Postcard From Tom: Manhattan

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The loudest buzz in Manhattan this season revolves around an Italian talent with a D.C. connection.

FIAMMA (206 Spring St., 212-653-0100)

Washington's loss is New York's gain with the departure of (four-)star chef Fabio Trabocchi from Maestro in Tysons Corner to this revamped Italian restaurant in SoHo. Prime ingredients and a perfectionist's streak surface in such triumphs as Trabocchi's burrata salad, jewellike crudo, gnocchi "smoked" over hay, and ultra-rich lasagna, whose sweetbreads, chicken livers, bechamel and Madeira help send it to the top. Fiamma's two floors of dining space are as lovely to look at as the food, thanks to eel-skin-wrapped panels, silk fabric sconces and red velvet ottomans in the mix. Three-course tasting menu $75.

HILL COUNTRY (30 W. 26th St., 212-255-4544)

Taking its inspiration from central Texas, one of the best of the Big Apple's current crop of barbecue joints delivers the goods in a big barn of a self-service restaurant in Chelsea. One station slices smoky brisket and ribs by hand; other pit stops dish up homey sides and fun desserts. (I'm partial to the zippy corn pudding, bourbon-spiked sweet potatoes and peanut-butter-and-jelly cupcakes.) No less inspired are the non-caloric fine points: firewood stacked in the corner, paper towels in lieu of linens and Mason jars for your iced tea. Meat $9-$18.50 per pound.

SOTO (357 Sixth Ave., 212-414-3088)

A third-generation sushi chef and recent import from Atlanta, where he enjoyed a cultlike following, Sotohiro Kosugi operates with a surgeon's precision behind the counter of his spare, all-white dining room in Greenwich Village. While his regular sushi is good, you should flex your sense of adventure. Here's the restaurant to explore geoduck clam in a salad with Japanese cucumber, spicy radish sprouts and nutty shiso. Or shrimp, squash and asparagus in a delicate tempura. Or some of the freshest uni (custardlike sea urchin roe) ever to cross your lips. Dishes $8-$28.

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