What’s Cooking

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A post-holiday hunger pang? I’d just licked off the last Panettone crumb, finished all remnants of the Alaskan wild-caught smoked salmon and given away the dark (fair trade, of course) chocolate terrine. Really, I was ready to re-join Weight Watchers and swear off lardo.

But as I contemplated the headlines, the “For Rent” signs all over the city and my empty fridge, I decided we could all use some heart-warming news. So for you, I cooked up a sampling of great culinary adventures. After all, if we’re supposed to eat less, it might as well be the most succulent fare in New York City.

Setting the Table
In 2009, the president and the first lady chose Dan Barber’s Blue Hill for an FBI-sanctioned not-so-secret date night, shunning four-star gastronomic temples and celebrating the champion of the seasonal locavore crusade. Payard closed, leaving hordes of starving East Side children with no decent outlet for after school pains au chocolat. Si Newhouse shuttered Gourmet magazine. What are we supposed to do while Ruth Reichl completes her account of her years there? Make do with only Bon Appetit? And finally, in a new stroke of genius, David Chang came to Midtown (see below!).

Lucite décor and a view of Columbus Circle at Robert.

Creative Museum Eateries
Realizing that any intellectual pursuit is immediately followed by pangs of pedestrian hunger, museum curators around the city have opened creative and welcoming eateries, replacing the drab cafeterias of our youth.

Robert: Who would have suspected that the view onto Columbus Circle could be sexy? The colorful lucite-clad restaurant/lounge on the ninth floor of the Museum of Arts and Design is named for Robert Isabell, the glam party planner who died unexpectedly last July. Brady Duhame prepares American standards with a whiff of Mediterranean air. (Robert at MAD, 2 Columbus Circle, 212-299-7730.)

The Wright: Finally, the Guggenheim Museum can feed its visitors with panache. Named, of course, for Frank Lloyd Wright, the restaurant’s design follows its own white and sinuous curves underlined by a multicolored metal mural. A Bouley alum, Rodolfo Contreras, mans the boat. (The Wright at the Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Ave., 212-427-5690.)

El Café: For the tastiest and most
affordable cheese-and-guava empanada with a view of Central Park, head to the unsung Museo del Barrio. (El Café at El Museo del Barrio, 1230 Fifth Ave., 212-831-7272.)

Hotel Action
Have you heard? Hotels are the new clubs, and some of the most vibrant new restaurants can be found next door to what used to be the pits of a traveler’s life: the hotel lobby.

The Plaza: Next spring, look for Todd English’s upscale version of a food court in the lower concourse to complement Eric Hara’s fine American cuisine at the Oak Bar. (The Plaza Hotel, Central Park South and Fifth Avenue, 212-759-3000.)

Má Pêche: At press time, David Chang’s foray into Midtown at the boutiquey Chambers Hotel is limited to a small menu on the mezzanine, but his signature mix of Asian tang and comfort grub has already rallied myriads of delirious uptown fans. (Má Pêche at the Chambers Hotel, 5 W. 56th St., 212-974-5656.)

Maialino: Any addition to Danny Meyer’s bouquet creates seismic moves in the dining world, and this inviting
Roman-style trattoria at the hip Gramercy Park Hotel is no exception. Nick Anderer oversees the cucina. (Maialino at the Gramercy Park Hotel, 2 Lexington Ave., 212-777-2410.)

The Brits Are Coming
Traditional English tea was already well represented, but this year, British chefs and restaurateurs seem poised for a serious invasion.

Le Caprice: Elegant and smartly dressed in classic black and white, the replica of this London fixture has quickly become the 2010 version of the British club. The posh, prized Fifth Avenue location features a modern international menu. (Le Caprice, 795 Fifth Ave., 212-940-8195.)

Breslin: When she’s not at the Spotted Pig in the West Village, foodie-darling April Bloomfield can now be found in the Ace Hotel, where she offers her very personal blend of British classics and contemporary twists. (Breslin, 20 W. 29th St., 212-679-1939.)

The Clerkenwell: Named after London’s Clerkenwell neighborhood, birthplace of the first gastropubs, this mellow Lower East Side bar claims a tasty British menu and reasonably priced drinks. (The Clerkenwell, 49 Clinton St., 212-614-3234.)

La Cuisine Française, the Return
Many enlightened critics have heralded the end of French cuisine, but in fact, it was merely the end of a certain genre of French cuisine: staid decor, pretentious service and plats d’hier instead of plats du jour. But as long as Gabriel Kreuther (The Modern) stews the best tripes in Manhattan, Daniel Boulud (Bar Boulud) concocts the tastiest pâté Grand-Mère and Pierre Schaedelin (Benoit) serves the best boudin aux pommes, the French flag is safe.

La Goulue: After 36 years as one of Madison Avenue’s chicest brasseries, La Goulue is about to be reincarnated in a landmark townhouse. In the meantime, Antoine Camin can be found whipping up his signature soufflé au fromage
at Orsay.

La Mangeoire: You may remember four-star chef Christian Delouvrier from his glorious Lespinasse days, but today, he has landed in this low-key neighborhood favorite where he reinterprets bistro darlings. Catch him while you can. (La Mangeoire, 1008 Second Ave., 212-759-7086.)

Upstairs at La Grenouille: Sam Sifton’s brilliant three star review of La Grenouille may have motivated you to revisit this gem, but now you can lunch without a blazer in the upstairs artist’s studio for a very civilized three-course $29 prix fixe. (La Grenouille, 3 E. 52nd St., 212-752-1495.)

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Trend Alert
What ‘Snack’ expert Nancy J. Brandwein expects to see more of in the coming year

Rickshaw Dumplings.

NY Craft Beer Revival: Manhattan Brewing Company, Park Slope Brewing Company, Westside Brewing and Yorkshire Brewing were all part of an NYC microbrew explosion in the early 1990s. When these breweries closed their doors, local craft beer lovers were left crying in their Seattle, Wash., heffeweizens or Cambridge, Mass., porters. But hop hop hooray! New York’s craft beers are making a resurgence, thanks to Brooklyn brewers such as Red Hook’s Sixpoint and Fort Greene’s Kelso Brewery, plus 10-year-old Chelsea Brewing Company. And, for those who want to combine beer tasting with a day trip, there’s now Patchogue’s Blue Point Brewing Co., Pleasantville’s Captain Lawrence Brewery, Defiant Brewery in Pearl River and Keegan Ales in historic Kingston. To find out where you can get Keegan’s creamy Mother’s Milk Stout or Sixpoint’s #1 rated Bengali Tiger American IPA, visit www.beermenus.com.

Have Your Chocolate, and Eat it Too: We true chocolaholics are used to holing up in our bedrooms with a box of truffles, nibbling alone, morsel by glorious morsel. Yet the artisanal chocolate-making trend has created places where we can indulge in public. Out of City Bakery’s chocolate room (3 W. 18th St., 212-366-1414), which is, in reality, a chocolate closet, you’ll find us enjoying our cacao bean fix in more spacious digs—like Chocolatier Fritz Knipschildt’s second Brooklyn Chocolate Room (269 Court St., 718-246-2600), where two can share a sinful chocolate fondue, Payard’s Francois Chocolate Bar (714 Madison Ave., on the fourth floor of Mauboussin Jewelry, 212-759-1600) or Jacques Torres’ ice cream parlor in Dumbo (62 Water St., 718-875-9772), where signature chocolate-covered Cheerios or malt balls appear as toppings on amazingly creamy hazelnut or strawberry blood
orange sorbet, all served in waffle cones.

Twittering Treat Trucks: In 2004, the Vendy Awards catapulted mainly immigrant-run street carts to citywide fame. The trendy Vendys have now given some entrepreneurs the idea that no food is too haute to go mobile. A few years ago, Ben Van Leeuwin started selling us Giandujia ice cream (Michael Cluizel chocolate with rich Piedmont hazelnuts) and other handcrafted ice creams from his butter-colored truck (VLAIC on Twitter) and Rickshaw Dumpling was one of the first to use Twitter to tell us where we could line up for chicken Thai basil dumplings with peanut sauce (RickshawCart). Now, ever more trucks are tweeting, not honking, to let New Yorkers know where and when we can get value priced Moroccan and Mediterranean treats, like merguez lamb sandwiches or chicken divan (Bistrotruck), Taiwanese-style fried chicken or a $4 Zongzi (a Chinese tamale; NYCcravings) and a high-end carne asada taco served with pico de gallo and avocado crema (CalexicoCart).

Nancy J. Brandwein writes the “Snack Attack” column for this newspaper.

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