Postcard From Tom: New York

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema's monthly report from the road.

Right now, the best theater in New York is all off-Broadway. Here are three of my favorite performances:

DEL POSTO (85 10th Ave., 212-497-8090)

From the sweeping stairs and tinkling piano to the roving dessert trolley and footstools for women's purses, it's the Italian version of the Fancy French Restaurant Experience in the city's meatpacking district. Celebrity chef Mario Batali wrote the menu, a mix of rustic and refined flavors, which means there's lardo (pork fat) to spread on your bread, zucchini blossoms and rabbit ragu flavoring your pasta and a whole suckling pig staring at you from a barge of a service table. Entrees $26-$30.

L'ATELIER DE JOËL ROBUCHON (57 E. 57th St., 212-350-6658)

Once hailed as the "chef of the century" in France, Joël Robuchon expands his far-flung empire with an open kitchen surrounded by too few seats in the luxe Four Seasons Hotel. Think of his gleaming "artist's workshop" as a sushi bar that happens to serve French food -- combinations with the power to take your breath away. Among the many hits: fresh sardines swirled on a cushion of airy pastry, miniature beef-and-foie-gras hamburgers and a glassy sphere of sugar hiding litchi custard. No wonder the city's top toques (and Cameron Diaz!) are vying for a front-row seat. Tasting plates $12-$25.

MOMOFUKU SSAM BAR (207 Second Ave., 212-254-3500)

Rising-star chef David Chang takes a page from the fast-food feeders with an assembly line of cooks and ingredients in the East Village, though the cooks happen to be pals from some of New York's best restaurants, and the ingredients run to Berkshire pork and organic chicken. Those and other pedigreed fixin's make their way into the sleek self-service restaurant's delicious Asian-style "burritos," steamed buns and rice bowls. A late-night menu of spring rolls and raw seafood draws food insiders. Dishes $8-$13.

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