City Grazing: 7.30.08

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33 W. 8th St (betw. 5th & 6th Aves.), 212-677-3833
The main courses at this Indian-inspired eatery in Greenwich Village might not be worth their price tags, but cocktails and appetizers are sure to please. Drinks, which run around $12 each, have spicy infusions that are in keeping with Eletteria’s theme. First courses like curried rabbit samosas ($10) and crab resala ($14) are a hit, but main dishes fail to deliver. Foie gras turns up far too often on the menu and portions tend to run on the meager side, making the pricy options (a porterhouse steak for two is a whopping $85) easy to pass up. For a cocktail and a few small plates, though, Elettaria’s provides a much-needed upgrade from traditional Indian food joints.

Empire Diner
210 10th Ave. (at W. 22nd St.), 212-243-2736
In some neighborhoods, even mom-and-pop 24-hour diners have gotta be chic. Take Empire Diner, for example: stylish locals and gallerinas flock to the art deco-designed restaurant that makes typical diner food feel swanky. For breakfast, try the big-as-your-head raisin and walnut scone with an iced coffee served in an old-fashioned milk jug; come dinnertime, opt for the vegetable and chicken stir-fry ($13).

Spain Restaurant
113 W. 13th St. (betw. 6th & 7th Aves.), 212-929-9580
Dinner at Spain Restaurant feels like time traveling back a few decades to a simpler era, one where waiters donned red tuxedo jackets and complimentary appetizers arrive at the table like magic. Spooky, right? Less frightening are the dishes’ prices, like gambos al ajillo for $5.50 or$14.50 paella that satisfies four. The portions here are another throwback to the past; take comfort in the departure from ever-decreasing plate sizes at many a New York restaurant. Just do it fast—though Spain Restaurant’s been around for 40 years, it looks like it could be near retirement.

525 Broome St. (betw. Thompson & Sullivan Sts.), 212-334-5182
It’s all about the cocktails at Tailor in Soho, but be warned: it takes a brave soul to order beet sangria or a kumquat margarita. Do it! Now is the time to sample a mushroom cocktail. Head bartender Eben Freeman takes his concoctions very seriously and considers it a sign of success when imbibers “equally love and hate” their avant-garde libations. Tailor also serves up a number of solid cocktails, including the brand-spanking-new absinthe gummy bear, accompanied by a shot of espresso (naturally). Old favorites, like the $12 Waylon—smoked coke mixed with bourbon—and the $13 Bazooka—bubblegum-infused cordial with vodka and house sour—are fun to try, too. And anyway, it’s all still alcohol. The end result is the same.

Toby’s Public House
686 6th Ave. (at 21st St.), Brooklyn, 718-788-1186
Entering the already crowded pizza joint fray, Toby’s Public House manages, surprisingly, to delight with its brick oven and inspired ingredients. Sure, it isn’t a time-honored classic yet, but pizzas like the Primavera ($14), topped liberally with fresh olives, artichokes, arugula, red onions and mozzarella, manage to give old standards a run for their money. Also of note is Toby’s selection of beers, including its exclusive Toby’s Cheap for $3 a pint. The restaurant is cozy, the staff is friendly (they’ll let you sample a beer before deciding on it) and the flat-screen TVs are sure to please any sports fan.

Ate Ave
169 8th Ave. (at 19th St.), 646-763-8355
The only thing worse than a snobby, trendy restaurant is a restaurant that has all of the attitude and nothing to back it up with. At Ate Ave, a gay bar masquerading as a gastropub, the atmosphere is at once overdone and cheap.  The menu’s descriptions of food preparation seem to be attempting some sort of not-at-all-subtle innuendo (see “dirty fries with the skin on” and a “rubbed and rolled potato”).  Beyond that, the dishes are overpriced and unappetizing.  The sirloin burger ($14) is sponge-like in texture and its bun is equally bad. The halibut ($21) is overcooked and chewy, while the “field greens” are just iceberg lettuce.

Casellula Cheese & Wine Café
401 W. 52nd St. (at 9th Ave.), 212-247-8137
An unlikely laidback find amidst the foodie bustle of Ninth Avenue, Casellula is the perfect place to sit back and unwind with a friend after a long day of work. The cheese, of course, is serious business and the selection is extensive: the backside of Caseullula’s menu features nearly 50 cheeses, mostly from North America and Europe, priced at $6 each. The cozy space welcomes diners with a bigger appetite, as well. Dinner options run the gamut from beet salads ($13) to creative sandwiches like a goose breast Rueben ($12)—even truffled cheese fries with wild mushrooms ($14). The crowd at Casellula is sleek and European, signaling a welcome departure from more typical after-work hangouts.

Joe, the Art of Coffee
405 W. 23rd St. (betw. 9th & 10th Aves.), 212-206-0669
Coffee connoisseurs and people watchers alike can congregate at Joe, the chain shop that’s recently opened its fourth set of doors, this time in West Chelsea. At Joe, coffee is more than caffeine, it is art. Concocting the perfect latte is a very delicate thing, but the baristas at Joe, many of whom trained in Seattle, have mastered it and will sell their art for $3 a cup. Baked goods like CeciCela’s almond brioche ($3) and Amy Sedaris’s cupcakes ($1.75) serve as the perfect accoutrement to the java. And the ambiance is nice to boot:  the Chelsea location has a backlit coffee bar and wall-mounted mirrors that open the space while still remaining comfy.

Tacos Nuevo Mexico
491 5th Ave. (betw. 11th & 12th Sts.), Park Slope, Brooklyn, 718-832-0050
Ay, caramba! It seems that, despite greater evidence to the contrary, Mexico is just a hop, skip and F train away at Tacos Nuevo Mexico on Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn. As if the cheap prices aren’t enough to entice, the tacos are heaven-sent from the Virgin of Guadalupe herself. Two soft tacos filled generously with well-spiced meats, veggies and sauces will cost you less than $3. And the options are endless—for meat-eaters, anyway: chow down on veal brain or steamed tongue (or a meat-free taco filled with beans). Take our advice and order several small plates at Tacos Nuevo Mexico so that you can sample a little of everything, even the stuff that sounds weird and a little gross.

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