Best of Manhattan 2002: Eats & Drinks


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Les Halles
411 Park Ave. S. (betw. 28th & 29th Sts.)
679-4111

They Hit the Snail Right on the Head. The French, for all their faults, have one endearing quality, and that's their ability to make little garden animals taste good. Properly sauced, muddy frogs become a national delicacy. Cute ortolans are gobbled in a single bite. And of course only a Frenchman would think of taking a snail and make it walk the plank into a boiling pool of butter, leaving him to drown among a flotsam of garlic, shallots and parsley. When done right, the results are rapturous.


In New York, snails are done right rarely, except at the meat-and-french fries bistro Les Halles. Their escargots would make a believer of even the most squeamish eater. Les Halles is the flagship restaurant in the Anthony Bourdain chain of French facsimiles. Bourdain tries to keep the food and atmosphere as authentically Gallic (not galling) as possible. We come here for the steak frites, which is superb, and always order the snails to kick off the flesh-fest. Every time, the snails are reliably plump and juicy.

We've had disasters elsewhere. Some restaurants serve up nasty, shriveled lumps of brown boogers dunked in some flavorless grease, or else they pawn off a sanitized version of the classic that replaces the butter with something else, usually some runny coagulant that tastes like Lubriderm. Les Halles' snails are a marvel. They're not too chewy?we'd say they come perfectly al dente?and wear their coat of garlic with so much pride and style we half-expect them to sit up and sing the "Marseillaise." Each mouthful tastes like France itself. As a bonus, you can enjoy these sweet morsels as yellow cabs zoom past on Park Ave., reminding you it's beautiful New York outside and not some city full of toxically annoying Parisians. Get plenty of bread to soak up the leftover butter puddles.

Best Reason To Get Out of Bed

Bright Food Shop's Pancakes
216 8th Ave. (21st St.)
243-4433

Griddle Me This. You could stay in your cotton blanky cocoon, propped up on pillows, with the endless September Vogue and W close at hand. But if you consider the thick batter rising on Bright Food's griddle while you lollygag, you probably won't. Their eggy cornmeal pecan griddlecakes ($7.50) might hide hot exploded blueberries, depending on the season, and are served with pitchers of real maple syrup.


If the three huge high flapjacks are too much for you, a side of just one may be ordered. The waiters will come over and smugly ask you, "How is it?" They already know. The many coffee refills will bring you out of any residual fog. Of course there're other generous and tasty breakfast options at this cool Mexican-Asian; we also like the smoked whitefish "maki" with wasabi cream cheese and green-chile scrambled eggs on a nori-wrapped spinach tortilla, served with black beans and cucumber salad ($8.25). And there's a shareable bread basket ($5.50) of muffin, scone, corn bread and both flour and corn tortillas, with ancho honey butter. The hustle of the cooks seen through the open kitchen might even inspire you to actually do something with your day.

Best New Tribeca Restaurant

Fresh
105 Reade St. (W. B'way)
406-1900

Instant Institution. It's a stark reality that any number of restaurant venues in Manhattan are haunted. Every year, a hopeful and ambitious entrepreneur tries his or her luck in a spot that's known nothing but failure. Most don't succeed.


On occasion, however, someone breaks the hex. People forget that before Nobu opened to instant acclaim at 105 Hudson St. several years ago, the large space had a disastrous track record, despite its prime location.

Lightning has struck again in Tribeca, this time with Martin Burge's Fresh, an all-seafood restaurant that opened just a few months ago and has already received a glowing review in The New York Times. Burge, formerly of Gotham Bar & Grill, bravely ignored the lack of success at previous losing enterprises at 105 Reade St., fashioning a unique option for Tribecans (and "foodies," to slip into that awful cliche, throughout the city) who are already glutted with any number of two- or three-star establishments.

The menu changes weekly, according to the availability of fish, but never varies in quality. Late in the summer we had softshell crabs?which will soon disappear from the long list of selections?that approached those served in Maryland kitchens. Better yet was the box of fried Ipswich clams, fat bellies and all, that would meet approval with the most critical New Englanders. We also devoured a lobster roll?described as "a JFK favorite," which is typical of the restaurant's preciousness, a tic that's overcome by the sheer quality of the food.

Also recommended are the steamers, clam chowder, a sensational gazpacho with chunks of crabmeat, gravlax, roasted blue tile fish and a simple flounder with jasmine rice in a ginger soy broth.

We'll see what winter holds for Burge, but if Fresh's stunning opening is any indication, Tribeca has added yet another outstanding restaurant to the neighborhood.

Best British Dessert to Go

Deep Fried Toffee Crisp
"A Salt & Battery"
80 2nd Ave. (betw.4th & 5th Sts.),
254-6610

Gives Us a Shit-Eating Grin. Remember the floating log from Caddyshack? That's exactly what this thing looks like. Disgusting? Yeah, disgusting. How disgusting? Like-it-backed-out-of-your-ass-and-turned-fuzzy disgusting. True, that doesn't really help sell the product's good points. But with a cheeky name like "A Salt & Battery" we can't imagine the joint's owners'll mind. Besides, you could scream "dung sandwich" 10 times in a row and we'd still gobble down one of these deep-fried suckers. We'd even ask for seconds, they're that good. Imagine a crisp, steamy hot exterior encasing rice krispies and soft melted chocolate with a stiff inner core?oops, there we go again. Suffice it to say only the Brits can invent a desert this disgustingly good. We can't wait to try the deep-fried Mars Bar.


Best Restaurant In Which to Be Wary
Of the Term "Jumbo"

Sharaku
14 Stuyvesant St. (3rd Ave.)
598-0403

You Can't Eat a Whale. Some, if not most, sushi bars offer what they often call a "deluxe" platter, which is the same as your generic "sushi platter," but with more pieces. Sharaku used to offer this, and it was very good. But earlier this year there were some minor changes in their menu, and suddenly when we tried to order a "sushi deluxe," we were informed it was no longer available. What they had now was something called a "jumbo sushi platter." It sounded like the same thing, pretty much, so we ordered it.


That's why we were a bit taken aback when the waitress showed up, not with a plate, but with an entire mini-table that took two hands to carry. A mini-wooden table that just barely fit atop the table we were sitting at. And atop that wooden table sat a collection of absurdly massive cuts of sushi. Pieces a full five or six inches long?almost too large to manipulate with chopsticks, and certainly too large to fit in your mouth. What's more?though we guess it makes sense?you don't even get a shrimp.

It felt like we were in Land of the Giants.

In the end, after battling our way through it, there was nothing wrong with it. It was still quite tender and good. But for the unwary, it can be quite daunting (and a little messy).

Best New Mexican Restaurant

Cafe El Portal
174 Elizabeth St. (betw. Spring & Kenmare Sts.)
226-4642

Hardly Enough Room to Swing a Chihuahua. Glance into this tiny basement restaurant and you might think it's just another Tortilla Fresca Bueno Taco Loco outpost, but look past the plain diner tables (only about 10 of them; and maybe telling you about this place is shooting ourselves in the foot) and the teeny, festive little bar?look at, and taste, what's actually on your plate, and you'll find that Cafe El Portal, despite appearances to the contrary, is serving up a most interesting hybrid of city Mexican styles: fancy, upscale, "real" Mexican (Zarela and Mi Cocina and the like) crossed with the fare of more typical taco/burrito shacks. So, yes, you can get burritos at El Portal, but they'll contain roasted chili-rubbed pork (our favorite), or nopales or spinach sauteed in onion and chipotle. And, sure, they have tacos, but here they're filled with ground chorizo, or epazote-spiced mushrooms. Quesadillas are much more than beans/rice/cheese turnovers?the Calabaza, for example, stuffed with green and yellow squash, or the Huitalcoche, with that earthy, truffly yet delicate corn fungus.


Some of the house specialties sit smack in the middle of the hybridization?chiles rellenos, chicken mole?while others tilt toward the ritzier branch, like the Adobo de Puerco?pork in guajillo pepper and roasted garlic sauce. But everything on the menu is fresh, and savory or delicate or zingy as recipes dictate. Pair your meal with a beer from El Portal's extensive selection of Mexican brews, or one of the Jarritos sodas. Que bueno.

Best Brooklyn Restaurant

Blue Ribbon
280 5th Ave. (betw. 1st St. & Garfield Pl.)
Brooklyn, 718-840-0404

Rhapsody in Blue. There are lots of fantastic restaurant experiences to be had in Brooklyn. We greatly appreciate the borough's ample opportunities for cheap, ethnic dining?Middle Eastern, West Indian, Italian, Russian, Latin and so on. We love the established Brooklyn greats like romantic River Cafe and reliable Peter Luger. The clam bars in Sheepshead Bay are, for us, a summertime must. We're enamoured of the efforts young restaurateurs such as the owner-operators of Park Slope's Convivium Osteria have made toward one-of-kind eating experiences. We feel more assured of a well-cooked meal at A Table or Rose Water than at some of Manhattan's famous destinations. And we delight in regularly visiting neighborhood treasures like Park Slope's Chip Shop, Red Hook's Hope & Anchor Diner and Cobble Hill's (or Clinton Hill's) Zaytoons. There's good eating from Bay Ridge to Bed-Stuy, Greenpoint to East New York. All the borough's flavors seem to us improved by that of Brooklyn's uniqueness.


Blue Ribbon is in many ways more like a Manhattan restaurant. It's not as laidback as its company on 5th Ave., nor is it as quirky as the places along the Smith St. strip. It doesn't feel very old or very new. Blue Ribbon's busyness, classic decor, long waits for tables and occasional crowds of fabulous people dressed to be seen contribute further to the sense that the bistro is decidedly non-Brooklynesque.

Which makes rather inconvenient the facts that the restaurant has the best menu, the best service, the best hours and much of the best food in Brooklyn. All things considered, the borough's spectacular array of old standbys and dashing up-and-comers can't claim to top what guests get at Blue Ribbon.

The raw bar could hold its own with any in the entire country. Skipping it, now and then, in favor of one or two items off the appetizer list is also advisable. It's win-win. But that appetizer menu is win-win-win-win-win, etc. Grilled shrimp remoulade or sweet soppressata? Pierogies or grilled sardines? One of the delectable smoked fish options or the pu-pu platter? Maybe just some perfect vegetables?asparagus vinaigrette, mixed olives, steamed artichoke or crudites? Staying the bistro course is rewarding, by way of escargots (traditional or Bourguignon), country pate, foie gras terrine or the exceptional steak tartare. But the chicken wings, garlic shrimp with chorizo and barbecued ribs also rock.

It feels fantastic to be presented with so many great choices, knowing you're going to have a great meal no matter what. Blue Ribbon's soup and salad list continues to pile it on. The $24 clam stew? We've never tried it, but we'd bet it's worth every penny. And the fact that the place keeps excellent matzoh ball soup on hand every night somehow says it all. The smoked trout salad is another dish that could compete for all-city honors.

The restaurant's hosts and servers are highly efficient and always make us feel comfortable. Factor in that all of the above is available until 2 in the morning and?oops, we didn't even make it to the entrees. Superb steaks, grilled fresh fish, the lobster, the pigeon, a hummus platter with couscous, tofu ravioli, roasted duck, burgers, fried chicken, paella?you simply can't lose. The abundance of quality astounds. Blue Ribbon Brooklyn transcends borough to evoke a sense of New York City at its peak.

Best Hetero Clergyman

The Bartender at Burp Castle
41 E. 7th St. (betw. 2nd & 3rd Aves.)
982-4576

A Hound Among the Lotus Flowers. We didn't think much of it when we had to wait a bit to get a refill at Burp Castle. The monk behind the bar (though it was too hot for the robes that day) was out front talking to his Japanese girlfriend. We understand. But 10 minutes after that first Japanese girl left, another one showed up. In fact, every time we've been in that bar, he's been chatting it up with a different Japanese girl. Beyond that, we've watched him stare longingly after any Japanese chick who strolls past the bar (and in that neighborhood, there are quite a few).


On the bright side, though his well-focused hormones might slow our alcohol intake, it is at least nice to know that in this day and age, where every clergyman in America is a suspected pederast, there's at least one who still likes girls who are of age (the way God intended).

Best Place to Have a Hooker
Take a Bite Off Your Dog

Rudy's Bar & Grill
627 9th Ave. (betw. 44th & 45th Sts.)
974-9169

Bit Off All She Could Chew. It was late and we were wandering drunk in the boondocks of Hell's Kitchen when our drinking pal suggested we settle our stomachs with some solid nourishment from Rudy's. We ordered a couple of beers and two of the free dogs each, both lacking in flavor (though most folks are too wasted to care). We inhaled the first dog and were attempting the same of the second when a towering black transvestite hooker, scantily clad in red patent leather, asked if she could have a taste. Before we could utter a rational response to such an irrational request, she wrapped her bony red-tipped fingers around our dog, lifted it to her who-knows-where-that's-been mouth and took a massive bite, returning a massacred bun casually to our plate. Then she took a stranger's arm and strolled out the front door.


Best Tapas

Allioli
291 Grand St.
(betw. Roebling & Havemeyer Sts.)
Brooklyn, 718-218-7338

Alli-olé! Sure, there are lots of tapas places around the city, and several really fine ones, some with smoky, romantic atmo, some more businesslike and elbows-to-the-counter. But none resonates the simple joie de vivre Allioli does. It's a very warm, friendly, fun place. Everyone always seems to be having a good time at Allioli?and it's not just because of the big pitchers of excellent sangria, though they surely help. It's more a reflection of the good intentions of the owners and staff, who seem genuinely to care that their customers really enjoy their night out with them. We've been to Allioli with large, rowdy crowds or small, quiet ones, and been treated with the same good-natured grace and deference by the staff either way. That Allioli pioneered a fairly downbeat strip of South Williamsburg earns it extra credits as a beacon and destination.


Then, of course, there's the tapas itself. No place in town does it better, or in larger portions. (Which is not quite the oxymoronic statement it might seem. Tapas is supposed to come in small bites, but some places really skimp. Not Allioli. You always leave having had your fill.) We're completely crazy for chef Diego Gonzalez's "dados da datil envuelto en Serrano"?fried dates wrapped in Serrano ham, a sweet-fruit-bacon combo of tastes that makes our tastebuds dance a tarantella. But we like all the usuals?the little bowls of olives, the plate of simmering chorizo, the huge helping of skewered chicken livers, the Spanish anchovies, the small toast wedges topped with artichoke and thinly sliced filet mignon... ¡O dios! And at $5 to $9 per, it's a deal, too.

Best Great Bar
That You'd Never Suspect
Was a Great Bar

Lucille's at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill
237 W. 42nd St. (betw. 7th & 8th Aves.)
997-4144

He Doesn't Really Hang Out There, You Know. There are still a few great bars that have gone untouched in the Times Square area. You can recognize them by how full they get of people who wouldn't be caught dead in the other bars in Times Square. But there's one happy secret place for drinkers who want to hide out amongst all the touristy chaos. Just enter B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill and head down the stairs.


Don't turn to the right, though. That leads to the concert area where nobody?even someone on the list?leaves without shelling out way too much money. To the left, though, is the restaurant they call Lucille's. You don't want to be there between noon and 2 p.m., but the cavernous dark bar is very pleasurable at other times of the day. The drinks are pricey, but you'll only stay an hour when you start drinking at 11 a.m. each day. Then you'll disappear, and return to hang out between 3 p.m. and whenever people start showing up for the night's concert. It's cool in the summer, warm in the winter, and fans of public sex will find some very interesting niches to explore.

Best Pageantry Of the Louche

Cafe Habana
229 Elizabeth St.
(betw. Houston & Prince Sts.), 625-2002

¡Cometelo con Papas! The withering glances say it all. We're talking about Cafe Habana's otherwise angelic countergirls, the Latinas at the takeout annex who regard New York's most preening with the bemused intensity of pitbulls moments before the engagement. Once, just once, it'd be cool to see them strike. As for the scene itself, we've given up on trying to determine what it is that draws the aggro-fey and parlor tans to this place. Yeah, Cuba's cool and all, but like, who here is Cuban?


There's certainly no disparaging Habana's porkchops or Cubano sandwiches. The grilled corn on the cob is good, too, though the bench lizards who burn away the hours on the Elizabeth St. sidewalk only ever seem to go for iced coffee. So like we say, no use trying to figure it out. Better to enjoy the scene at Cafe Habana for the picture it provides of the future. Like this one day, we spotted our first sagging ass-crack tattoo. It was all wrinkled and craggy, had gotten way too much sun. The countergirls saw it too. Ay, mami! You should've seen the face they made.

Best Place to Stop Off When You're on the 7 Train
Heading to Manhattan After Refusing to Eat the
Food at the U.S. Open Or Shea Stadium

Nazar Turkish Cuisine
42-03 Queens Blvd. (betw. 42nd & 43rd Sts.)
Queens, 718-786-0206

Turkish Delights. The food at those places sticks in your throat at the identical moment it empties your pocketbook. So you're on the 7 looking longingly at the intricate ethnic mix on Queens Blvd. A good bet is to alight at the 42 block in Sunnyside and go to Nazar, which proffers delicious and soignee Turkish cuisine. Really well presented, undercurrents of riverine taste, exceptionally pleasant staff. Modest tab, luxuriously exotic grub.


Best Cafe to Ruin Your Eyesight In

Cafe Pick Me Up
145 Ave. A (9th St.)
673-7231

It's Clear to Us. When fuzzy golden leaves begin to waft down from the oaks, we know it's time for our fall ophthalmologic exam. Which means more bad news. Last year, on receiving our (increasingly) negative prescription, we welled up a few frustrated, blurry tears. "What about laser surgery?" The doctor glanced up, replied, "We can discuss that when your vision stabilizes," and chiseled our sentence in stone with his click-pen. "Isn't surgery for exactly this?a condition that won't improve? Can't lasers, you know, uh, fix it?" We were flashed a gentle smile, but without capitulation?no lasik for us. Fuck us for going to a responsible practitioner


We stumbled down to Cafe Pick Me Up, where we took up a table in the rear of the second room. We bought a Corona and pulled out that copy of Gravity's Rainbow we'd been lugging around like the ball on our messenger-bag chain. We like Pick Me Up for all the reasons we've given up on most coffee places. We don't want to go to some chain, but we also don't want to feel out of place without smeared kohl eyeliner, 20-grommet docs and a Leftover Crack ass-patch. We rarely want to go out of our neighborhood to skulk amongst daringly lopsided attire and strategically placed copies of Camus. We don't want to make conversation. We want to blind ourselves.

Pick Me Up provides us with the uppers (decent coffee, bag and loose teas) or downers (both beer and wine) we need to get through the night, or the next hundred pages. The music varies from what we'd consider good?someone's been playing Manu Chao a lot lately?to what we'd consider morally reprehensible (Seal). The art sucks, but they've got a laminated sign that reads "Smoking and breathing second-hand smoke is hazardous to your health. (Smoking permitted.)" The outdoor tables are great for people watching, and if reading Pynchon gets to be a pain in the ass (which it probably will), there are always the bathroom walls. But most importantly, at any hour, that back room is cozily doused in shade, with a mismatched table almost always available. We think of those extra 75 cents a cup as cover for the hours of quiet solace. And who cares if votives aren't sufficient reading light? The world didn't make much sense back when we could see it clearly, anyway.

Best Queens Greek Restaurant

Esperides
37-01 30th Ave. (37th St.)
718-545-1494

Light, Fantastic. Ralph Emerson once said something to the effect that great books manage to present ideas that are, at the same time, both original and instantly recognizable. Great restaurants can pull off a similar trick. At Esperides you may not be familiar with the dishes on the menu but you will take to them quickly. "We like a good taste," says owner Gregory Soldatos, "but light, not greasy." One need hardly stray past the appetizers: order two per person and share. The eggplant mousse is exquisite, as are the saganaki, the cod, the octopus and the pan-fried smelt?a small fish that is eaten whole and that tastes like a happy improvement on french fries. Esperides is good at both the simple things (excellent bread and salads) and the more complex (a roast suckling pig available on the weekends). Wash it all down with a glass of retsina, a Greek wine with the faint taste of dishwashing liquid, and you'll leave feeling fresh as a daisy.


Best Olives for People
Who Don't Like Olives

Garden of Eden
162 W. 23rd St. (betw. 6th & 7th Aves.)
675-6300

Olive Some More! For many years, we've watched incomprehensibly as Mrs. Baker ate around her olives or flicked them out of the way. But since we're the type of hostess who thinks that guests should bend to our likes (that vegetarians should suddenly want sausages, that Pepsi drinkers on entering our place should now appreciate Diet Coke), we put out no crudites, only two bowls of olives to go with cocktails. Everyone else likes them, but then we see Mrs. B indulge in one. And then another. Well, she's probably just being polite, everyone knows that Mrs. B. is a master of diplomacy (she used to teach Dale Carnegie classes), and she's probably practicing the good-guest rule that you should always at least try what's set before you. But then she had another. And many others. Hey Mrs. B., leave some for the rest of us. Later, she told us that she had never liked olives before that very moment. A conversion right in our humble abode.


The specimens that caused Mrs. Baker to see the light were big and green. Some were stuffed with blanched almonds and some with whole cloves of garlic (whahooowAAH). But we would expect similar results from most of the offerings at Garden of Eden's olive bar. You could easily substitute the smaller French Niçoise olives with herbs de Provence, which are eaten as quickly and automatically as handfuls of M&M's. Or the combo of unembellished black, purple and green ones. About 20 varieties include manzanillas, arbequinas, kalamatas and so forth. A lot easier than cutting up cauliflower.

Best Speakeasy

Siberia
356-1/2 W. 40th St. (9th Ave.)
646-674-1710

Hush Yourself. We'll spare you the pretentious if-you-have-to-ask-you-don't-belong snobbery that Tracy Westmoreland's relocated bar has generated among New York Observer types. Hidden behind an unmarked black door just east of 9th Ave., facing the south wall of the Port Authority terminal, Siberia attracts as many slumming young socialites and hipster wannabes as the rest of the block does hoze and crackies. On a bad night the clientele can be unbearably In Crowd.


On a good night, however, this joint is hopping in the very best way. There may be a local rock band playing downstairs, while upstairs the hot jukebox, pinball machines and projections of sexy anime keep the drinkers and posers well entertained. The super-affable Westmoreland is one of the city's best-loved hosts; if the party hasn't started when he arrives, it will within five minutes. The place stays open well into the wee hours, making it the best after-hours haven within many, many blocks. For the serious drinker Siberia is kind of a joke, with its eccentrically short shelf of bottled beers and rail liquors; also, the equally oddball no-profanity rule, somberly enforced by the barkeeps, can be an annoyance. But if you want to go drink and cuss, you can do that around the corner; Siberia is as much a see-and-be-scene as a bar, and well worth the drop-by late nights to see what's (and who's) shaking.

Best Macaroni and Cheese

DuMont
432 Union Ave. (betw. Metropolitan Ave. & Devoe St.)
Brooklyn, 718-486-7717

Postgrad Kraft. Instead of "What's your major?" we think a better standard college query would be, "Macaroni and cheese or ramen noodles?" Almost everyone we knew in school fell firmly into one of those groups when it came to kollege kuisine. We were a macaroni and cheese girl all the way. We can still remember excitedly telling someone we'd found it on sale, six boxes for a dollar. A friend clued us in that you could just sprinkle the orange powder on, omitting the milk and margarine, and save even more money. We also think that old saying about sex, that even when it's bad it's still pretty good, definitely applies to this dish.


That said, we must add that when macaroni and cheese is made well, it can be downright heavenly, and our new holy grail for this casserole is DuMont. Their version comes piping hot to the table in a ceramic ramekin or firkin or gratin dish (we're not sure of the correct terminology), with corkscrew pasta and a lovely topping of breadcrumbs. (They will even throw in some bacon, if you ask.) We have not quizzed them on the recipe, how many cheeses are involved, where the cows were born, etc., but trust us: you will love it, no matter what you majored in.

As for the restaurant itself, it is properly cozy and has a great neon sign. Colin Devlin, the owner, said that DuMont was once a television station, and that Dr. DuMont made a picture tube. Perhaps one day devotees of macaroni and cheese will speak in reverent, hushed tones of Mr. Devlin. We, for one, think he should apply for a patent right now.

Best Kimchi

Kelly & Ping
127 Greene St.
(betw. Houston & Prince Sts.)
228-1212

Don't Disrespect the Ping. Our visitor from Seattle wanted to eat "pan-Asian." This annoying coinage we took to mean a place that wasn't Chinese or Japanese or Thai or Korean but that did serve something with vegetables with rice. What she probably had in mind was a place like Kelly & Ping on Greene St. in Soho, a fashionable-enough place that serves a mishmash of foods plucked from different Asian cuisines. We assume this high-concept menu is the work of a marketing-savvy Westerner; we're waiting for payback day when some Chinese restaurateur opens a "pan-Euro" place serving paella, bangers and mash, cavatelli and wiener schnitzel.


But so what if the cuisine as presented is as culturally impure as Disney's "Small World" animatronics? Some of Kelly & Ping's dishes are terrific, and none of them more so than the humble Korean kimchi. This funky-smelling stuff is pickled cabbage seasoned with pepper and garlic and the like, and left to ferment. It stinks to anyone not eating it, but a dish of spicy, salty kimchi is a perfect low-fat afternoon snack. We've had kimchi elsewhere, and been disappointed, if not with the slime quotient then with the weird odor of cheap ingredients.

Kelly & Ping only serves kimchi twice a week during the day, on Thursdays and Saturdays, probably so the reeking garlic doesn't turn off the clientele. The place gets a fair share of tourists and celebrities?we saw Gwyneth Paltrow, Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe there on the 4th of July last year?but don't let that stop you from enjoying the eclectic but delicious food.

Best Feminist Burger Joint

Paul's
131 2nd Ave. (betw. 7th St. & St. Marks Pl.)
529-3097

Grill Power. The problem with being a single gal-on-the-go in the city is this: no matter how liberated we are, or profess to be, we are still a little bit shy about eating alone in public. We don't mean "dining" alone?nibbling salad or a sandwich and a bottle of water is not the issue here. We mean eating?gut-busting, belching, satisfying consumption. This means, to us, burgers, loaded with everything, a side of fries, a bottle of beer, an hour's peace and quiet. This mean's Paul's, the best damn burger in the East Village. Our build-your-own-cheeseburger deluxe ($6.35, including pickles and onions) is brought to us by Robin, the coolest waitress in the Tri-State area. She knows what we want, she knows we need it, she doesn't disappoint. The lettuce is crisp, the half-pound of beef is perfectly seared, the ketchup is on the table. We lift, bite?and the juices dribble down our dainty chin. She provides us with extra napkins, a little mayo on the side for dunking our fries. No one looks askance at us in our Prada knockoff and Jimmy Choo wannabe shoes, not even when we smear mustard on our cheek. No one tries to sidle up to us with a "Hey, baybee" line. Feminism is the freedom to be female. Paul's is the most feminist burger place in the city. At Paul's, we are all equal in our wonderful gluttony.


Best Candy Store

Economy Candy Market
108 Rivington St. (betw. Ludlow & Essex Sts.)
254-1531

Sweet Deal. Sure, there are plenty of those fancy, upscale "confectionary" shops around?those places where some snooty Frenchman will carve you an elaborately detailed iguana out of white chocolate and marzipan?but who the hell needs that? If you're looking for candy, plain and simple, just some candy?gum drops, licorice, Turkish Delight, malted milk balls, nut clusters?the answer today is the same as it has always been: Economy.


The place just feels right. It's cramped, and it can get awful crowded in there, but you'll find candies you thought had disappeared 20 years ago. You can mix and match pounds of your hard cand




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