one devonshire gardens

If people back home know of One Devonshire Gardens it’s likely because many years ago footballer-turned-chef Gordon Ramsay made his name in the kitchen of the hotel’s restaurant. Today, however, it’s the flagship property of Hotel du Vin, a small UK chain of boutique hotels distinguished by their architectural significance – and as the brand name implies, well-stocked wine cellars. One Devonshire occupies a row of five Victorian townhouses in Glasgow’s stylish West End, retaining all of the original features including dramatic stained glass windows, ornate corniced ceilings, wood panelling and sweeping staircases. William Burrell – owner of one of the most famous private collections of art in the world, The Burrell Collection, lived in House 4 in the 1890’s and commissioned the stained glass window above. Within walking distance of the Botanic Gardens and the famous Kelvingrove and Hunterian Museums, I couldn’t think of a more genteel pit stop before beginning a week of arduous hill walking in the Hebrides.

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top 100: lincoln

I do love a surprise. Especially a delicious one – which is exactly what’s tucked under the grass-covered roof of Jonathan Benno’s glass-walled Lincoln. As sophisticated as the Henry Moore sculpture which sits in a reflecting pool at the entrance, Lincoln doesn’t just wax nostalgic for how a big city restaurant should feel, it delivers. Lincoln – all hail the Upper West Side food gods – is a restaurant for grown ups. Not buttoned-up or pretentious grown ups mind you, but the urbane, smart set which once populated many a Woody Allen film: attractive, somewhat attenuated New Yorkers partaking of the distinct difference between eating and having a meal. Proper drinks, substantive food, the dull murmur of smart chatter – all that’s missing from this light-filled room are the sinuous strains of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Buttery leather chairs are smooth and silent against a carpeted floor; the wait staff glide as if on wheels, as crisp with a pour of Collio Bianco as they are with a well-timed quip. Then there’s the food, which even my tablemate had to admit was a series of gustatory pleasures far more impressive than the oratorio for which we were reluctantly about to depart. For one long used to the cheek by jowl seating across the avenue at Fiorello’s or – god forbid – the ignominious cuisine at too many of the establishments which line the perimeter of Lincoln Triangle, it’s a little disorienting. The menu at Lincoln Ristorante – to use the restaurant’s full name – may not be strictly Northern Italian but it nevertheless feels that way: cool, collected, and stylishly composed, it’s a marked contrast to the swarthy, sweaty, Southern ambiance popularized by Mario Batali. Chef Benno calls his cuisine modern Italian, which is a far cry better than farm-to-table Italian, of which it shares an ethos, but it still doesn’t do justice to the precision techniques on display. Jumbo soft shell crab is lightly battered and deep fried, with a garnish of pickled green tomato, cucumber, celery, and red onion. Alongside a slice of smoked trout terrine, halved stalks of white asparagus are generously blanketed in a fine mince of egg and baby mache. Milk-fed pork shoulder, pecorino romano, and lots of black pepper go into the ravioli, which is as pillowy as any I’ve ever tasted. Long a staple of my childhood menu, had my family called flounder passera I probably would have eaten a lot more of it. Of course, it would have also helped had the fish been pan-fried, too, and perched atop a green sea of fava beans, pea leaves and the first of the spring peas. Who’d have guessed it’d turn out that mint zabaglione is all my childhood really lacked? Mixed roasted mushrooms sound like such a simple side dish and in fact they are, yet what a bowl of funghi: smoky shitakes, meaty hen o’ the woods, and earthly king trumpets in little more than butter, garlic and chives. Perhaps we’ve grown so accustomed to overly lyrical menu descriptions that to call a thing by its name alone feels a bit naive. Looking over the menu after the fact I realize that everything at Lincoln is so equanimously named: soft shell crab, white asparagus, pork ravioli, flounder, and zuppa inglese – a desert of macerated raspberry, lady fingers, and sabayon that beggars belief. Feel free to humor that naiveté at Lincoln; streetwise, studied, or simple, Chef Benno tells  – and cooks – it like it is.

 

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not quite top 100: sparks

Is there a restaurant in New York with more mobster mystique than Sparks Steakhouse, sight of John Gotti’s infamous takedown of Big Paul Castellano? Maybe Rao’s, but that’s primarily a red sauce joint – and good luck getting a table, mortals. Twenty seven years after the grisly fact a frisson of excitement still lingers on East 46th Street. Not only was the head of the Gambino crime family murdered in broad daylight, but in an act of reckless bravado both Gotti and his co-conspirator, Sammy “the Bull” Gravano, watched the scene play out in a car across the street, reportedly driving over to view the bodies before leaving the scene of the crime. The unsanctioned assassination by the ascendant Dapper Don sparked a big beef among New York’s five families: Genovese boss Vincent “The Chin” Gigante was so outraged he enlisted the help of Lucchese boss Anthony Corallo in an unsuccessful attempt to kill Gotti. Ah, those were the (pre-Giuliani) days. Who gets whacked north of the Rio Grande these days? Today the only beef that matters at Sparks is of the aged, prime steer variety.  More to the point, sirloin and filet mignon. Steak master brothers Pat and Mike Cetta stick with what works and the result is a carnivore’s delight: thick-cut Jurassic-sized sirloin unadorned with anything save a sprinkle of salt and a pair of perfect sides, hash browns and creamed spinach. It’s an offer you can’t refuse – unless you go for the equally Brobdingnagian seafood. The wine list is legendary, too, full of breadth and depth, though to my mind you can never go wrong with a beefy bottle of Bordeaux.

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dragonfly

Because you can’t gather dinner in Central Park everyday, it’s nice to have a local to keep you in comfort food when the urge arises. Though the doorway of Dragonfly looks more like a crime scene than a reputable restaurant, inside Chef Cornelius Gallagher – late of Oceana and Lespinasse – is cooking up his own personal riff on the flavors of Thailand, Vietnam, and Hong Kong. And it’s infinitely less grisly than the door handle might suggest. My favorites from a recent serendipitous drive-by: giant wasabi-infused tater tots and a signature curry coconut shrimp with fresh pea shoots. Come the next rainy day I’ll be tackling the cleverly-themed Street Cart menu. The thought alone of Fresh Sriracha Bacon, Hot Roasted Foie Gras, Kim Chee Tempura, and Marrow Dumplings is making me want to cuddle.

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top 100: empellón taqueria

The best part about the Top 100 project? Simple: stuffing myself silly. Yet it’s not  as easy it sounds. With the exception of a few casual establishments my dining experiences to date have been notable for a measured degree of formality. (Perhaps that’s the true price of a $300 dinner for two.) At times you’d almost be excused for thinking the only way to get an exceptional meal in this city was to suffer through a multi-course tasting menu in a suit and tie. Not so at Empellón, thankfully – or Empellón Taqueira as it’s now called. Chef Alex Stupak’s wise and wonderful interpretation of la cocina Mexicana may be civilized down to its crunchy chilaquiles but that shouldn’t stop you from rolling up your sleeves and getting down ‘n’ dirty. Begin with a bowl of guacamole, which is studded with cashews and comes accompanied by two salsas, tangy red arbol for purists and a smoky cashew that seems tailor-made for hedonists. (Put me in the latter camp; I appreciate the red sauce, but I’d happily eat an old shoe if it was dressed with smoky cashew.) If you’re one of those folks who cringe upon hearing people wax poetic over chicharrones, chef Stupak will open your eyes to the beauty that is deep fried pork skin. Served warm with a roasted tomato and caper salsa, there is something deeply satisfying to the crackling sound which rises from the plate, like an overactive bowl of Rice Krispies. The texture is light and crunchy, yet alive with salty, porky good flavor. I challenge you to eat just one. (Unless of course, you’re like one of my dining companions and you’re in town from Rochester – in which case, you’re now wishing you could find a nice quiet Taco Bell and scarf down a gordita or two.) Eyes bigger than my stomach, a trio of appetizers arrive in quick succession: tuna with pickled potatoes and chorizo mayo, which should henceforth be packaged as a summer staple for city picnics, silky rounds of octopus with parsnip and salsa papanteca, a savory mix of pumpkin seeds and chipotle which on first glance looks overpowering but instead brings each flavor together quite marvelously, and a salad of sweet roasted beets with sikil pak, a creamy Mayan pumpkin seed dip that could easily be the new hummus, topped with a scatter of bitter sorrel leaves. In case you’re wondering, everything goes incredibly well with a neat pour of mezcal, too – notably the smoky Fidencio Madrecuixe. I’m physically unable to resist fish tacos whenever I see them on a menu, so forgive me, I didn’t get to sampling either the beer braised tongue or lamb barbacoa tacos – both of which sounded intriguing. But no worries because the tempura battered fish is that perfectly simple yet elusive combination of creamy flesh and crispy shell. Spiked with a dab of lime mayonnaise and the clean crunch of radish and cabbage, I can convincingly predict that I will order these fish tacos every time I visit – with a side of crispy yucca, please, my new favorite form of starch. As I wipe a dollop of smoky cashew off my shirt - excellent as a dipping sauce for the yucca – it occurs to me that therein lies the problem at Empellón: my utter lack of self-control. Every morsel of this meal has been not just good, but great –  in a full-but-can’t-stop-eating, bowl-licking, chip-scraping, my-palate-is-alive kind of way. I’m at capacity and yet I’m trying to convince my companions that we must have the churros rolled in cinnamon sugar with masa-enriched hot chocolate. Dining at Empellón could be a prim and proper experience if you choose to make it that way, but take it from one who’s stuffed and stained and still wants more: it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

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top 100: kin shop

My only gripe with Harold Dieterle’s fantastically unfussy contempo-Thai restaurant, Kin Shop, is the lighting. Though the dim interiors go a long way towards making everyone seem that much more attractive, it’s heinous for the amateur iPhone photographer. So, you’ll just have to trust me on this because my snapshots can’t begin to do the meal justice. Also, I’ve never been to Thailand (something I hope to remedy later this year) so neither can I vouch with any authority on esoteric matters of authenticity, yet I can safely say this is the best Thai food in New York – certainly following the all-too-brief lifespan of Lotus of Siam. Like a novice at a night market, I enter just a bit overwhelmed by the thick smells and smoky air. Immediately want a taste of everything. Instead me and my merry band do the next best thing, putting ourselves in the hands of the kitchen and opting for the five-course tasting. (At $65, it’s a smart bargain.) Things get off to a bang with miang, a traditional Thai street food of tasty bits ‘n’ pieces wrapped inside a leaf. Here it’s a mix of fluke, lychee, chili jam, and crispy fried garlic on a shiso leaf. A myriad of contrasting flavors and textures, it’s the canape equivalent of an aperitif; a wake-up call, which tingles the palate in preparation for what’s to come: grilled prawns spiked with fresh lime and Phuket-style black peppercorn sauce; a succulent king-size crispy oyster over fried pork, peanuts and mint; squid ink and hot sesame oil soup (as delicious as it sounds disgusting). I’m made even happier when the special of the night arrives amusingly enough as the equivalent of a pasta course: grilled ramp congee with Chang Mai sausage, crayfish & crispy garlic. It’s the Greenmarket version of Thai comfort food, creamy, thick, and satisfying, with the addition of ramps, no less – the locavore’s answer to crack cocaine. Two versions of duck arrive next: a perfectly pink and tender roasted breast under a fragrant mound of fresh herbs, topped with green mango and accompanied by tamarind water and a spicy duck laab salad riddled with birds-eye chilis that more than earns its four-alarm fire notation. (So potent are the effects of the chilis that more than one person in my party navigated a bout of gastrointestinal distress the following day. Me? I’ve never tasted such an exquisite mix of meat and heat in a single forkful. I could easily eat this dish over and over again.) And that’s a prime example of what’s so enjoyable about Dieterle’s menu. Even if it’s not necessarily always a traditionalist’s version of Thai food, there’s a mutual regard for both the cuisine and the diner that meets way above the middle. Except for desserts, there’s no dumbing down here for ignorant palates. In the piquant hands of this Top Chef everyone and everything rises.

 

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jasper’s tap and corner kitchen

Appearances are deceiving in San Francisco: the distance between two points on a map, for instance; or that funny looking nun with a mustache. It’s true of restaurants as well. Elegant facades can belie inferior eats. And gritty basement boîtes often bubble up with tantalizing flavors. File Jasper’s Corner Tap & Kitchen under the latter. In the harsh light of day the restaurant’s visual charms are all but washed out - like one of those Tenderloin tender traps I’d normally studiously avoid. Yet I’d heard there were interesting experiments going on behind the bar – as well as in the kitchen – and felt it my duty to check things out. I’m glad I did because Jasper’s – despite an anodyne sense of design – is no ordinary “corner kitchen,” but the latest in a wave of cocktail bars and speakeasies that are marking the City by the Bay as a town that takes its tipple seriously. I start with a classic, the Negroni, which Jasper’s happens to keep on tap. You read that right: gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth in an ideal 1:1:1 ratio on tap. Frisco apparently has a penchant for lip-smacking aperitifs; the Negroni proved so popular that a second herbaceous cocktail recently joined the tap: a mix of gin, sweet vermouth, and fernet dubbed The Hanky Panky. Mixologist Kevin Diedrich is the mastermind behind the clever idea, as well as a dozen-plus seasonal cocktails, like Rhubarb Mule (a mix of bourbon, orgeat, rhubarb syrup, ginger ale and bitters) and a Wiessen Sour (bourbon, lemonade, orange marmalade, house-made bitters, and white beer). Plus, there’s also what might very well be the perfect summer concoction: house-bottled carbonated Pimm’s cup, muddled with strawberries and mint. Even better, there’s the kitchen in Jasper’s Corner Tap & Kitchen, which under chef Adam Carpenter has it’s own seasonal sensibility. If this weren’t laid-back San Francisco, you might even call it a gastro-pub. (But it is, so you won’t) Even so, the constantly evolving menu has been crafted to complement the strongest stout to the most subtle ale. I order a handful of small plates to see if works with various cocktails: salty Shishito peppers, a trio of deviled eggs, briny brussel sprout slaw and house-made sausage bites, and a warm soft pretzel with smoked gouda fondue. It does. Then I squirrel away the fondue, knowing it will be heaven for dipping with French fries. If you want to go “full gastro” The J Burger is a monument to the humble pub burger of yore; griddled Lucky Dog Ranch beef, English blue cheese, bacon onion marmalade, and frisee salad on a baguette bun. You won’t finish it, but apparently few people do. A lighter alternative is an equally flavorful filet of Scotch salmon atop a bed of organic black lentils. Sated, sedated, and just a little bit intoxicated, I’ve no room for coffee, let alone dessert. Before I head to the door GM Matthew Meidinger makes a point to tell me how at first people came to Jasper’s for Diedrich’s drinks. Then I finish the thought for him: now they stay for the food, too.

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irish coffee (non-blarney edition)

According to sources, the first Irish coffee was invented and named by Joe Sheridan, head chef at the restaurant and coffee shop in the Foynes terminal building. (A precursor to Shannon Airport, Foynes was the last port of call for seaplanes on the eastern shore of the Atlantic. During Word War II it would become one of the biggest civilian airports in Europe) The coffee was conceived after a group of American passengers disembarked from a Pan Am flying boat one miserable winter evening in the 1940s. Sheridan added whiskey to the coffee to warm them. After the passengers asked if they were being served Brazilian coffee, Sheridan told them it was Irish coffee and the name stuck. In 1951, Stanton Delaplane, a travel writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, tasted what had by then become the traditional airport welcome drink and was smitten. Returning home he told his friend Jack Koeppler, owner of the Buena Vista Café and the two set about trying to recreate the drink. Stymied by the Irish flair for floating the cream on top, the duo went so far as to seek help from the city’s then mayor, George Christopher, who also happened to own a dairy. He suggested that cream aged for at least 48 hours would be more apt to float, and so it did. In later years, after the Buena Vista had served, by its count, more than 30 million of the drinks, Delaplane and the owners claimed to grow tired of the drink. (And who can blame them, the currency had been cheapened: bastardized versions of a drink that were less hot toddy and more like hot candy had popped up everywhere.) A snark after my own heart commented that the problem with Irish coffee is that it ruins three good drinks – coffee, cream, and whiskey – but you’d never surmise that from the crowds that still take the Hyde Street cable car to Maritime Park in search of the original elixir. In fact, if you’ve never tasted a proper Irish coffee, you have no idea what you are missing – two go down nicely on an afternoon, while three guarantee a lovely start to the evening. Here’s how it’s done: Fill a glass goblet with hot water, then empty. Pour in hot coffee until about three-quarters full.  Drop in two sugar cubes. Stir. Add a full jigger of whiskey and top with a collar of lightly whipped cream. Do not stir. Drink piping hot in two or three sips. Okay, four at most.

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top 100: le cirque

If you don’t believe it possible that any single establishment could embody the look, attitude, and (un)consciousness of an era, look no further than Le Cirque. In the go-go 1980’s Sirio Maccioni’s restaurant at the Mayfair Hotel was where the elite came to meet and eat. On any given evening you might find the Nancy’s (Reagan, Sinatra, and Kissinger, if you have to ask) cheek by jowl on a red leather banquette alongside European royalty, assorted movie stars, Jackie O, and an editor or two from Tina Brown’s Vanity Fair furiously scribbling it all down. It wasn’t, however, solely about the intermingling of the power elite – it was also about the food. David Bouley, Terrance Brennan, Jacques Torres, Sottha Khun, Bill Telepan, and Geoffrey Zakarian all spent quality time in the kitchen at Le Cirque. And it should be remembered that under Daniel Boulud the restaurant ascended to four-star status, repeatedly regaled by the New York Times. Few people would argue that as the 20th century drew to an optimistic close Le Cirque epitomized not only everything a restaurant should be but also everything a city could be. Today – despite the bonfire of many an interim vanity – much of what made it great remains. For one there’s the impeccable white-jacketed service fronted by the most hospitable hosts in town. You are welcomed like an old friend – more to the point, an important friend – into one of the more elegant dining rooms in the city. The ceilings might soar double or triple-height but the mood is nevertheless cozy and intimée at a banquette overlooking the room. Le Cirque may have lost some of its buzzworthiness and fallen out of favor with the Page Six set but the air remains rarefied. If anything, the diminished spotlight only serves to focus the attention squarely where it belongs: on the food, which I’m happy to say succeeds from the first amuse to the final petit four. In between, a half-dozen meaty Blue Point oysters on the half shell are cause for celebration. So, too, a restrained rectangle of foie gras with quince jelly. The fish is impeccable: both turbot a la plancha atop olive oil crushed potatoes and john dory in a rich bouillabaisse broth make for satisfying main courses. And I dare you to find a desert to trump the ethereal Floating Island. Under the toque of Executive Chef Olivier Reginensi there remains a handful of oldies but goodies like lobster risotto, diver scallops with black truffle in puff pastry, baked Alaska and Chateaubriand for two, but for the most part Le Cirque has gracefully found its feet in the 21st century, moving beyond those flashy holdovers from another era – society swans included.

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bookshelf: the sorcerer’s apprentices

When The Sorcerer’s Apprentices was first published last year the book was heaped with praise on all sides. The New York Times and The Huffington Post both declared it one of the best food books fo the year. Now available in paperback, I finally got around to reading Lisa Abend’s peek into the kitchen at el Bulli. Named best restaurant in the world an amazing five times by Restaurant magazine before it caused international headlines by closing in 2011, el Bulli was the hugely popular, site of Chef Ferran Adria’s innovative culinary creations, which have now entered the popular lexicon as “molecular gastronomy.” Yet few people know that behind each of the thirty or more courses that comprised a meal at el Bulli, an army of stagiares or apprentice chefs labored at the precise, exhausting work of executing Adria’s vision. Abend’s behind-the-scenes look into el Bulli’s kitchen explores the remarkable system that Adria used to run his restaurant and, in the process, train the next generation of culinary stars. And there’s the rub: Abend’s book details the quotidian grunt work when it should  be investigating the mysteriously creative mind of one the world’s most influential chefs. Focused strictly on what’s tangible, the writer leaves no room to ponder what’s unobservable. That’s not to say the book is unenjoyable. Au contraire, it’s as dishy as they come. Abend brings to life the stagiares’ stories, following them over the course of a season at el Bulli as they struggle to master the long hours, cutting-edge techniques, and interpersonal tensions that come from working at the most famous restaurant on the planet. Taken together, the stories form a portrait of the international team that helped to make a meal at el Bulli so unforgettable. But Abend is no food writer. Her descriptions of the gastronomic efforts are so remarkably antiseptic that I have the sneaking suspicion she doesn’t really care for food at all. This could have just as easily been a book about a season in the offices of Norman Foster. Or the studio of Jeff Koons. It’s about teamwork – the men and women behind the genius but not about the mad rush of genius itself.  That book remains to be written.

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top 100: sfoglia

The lighting at Sfoglia on the Upper East Side is both a blessing and a curse. In one regard it’s a minor miracle: the votive-filled, semi-subterranean restaurant manages to refine even the homeliest of profiles into a vision as serene as one of Giotto angels. Yet that self-same light is also a curse upon every amateur food photographer or blogger armed with equipment little more sophisticated than last season’s iPhone. As I fall into both of those latter categories, I’m afraid you’ll just have to trust my word about the food and accept the few images I was able to pilfer from the restaurant’s website. Then again the unfussy, casual elegance of this week’s dining experience is a sure sign that I’ll be returning to photograph the warm embrace of Sfoglia’s den of deliciousness again and again – preferably post-workout. Now that you know the happy ending I can share the evening’s irritating beginning, which didn’t begin nearly as felicitously: in the cold, cramped entryway the host was simultaneously handling future reservations, checking coats, and acting as sommelier to a four-top that wanted a bottle of wine while they waited for their table. My initial impression of an improvised hot mess was only reinforced upon sitting when the waiter asked about water before quickly disappearing. What I really wanted was a glass of Dolcetto but I had to wait, patiently nibbling olives in silent frustration. By the time the waiter finally returned to ask if there were any menu questions, I was hungry, and so quickly ordered a glass of wine, antipasti della casa, and the cavatelli, which sounded intriguing as it came with mustard greens pesto and breadcrumbs.  My partner in carbs went for paccheri, a floppy, tubular pasta with pork shoulder and fennel pollen, plus a side of brussel sprouts for good measure. The waiter repeated it all back to us, getting it wrong. Then he repeated it once again, this time getting the wine wrong, before giving an offhand nod and walking away. Before I could give sarcastic voice to the exchange a plate of bread arrived and we tore at it like a pair of hungry cats. The bread at Sfoglia has a cult following. They ship it now, as well as sell it at the restaurant. The crispy thin crust belies a pillowy warm inside which just happens to be an ideal vehicle for sopping up a flavorful plate oil. When the antipasti arrives with my wine I’m glad we decided to share:  two big crostini smeared with whipped ricotta and sea salt share the plate with a mound of peppery arugula and smoked trout and a salad of shredded radicchio and apple that’s unbelievably sweet and creamy and salty all at once. We begin to debate our favorite, coming close to those embarrassing acts of plate scraping and fork-licking. Who cares that our waiter is a dolt, or that we had to wait in the cold for a table? We are here, in this warm haven where simple ingredients being accorded a respectful finesse and we’ve still got two courses left to go. The pastas are, of course, equally memorable: tender pork shoulder, rich in tomato, has the proper ratio of acid to fat, making the perfect foil for wide tubes of the ribbon-like paccheri. Strangely the tiny cavatelli look like grubs – a sensation further enhanced by a topping of crunchy, butter-soaked breadcrumbs. Yet mixed with a pesto of bitter mustard greens it makes for a dish so savory that I’m glad it doesn’t come in a trough or I’d have to make a right spectacle of myself. A happy accident occurs when the waiter absent-mindedly stops by thinking he forgot to tell us about the special deserts that require pre-ordering.  (He did.) Once I hear the words “bread pudding,” I go deaf and don’t need to hear another word. Somehow I manage to continue shoveling cavatelli in my mouth while signaling that yes,the pastry chef should fire up some bread pudding and oh, by the way, more wine, more wine! It’s like being in one of those collegiate stoner dreams: the taste of everything passing my lips is elevated to such a degree that each bite takes on new levels of deliciousness. A heaping bowl of rum-soaked pudding is the night’s crowning glory, managing to at once be both a proper pudding and a wonderfully light finish to the meal. It’s a testament to the kitchen that I’ve managed to have a generous feed and yet I don’t feel stuffed. In the wrong hands an evening at Sfoglia could easily turn into a bacchanal of Falstaffian proportions. Or do I mean the right hands? I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll be back to put that theory to the test.

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live blog: hey, pie face

Yet another new transplant on David Letterman’s Late Show stretch of Broadway, Pie Face is an Australian fast-casual cafe specializing in savory pies with a flaky pastry crust and authentic fillings like chunky steak, minced beef & tomato, bacon, egg & cheese, and Thai chicken.  For all you Downton Abbey fans, think of them as the chain gang version of a Cornish Pasty, the half-moon shaped pie popular among the working classes for its unique pocket-friendly shape – and that it could be eaten without cutlery. (for my Latin readers: empanadas) Available as a Stack Box, which means topped with gravy and a “smash” of spuds & peas, this is the kind of comfort food destined to wreck resolutions. What really frightens me in this carb-free world, however, is the appearance on the menu of sausage rolls, an infinitely more satisfying cousin to the pig-in-blanket. A guilty pleasure of mine heretofore restricted to accompanying the occasional plate of chips and beans while in Ireland, I fear that – situated a scant street away from my office – sausage rolls might prove to be my undoing.

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steak ‘n shake

The constant queue outside the newly opened – and oddly apostrophed – Steak ‘n Shake in midtown makes me think there’s more to this burger joint than meats the eye. Stay tuned.

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top 100: corton

Despite the oddly antiseptic LED lighting that imbued me and my companions – not to mention the food – with a sallow, slightly cirrohtic tinge, Corton, occupying the Tribeca space formerly home to the late, great Montrachet, builds on Drew Nieporent’s unbroken string of gastro-success. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to dine here on a regular basis but let me qualify that by saying I mean that as high compliment. The food at Corton is rarefied, and as is the current fashion within molecular gastronomy circles, purposely imperfect. Visually stunning, it does not, alas, invite the diner to dig in with anything resembling gusto. Each course in the five-course Seasonal Tasting – there is a 10-course tasting menu as well – comes with an assortment of intriguing side dishes: an Albacore tuna amuse with charred limes on a brick of pink salt; tandoori monkfish twinned with both a cocotte of vegetable stew and a single, perfect Kushi oyster; red-legged partridge accompanied by a partridge shepherd’s pie. It’s the perfect dining exper –

ience for a group: each plate is greeted by oohs and aahs and quizzical looks and occasionally, shrieks of glee. Part restaurant, part gallery the plates are studied at first, as if stanchioned behind a velvet rope, before being timidly poked and prodded and twirled about. (and photographed, natch.) While I wish the wait staff were a bit more instructive in how to approach each course, there’s something to said for the fun involved in discovering the satisfying contrasts of texture and flavor that crash like waves across each successive dish. (Word to the wise: try to get a little bit of everything into each bite.) Even more surprising is the fact that after three hours, five courses, a quartet of amuse and mignardises, and one magic magnum of St. Julien that mysteriously paired beautifully with both fish and fowl, four happy diners trotted off into the windy night feeling perfectly sated yet not stuffed. Uniformly imaginative and delicious, the experience of Corton is so very grown up, so very European. Which is perhaps why I can’t shake the sensation that dinner here resembled less of a Top 100 meal than a vacation.

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when is a clam not a clam?

When they arrive disguised in the shape of a peacock, as are these tongue-tingling, garlicky-good razor clams from Szechuan Chalet. Neither fish nor fowl indeed.

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