Saturday, November 14, 2015


Sometimes a stint of mediocre restaurants befalls me such that I start to question my palate and passion.  And then I hit a place like Kat and Theo that completely renews my spirit.  Perhaps nothing being done here at this new American Chelsea nook that is so wildly innovative or provocative, but it is attractive and comfortable in decor, swift and pleasant of service, and consistently, remarkably delicious in cuisine.  It is actually strikingly similar to Black Barn, the previous restaurant I reported on, but on a smaller scale, and superior on most all counts.  Rustic, heavy wooden beams, again,  criss-cross
 the ceiling over walls of crumbling, uneven exposed brick.  Even the tabletops are striking: imported wood is oxidized to a pewter hue striated with black lines, and deep purple velvet covers comfortably plush banquettes, their color mollified by flickery shadows cast from a real, live fireplace we were lucky enough to snuggle up right next to.

The menu is not too big, not too small- just Goldilocks-right.   And it is formatted as such that you can sort of make of it what you will.  I chose a side as a starter, or a hodge-podge of small plates could make up your meal.  Certainly, regardless of your strategy, the charred octopus needs to be a component one way or another.  Deliciously bacony tentacles nuzzle into a puree of gigante beans, a few of which are left whole, but these are undercooked and chalky, performing only as leguminous decor rather something actually edible.  But that's okay: you'll
 be fully under the spell of the tender cephalopod, glazed in orange and oregano down to its crispy edges.  The cauliflower side that I upgraded to begin with is a winner as well, its florets roasted into submission and mounded under a sweetly tangy fig compote, a modern American take on the Sicilian classic.

Only open for months, the aggressively seasonal menu has already morphed through several iterations, the main dishes we tried cycled out in favor of new creations.  Thus it goes when your chef (Paras Shah) honed his craft at El Bulli, Per Se and Momofuku: good things will evolve from the  menu but there will be more good things to replace them.    As for the skate, however, it will be missed.  That wing was perfectly crisped, just accentuating the tender filaments of the fish with a delicate crust
 without overcoming them.  Dark leaves of sturdy kale lay gently across the top, anchored by toasted hazelnuts.  A sauce ahlinho beneath was viscous enough not to sog the skate, although we never got a very explanation of what this mysteriously delicious sauce is (although garlic and saffron were notable components, our waiter said it translated directly as "sauce", which is just.... not accurate).  But no harm no foul- it was just another attribute of the wildly successful dish.  So too was the halibut in bouillabaise, thickened with a creamy celery root puree and dotted with plump mussels.  Two ravioli crowned the affair, which seemed superfluous and sort of out
of place, but they cached the world's silkiest filet of halibut, pristine and snowy white, almost indecent in its moistness.   Veggies are a little scant in the main dishes, so I was happy to have commandeered a side of charred bitter greens,
although they were more braised than charred,
cooked down and stewy, with kicky flecks of chili much like calalloo.

Serena Chow is in charge of the sweet stuff, from which we settled on a concord grape panna cotta, after much wrangling between a chocolate mousse with lavender and lemon curd and a much-lauded carrot cake with white chocolate and espresso, all of which I'm sure were marvelous if our final choice was any parameter.   The grapes came in the form of an intensely flavored sorbet, perched over delicate panna cotta glazed with a a gently earthy fennel gelee, separating the sweetness from the tartness until a spoon broke its glossy surface, impaled with  crunchy shards of delicate maple brittle.  No decaf is on hand, but Toby's Estate provides their fine coffee to accompany if you can handle the buzz,  along with an assortment of teas and digestifs to choose from.  For once, I was okay with post-prandial caffeinated joe- I was happy to stay awake a little longer, ruminating on the delicacies of Kat and Theo. 

5 W 21st St
New York ,  NY  10010
+ 1-212-380-1950

Friday, November 6, 2015


The transformation from SD26 to Black Barn is absolutely astounding.  What was once a vacuous, beige rectangle with the feel of a corporate cafeteria is now a sexy, rustic haven.  Big wooden beams criss-cross the ceiling, casting provocative shadows from bright, suspended Edison bulbs.   The only vestiges of the prior incarnation are the chef and owner, Matteo Bergamini and John Doherty respectively, but they have swapped out Tony May's Italian for American creative, farm-to-tabling it
 and nose-to-tailing it as much as possible.  And on these counts, Black Barn is meritorious, but sometimes the execution falters to live all the way up to the concept and surroundings.

The menu reads pretty pricey, but portion sizes are legitimately large enough to share, whether it falls under the menu category of "To Share" or not.    Nothing small plates about Black Barn.  Our server talked up the Mangalitsa pork to such a degree that we went with a charcuterie board from that division of the menu, even though I'm not such a cold cuts kind of girl.  It's a bountiful and beautiful array, furls of thinly sliced variations of the pig: soppressata, salty prosciutto, zesty salame, hearty rillettes... all from the heritage breed from Mosefund Farm in Jersey.  Accompanied by hearty, chewy sourdough and a small crock of mild, tender house-pickled
 vegetables, there's enough meat here for five to enjoy a bite of each variety- if your appetite can take it.  A grilled corn salad from Appetizers was similarly plentiful, but the focus is on summer's grand finale of produce, showcasing sweet
kernels against bitey arugula in a cool buttermilk
dressing. A halved avocado bookends the greens in case you didn't get enough good fats with the charcuterie board (although trust me, you probably did).

The next four categories on the menu are meant as entrees (Garden, Ocean, Slow Cooked and Wood Grilled), but regardless of my passion for vegetables, I still have a tough time making my main course a plant, even if they call it a Cauliflower Steak.  But shared as a starter, it makes a shareable beginning, even if it is technically more stack than steak.  A glistening pile of curried florets, perhaps a touch over oiled, are toasted, roasted, and melted into submission, brightened with raw cucumber half-moons, chopped cherry tomatoes and sliced rainbow beets, it makes quite a picturesque pile.   Smooth daubs of cilantro raita anchor the elements, and in the end, it is hearty and satisfying enough to warrant its $24 dollar price tag.

For a protein fix, a striped bass with crispy skin lured me away from the waiter's recommendation of the grilled swordfish with caponata.  After the fact, however, I wish I would've listened to him, although the bass was harmless.  Sure, the skin was crispy-ish, but the nubs of tomato didn't do much to revitalize a milky potage of plain sorana beans and undercooked green ones, making the whole dish pretty lackluster. Which our server was not- he actually became an integral part of the enjoyment of the whole evening, faithfully attentive and pleasantly funny throughout the
 course of the meal.  Even if he did forget (or was it the kitchen?) the side order of brussels sprouts, that arrived tardy scorchingly hot; they expedited their arrival but somehow still managed to overcook them, and even the smoky hunks of bacon nestled within couldn't quite unmuddy their flavor.  An unlikely winner of the evening, however, was a slow cooked Vermont Shivanne Farm baby goat... or maybe it wasn't unlikely, given we are dining in a barn.
The hulking platter  included bone-in chops, a roasted loin, and (my favorite) a tender braised shoulder.  The meat was mildly gamey, but mostly just beefily rich and tender, and a rustic hash of rosemary potatoes and artichokes gave a humble, earthy balance.   Dishes came out in a very timely manner, but be wary of the up-pour.  Despite our table's drinking by the glass, our server was tip-toe ready to top off our wine glasses even before they were emptied-  a fine practice if you have ordered a bottle, but confusing if not.  An ever mounting tab can result if one isn't quick to moderate the refills, so let the drinker beware.

Now there's an apple pudding on the dessert menu that would've easily captured my fancy, but at the time, the  cremesicle appeal of an orange-vanilla eclair piqued my interest.  Although impressive in longitude, it wasn't at all the flavor profile I was expecting.  Candied orange peel and chocolate chip-studded vanilla creme is a long stretch from the tangy orange sherbet classic I inferred.  Pronouncedly elongated, the eclair was sort of a holdover from SD26, its flavor a solid
 adaptation of a Sicilian cannoli Frenchified into a delicately puffy choux....  well, at least the plate was a holdover.  Doherty retained these custom rectangular dishes from the old restaurant, and then came up with the dessert to put them to use, but either a tweak of ingredients or menu description is in order.  Brooklyn Roasting Company stepped up to compensate in part, though, with a smooth toasty brew that made a lovely pairing.

Overall, the setting and service, ambiance and bounty are the restaurant's strongest points.   The less fussy plates are the best, which is in good keeping with a place called Black Barn.  Any urban cowboy should be happy kicking off his boots here.

tel.  (212) 265-5959

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


On a desolate stretch of Ninth Avenue, Oovina garners a lot of attention.  The  cobalt neon framing the restaurant's glass facade showcases a thatch of white-washed ivy garland festooning the ceiling, creating an impression much more impactful than the square footage of the tiny restaurant itself.  Passersby seemed to be attracted by what I perceived a rather gaudy
 display,  but what Oovina lacks in
subtlety, it strives to make up for in flavor.  In many cases it succeeds, with its Guatemalan-inspired tapas menu from chef Giovanni Morales of the beloved Market Cafe.

Oovina derives its name from a complicated flow-chart of oenophilic references and phonetic Spanish, and the menu follows suit with a sort playful inauthenticity.   Cooked simply, the food is aggressively seasoned, perhaps to a fault, but never apologetically... and never with gluten.  Gnocchi are crafted from cassava, corn and rice are prominent in Latin cuisine, so the concession (which will appeal to many) does not seem forced.   Garlic and chilis prevail, with many dishes cooked in wine to complement the diverse list of global varietals.  Our server/sommelier, despite his apparent youth, was surprisingly accomodating with the wines, guiding us to a funky, fruity Soave and a sweeter, winier Chenin Blanc to replace the riesling which they had run out of.

We began with sauteed artichokes in a kale pesto pungent with dried herbs, five of them served up on a wooden plank.  I'm not sure these were remarkably better than a best quality preserved artichoke one could find in a specialty store, but they were tasty.  Same kind of thing for the brussels sprouts: I could've steamed some of these guys and whipped up a simple brown
 butter (if I had on hand some champagne with which to spike the sauce), so in terms of complexity there might be a little left to be desired.  A good home cook could replicate a lot of these dishes themselves, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.  And everything we tried at Oovina was tasty and satisfying, if not revolutionary.

Chicken tacos, on the other hand,  might be harder to recreate: flavorful white meat pulled into shreds, and dripping with a cilantro slaw... that although the menu specified all the other taco varieties came with red (there is a tofu vegan, grilled shrimp or steak, and crispy pork loin) the chicken was supposed to come with a green cabbage, but ours was red as well.  Speaking of
 color, disregard the terribly distorted hues in these pictures: an annoying pink overhead light shone down on our table, which while matching the casino-esque pink under-lit bar, threw the color profile off on most of my photos.

After each dish, which were each served one at a time, the table cleared before the next would arrive, our server inquired "how is everything tasting?" which is a rookie move, but might've been forgivable had it occurred once.  After EVERY dish,  it became irksome.  Had we not so much time between courses to ponder this, it might've gone unnoticed, but luckily I was in great company, so the extensive lapses occurring in between became an enjoyable conversation interludes.  A place like this, I'd prefer to have a bit of bounty on the table simultaneously and the tempo picked up demonstrably; it would add a more festive atmosphere that I think is what Oovina is going for, but instead the pace is waltz instead of disco.  Next up came a super salty, but nostalgically homey stewed beef, with chunks of carrot and potato alongside tender bites of beef in a rich consomme floating over white rice.  Aside from its salinity, the broth was deep and meaty, a perfect antidote to the cold night air that was starting to push through the windows we were seated next to.
  Come the real plummeting temperatures of deep winter, these front tables may become uninhabitable.  But at any rate, out repast was almost complete at this point, as our waiter brought back menus for dessert.... or wait, was it?  Didn't we order the Shrimp Ajillo?  Yes, we did:  a small oversight.  But the kitchen shot it out as quickly as possible, and although we probably didn't even need that one last savory dish for satiety purposes, the garlicky, oily, sriracha-spiked sauce almost compensated for the fact that the shrimp were slightly overcooked.  The masa cake they hovered around was delicious, though: pleasantly lumpy and nubby with corn, it crumbled loosely into the bold sauce, making the shrimp almost superfluous.

Like the riesling and the green cabbage, they had also run short of one of the desserts, but I was leaning towards the flan-brulee, anyways. I'm not sure why it was hyphenated.  I'm not sure, either, why it was so... .firm.  This was the densest, sturdiest flan I've ever had, actually a lot more like cheesecake than the gently wobbly versions to which I am accustomed.  Made a sort of weird counter to the crisp-bruleed sugar top, and the raspberry-pomegranate preserve underneath was so jammy and sweet it left me hankering for an English muffin.  But by far the standout dish of
 the night were the Rellenitos Colocha- fruity steamed plantains split and stuffed with cinnamon sweetened black bean puree.  The recipe was apparently rustled from Morales' aunt, which she was reluctant to share.  We're glad she did.  More dishes like these, with an elemental simplicity and soulful appeal, would increase the restaurant's appeal.  Although that might fight with the Vegas-worthy decor and the convoluted name, but therein lies Oovina's strength.

496 Ninth Avenue, Hell's Kitchen
(between 37th & 38th streets)
 tel. 212. 967.3892

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


Claudette led me to La Pecora Bianca, the newest addition to the team which also oversees Rosemary's and Bobo, as well as a lot of buzzy press, stemming from restaurateur Mark Barak's myriad current successes.  La Pecora Bianca (the white sheep) is an attractively bright spot on a dingy corner of the Flatiron District on Broadway.  Despite all the recent openings and noteworthy establishments nearby, that area of town continues to exude a gritty feel.  L.P.B. performs a bit as a beacon, it's big storefront windows emitting a welcome glow onto the scruffy sidewalks, and inside is just as airy and radiant.

It shows its chops at times as a brand-newcomer: we got our waiter's name (unnecessary) and a full tutorial on how the (very straight-forward) menu should be approached.  But all this is done with a palpable affability, making it hard really fault them.  The cuisine, too, seems a little less accomplished than its brethren, but maybe Chef Simone Bonelli, freshly yanked from Italy, is still working out some of the kinks.  Without much New York experience, he does have an admirable track record in Italy.   But here the cuisine is modernized, and there are a few minor snafus to iron out if L.P.B. is to achieve the accolades I've bequeathed some its family member.

We began our meal with one of the dishes that, by its press reputation alone, attracted me here in the first place: a whole roasted golden enoki mushroom littered with raisins, and pleasantly crunchy croutons.  The salsa verde beneath could've used a lot more punch, from salt, or acid- or both- and the raisins were overabundant.  The mushroom itself, with the addition of a spritz of salt (grinders for that and pepper are conveniently a table, and you may put them to use), was a novelty, and tasty if you could get over its tendency to sort of infiltrate its way irrevocably between your teeth.  They were a little stringier and more cartilaginous than past enokis I have encountered, which I recall being much cooperatively tender.  I liked this dish on paper more than in person, but I wasn't categorically disappointed; I like a big mushroom, and it was a lot of funghi, so for me that's never a bad thing.  A salad of finely shredded Tuscan kale was similarly voluminous,
 and fresher tasting than its description might imply.  It was tossed with a lot of substantial elements: sweet, softly roasted chunks of butternut squash, sheep's milk ricotta, toasted pepitas and cheesy bread crumbs, but a gently applied lemon citronette kept things from bulking up.

Primi comprised itself of some innovative pastas, novel shapes made from local and organic grains like einkorn, emmer and red fife wheat.  Certainly Dan Barber would approve of the initiative, and generous portions with substantial saucings like a housemade Italian sausage and broccolini or a fennel pesto with bottarga and pistachios more than justified their twenty-dollar-ish prices.

From the Secondi, seared Capesante provided three fat scallops, magnificently buttery and plush, with a nice, salty bronze crust atop.  They sat atop a creamy puree dotted with nubs of cauliflower and lima beans, chewy bits of diced chorizo interspersed, but not entirely coalescing with one another.    And I'm not sure what the pomegranate seeds were doing in there, but they didn't harm nor help.  A filet of wild striped bass was served atop a plate slathered in a lusty
 romesco, flanked with a torpedo of grilled endive, pleasantly bitter against a sweet dice of steamed apples piled atop.  Like the pomegranate seeds, the olives plonked along the periphery didn't seem to have a lot to do with its platemates, but at least they were listed on the menu.   From the trio of Contorni, which included charred rainbow carrots with labne and coriander, and crushed fingerlings also with labne, we chose the only un-labned and most
 Italian-y choice, rings of
salt-baked Vidalia onions with balsamic and sage, thin flakes of sharp parmigiano perched delicately on their edges.  A bowl of onions might seem a somewhat unconventional side, but these were quite delectable, and La Pecora certainly does not restrain itself by conventions. 

As for dessert, the good things here, too, present themselves in threes.  Torn between a lavender panna cotta and a chocolate mousse (there was also a ricotta cheescake), I (for once) conceded to my tablemate in favor of chocolate.  And the mousse, in this respect, did not disappoint.  It was rigorously fudgy, and the mixed berries (barely plural, in actuality) only populated the top inch of the pudding, leaving the remaining three quarters to sing a single-note melody with an occasional interlude of crunchy pistachio crumb.   A post-prandial decaf alongside,  however, improved everything.  A proprietary blend from Toby's Estate, the coffee was remarkably smooth, pairing winningly with the rich chocolate.  On the other hand, it precipitated a second visit to the restrooms, which not only require a trip downstairs, but as two gated unisex stalls that open into a common hand-washing area, the itself is wide open to the bottom of the staircase and the subterranean prep kitchen, there is a noticeable lack of privacy.  I reapplied my lipstick next to a pudgy guy wearing shorts and socks.  Otherwise, the charming decoration from upstairs continues down below, with the sage and white wallpaper printed with illustrated sheep and small bouquets of humble flowers.    In fact, the overall appeal of the restaurant compensates most of the missteps, and along with it still feeling a little like a youngster, I hope La Pecora Bianca will behave like a sheep's milk cheese does- a strong foundation improving with age.

1133 Broadway @ 26th Street    
tel.  1.212.498.9696

Thursday, October 1, 2015

At the Chef's Table with Dan Barber at Forager's Market (W.S.J.)

The Wall Street Journal is hosting a series of Chef's Table dinners, launching with Dan Barber of Blue Hill notoriety.  A champion of farm-to-table and then some, Chef Barber was on hand to discuss his new book, The Third Plate, a comprehensive look at the future of food from a very knowledgeable, fore-thinking and involved perspective.  Unfortunately, it was not he who cooked the actual meal, although Forger's Table chef Nickolas Martinez provided a superb repast using, utilizing showcasing and capitalizing on the marketiest of market-fresh ingredients.  A vegetable-centric meal, it was not wholly vegetarian, but it was wholly satisfying.  Which is basically the point of Barber's book: that we can be nourished and sated without the crutch of animal proteins, while certainly not abandoning their importance both culinarily and nutritively.

After a preamble, the microphone was opened up to seated diners for a Q&A, the Q's of which were mostly quite thoughtful, and the A's were throrough, to say the least.  Mr. Barber can get a little wordy, but it only reinforces his passion.  Luckily, we were served as he spoke and not after, so nobody was left to starve as the conversation evolved.  And certainly, starve we did not.  A welcome cocktail the sang the virtues of autumn: a hard apple cider and Core vodka concoction from Harvest Spirits in Valatie, NY.  It was simultaneously warming and refreshing, a bit spicy and boozy, with a nice apply sweetness. 

But summer not being far long gone, one of the hors d'oeuvres consisted of tiny cubed watermelon in a refreshing yuzu juice.  The other was a unctuous button of warm, creamy ricotta topped with a tangy tomato jam.  Little name tags designated our seats, and wines from Bonny Doon Vineyards in California were poured and refilled methodically: a jammy red Grenache and a lovely, clean Albarino, both wildly drinkable.   Seated, we were provided a hearty cheese and squash gougere, two-bite big and equally full of flavor.  The first course was a ruddy tomato-pepper gazpacho, latently peppery and drizzled with a vibrant herby oil.  Small, chewy croutons floated within, giving the smooth puree a bit of texture.    The main course was also of nightshades, a chunky Moroccan-spiced stew of meaty eggplant,
 topped with a wobbly, barely-poached 65 Degrees (the farm, not the temperature, although "rare" is it was, the cooking temperature probably didn't make it much above that) Forager's farm egg and a delicate crisp of blue buckwheat, one of the grains Barber champions.

Our dessert was so responsible any caloric impact I'm certain was entirely negated.  The whey used to poach the grapes was retained from the ricotta appetizer, a honeyed Bostock was made of day-old brioche from the market, and the plums and peaches reduced to a syrupy coulis were imperfect seconds.... perhaps eyesores for a grocery-worthy fruit display, but full of potent flavor.  Alongside was a little scoop of espresso ice cream, which I'd like to thing was made from brewed coffee that didn't get sold, but I'm totally making that up.

At any rate, the dinner was a hit, the evening, quite a success.  I took away (along with the bountiful gift bag), the important of popularizing a grain-based diet... not bagels and Uncle Ben's, of course.  But emmer and einkorn, quinoa and buckwheat, heirloom strains being reinvigorated by farmers, that are nutritious both to a human consumer and to the soils in which they grow.   I, personally, adored my question to Dan about
 flipping government subsidies away from big, commodity corn and soy producers to small, organic farms that practiced responsible crop rotation and sustainable farming techniques.  I even got a kudos from a fellow diner, which meant more to me than the fact the Chef Barber believes it's more important that chefs promulgate an emphasis on grain-based diets as the most sustainable, delicious and hip way to eat.  But hey.  He's the chef, and what do I call my blog, after all?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


I had high hopes for Vic's, a market-driven new-ish-comer to Marc Meyer and Victoria Freeman's Cookshop restaurant group.  They're doing all the right things: fresh, farmer-inspired cuisine, friendly service and relaxed, unfussy decor in the comfortable space on Great Jones street that used to be Five Points.  The food is mostly prepared in a wood-burning oven, a delightful trend, by chef Hillary Sterling.  So Vic's has a lot going for it: strong reputation, solid sourcing and a female chef- all of which are assets in my book.  I'm assuming Vic is short for Victoria, and unfortunately like that abbreviation, some of the execution was similarly deficient at times.  Overall, I had a very enjoyable evening and a pleasant repast, although there were some noticeable shortcomings.
Our server, however, was en pointe: chipper and attentive.  We were offered house sparkling or still water immediately, and our orders taken in an unforced but timely manner.  We took her up on the bread that was offered but not automatically dispersed on the table.  I think this is a pretty good thing- for carbophobes, people with actual allergies, tempted dieters, or just those whoe don't need extra starch.  It's less wasteful.  That said, all of ours got devoured: thick, chewy slices with a faint sour and heavy, rustic crust.

The "Mercato" section of the menu featured a bounty of orchard-y treats, but those we chose read better on the menu than they were plated.  Beets, already sweet, had a sugary plum glaze and shreds of crisp raw fennel dusted with a little too much gritty black pepper.  Turnips, which I erroneously assumed would be roasted, were instead raw, fanned out beneath a shroud of robust pecorino grated with a heavy hand.  The mature turnips had a distinct bitterness which led to a powerful flavor rivalry between them, the cheese and a virile classic pesto.  I actually liked
 a bit of the cheese on the beets, and some crisp fennel to moderate the impact of the turnips, but with the very seasonal, rapidly changing menu, you  might have to come up with your own adaptations.

The Pizzas (made with New York state flour) have there own section, and the versions on the table next to us were deliciously fragrant.  The preparations riff on traditional without going too out-there: a little thyme and chili atop a pie with  soppressata and a white pie tinged green with zucchini and green chiles.   And while our neighbors tackles a pie apiece, one could easily be shared for a hearty dinner with a Mercato, Contorni or Antipasto side.  Entrees are similarly generous.   A big hunk of poached cod was delightfully flaky and flavorful, perched atop a bed of tasty kale and cannellini beans, but the beans  were woefully undercooked, giving them a powdery, crumbly quality and didn't allow their starches to properly thicken the broth beneath, which ended up too watery and thin.  While the fish itself was perfection, its underlings needed a little more time to catch up.  Now, for the flank steak we requested it rare, and they made good on that... I'm sure I heard a little mooing when the bushel of cress and peppy, harissa-spiked green
beans were toppled aside.  The exterior had a perfect, smoky-spiced char, and inside was quite possibly the textbook definition of rare.... too much for my tastes, but my tablemate gobbled it down excitedly.  This was good, because it allowed me to steal a few more of the green beans than I otherwise might have been able to: they were stellar- smoky and spicy.   Just for fun, we tried the eggplant and peppers from Contorni.  From what I could tell, any of the Contorni, Mercato and Antipasti could be interchangeable.  Antipasti are more varied and pricey while the other two are primarly vegetable-if-not-vegetarian, but there is definitely overlap.  The
 eggplant was slick and steamy, doing that thing that eggplant does so well, sopping up oil and flavor and using it to its best advantage.  The peppers exhibited unpredictable amounts of heat, the spicier of which made good use of chewy, oily croutons to tamp their intermittent fire.

Dessert was definitely a high point.  We were undecided among the choices, and while my dining companion was jonesing for the rich gianduja tart or chocolate-sauced ricotta bomboloni, our waitress sided with me on the honey semifreddo, much to my delight.  And with the size of it, she might as well've sat down and helped up finish it, because it's easily shareable for two and then some.   Inarguably luscious, though, it combines the simple elegance of the creamy semifreddo with the honey-almond croccante, achieving the homey nostalgia of toasted marshmallow, but impossibly cool and creamy.

Another highlight were, amusingly, the restrooms: the stall doors are white-washed shutters, the men's room walls painted in striking red with zebras, the ladies' the immersive peachy-pink of undulating flamingos.   It's a playful, thoughtful attention to detail that might be a little lacking in the menu itself.  But the thought is there in all aspects, and on many levels, that's a lot of what counts.

31 Great Jones Street
tel.  (212)253-5700