Today's review roundup includes: 71 Clinton Fresh Food, Yolele, Per Se, Pure Food and Wine, Brasserie LCB, Happy Family Restaurant.
NYTimes Restaurants Frank Bruni gives 71 Clinton Fresh Food two stars (71 Clinton Street; 212-614-6960):
[. . .] In March, Jason Neroni took over, boldly remaking the entire menu, save one dessert, to suit his own fancies and fascinations. He is 28 years old.
Guess what. He is also an impressive, resourceful cook, adventurous without, for the most part, being absurd. He does a riveting trout tartare appetizer, which comes in a densely packed puck of roasted pine nuts, mustard seeds, chives, chorizo oil and, as a final reach for richness, a quail egg. Among his entrees is a delicately fleshy skate wing with a foam that mingles flavors in a tantalizing way, rendering each of them almost discernible but not quite, like a word on the tip of your tongue. This combination, he told me on the telephone, is clove, cinnamon and cocoa.
Thanks in part to Mr. Neroni, who worked at the Tasting Room, 71 Clinton is still vibrant, still relevant. If it no longer packs the adrenaline of a new and unlikely affair, it offers the calmer, more constant bliss of an enduring romance. The foundation of its winning formula remains the same: It weds a contemporary, eclectic culinary sensibility to the scale and intimacy of a neighborhood place, then blesses that marriage with a decidedly downtown vibe. Its servers dress, neck to toe, in black and put an irreverent and often facetious spin on what is, in fact, earnest hospitality.
RECOMMENDED DISHES Trout tartare; diver scallops with pissaladière tart; wild greens and vegetable salad; poached foie gras in dashi broth; skate wing; chicken with morels; seasonal cheeses; warm chocolate cake with peanut butter ganache.
NYTimes $25 and Under reviews Yolele (1108 Fulton Street, Bedford-Stuyvesent;718-622-0101):
Last week, Yolele's air-conditioner went kaput, but that did not slow down two young men — one in jeans, the other in a traditional green grande bubu — as they danced to the D.J.'s world beats. Tiny beads of sweat trickled down my companion's brow as our server told us about drinks. "Something really refreshing," I requested. Her remedy was a tall glass of fresh ginger juice, honey-sweet and barely diluted, topped with a squeeze of lime ($3). It shot through our limbs with bone-chilling spice.
The food was even livelier: crisp akara fritters ($6) of fresh black-eyed pea purée; minty beef kefta ($7) with Scotch bonnet dip; and crunchy sweet potato birds' nests with shrimp stuffing ($8).
. . . Many of the dishes demonstrate Mr. Thiam's New York sensibility in their appearance and details. Appetizer plates ruffle with snappy baby greens with lemony dressing. Free-range chicken yassa ($12.50), flavorful and moist, is smothered with a sweet-sour reduction of caramelized onions and lemon.
. . . Other dishes retain their classic simplicity. Like Senegalese thiebu djen ($15), bluefish steak, stewed vegetables (cabbage, carrots, fresh okra and yucca) and sticky, broken rice steeped in spice. Maffe ($10.50), a thick, rich peanut stew slow-simmered with squash, is satisfying, and so is chicken-aubergine soup ($14) in an excellent homemade stock.
BEST DISHES Shrimp fritters; pepesoup; thiebu djen (fish stew), chicken yassa; poisson braisé (fish roasted with atieke); Moroccan braised lamb shank; maffe; sombi (rice pudding); and apple-mango tart.
NYPost Steve Cuozzo gives Per Se three stars (10 Columbus Circle, Time Warner Center; 212-823-9335):
[. . .] But for my money, a place with interplanetary expectations must dazzle like the skyline through its window. Per Se does not quite do that. It is often wonderful, but not consistently. I've been dropping in since May. For all its pleasures, it's missing a beat -- sometimes on the plate, sometimes on the floor.
. . . Our waiter on an early visit touted salt butter from Vermont: "They had three cows just for the French Laundry and they've added a fourth cow just for us." Yet dishes are devoid of pretension and possess a refreshing clarity of conception. Keller's modern French way with meticulously chosen American seasonal elements, and his inspired combinations, coax awesome flavors from earth and sea.
He can be straightforward, as in a strip of smoky-tasting, pan-roasted Liberty Valley Pekin duck breast that proves raw materials are 90 percent of the game. Or he can turn to whimsy to catalyze astonishing flavor concentrations: mushroom "cappuccino" with an elusive hint of cream poured over nubbly chanterelles and white mushrooms was punctuated, Starbucks-style, by mushroom foam spooned on top.
For all the brilliance, chef de cuisine Jonathan Benno's kitchen has kinks to work out. Gremolata sauce that tasted like lemon zest drew "ewwwws." A soft-shell crab was deconstructed into tough legs folded atop an Oreo-size round of crab meat on a stale brioche. Lamb ribeye, luscious on one plate, was bloodless and sinewy on another.
One dinner was a wallow in high mediocrity. Seafood was missing its sheen at a 10 p.m. meal, and we felt rushed by captains who made us choose dessert more than three hours before we would eat it.
Per Se might be on its way to the four stars it seems to regard as its birthright. But Keller is making himself oddly scarce around the joint.
He has only two restaurants to worry about, and one of them can be the best in New York -- but it's up to Thomas Keller to make it that.
NY Mag reviews Pure Food and Wine ( 54 Irving Place; 212-477-1010):
Pure is vegetarian and vegan, but it's more than that. It serves the fashionable cuisine known as "raw food." The ingredients are organically grown fruits, vegetables, and herbs. The kitchen has no ovens, range hoods, or gas. All dishes are prepared with blenders, dehydrators, and plenty of diligent chopping and whisking. Banished are eggs, dairy, sugar, and grains. Nothing edible is heated to more than 115 degrees. Pigging out (you should pardon the expression) at Pure won't fatten you up, slow you down, or clog, well, any number of things. Bet you're just salivating now.
Without traditional cooking, dishes elicit virtually no aroma, and that's a significant sensory loss. Delightful as incredibly fresh hijiki and wakame can be when sparked by sour cherries, the rush won't begin until your first chew. In addition, for those of us who are walking temples of refined sugar, trans-fatty acids, and a lifetime's worth of gluten and salt, the subtleties of raw food can be difficult to appreciate. Flavors don't shoot for that Bobby Flay bounce or Mario Batali pow. The goal of Kenney's dishes is a gentle harmony that recalls Lily Tomlin's admonition: Instead of trying harder, "Try softer."
NY Mag also reviews Brasserie LCB ( 60 West 55th Street; 212-688-6525):
The great chef Jean-Jacques Rachou is embarking on an adjustment of his own. By converting one of New York's most celebrated dining establishments, the recently departed La Cote Basque, into the more egalitarian Brasserie LCB, the legendary 69-year-old chef hopes to reconnect with a city that still appreciates French cooking but is increasingly uninterested in its accompanying pomp and ceremony.
. . . Well, here's the reality. You can either bemoan haute cuisine's demise with nostalgic platitudes, or you can get over it, and sit your ass down in a banquette, and let the great man feed you. If you do, you will be rewarded with the best classic gazpacho in town, fragrant steamed mussels in white wine and onion, a foie gras terrine worth an extra Crunch class, luscious halibut in a rich confit of garlic, cassoulet to make you yearn for October, a Grand Marnier souffle that makes you want to linger past last call, and a floating island to make you wish you were on one --- as long as Rachou was the cook there.
Village Voice Robert Sietsema reviews Happy Family Restaurant (36-35 Main Street, Flushing, Queens; 718-358-6667):
As the city's only lamb-centric Chinese restaurant, Happy Family is well worth a visit. But lamb is just one of its specialties. Cut into the center of every table is a hemispheric depression that forms the staging area for Mongolian hot pot, a participatory meal that invites diners to swish raw ingredients through savory boiling broth, like a bolder, spicier version of shabu shabu. Some see an origin of this dish in the nomadic and warlike peoples of Mongolia, who boiled mutton in their overturned shields, while others claim the Chinese came up with the idea themselves, calling it Mongolian because the Mongols were famous for eating lamb and mutton. Of the three types of broth available at Happy Family�white, red, and herbal�most diners choose a combination of the first two. These do not actually combine in the cooking pot, but sit on either side of a metal barrier. The red is laced with chile oil, and if you fish around in the brown depths, you'll discover a tea egg brimming with crushed red chiles, flinging extra heat into the broth like bolts of lightning. The red also tastes of cumin, once again suggesting a Middle Eastern flavor. I hasten to add that the Middle Eastern spicing can easily be explained by contacts between the Chinese and the Muslim Uighurs and Kazakhs of western China, without the intervention of the Mongols. There are also several inexplicable flavors in the broth, like whole nutmegs.