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The steak tartare with quail yolk at Danji

Some Like It Hot

by Adeena Sussman | Manhattan magazine | June 28, 2011

No doubt about it, we love our chefs. But in a town where the word “hot” gets so much ink, we’ve decided to give this group a litt­le latitude. Sure, they’re a good-looking bunch if we ever saw one, and what they have in common is a talent for making great food shine. But to make it here, they earned their keep in a variety of ways. Some are taking an entire cuisine and reframing it for New York diners—as is the case with Aquavit’s Marcus Jernmark and Danji chef Hooni Kim. Some are simply doing what they do best, like longtime local favorite Gabrielle Hamilton at Prune. Others are protégés whose sheer talent has launched them onto platforms of their own, like Momofuku’s Christina Tosi and ABC Kitchen’s Dan Kluger. At the end of the day, all we know is we like what we see—and taste. Enjoy getting to know a group that’s helping redefine “hot.”

THE HOTTEST CHEFS IN NEW YORK

Emma Hearst
It’s easy to hate Emma Hearst: So young (24). So good-looking. So talented (two thriving restaurants on the Lower East Side). And, yeah, she’s from that family. But it’s her cooking that’s earning her a different kind of trust fund: the loyalty of local diners at the Piedmontese-influenced Sorella, where sophisticated small plates (grilled quail with confit baby artichokes, short-rib agnolotti with sage butter) seduce in a button-downed atmosphere. Now she’s opened Stellina, an in-house gelateria with flavors like animal-cracker-banana and peanut butter with salted peanut brittle. Next up: a steakhouse opening in 2012. Seems this Hearst is building a mini-empire all her own. Sorella, 95 Allen St., 212.274.9595

Gabrielle Hamilton
Unlike a supernova, which burns bright and then flames out, Gabrielle Hamilton’s steady fire shows no signs of dissipating. So why is the Prune chef one of New York’s hottest? It’s not only because she just won a long-deserved James Beard Award for best New York City restaurant. Nor because the million-dollar advance for her best-selling culinary memoir, Blood, Bones & Butter, made her a celeb in the world of publishing (and it’s a damn good read, to boot). Nor because chefs look to her to be reminded that simple, honest cooking almost always trumps trendy bells and whistles. It’s because on a Friday night, there’s nowhere you’d rather be than at one of Prune’s 10 rickety tables, cutting into a juicy Flatiron steak, sipping an expertly made cocktail or finishing with a parfait coupe of ricotta ice cream topped with caramel-lush croutons—all the while wondering if you should just pitch a tent outside to be first in line for her legendary brunch. 54 E. 1st St., 212.677.6221

George Mendes
Those who’ve ever scored a seat at Aldea’s chef counter leave scratching their heads. It’s not because of the food, heaven forbid—dishes like the obsession-worthy sea-urchin toast and a meltingly tender milk-fed veal loin with green asparagus, peas, charred leeks and carrots are as winning as ever. What’s mysterious is how chef/owner George Mendes maintains such a spotless, quiet kitchen even at the height of dinner service—and emerges with whites pristine and nary a coiffed hair out of place. Some may attribute that preternatural calm to media training—he recently completed a stint on Top Chef Masters—but this is a guy whose cool core confidence long preceded his TV time. 31 W. 17th St., 212.675.7223

Marcus Jernmark
At 29, Marcus Jernmark is breathing new life into Aquavit, a 24-year-old NYC restaurant institution that was on its way to becoming a moribund Midtown relic. Sure, the six-part herring tasting is a predictably stellar pickled symphony of tastes, but it’s Jernmark’s subtle, organic use of Scandinavian components—chive butter served on a tuft of lava, sweetbreads rolled in a coating of black hay-scented ash, velvety potatoes with a tiny flacon of browned butter—that really drives the point home. Next up? A revamp of the restaurant’s cocktail offerings (“Lychee Aquavit just isn’t my thing,” Jernmark says) and honing one of the city’s most promising wine-and-food-pairing programs. Just don’t call him the Other Marcus. 65 E. 55th St., 212.307.7311

Sisha Ortúzar
Sisha Ortúzar is a chef who’s always understood the importance of positioning. First, the ambitious Chilean parked himself within reach of Tom Colicchio, earning his respect while cooking at Gramercy Tavern and Craft. Next, he partnered with Colicchio on ’wichcraft, the sandwich-making success with well-situated kiosks all over town. Now, he’s co-opened Riverpark in the Alexandria building on the extreme east side. The views of the East River, the modern American food (Arctic char with caramelized-onion puree, Flatiron steak with crispy brisket and heirloom beans) and a terrace perfect for a beer and Ortúzar’s elevated snacks, like house-made herbed potato chips and cheesy fried empanadas, have made the top-notch spot a qualified hit. 450 E. 29th St., 212.729.9790

Wolfgang Ban & Eduard Frauneder
As their still woefully under-the-radar Michelin-starred Midtown eatery, Seäsonal, continues to hum along, Eduard Frauneder and Wolfgang Ban have joined Wallsé’s Kurt Gutenbrunner as the go-to Austrian restaurateurs in town. With the opening of barnyard-chic Edi & the Wolf, the East Village has a new, subversively sophisticated destination for Wiener schnitzel, Grüner Veltliner and gemütlich country charm. Beyond expectedly delicious cheese plates, cured meats and dumplings, dishes like sunchoke-topped sea bass and slow-poached farm eggs with mild mushrooms, apples, Brussels sprouts and bacon betray the chefs’ classical training and bring their uptown-downtown balancing act into perfect calibration. Edi & the Wolf, 102 Ave. C, 212.598.1040

Vikas Khanna
At Junoon in the Flatiron, Vikas Khanna is making the most credible argument yet for serious Indian food that pushes boundaries while remaining true to the flavors, techniques and spirit of his homeland. Within the jewel box of a space, the open kitchen sends out indelible dishes both classical (yogurt-cloaked lamb tandoori) and whimsical (garam masala–crusted cauliflower lollipops with garlic-tomato chutney). 27 W. 24th St., 212.490.2100

John Fraser
What happens when an uptown chef decides to make a downtown showing? Ask John Fraser, who took his reputation, honed at Dovetail, on the road to open New York’s first long-term pop-up, What Happens When. Sadly, the fun was cut short last month when its liquor license was revoked, but the project allowed Fraser to test his creativity and further refine the sensational food (crab ravioli with scallop, yuzu and fava beans; veal with asparagus, barley and morels) on display uptown. If we were betting, we’d put money on the fact that Fraser’s handiwork will continue to pop up in all the right places. 103 W. 77th St., 212.362.3800

Hooni Kim
New Yorkers have had a decidedly mixed relationship with haute Korean food: While 32nd Street thrives, high-end spots like Woo Lae Oak and Honmura An have shuttered in recent times. Chef/owner Hooni Kim, a veteran of Daniel, is aspiring to simultaneously elevate his native cuisine and the nether reaches of Hell’s Kitchen with the opening of the 36-seat Danji. Amid a backdrop of whitewashed brick walls, each of the small plates—divided into the traditional (crispy scallion and long-hot-pepper pancake) and the modern (a kimchi-bacon-chorizo “paella” that mimics the crunchy underside of bibimbap)—sings, as does his grandmother’s kimchi. 346 W. 52nd St., 212.586.2880

Christina Tosi
No longer in the shadow of her mentor David Chang, this pastry chef is changing the way we see dessert. Owing to her use of savory ingredients in her Momofuku Milk Bar creations, Tosi recently was a James Beard Best Chef nominee, the first pastry wizard to get a nod in the cooking category. She’s taking downtown desserts to previously unforeseen places with offerings like the now-copyrighted “cereal milk” soft-serve and crack pie, while keeping the attitude decidedly in check. 251 E. 13th St., 212.254.3500

Shea Gallante
Fans cried long and hard when the former Bouley protégé left the West Village’s wine-centric Cru in 2009, but Shea Gallante has come back strong with the opening of Ciano, a restaurant that reflects his understanding of what people want to eat right now. Housed in the rustic, elegant former Beppe space, complete with fireplace and rough-wood touches, the food here (pasta with baby octopus, Calabria peppers, parsley and garlic bread crumbs; stuffed soft-shell crabs with grapefruit, fennel and tomato) is elegant, comfortable and leaves you wanting more. 45 E. 22nd St., 212.982.8422

Dan Kluger
Flawlessly executing Jean-Georges’ vision while putting his own stamp on the city’s most inspired iteration of Greenmarket restaurants, Dan Kluger has made ABC Kitchen the go-to commissary for everyone from socialites to the Tom’s shoes crew. Within a year and a half, many of Kluger’s dishes—the crab toasts; the burger; the roasted-carrot salad; the ricotta, date and prosciutto pizza—have become instant classics. And it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. 35 E. 18th St., 212.475.5829

LATE-NIGHT DINING
You Snooze, You Lose
Hard to believe, but until recently, the city that never sleeps had a late-night dining scene that was pretty darn close to somnambulic. Thankfully, a crop of restaurants are adding some non-prescription pick-me-ups for culinary amnesiacs. Proving that a great chef’s winning streak can stretch until the wee hours, Andrew Carmellini is serving an eclectic, addictive menu until 2am at The Dutch (131 Sullivan St., 212.677.6200). Fans of April Bloomfield’s meat-tastic gastropub food can get their fix until midnight at The Breslin Bar & Dining Room (20 W. 29th St., 212.679.1939) inside the Ace Hotel. Deep-fried snacks like a crispy, breaded Scotch egg and “scrumpets” filled with tender lamb shreds can make a whole meal. Finding signs of intelligent food life in the Meatpacking District at 2am is an uphill battle, but the neighborhood’s most laid-back dining scene unfolds at The Standard Grill (848 Washington St., 212.645.4100). In the wainscoted front room, chef Dan Silverman offers a comfort-heavy menu with favorites like malt-vinegar fish ’n’ chips and grilled cheddar and heirloom tomato sandwiches. The after-hours snacks at Jody Williams’ cozy brick-walled Buvette (42 Grove St., 212.255.3590) are still a well-kept secret. But as her ham-and-brie crêpes develop a following, the place may begin to bustle up until its 2am closing.

BEST OF THE BEST

Good & Plenty
In NYC, it’s all about having fun choices.

Gourmet Takeout
The sparkling new Épicerie Boulud (1900 Broadway, 212.595.9606) sells the greatest hits from Daniel Boulud’s NYC eateries, with spicy merguez links from DBGB, terrines from Bar Boulud’s charcuterie guru Gilles Verot and a rainbow of madeleines like the ones that grace the table post-meal at Daniel. Its own creations include smartly packaged salads (arugula peppered with ham, Manchego and Marcona almonds), sandwiches (a mustardy pain bagnat, peekytoe crab on a brioche) and desserts (dulce de leche éclairs, a berry pistachio tarte) that would make a perfect pre-performance alfresco snack across the way at Lincoln Center.
Todd English’s Plaza Food Hall (1 W. 59th St., Concourse level, 212.986.9260) offers a selection from each of the eight food counters to go, equally enjoyable whether eaten in Central Park or devoured upon one’s arrival home. Call ahead to order a mezze trio of carrot harissa, date yogurt and almond romesco sauce; whole grilled branzino with wild arugula, preserved lemon and shaved fennel; or one of English’s guilty-pleasure fig-and-prosciutto flatbreads.
Sushi’s a classic takeout option, but when it comes from BondSt (6 Bond St., 212.777.2500) expect things to be on a whole other level. Though the more traditional offerings (amberjack nigiri, hamachi and scallop sushi) are all standouts, dishes like savory ramen with soft-poached egg, and melting sake-braised short ribs travel surprisingly well. Be forewarned: Japanese this amazing is a high-end, habit-forming takeout fix.

Vegetarian Standouts
“Eat your veggies” used to be more punishment than pleasure, but things have changed. At Adour Alain Ducasse (2 E. 55th St., 212.710.2277) not only does Executive Chef Didier Elena offer a seven-course vegetarian tasting menu, but its signature item, the vegetable cookpot, can be ordered à la carte. Though everything from artichokes to carrots tastes sublime, the real revelation is baby turnips, which turn sweet and submissive in their slow-cooked state.
At noodle haven Hung Ry (55 Bond St., 212.677.4864) you don’t have to sacrifice anything when leaving the animal behind. Into a bowl lined with charred kazu (a sake-making derivative) go signature chewy-springy organic hand-pulled noodles suspended in a bright carrot broth that tastes as great as it does healthy.
Though Sara Jenkins made her name here with pork sandwiches at Porchetta, some of the best dishes at her follow-up project, pasta-centric Porsena (21 E. 7th St., 212.228.4923) make vegetables the star. Case in point: pennette pasta tossed with crisp-edged roasted cauliflower, olives, briny capers, garlic and a raft of toasted bread crumbs—that’s just a couple of ingredients shy of a puttanesca.

Dramatic Desserts
After a refined meal at Corton (239 W. Broadway, 212.219.2777), one might think Paul Liebrandt would authorize resident pastry chef Shawn Gawle to let loose. But instead he presents a restrained composition whose abandon is all in the flavor. The sweetness of smoked-caramel popcorn and an ingot of brown-butter crumble are mitigated by a sneaky drizzle of tart pomegranate syrup.
A heavenly concoction descended to earth and landed on a plate: the coconut layer cake at Commerce (50 Commerce St., 212.524.2301) is simultaneously homespun and high-flying. Luscious coconut pudding is sandwiched between soft layers of yellow cake, all cloaked in a cloud of cream-cheese frosting and a smattering of coconut flakes both toasted and snowy white. It’s perfect for sharing!
For old-fashioned indulgence, you could do worse than to nest on a red leather banquette at The Lambs Club (132 W. 44th St., 212.997.5262) for a turtle sundae assembled by pastry chef Elishia V. Richards. Though deceptively simple—house-made butterscotch ice cream reminiscent (in a good way) of a Werther’s Original candy is showered in alluring amaretto caramel and deep chocolate-fudge sauce, with little lumps of peanut brittle hidden throughout—the sum total is perfection in a glass.

CRITIC'S PICKS

I’ll Have What They’re Having…
New York doesn’t just boast the best restaurants, it has the best food critics. Here are our favorites’ favorite local delicacies.

“Oyster sliders at the Dutch. One big, fat, fried oyster is snuggled into each soft bun with some great slaw—a perfect little snack.” –Ruth Reichl, editorial advisor, Gilt Taste

“Rabbit confit at Buvette. A great bar snack made even greater with a glass of wine.” –Lauren Shockey, staff writer, The Village Voice

“Carta di Musica at the John Dory. April Bloomfield takes two flatbread wafers, slicks them with butter and then uses them to sandwich some chilies and bottarga. If you were a fisherman in Marseilles, this would be your midnight refrigerator snack.” –Ryan Sutton, food critic, Bloomberg News

“Santa Barbara sea urchin with jalapeño on black bread from Jean Georges. The fog of tangy brine that fills my mouth when I taste sea urchin, magnified by the after-kick of jalapeño in an open-faced duo on black bread is always an epiphany. The first taste forces me to eat it slowly, marveling at the overwhelming sensuality.” –Gael Greene, restaurant critic

“The slow-roasted beef rib with polenta at Manzo Ristorante. I have a really hard time avoiding this dish. It’s just delicious meat, perfectly cooked into melting richness—a particularly vivid reminder of why I could never be a vegetarian.” –Colman Andrews, editorial director, The Daily Meal

“The crispy Peking pig at the Hurricane Club. It can’t all be canard à la presse and deconstructed pavlovas for restaurant critics. Sometimes we want the simple pleasures of crisp pork and soft dough, with a whisper of plum sauce, in a setting that encourages rum drinks and relaxation—and then more rum drinks and crisp pork. Or is that just me?” –Sam Sifton, restaurant critic, The New York Times

“The fried chicken dinner at Momofuku Noodle Bar. The real key to this infectiously enjoyable, gut-busting feast is the Asian-themed trimmings (stacks of pancakes for wrapping, fresh Bibb lettuce and chiso, dipping bowls of hoisin, and ginger and scallion sauce), which take the down-home communal pleasures of a church picnic and elevate them to the exotic level of Peking duck.” –Adam Platt, chief restaurant critic, New York magazine

“The roasted-carrot and avocado salad at ABC Kitchen. The flavors are pure and intense, yet the ingredients appear hardly touched.” –Erica Duecy, restaurants and hotels editor, Fodor’s

“The extra-crunchy Japanese-style fried chicken at Fedora. With its crispy claw hanging over the edge of the bowl like a witch’s finger, it’s macabre and delicious.” –Jay Cheshes, restaurant critic, Time Out New York

KILLER CONCEPTS
The Little Things
In short order, the ladies’ room at Beauty & Essex (146 Essex St., 212.614.0146) has become the stuff of legend. Where else in this city does powdering your nose get rewarded with a pale-pink glass of bubbly? The boudoir vibe—candles, cushioned sofas, mirrors and glass perfume bottles—says “stay a while.” Finally, a convincing riposte to the age-old question, “What’s taking her so long?”
Farm to table may be old hat at this point, but what if the farm has a view of thousands of urban water towers? That’s the case at Bell Book & Candle (141 W. 10th St., 212.414.2355), where you can actually have a whole meal sourced from the rooftop garden. Sixty hydroponic towers grow a rotating roster of fruits and veggies, which get sent down six stories to the kitchen via an elaborate pulley system, where chef John Mooney crafts dishes like roasted beets with homemade burrata, mint and pistachio and a burger adorned with a “rooftop pickle.”
At restaurants where the clientele thinks nothing of dropping a few hundred bucks for a meal, their accessories—including the oversized, fetish handbag du jour—are in need of pampering, too. That’s why at Le Bernardin (155 W. 51st St., 212.554.1515) cushioned purse stools offer a soft landing for those Vuitton Alma Nomade or Lanvin Happy Shoulder bags.