So Easy to Love
Gourmet
May 1, 2003

We can think of about a million and one reasons to be sweet on New York. But let's start with 27 that make our hearts skip a beat.

At the point when New York begins to seem like the most expensive city in the universe, it is sometimes restorative to walk down to the Lower East Side and stand in line for some fried dumplings at (where else) Fried Dumpling. The dumplings may not be the world's most outstanding, but they are brittle on the bottom and juicy inside, and they are sizzled while you wait. Plus, an order of five costs only a buck. (99 Allen Street; 212-941-9975)

Cuisine as it is practiced in Lower East Side bistros tends to be a full-contact sport, chefs manipulating marrowbones, canned sardines, and heavily vinegared anchovies in their attempts to épater la bourgeoisie. The winner of round one is aKa cafe, a restaurant jimmied into a barely renovated former clothing shop whose sandwich of marinated lamb tongue, almond butter, and red currant jelly is as delicious as it is improbable. (49 Clinton Street; 212-979-6096)

'ino, the tiny wine bar that jump-started downtown's panini craze, is something ofa small miracle, with Man-hattan's best cappuccino and carafes of Barbera. But 'ino's major contribu-tion to civilization may be its Italian-ized version of the BLT: grilled pancetta, ripe tomato, and fresh lemon mayon-naise layered on crustless triangles of Pullman bread. (21 Bedford Street; 212-989-5769)

A BLT, it is well known, is one of the grand achievements of mankind, a per-fect etude in the keys of crisp and tart. The kosher answer to the sandwich, and one of the unsung glories of outer-borough cuisine, is the PLT, in which the bacon has been replaced with peppery, griddle-fried pastrami, and the requisite white bread with toasted, caraway-scented rye. A supreme example of the PLT-maker's art may be found at Jay and Lloyd's Kosher Deli. (2718 Avenue U, Brooklyn; 718-891-5302)

In a given season, Esca's David Pas-ternack probably goes through as many species of aquatic life as any Jacques Cousteau special ever did. So when 45-pound giant squid, tentacles thick as fire hoses, briefly started showing up in fishermen's nets off the coast of Chile, it was natural that some of them found their way to Esca's kitchen, where grilled slabs of the beast turned out to be sweeter, more delicate, than any cephalopod in history. (402 West 43rd Street; 212-564-7272)

Les Halles is famous for its steak fries, its Gallic attitude, and the occasional sightings of its chef, Anthony Bourdain, the Johnny Thunders of New York cuisine. But the salad of duck confit with frisee and tiny cubes of potato sautéed in duck fat is so salty and garlicky and crunchy that it practically demands its own USDA food pyramid. (411 Park Avenue; 212-679-4111)

Paradou is kind of like France with better music: a wine bar with decent charcuterie, lovely chocolates that the owner imports from St.-Remy-de-Provence (although I'd give the black olive ones a pass), and even a petanque court out back. The wines sold by the carafe include Patrimonio, a wonderful, inky red from Corsica. And then there are the crisp, oozing pressed sandwiches of tomato and duck rillettes. (8 Little West 12th Street; 212-463-8345)

The fad for Nuevo Latino restaurants continues. But the carefully composed $58 prix-fixe dinners are sooner or later going to have to face up to the competition posed by the juicy, crackling hunks of suckling pig served on Fridays and Saturdays for about a tenth of the cost at El Rincon Boricua, a busy lunch counter up in Spanish Harlem. Because no matter how much you may lust for fresh-mint Mojitos and opportunities to show off your new Balenciaga, there is no beating El Rincon's soulful Puerto Rican pig. (158 East 119th Street; 212-534-9400)

In some parts of town, fresh mozza-rella is a staple, something to be picked up every day or two like bread or milk, an unrefrigeratable substance with the shelf life of tonight's Tom Ridge joke on The Daily Show. Followers of Joe's Dairy know that the only thing better than Joe's fresh mozzarella, made throughout the day by artisans who spend their lives elbow-deep in hot, milky curds, is Joe's smoked mozzarella. It almost makes up for the sadness of living in a city without passable barbecue. (156 Sullivan Street; 212-677-8780)

At the tapas bar Rio Mar, nobody looks twice when a supermodel tucks into her third sangria of the evening, or even when Iggy Pop licks an admirer's pierced navel at 1:30 A.M. But when the bartender slides a superheated cazuela-ful of sizzling chorizo down the bar in your direction, you become an object of envious attention. (7 Ninth Avenue; 212-242-1623)

If you spend any time at all on certain blocks of the Upper West Side of a weekend morning, you probably have a bruise on your shin the exact size and shape of the undercarriage of a Maclaren Techno stroller. At Barney Greengrass, the brunch epicenter of the West Side, the Snuglis, the Gymboree totes, the Kate Spade diaper bags press in like rush-hour commuters on the number 2 train. But when you yearn for smoked fish on a toasted bialy, especially the soft, salty sturgeon that earned the late Mr. Greengrass the title of Sturgeon King, you do what you must. (541 Amsterdam Avenue; 212-724-4707)

Kloe is one of those new restaurants that seem to pop up every five minutes downtown - cramped, dark places that reverberate with loud techno music and flirty waiters, and whose overeclectic menus owe more to Rand McNally than to Escoffier. Yet the fried sweet-breads here, breaded with macadamia nuts and topped with a sort of sweet onion marmalade, are truly compelling, a shot in a million that just happens to work. Who would have thought that terrific junk food could involve fried thymus glands? (243 West 14th Street; 212-255-5563)

You might think that it would be pos-sible to get through an entire dinner at JUdson Grill, at the moment New York's most elegant outpost of farm-driven American cooking, without longing for an order of the perfect onion rings, which come stacked on one another like a golden brown maquette of the Michelin Man. Reasonable minds may differ. (152 West 52nd Street; 212-582-5252)

On a hot summer night outside Spumoni Gardens, the parking lot almost buckles under the weight of souped-up Camaros, young dudes in muscle tees, women whose polished fingernails are so bright that they might be visible from the Concorde—and not incidentally, vast, rectangular trays of Sicilian pizza, bubbling tomato sauce slicked on top of the cheese, that are snatched every few seconds from the big ovens. (2725 86th Street, Brooklyn; 718-449-6921)

Up three floors in a walk-up in the diamond district, past jewelry-repair workshops and at least one tout who will try to buy the Piaget off your wrist, Gan Eden by Shalom is one of the great secret restau-rants of midtown, a few vinyl-topped tables and a full roster of ultrakosher Uzbek cooking. The ploy (a cumin-laced Uzbek pilaf) and the dill-laced dump-ling soup are always good bets, but if you're lucky (it's never on the menu, which is mostly in Cyrillic script anyway), there will be skewers of grilled lamb ribs—salty, greasy, and irresistible. (74 West 47th Street; 212-869-8946)

There are many aesthetics of hamburger cookery in the five boroughs, ranging from the Irish-bar austerity exemplified by McHale's, in the theater district, to the foie-gras-stuffed burger at db bistro moderne. An acquaintance once threw a punch at me when I suggested his favorite hamburger, from the Corner Bistro, in the West Village, might not be the single best hamburger in the world, and I was practically disbarred from the message boards at chowhound.com when I questioned the superiority of Donovan's of Bayside, in Queens. Still, if you are carnivorous and you happen to live in New York City, all you have to be told is that, at lunchtime only, Peter Luger is prepared to sell you a burger made from its profoundly aged prime beef. I like mine extra-rare. (178 Broadway, Brooklyn; 718-387-7400)

Murray's is a wonderland of cheese, of rare Tuscan Pecorino and sometimes a raw-milk Vacherin Mont d'Or so gooey, so delicate, so complex that it is almost enough to make you weep. There have been months when I spent more at Murray's than at the butcher shop and the supermarket combined. (257 Bleecker Street; 212-243-3289)

When the Indian community holds street festivals, the most popular vendor is usually the guy with a coolerful of kulfi—Indian boiled-milk popsicles, cone-shaped things, dense as fudge, with a caramelized edge. Between festivals, there is always the Bread Bar at Tabla, where Floyd Cardoz's upscale version ofkulfi is decorated with edible gold leaf and drizzled with a rosewater and blood-orange sauce that will never find its way onto an ice cream cart. (11 Madison Avenue; 212-889-0667)

La Caravelle, that gaily painted stage set of a restaurant, has assumed many guises over the past 40 years: as a cen-ter of classic luxury cuisine, of sure-footed nouvelle cuisine, and now of slightly experimental modern French cooking. But the ethereal pike puffs called quenelles de brochet are some-thing like eternal. It is comforting to think that in 30 more years, you can probably still stop by 55th Street and find them hip-deep in heavy cream. (33 West 55th Street; 212-586-4252)

When you tend to go through old cookbooks as if they were so many potato chips, Bonnie Slotnick is the woman holding the Pringles can her tiny Greenwich Village store is stuffed with pamphlets on beer-drinking etiquette, old radio cooking-show scripts, restaurant guides from Paris in the '20s, yellowing manuals of prewar Philippine cookery, household-management texts from the 1880s, and M.F.K. Fisher first editions—as well as the book you are actually looking for. At Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, serendipity is on your side. (163 West 10th Street; 212-989-8962)

The word carpaccio is best confined to the Cipriani-invented dish of thinly sliced raw beef—that, or the Venetian artist for whom the dish was named. (Carpaccio painted the cutest little dogs.) But each summer, Fleur de Sel roasts peppers in olive oil until they become like spirit versions of themselves, brightly colored fillets that dissolve into sweet, sage-scented juice on the tongue. A chef who devises a dish like that can call it anything he wants. (5 East 20th Street; 212-460-9100)

Some local hot dog partisans swear by the griddle-tightened wieners at the original Nathan's, in Coney Island. One friend makes bi-weekly pilgrimages to Rutt's Hut, near Clifton, New Jersey, which specializes in a deep-fried frank aptly known as the Cremator. Me—I'm the guy in the corner at Gray's Papaya at three in the morning, noshing on a kraut dog and an extra-large Coconut Champagne. Because, sometimes, dependability is a virtue. (2090 Broadway; 212-799-0243)

Certain people of my acquaintance are fond of playing Guess the Bread, wherein small sums of money are wagered on the identity of the bakery that supplied the loaf in question. But the game is over when a semolina roll with golden raisins and fennel from Amy's Bread shows up in the bread basket. When you start with an Amy's semolina-fennel roll and a bit of good butter, the rest of the meal may be moot. (672 Ninth Avenue; 212-977-2670)

It is one of the paradoxes of New York dining that the best examples of New York pizza, perhaps the dish most often associated with the city, are to be found in New Haven, Connecticut, at Sally's, and Pepe's, and The Spot. But Lombardi's, which was the first coal-oven pizzeria in New York, and thus America, turns out pies of integrity that seem to be in the tradition of New Haven pizza because New Haven pizza was undoubtedly created in the tradition of it. If you don't think Lombardi's burnt, briny, sauceless clam pizza is one of thc finest foods in all creation, you probably did your undergraduate work ai Yale. (32 Spring Street; 212-941-7994)

Claude may be better known for his irascibility (he won't even reveal his last name) than for his croissants, which is kind of a drag, because if you had to deal with a hundred people a day barging into your shop and asking foi bagels, which you don't happen to sell. you might become a little crabby your-self. And Patisserie Claude's croissants are miraculous things, a bit of flour and a lot of butter transformed into a flaky substance with all the weight of a warm, dairy-scented vapor. If you get to the shop early enough, you can try a pastry flavored with almond and apricot, which is as dreamy as any three consecutive chords from Debussy's Trio for Flute, Viola, and Harp. And you may even get to see Claude smile. (187 West 4th Street; 212-255-5911)

Lardo is one of the most wondrous substances on earth, a lustrous white slab of cured fatback that exhales the pure, sweet essence of pig. In Italy, the best lardo is aged in marble caves not far from where the stone for Michelangelo's Pieta was quarried. In New York, the finest if not the only lardo comes from the kitchen at Otto, where it is sliced thinly and layered on crisp, hot flatbread. Lardo pizza—imagine! (1 Fifth Avenue; 212-995-9559)

An evening at Daniel is like a stroll through the Met. You're never sure what any particular visit is going to bring you, but you can be certain that something will imprint itself on your memory. And while I'll probably never see the dish again, I am happy just knowing that I once encountered a vessel containing a fried quail egg, a slice of crackling ventreche (house-cured pork that is like bacon entered into Valhalla), a dab of fonduta, and a shower of white truffle shavings—gold-plated bacon and eggs, sure, but in the way that Fragonard was a gold-plated painter of ceilings. (60 East 65th Street; 212-288-0033)

By Jonathan Gold