| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:13

    The past woes of the space that now houses Almond are legion. It was here that NBC"s â??reality show The Restaurant, chronicling the tumultuous decline of terrifically talented chef Rocco DiSpirito, was taped. In the end, DiSpirito was locked out of his eponymous restaurant, and the place was shuttered. The ensuing restaurants, Caviar and Bananaˆ  (what a name!) and Borough Food & Drink were weirdly reviewed by the power critics and they, too, bit the dust. Obviously, chef/co-owner Jason Weiner and host/co-owner Eric Lemonides are not the superstitious types. Friends since childhood, their flagship edition of Almond, in Bridgehampton, and the second in East Hampton, gave them terrific and valuable experience, to say nothing of enviable confidence. They intrepidly re-imagined the space, giving it an agreeably bucolic and very cozy makeover. The walls are lined with whitewashed recycled barn wood from the hills and dales of New Hampshire and Vermont, and the even, gorgeous lighting cajoles the long clean lines of the dining room. The floors are also wood planks, and the banquettes are unusually comfortable. The space now seats 150, with room for 20 at the bar. There are lots of lovely little touches to the service and presentation. If you order tap water (and I always do's come on, this is New York City, famous for its wonderful water), a recycled wine bottle filled with chilled water is brought to the table. Our server, Chris, was quite winning and friendly, and host Lemonides stopped by for a congenial chat that included lamentations over the disappearance of the abovementioned Rocco DiSpirito from any kitchen in our city. The house cocktails are as wild-and-crazy and invigorating as any we"ve enjoyed lately. L"Amande is a clean and sophisticated amalgamation of Grey Goose vodka, almond oil, sherry and a pitted green olive, while the St. Germain tantalizingly blends gin with St. Germain elderflower liqueur and fresh lime juice. Chef Weiner has cooked far and wide on both coasts, and he"s settled nicely into the prevailing understanding among great chefs of the importance of fresh local ingredients. His foie gras mousse retains that wonderful, ironically cool-mouth feel even spread on warm buttered toast points. Figgy jam is on hand to keep the mousse from seeming too rich. Salt cod croquettes rival any I"ve had in Spain or in Manhattan. Saffron aioli provides just the right creamy edge for the fritters. A little stack of haricots verts and an undressed salad with slivered dill fronds complete the dish. In an unusual move, â??croques gratins are offered; two are named after the famous Parisian street sandwiches, croque monsieur and croque madame, but we selected â??Apparu, a pleasantly gooey mÃ&Copy;lange of gruyère cheese, Black Forest ham and cornichons, served with a side cup of carrot strings and cauliflower. All-the-rage Wagyu beef comprises the tender nine-ounce Flatiron steak (I"ve never eaten a Flatiron steak less than 1/2 block from the Flatiron Building!). The meat is attentively seared to a fare-thee-well medium-rare to retain maximum juiciness and beefy flavor. A tumble of well-seasoned slender frîtes are alongside. Sea scallops are served with an intriguing, if unlikely, bedfellow: braised pork shank, in a caramelized onion stew that brings the dish together so beguilingly and heartily that it made me wonder whether scallops should be served this way all the time. Polenta ravioli are sensitively prepared and highly autumnal. Chef Weiner also does the desserts, and he does them as felicitously and deliciously as he does everything else. His delicate chocolate pot-de-crème is served under a bed of whipped crème fraîche scattered with cracked hazelnuts. Again, Weiner shows that he understands the significance of contrast in textures and in flavors. Hazelnuts also give a crunchy edge to buttermilk waffles spread with home-made Nutella, while a rich mascarpone sorbet evens out all the sweetness. From the looks of the happy crowds that throng the place (even on the Monday before Thanksgiving!), from the fair prices and continually fascinating cookery of chef Weiner, to the finely tuned staff, it certainly looks as though the woes I mentioned in the first sentence have been banished for good. -- Almond 12 E. 12th St. Between Broadway and Park Avenue South 212-228-7557 $15 to $29 -- [](mailto: