most shockingly, considering England’s long record of parsnip-and-turnip abuse, a safe haven for vegetarians.
Bloomfield once worked at London’s River Cafe, and her simple presentation of remarkably fresh buffalo mozzarella, served with stewy cranberry beans or olives and marjoram, can be traced back to that restaurant’s inspired take on classic Italian cooking. So can her gnudi, a small but hoardably rich dish of ricotta dumplings cloaked in brown butter and fried sage.
Even though the Pig wallows contentedly on the outskirts of the Batali-Bastianich empire, Otto’s house-cured bresaola has managed to infiltrate Bloomfield’s menu—as have Joe Bastianich’s own Friulian red and white house wines. But the Pig proudly asserts its British identity with two cask-conditioned ales and impressive renditions of smoked-haddock chowder, served with house-made crackers, and a first-rate shepherd’s pie. If the role of the pub (gastro- or otherwise) is to dispense no-nonsense rustic fare, the kitchen acquits itself well with an exquisite purée of chicken liver with grilled potato bread and cornichons, as well as slow-braised beef shin served over a seeping mound of wet polenta.
In keeping with the rest of the menu, desserts are plainspoken but superlatively done. The chocolate nemesis, on loan from River Cafe, straddles a luxurious line between mousse and ganache, and tastes even better with a tangy dab of crème fraîche. Ginger cake is strong and simple, and almost as English as the wedge of Colston Bassett Stilton we attempted to linger over one Saturday night, until we were finally forced to surrender our bar stools to a vulturelike pack of famished New Yorkers, out gastro-pubbing.
Apart from the beautifully poured pints, you won't find much you'd see at other pubs around town. The menu combines competent classics like shepherd's pie, richly layered with creamy potatoes and meat, with more innovative dishes, like plump-fleshed wild bass with a piquant anchovy sauce. A simple, flavorful chowder of smoked haddock crunches with housemade crackers; the skirt steak is tastily charred and partnered with horseradish cream and celeriac; and thanks to part-owner Mario Batali, there's delicious bresaola direct from Otto. The chocolate "nemesis" cake is worth saving room for, or finish with a slice of the excellent Somerset stilton.
Citysearch highly recommends Masa (10 Columbus Circle; 212-823-9800):
Takayama accepts nothing short of the highest quality seafood and the results are awe-inspiring. Cool uni floats in the mouth and melts onto the tongue. Can that mild, buttery white fish actually be mackerel? From the velvety toro tartare topped with an obscene amount of caviar, to the buttery foie gras and lobster shabu shabu, and then finally to bite after bite of perfectly proportioned sushi, every piece of fish is the absolute best of its kind.