Hail To King

King

Three girls three. That’s how this tale of a boîte-to-be begins. Chefs Clare de Boer and Jess Shadbolt were working at the infamous River Cafe in London and they shared a dream. An introduction to Annie Shi, a general manager at the cutting edge Clove Club brought forth a further meeting of the minds, plus some hopes, fantasies and luckily for those of us on this side of the pond, a plan. New York City. As luck would have it, they scored the about-to-be-vacant-after-10-years space belonging to Mekong, and the rest in these short weeks gone…is history. This charming, kicky, cozy, irrefutably sublime bistro is every bit as good as the word on the street has been.

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It’s a concise, continually changing menu leaning keenly on southern Italy and northern France, a modern European take on comfort dishes, classic dishes, dishes with refinement…sparked by creativity.

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There are several tables in the small bar for dining as well as stools for a pre-dinner cocktail. Great cocktails. On the lighter side but that bartender will do a strong classic for you in a second.

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The menu includes the date because at the very least it partially changes daily.

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Carta di Musica, a favorite of mine is thin, crisp, crackling and treated to a pool of buttery oil.

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Highly enjoyable bottle from a well rounded and well priced list. Definitely one to have with food. Big and fruity, good tannins, long finish.

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Salt cod on grilled polenta was a fusion of cool, creamy, whipped, warm, crunchy. Layers of satisfaction with a nod to northern Italy’s favorite carbohydrate and an homage to the preferred dish of the Vikings, baccala, imported from them to the Veneto in the 15th century. The sweetness of the polenta counterbalances the saltiness of the cod. It’s a great bite with a glass of red wine but I think I’d love it for breakfast as well. Breakfast wine up to you.

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Fresh ricotta with lentils and marinated anchovy was lovely. The anchovies provide a umami quality offering depth and complexity to those earthy stalwarts, the lentils. Perfecting the plate is the familiar pair of lush ricotta and bitter greens. All together, comfort at its level best.

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Hand cut tagliarini with chanterelles and parmesan was both hearty and delicate. It gives you that sense of place, maybe a cozy trattoria on a snowy Italian afternoon? Though its hook translates seductively as a contemporary dish of an evening in west Soho.

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To paraphrase a favorite Preston Sturges line from The Lady Eve , the halibut roasted over lemon leaves with braised spinach and baby artichokes was a poem. Each bite was a delight, traversing from spinach to fish to artichoke and back again. I couldn’t stop eating it. And the lemon leaves…ahhh. Our lovely waiter suggested we sniff them and then lick them. In all earnestness!  He was right, the fragrant lemony aromatic fills your senses and somehow lends a deeper understanding to the French-ness of the dish.

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Slow cooked Florentine fennel was soft, deep and carmelized. A pleasing side dish.

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Prune and cognac are classic companions and though this prune and cognac tart wasn’t grand, it was definitely good. A thin riser of pastry laid with a cozy cover of custard that suspended juicy prunes and was lightly baked.

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The atmosphere is bright and spirited with the intermingling of a busy kitchen and chatty clientele, almost like a big family dinner with every recognizable character at the table. Except it has an understated elegance, is nothing short of charming and neighboring diners don’t eat off your plate.

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The always evolving menu provides an ideal canvas for the chef’s mastery and style. Their appetite for timeless dishes enhanced with an edgy imagination appears effortless, and offers the warmest of invitations. Flavors are straightforward, satisfying, beguiling. Service is on point, everyone working seems to be having a good time and interested in sharing that with the room.

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Alchemy is in play here, this trio of women, the food they create, the ambience they’ve fostered…the magnetism is inescapable. It’s the kind of place you wish was in your own neighborhood but wouldn’t think twice about hopping an uber to pretend that it is.

King

18 King Street with entrance at Sixth Avenue

917.825.1618

Closed Sunday. Monday-Wednesday 5:30pm-Midnight Thursday-Saturday till 1am

Behind The Green (Blue) Door

Karasu

Door #1, 2 or 3…hmmm. Always a chance you’ll miss the prize if you choose wrong, but not here. First door takes you into Walter’s, an agreeably hip neighborhood pub. Could be a very pleasant evening. Views of Fort Greene Park, cocktails, raw bar, fried chicken, weekend brunches. You know the drill. And it’s good. But if you march yourself straight to the back of the dining room and push open door #2, you will tumble down a chic NYC rabbit hole and find yourself in a speakeasy of the Japanese persuasion.

A peek through the Walter’s window…

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Door # 1

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We pass through tables of people enjoying themselves, the Walter’s hostess nods as we stare ahead purposefully. We follow her lead to the way back, an unlit hall and a large blue door. #2. She opens it, gesturing for us to go inside. We’ve arrived into cozy sophistication, an alternate universe of dining, imbibing, charm. Jazz spinning on a turntable, good jazz. Nothing to do but live a little.

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Art deco lighting, flattering and indirect of course, with Japanese blonde screens, deep blue walls, all hand built by the owners out of a former doctor’s office.

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Gorgeous bar. Big beveled mirror. Congenial waitstaff in very cool jackets with large buttons and small pockets. It’s all sumptuous, lush, au courant but not precious.

Owners Dylan Dodd and Danny Minch along with Head Chef Yael Peet, chef Josh Goldstein,  and infamous barkeep Thomas Waugh have created something they refer to as Kyoto casual, a modern take on seriously seasonal Japanese dining. Peet’s offerings take strong influences from izakaya, robata and kaiseki cuisine with an ever changing menu. It’s all sensational. Mr Waugh hails from ZZ’s Clam Bar and the Major Food Group, and has devised a grand list of incredible Japanese whiskeys and sakes. Sometimes a classic drink is the thing, but should you be feeling frisky and devil may care, he has a coterie of cocktails re-imagined with timely Japanese ingredients, augmenting smoky, sweet, citrus, creatively inspired beauties guaranteed to tease and thrill. I’m talking about the cocktails.

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A friend had the Smoked Palomino with mezcal, sherry and grapefruit. August in a glass. Layers of smoky citrus and then a head spin as you hit notes of sherry.

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I had the Ginger Baker, partly because I’m a tequila fan but also because he is one of the greatest  drummers of all time. Reason enough to drink him. The reposado tequila, oolong tea, ginger and cassis were surprisingly complex and incredibly good. I had more than one.

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Hoyo “Sawayaka Junmai”. Soft and easy. One of many choices on a list of great sakes.

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It’s a 40 seat Japanese cocktail bar turning out a mean mix of spirits as well as divine food. As is the new normal, dishes are meant for sharing and are divided into snacks, raw bar, smaller plates and larger plates.

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Previous press tells the story of the name, Dylan Dodd was in a Seattle antiques shop and found a little carved figure that seemed very Japanese. Returning to Brooklyn with it in hand and without a name for the new spot, one of the Japanese chef’s suggested Karasu – loosely translated as little crow. Perfect.

Otsumami means bar snack of the day and we were lucky enough to be there for a favorite, uni wrapped in nori. It was sweet, briny, buttery. I can easily see sitting at the bar one day, nosing down one of the more rare whiskeys and indulging in several plates of these.

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Can potato salad be ambrosial? Yes Virginia. If it’s Japanese potato salad topped with miso and sesame seeds. Taking an American classic and flipping it upside-down. The Japanese way. Addictive is a word flung far and wide to cover almost anything lately but it seriously applies here.

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Karaage duck wings, four plump wing drums dressed with a kicky, spicy  sesame sauce and adorned with scallions.

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House made tagliatelle with uni in a smoky butter. I often feel that with uni pasta, there’s never enough of the prize ingredients to really be satisfying, but Chef Peet’s version is Japanese comfort at its best, a gratifying, impeccably composed dish that won’t let you go until the tears have stopped.

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Tonkatsu pork chop. With cabbage as it should be. Breading that’s light and crispy. Also as it should be. Because that’s how you do.

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Impeccable Donburi bowl, ocean trout sushi with ikura and rice. A tonic for these warm days.

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The whole fish is a meaty seafood parade of shiso pesto on a perfectly cooked daurade ordered with a side of seaweed flecked miso koshihikari rice. Superb. This is a dish to dive into, fingers, chopsticks, fork, whatever you can use quickly before a dining companion gets the better of you. Break apart the white filet, that lightly seasoned fatty skin, avoid the bones. You’re golden.

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Apparently one of the more revelatory reasons to get here pronto is for the aged prime rib steak rubbed with fermented koji rice then dipped into the accompanying vinegar sauce  – which seems to be akin to doing peyote in the Teachings of Don Juan. Mind blowing. We only had one steak eater at the table and it’s quite a substantial dish, so next time. It’s going to be the talk of the town if it isn’t already. Don’t miss out.

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Summer focused ice creams were offered for dessert – ginger, green tea matcha, and black sesame. I think flavors vary daily but these were sublime.

Sweet change.

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Karasu isn’t old world traditional but it’s also not hipster hell. It’s a gem. A grown up good time. Door #3 is the door to your heart, because you’ll like it here and will have found a new place to love. It’s a find. Especially when you push through the wardrobe door and…well…find it.

Karasu

166 DeKalb Avenue, Fort Greene *located in the back of Walter’s

347.223.4811

Closed Tuesdays / Kitchen open weeknights 5:30-11:30 and weekends till midnight. The bar is open later.

 

 

Le Coucou est Arrivee

Le Coucou

If you were lucky enough to dine at the infamous restaurant Spring, in Paris, particularly during the early days in the 9Arr when Chef Daniel Rose made time to cook plus visit with diners – count your blessings. It still holds court in a more expanded version in the 1Arr or maybe you checked out his newer bistro digs, La Bourse et La Vie in the 2Arr. But if you haven’t yet made it to any of these, you can still count your blessings, as now you may dine domestically at his shiny new spot here on the continent of North America in New York City.

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It’s elegantly swank. Old world meets mod in an interior designed by the illustrious Roman and Williams. Inside the boutique Howard Hotel with its own entrance just off the corner of Lafayette and Howard Street, it’s an oasis of glamour in the last vestige of edgier Soho. Triple hung glass windows face the street and wide glass doors herald your arrival. It makes for a rather heady approach as you’re greeted by a whisper of an inviting lounge to your right and the smaller of two magnificent dining areas to your left. Sparkling chandeliers, an abundance of charm, and several hostesses decked in varied styles of pale blue clouds float over to welcome you. Your heart may skip a beat. Blondie’s The Tide Is High is playing in the background. It’s all so beautiful. This looks to be an exceptional evening.

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A Chicago native, a student philosopher, a chef with a deep love for classic French cuisine, Daniel Rose found himself in cooking and doing that in France. He may have fully immersed himself in the culture but he brought along midwest hospitality and a curiosity about people. He thinks about food. He thinks about what taste means. He wants you to love it. And his fervent passion for ingredients, for quality, allow him to embrace his dishes with tradition but lace them with his personality.

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White clothed tables, vaulted ceilings, brick walls, pewtered-steel chandeliers with hand-blown glass shades, bluish banquettes and vintage chairs give the ambience a wry sophistication.

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First a perfect summer cocktail, the #2 with Rosé, Aquavit & Elderflower, accompanied by some of New York’s finest bread. Olive rolls from Sullivan Street Bakery plus two different breads from Roberta’s. It rarely gets better than these. We asked for seconds later in the meal, seemingly for sopping up fabulous sauce but really – because we fell under the yeast spell. The breads were offered with three delectable accompaniments,  whipped mangalitsa lardo combined with pepper and garlic, radishes in an anchoiade and a lively Vermont salted butter.

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The menu divides in three parts, with tapas-esque plates to share (mais bien sur, this is NYC after all), hors d’oeuvres, starters and main courses. You can switch it up any which way you’d prefer. And I definitely have my eye on several dishes to return for.

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I kept my slightly warmed oysters with seaweed butter all to myself but later shared a starter. I’m usually table generous but parting with a bite here is kind of an effort. I want it all.

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Huitres tiedes, beurre aux algues were lovely. Oysters and seaweed effect a perfectly arranged marriage and the heat plus butter lend an earthy richness to the shell’s liquor.

You might think tomatoes, peas etc would certainly be an enjoyable dish but maybe not the one you’d be consumed with discussing the next day and yeah, yeah – you’d be so wrong. Really wrong. Salade de tomatoes et mangetout rafraichis aux fraises is possibly one of the most delightful composed salads I’ve ever eaten. Divine little strawberries scattered with pistachios was almost surreal. The tomatoes were sweet even next to the fruit and all of it is bathed in a deeply flavored tomato sauce. A gorgeous combination of tastes that redefine fresh.

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A companion loved his un-shared Salade de Haricots et Oreilles de Cochon, a white bean salad with crispy pig ear and anchovy, wonderfully light and brimming with subtle flavor.

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I caved on the Asperges au vinaigre de bois, mimolette. I grudgingly extended an invitation. A delightful asparagus with smoked wood vinegar and mimolette. The honeyed deep carmelized flavor of the cheese with that fudgy finish is magic with the smokey vinegar and the green stalks.

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From the Gourmandises section,  we did share what will likely become the signature-don’t-miss-it-all-the-rage plate, but it deserves the glory should it be heralded. Oeuf Norvegien…egg, salmon and a cold artichoke heart with a surprise of chive cream. Bagels and lox – you’re on notice.

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Caille frite, buckwheat fried quail in herb butter and lemon confiture. No bone beyond the leg, as meaty as quail can be, juicy, crisp, greaseless, excellent.

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Quenelle de brochet, sauce américaine should live on an exalted list of quenelles you need to know. Pike quenelle with lobster sauce, ethereal, barely tethered to this earth in a deep, rich stock of shells and dressed with a piece of perfectly cooked claw meat. There’s not a lot of zest here, like most of the dishes, it’s not loud but clearly redolent of lobster flavor. Its delicacy also seems to be its strength.

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My best of list lengthens with each arrival from the menu, to be fair, a combination of two visits. Fleurs de courgette farcies were new to me, or I had just missed them on an earlier menu perhaps – don’t make the same mistake. Lobster stuffed squash blossoms with yogurt, mint, dill and cucumber. I could just look at them and be satisfied, very much eating with the eyes…but then you make that delicate cut and the heavens pour forth.

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Canard et Cerises, served with cherries and olives, the duck breast was lovely, a gorgeous preparation accompanied by an excellent seared foie gras.

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The Bourride with halibut, Santa Barbara spot prawn, mussels, and clams in an ethereal fish fumet was mine all mine. Served in a glistening copper pot, ladled at table, it’s delicate yet rich, a warmth that reaches down to your toes. This fumet is meant for worship. Plus you get to dip in fabulous toast with aioli for that understated zing.

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Cotes d’agneau de colorado, aubergines, tomato farcies – lamb rack with eggplant and sensational lamb braised shoulder stuffed tomatoes. A classic dish that goes way beyond its origins. It reminds us that old world is now world.

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Dominique, a sommelier, slyly recommended a Greek wine for our food choices and it was absolutely on point. From Santorini and a real menu find priced below $60, it was cool and creamy, with a bright floral acidity balanced with a dark mineral complexity. Sensational with the food.

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Hedging dessert on the first visit, we went for the cheese course offered as one, three or five cheeses. Uh huh, no choice – we had the five. All made in the United States, another example of how the Chef takes advantage of more local ingredients. Defined by this country if not the farms of Chinatown. Missed the names on my first visit. There was a chèvre from Indiana and something fabulous from Oregon. Ha. But a great representation.

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Voila! On another visit, and going for the equally satisfying three cheeses, I scored names from the delightful Amandine, Chef Rose’s sommelier here from Paris. Some of the names apply to the big five plate from a previous visit. A Red Hawk from California, Savah Schaff from Pennsylvania and the Hooligan from Connecticut. Sublime.

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From day one, the kitchen was firing on all cylinders. Seasoning is spot on. Chef Rose doesn’t over do, he orchestrates the combined ingredients to sing in harmony and leaves a dish just at the precipice of transcendence.

A few of his cooks from Paris are here for the opening weeks, including his sous chef. Service is perfection. At the moment there seems to be three people on the floor for every diner but at no time is it precious, it’s professional but warm and charismatic.

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Dessert had been impossible on my first visit after that cheese course, but the post prandial sweets sent out by the kitchen were wonderful. On another visit I had less cheese and shared more desserts so I could enjoy more of pastry chef Daniel Skurnick’s wizardry.

This Chiboust à la Vanille is like a dream. For me it had every component I love in a dessert…a toothsome and none too sweet pastry crust, and a gossamer vanilla cream with a mix of sweet and sour cherries to further the flavors along.

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Riz au lait Coucou, his take on classic rice pudding with pistachios and chartreuse was sumptuous, airy, delicate.

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Dishes are not unreasonably priced, appetizers are mostly less than $15 and mains fall between $20-45. With slim profit margins in today’s dining climate, this is rare given the artistry of the food, service and mise en scene. Le Coucou is a marriage of sorts between Chef Rose and Stephen Starr of Starr Restaurant Group. Usually a producer of high voltage money making restaurants, Mr Starr is finding a balance between those and something like this, a highly refined classic bistro, and a labor of love.

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Somehow the Chef knew what diners needed now. Classic traditional comfort turned on its head. Butters and sauces we’d forgotten we missed. But he allows for a quirky and modern take to assuage any guilt. This bohemian magnetism draws you in from the moment you call for a reservation and find yourself listening to the Grateful Dead as hold music. This is not your Grandmother’s Lutece. It’s the 21st century version.

Le Coucou

138 Lafayette Street at Howard Street

212.271.4252

Open daily 5pm-10pm

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Secret Salon Not To Be Missed!

Herb’s Underground

Okay! This…is going to be great. My friend Herb is the high priest of cocktails. Yeah yeah – you’ve heard it, you’ve had it. Until now. He knows food. He’s kind of a wizard with ingredients. A Renaissance man with combinations that I’m not sure anyone else could even imagine. And the coup de grace? He’s got a wicked sense of humor so his drinks are insanely fun to look at much less imbibe.

Here’s the info for the first two invitation only, intime salons. Major fabulous.

GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHTS
Exquisite Floral Cocktails
Tastings and Mixology Secrets
3-4 Original Cocktails paired with Hors d’ Oeuvres
Intimate Salon Setting
$60 per person
Book today with a request to:
HerbsUnderground@yahoo.com

FRIGHTFULLY GOOD!
Halloween In A Glass: Scary Cocktails
Tastings and Mixology Secrets
3-4 Original Cocktails paired with Hors d’ Oeuvres
Intimate Salon Setting
$60 per person
Book today with a request to:
HerbsUnderground@yahoo.com

Atmosphere & Alcohol Of The ECC Kind

Experimental Cocktail Club

The gourmet cocktail craze shows no signs of abating, along with the spiffy themed and gracious settings that we gather to sip them in. Welcome stateside to-the-direct-from-Paris…Experimental Cocktail Club (now in London too). And welcome -yet again- to the 1920’s. Guess we all want to feel just a little naughty while we imbibe, a touch glamourous, so a soupcon of prohibition with a dollop of Boardwalk Empire and away we go. The speakeasy is ever thriving. Pretend clandestine, gorgeous, sophisticated playtime dots the urban landscape everywhere these days. Don’t get me wrong – I like it. It’s fun, it’s an escape and in this case, a current mixing DJ keeps it all anchored in the now.

Enter the glow. You will be greeted by someone in dapper array, twenties style. Cute. Fine. It’s drinking as theatre. And the staff couldn’t be lovelier. Both Coco our genial male host and Nina, our cocktail server were a delight. The decor from the wallpaper to the lighting is inviting, pretty, a comfortable chic. Unfortunately the stools surrounding the low tables make you sit up quite a bit higher than your chair seated companions. A bit odd but maybe after a cocktail or three you’ll be happily slumped downward and the disparity evens out.

We sat in the front room, the action spot I guess. Home of the DJ and the early arriving hordes. I think I’d prefer the larger back room which is just as lovely but a tiny bit more serene.

Onto the libations! There are about 14 specialty cocktails offered, and of course the traditional American drinks that you’d expect. The most intriguing or say…amusing offers are their vintage cocktails. I won’t give away all the secrets but there is a “Vintage Dry Martini” made with Gordon’s Gin circa 1950’s available for $200. I can offer the same from my parents liquor cabinet I think. So, a thrill or markedly better?

We experienced three confections. The Artist, a combination of seven ingredients including Calvados, Billecart -Salmon Champagne, Absinthe and a surprise or two…

…the Black Heart, also seven ingredients but more from the bourbon, bitters and coffee angle and then the Noblesse Oblige, my favorite. Six ingredients including Bittermen Mole Bitters and Mezcal, two selling points for me.

I found the Artist a mishmash of tastes, sharp and sour points, not well thought out so we traded that for a straightforward and well blended Manhattan. The Black Heart was fine though erring too far to the sweet and then my drink – Noblesse Oblige, the best of all. Yet…the overriding fail here is that these carefully constructed jewels have layered themselves right out of balance. What’s so successful about PDT, the adjunct bar to Crif Dog (ha!) is that the cocktails are complicated, tasty, actually have enough alcohol and remain in perfect harmony. These are fun enough, but less alcohol and less composure render them not yet quite good enough.

Food is available in small plate form, charcuterie, cheeses, scotch eggs and the like – all from the Fat Radish, a wonderful gastropub nearby.

Go and explore the list. The standard drinks are well made, three champagnes are on the menu, Billecart-Salmon, Krug and Jacquesson plus a few more entertaining menu surprises. It’s a lovely and lively atmosphere and hopefully the artful cocktails will find a way to meld with the aesthetic balance they’ve created with the rest of that world.

Experimental Cocktail Club
191 Chrystie Street near Rivington Street
no phone
Email for reservations: madameandmonsieur@experimentalcocktailclubny.com

South of the Border, Down Hi-End Mexico Way

Empellon Cocina

Oh man, oh man, oh man – this is good. You know how when you first glance at a menu and before you’re actually reading it, half a dozen dishes practically dance off the page and make nice with your tastebuds? These creations get into your head, they toy with you, entice you, offer themselves to you for a grin and yet you haven’t yet said yay or nay to the guacamole. Which by the way, the answer should be yay. As in yes but also the yippee kind of yay.

It’s a spare but creamy cozy atmosphere with slightly arresting art on the walls, comfortable lighting, fun soundtrack (albeit a bit loud), and a sparkling white kitchen that is delightfully visible (though they might want to diminish the glaring light streaming forth, a problem in the wrong seat). That being said, it all serves as a cool relaxed background for the big draw.

The fun begins with the cocktails. The Empellon Manhattan is fabulous if on the wee side. Hence one adopts the more the merrier style of drinking almost immediately. And why not! The margaritas are exceptionally unique. But I went for a mescal flight as advised by our fabulous server, Hannah. She was our guide to the best of the best on the menu.

And it seems best to share a bunch of plates with the table, then get a little something just for yourself. There are favorites, no doubt about it but they cover a wide range so anyone should be happy. Pork lover to vegetarian. I wouldn’t consider leaving here without having had the aforementioned guacamole. Studded with pistachios, accompanied by a pistachio salsa, you can also add a variety of additional salsas for an extra price. They offer spicy, smoky, nutty, kicky, thickly green, pepper dominant, the seven dwarves of the salsa world. We did that on round two. While their version is something special on its own, it’s the masa crisps that are extraordinary, happily replenished and word up – bring a big bag to sneak them home with. Ha. Just a fantasy.

Other must haves…
-Roasted carrots with Mole Poblano, Yogurt & Watercress

-Beets with Pickled Maitake Mushrooms, Sorrel & Sikil Pak
-Peeky Toe Crab with Parsnip Juice, Crab Flan and Smoked Cashew Salsa

-Ruby Red Shrimp with Crispy Masa, Sea Urchin Mousse & Lettuces
-Melted Tetilla Cheese with Lobster Tomate Frito & a Yucatan White Sauce
-Squid with Heirloom Potatoes, Chorizo Mayonnaise, & Black Mole

-Scallops with Huitlacoche, Rutabaga & Masa Polenta

-Lamb Sweetbreads with Longaniza Parsley Root & Salsa Papanteca
-Rabbit with Shiitake-Poblano Stuffing & Green Chorize Gravy

The crab was magnificent, layers of bubble and flan and crab, so delicate but blankets your tongue with flavor. The scallops were thick and sweet, the shrimp and uni were almost a palate cleanse in their startlingly fresh brine. And I have to say our waitress suggested the melted cheese and lobster, warning us to be open. Brilliant idea. Wrapped up in a soft warm taco, it was just enough indulgence to make you feel reckless but not overcome! Everything sings, is bright and clean but nuanced with combinations of ingredients that haven’t met before but cling lovingly to each other with contrasting flavors and textures.

Back to the drinking…I started with the Las Nahuales Reposado, the smoky one. Sipped, with a tiny bite of fresh orange slices in between tastes. Followed by the Fidencio Madrecuixe for it’s deeper tobacco notes. Then the spicy Mano Negra Tobala and with dessert there were two choices. I loved the chocolate version that my companions had but my advisor had me on a different path so I finished with a mint infused Scorpion Tobala Jouen. Fantastic every step of the way.

Say it’s your birthday even if it’s not, the special birthday flan is not to be missed. Even the birthday boy self avowed flan hater at our table kept it close to only his spoon. But every dessert is terrific so age doesn’t matter!

Chef Alex Stupak also has Empellon Taqueria across town, his more casual and lovely first foray after having left WD-50 as the legendary pastry chef. Cocina though takes his love for Mexico and gastronomy to exciting heights, a perspective I don’t think we’ve seen in NYC. That in itself is rare and wonderful. As is the food.

Empellon Cocina
105 First Avenue between sixth/seventh street
212.780.0999

*Header photo by Angela Carbonetti / http://www.angelacarbonetti.com

Good Things Come In Weensy Packages

Txikito

A late evening repast at the Basque Tapas Bar Txikito in Chelsea was an all around fine escape in this humidity but there were two standouts that brought it home. Two itsy bitsy teeny weeny bites that I’m still thinking about this morning.

A toothpick is the vessel for a zing of flavor, a delightful Basque bar snack called Olibak. Two little olives, one wrapped in an anchovy and the other cloaked in a pickled pepper. I hope Peter Piper picked enough for my next visit. Our idea was to future pair this with a martini, Basque or no. The anchovy/olive would float in the martini and the pickled pepper combo would be a nibble on the side. They were a smash as an amuse but Basque meets Bond would be dynamite.

However, the two inches of pleasure that I’d like right now are the Kroketas, more small salted things. When the menu says “crispy creamy croquettes”, I can stop reading. Bechamel, bacalao and mashed potatoes hook up with garlic, parsley, flour and bread crumbs, add the glories of deep frying and there we are. A little pop in the mouth of fried heaven. Kind of wish there had been a little acid, a squeeze of lemon would be perfect but I didn’t take the time to ask for that, the bite was already a memory etched in my annals of favorite tiny things.

Interesting that the best dish for me was also the cheapest on the menu. Five bucks of fun. The sparkling Rose was another pleasure as was the spicy cod roe mayo served with another dish. But seriously, if not a full languorous Spanish dinner of tapas galore, at least stop by and treat yourself to a mini mouth festa. Oh, it’s the little things in life…

Txikito
240 Ninth Avenue between 24/25th Street
212.242.4730
closed Monday