Today's review roundup includes: Compass, Tanoreen, Delhi Gardens (NJ), Barbuto, Sant Ambroeus, La Table O & Co., Bianca, Spice Market.
NYTimes Restaurants Amanda Hesser gives Compass one star (208 West 70th Street; 212-875-8600):
While Ms. Sparks may be getting her kitchen in order, what is happening in the dining room is probably not what she has in mind. There, the menus are worn and curled on the edges, and the chairs are dirty. The red banquettes, which were installed when the restaurant became Compass in 2002, belong in Liberace's living room.
A renovation is planned, and I hope it includes the service, which vacillates between comically inept and smothering. One night, I asked the waiter if he could describe the venison entree. "It's awesome!" he said. Later, when we were having dessert, the waiter popped open a half-bottle of Bruno Paillard Champagne and began pouring.
"What did we do to deserve this?" I asked.
"It's nothing," he said. "I forgot to serve it to another table, and I didn't feel like taking it back to the bar. So here you go."
. . . Ms. Sparks has not cooked professionally since Quilty's closed in 2001. In her time off, she seems to have found new infatuations like pistachio oil and black chickpeas, and adjusted her style accordingly. Cooking that used to be blunt and brawny has grown more elegant. She now relies on singular flavors, like preserved lemons, to make a statement, as they do in baby clam and grilled rabbit arrabbiata. Preserved lemon oil perfumes the slices of rabbit and spicy sauce on the clams. Similarly, coconut milk enlivens a mound of shaved fennel that accompanies salmon carpaccio.
Ms. Sparks is particularly good at cooking fish. Maya shrimp are large, firm on the edges and juicy inside and are smartly paired with apples roasted in Calvados. She rolls wild salmon around fragrant shiso leaves and serves it with smoky lentils, dressed with aged sherry vinegar. And she steams black bass and lays it on a bed of creamed Savoy cabbage. At the center of the plate is a row of roasted baby beets in a beet and horseradish vinaigrette — it's borscht and herring, upgraded.
RECOMMENDED DISHES Oysters in gewürtztraminer cream; baby clam and grilled rabbit arrabbiata; roulade of salmon; steamed black sea bass; grapefruit and orange carpaccio; caramel parfait.
NYTimes $25 and Under Eric Asimov reviews Tanoreen (7704 Third Avenue, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn; 718-748-5600):
I love places like Tanoreen, where passion and vision outweigh all else. In a business where decisions are too often based on focus groups and consensus, Tanoreen comes down firmly on the side of art over product, of craftsmanship over assembly line. And the scale is still small enough to be personal. You either enjoy her vision of Middle Eastern cooking or go somewhere else.
This is not to say that Ms. Bishara is a demanding host. Far from it. She could not be more gracious and accommodating, with none of the eccentricities that sometimes accompany such single-minded owners.
"If you don't like it, we'll give you something else," she said as we prepared to tuck into a plate of squash stuffed with savory ground lamb, rice and pine nuts in a cooling yogurt-and-mint sauce. How could we not like it? As with almost everything at Tanoreen, it was both fresh and delicate, lively yet graceful.
It is impossible to settle for a single appetizer. It is much better to ask for a platter of assorted mezzes and to negotiate the composition with one of the friendly waiters or with Ms. Bishara herself. The price of a platter is never steep, and the portions are always generous. So generous, in fact, that I have rarely had room for more. And yet I always order a main course, too, even if I end up taking most of it home, as I did with the stuffed squash.
The standard kebabs ($11 to $12), served with nutty rice interwoven with thin noodles, are all fine, and so is baked eggplant ($12), which is layered with onions, potatoes and tomatoes — with or without meat — in a kind of Middle Eastern lasagna. Specials abound, like a predictably tender but beautifully spiced lamb shank ($13 to $19 depending on size), which seemed to radiate flavors. About the only things that disappointed were hefty, tough falafel ($5) and baked kibbe ($12), which was too dry.
Ms. Bishara's attention does not waver when it comes to dessert. She makes a lovely traditional pastry called knafeh ($8 for two people) with shredded phyllo dough and sweetened cheese, stained almost scarlet by a honey and rosewater syrup. But she extends herself for her customers, producing a Lenten carrot cake made with olive oil ($3.50) that was admirably light.
BEST DISHES Stuffed squash in yogurt-and-mint sauce; eggplant pâté; hummus; cauliflower salad; sautéed kale; frekeh; baba ghanouj; tabbouleh; fattoush; grilled kebabs; baked eggplant; lamb shank; knafeh; carrot cake; sesame cookies.
Village Voice Robert Sietsema reviews Delhi Gardens (691 Route 1 South and Wooding Avenue, Edison, New Jersey; 732-819-9110):
We were sitting around a table laden with oblong dishes—each a different shade of yellow, brown, or red—flinging off some of the most pungent and delicious smells we'd ever encountered. According to the hostess at Delhi Gardens, her strip-mall café in Edison, New Jersey, is the only Hyderabadi restaurant in the tristate region, which she indicated with a sweeping gesture of her arm. Hyderabad is one of two places that claim to be the Silicon Valley of India, an emerging high-tech city where fully 50 percent of the population is Muslim. Their meaty chow stands in sharp contrast to the vegetarian fare of the rest of southern India. Though many Hyderabadi dishes share names with Pakistani and northern Indian offerings, there's a difference: Hyderabadi cooking incorporates ingredients and techniques from the surrounding states, making lavish use of curry leaves, peanuts, coconut milk, young ginger, and mustard seeds and leaves.
As in northern India, a Hyderabadi cook is judged by the excellence of her biryanis, and Delhi Gardens offers four spectacular versions. "Hyderabadi dum ki biryani" ($13.95) is the flagship of the armada, and the one you're likely to recognize, a moist heap of white and saffron-tinted rice interspersed with lamb chunks. Tomato slices, raw onions, and boiled eggs are festively strewn on top. Another type, dubbed thahiri ($8.95), is so pungently spiced and thronged with so many perfectly cooked vegetables that you won't notice there's not a speck of meat in it. In contrast to northern examples, Delhi Gardens' biryanis come accompanied by twin sauces to be poured over the top, one made with peanuts and the other with yogurt, mellowing and souring the flavor. In southern Indian style, peanuts make frequent appearances, most notably in the brilliant baghare baingan ($8.95). Whole baby eggplants, slit and stuffed with spices, wallow in goober gravy, which also features a puckering dose of tamarind.
NYMetro reviews Barbuto (775 Washington Street; 212-924-9700):
The small, aggressively seasonal menu (it changes nearly every day) also has a bare-bones, utilitarian feel, although almost everything on it tastes good. The first dish I sampled was a plate of warm, slightly wilted wild chicory, touched with anchovies and served with a fried egg on top. A steamy bowl of country soup made with farro and shreds of savoy cabbage arrived after that, and then a dish of squid salad doused with garlic, soft chickpeas, and a dressing that tasted pleasingly of lemons and tahini. These were only precursors, however, to the more starchy, satisfying items like bucatini (perfectly al dente and drenched in a sauce of creamy Parmesan and crushed walnuts), delicious risottos (containing pearly shrimps one night and pancetta, onions, and marjoram the next), and the occasional dish of bacalao (it was on the menu one evening, then off again), which the chef lards with smashed potatoes, pan-fries to a kind of golden, pancake crispness, and serves over thick slices of toasted ciabatta bread.
With its perpetually crowded bar and air of casual though carefully cultivated hipness, Barbuto turns out to be an Italianate version of the classic Odeon French-brasserie model, only, mercifully, there are no frites on the menu and every entrée costs under $20. Most of the entrées, too, are fired in the brick oven. For decades, Waxman has been famous for his flattened chicken, but if anything, the simple, unflattened version at Barbuto is better. The meat is tender, the skin has a golden, crackly Peking-duck texture, and the whole dish is smothered in a rich, lemony salsa verde. You’ll also find wedges of lemon decorating the very fine skate (rolled in a blanket of thick, crunchy bread crumbs), and lemon in the sauce (a veal reduction laced with anchovy butter) dressing the platter of plump, nicely grilled veal sweetbreads supplied, according to our gregarious waiter, by an organic farm in Pennsylvania.
NYMetro also reviews Sant Ambroeus (259 West 4th Street; 212-604-9254):
The affect of this new uptown arrival in the Village is a little startling, like having a flamingo suddenly turn up in a familiar old chicken coop. The traditional Sant Ambroeus gelatos are still intact, and so are the trays of sugar cookies, fruit tarts, and domed chocolate cakes, arrayed in colorful rows like a collection of Easter hats. Unfortunately, the Upper East Side prices are intact, too, especially at dinner, when a very fine beef carpaccio (served with flat shavings of Parmesan) and a good veal Milanese cost close to $50, not including a glass of wine or even bubbly water. If you can get over this sticker shock, most of the food (with the exception of the average pastas and risottos) is pretty good, albeit in a traditional, uptown way. If you can’t get over it, then drop in at breakfast time, when you can loiter at the espresso bar with all sorts of bewildered Village types and dine on semi-economical focaccia sandwiches and a single soft-boiled egg, served on a doily, in the proper Upper East Side manner, with toast points and a silver spoon.
NYPress reviews La Table O & Co. (92 Prince Street; 212-219-8155):
La Table O & Co., the full-fledged restaurant of O & Co., just started serving a full-fledged dinner last week. I was so curious to see what the astonishingly reasonable $23 three-course prix fixe menu was all about that I unwittingly caught these guys on their second day of service (La Table O & Co. also serves brunch and lunch).
. . .The store below is visible to diners and convenient to La Table O & Co.'s mission of total integration. This is where the "shopping" part comes into play. The restaurant's menu is formulated to complement O & Co., where you are encouraged to sample the condiments and oils that are for sale. In a touch as contrived as Epcot Center, the menu singles out the ingredients that are on sale in the store in bolded italics. For instance, the spice-roasted chicken is served with a side of black olive tapenade mashed potatoes, meaning, if you liked it in your potatoes, you can buy the tapenade after dinner. In case the typeface was too subtle, an explanation from La Table O & Co. tops the menu: "At La Table O & Co., each dish is a discovery of the Mediterranean's culinary traditions, a journey through the products of our boutiques. Thank you for taking this journey with us."
Although the sales-y spin on the menu made my stomach turn, the chefs put the ingredients to very good use. The menu was clean, light Mediterranean fare. The portions were of a reasonable size, and the overall meal was an excellent value for the cost. (As this may be one of the best dinner deals in Soho, it is worth noting that La Table O & Co. serves dinner from 6 to 9 only.)
Though the food was generally consistent, the most impressive entrees were a saffron pasta primavera, with delicious, elastic housemade tagliatelle, fresh peas, fava beans, zucchini, carrots and a delicate Moroccan saffron broth. Grilled baby lamb chops, seasoned with sea salt and herbs and served with a wholesome ratatouille, were so flavorful and juicy that they exceeded all expectations. On the other end of the spectrum, the entree of roasted red snapper was overcooked, and the braised and grilled pork ribs, while gratifying, paled beside the succulent lamb.
Citysearch recommends Bianca (5 Bleecker Street; 212-260-4666):
The regional Italian cooking is joyfully simple. Pillowy fried dough rectangles partner surprisingly well with an array of salumi as a starter; an intensely flavored appetizer of chicken livers in balsamic reduction is also delicious. Pastas can be little marvels of texture, exemplified by a basic yet remarkably good ricotta-filled ravioli with sage butter. But tagliatelle, though toothsome, fails to thrive in a prosaic meat ragu. Meat and fish entrees hold their own: Plump, creamy boiled cotechino (pork) sausage is full-flavored yet delicate; filet mignon, tossed with fresh rosemary, is juicy and satisfying; a stew packed with shrimp, clams, fish and croutons is rich and ruddy.
Citysearch highly recommends Spice Market (29-35 9th Avenue; 212-675-2322):
It's billed as Asian street food, but since the menu is a creative collaboration between expert chefs Jean-Georges Vongrichten and Gray Kunz, dishes here show unmistakeable finesse. Shaved tuna and small tapioca balls--a playful substitute for roe--float in an addictive tart-smooth pool of coconut water and kaffir lime juice. Remarkably tender short ribs, with a sweet-spicy topping of chilis and onion--are worthy contenders. Even the green curry is nicely balanced and lush. For dessert, choose the ephemeral yet potent Vietnamese coffee tart partnered with condensed milk ice cream.