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Postcard From Tom: New York City

Sunday, June 15, 2008

My most recent trip to the most interesting place to eat in the country -- New York -- was all about comfort food, dished up three different ways.

BENOIT (60 W. 55th St., 646-943-7373): Celebrity chef Alain Ducasse adds to his global empire with a French bistro inspired by the 96-year-old classic of the same name in Paris. Here, the former roost of La Cote Basque has been charmingly refigured as a warmhearted place to splurge on first-rate steak tartare, veal tongue, duck a l'orange and chocolate souffles; the recipes for some dishes, such as the pâté en croute, date to the 19th century. Picture red banquettes, tile floors, waiters in crisp aprons, a ceiling painted to resemble a blue sky and smiles all around. Entrees, $19-$29.

BOQUERIA (53 W. 19th St., 212-255-4160): The name is a nod to the famous food market in Barcelona, a city that this convivial tapas bar in Chelsea evokes in almost every sense. Small plates rule. Be sure to explore the wrinkly green shishito peppers, sprinkled with sea salt; the dates stuffed with almonds and banded in bacon; and the bite-size croquettes whose centers reveal creamy mushroom, salt cod or suckling pig. The staffers are so affable, you'll count them as friends by meal's end; the space, small and spare, goes easy on the eyes. Tapas, $5-$10.

THE LITTLE OWL (90 Bedford St., 212-741-4695): Dinner reservations for this storefront charmer in the West Village are about as hard to get as a taxi at rush hour in a rainstorm. Once you've tasted chef Joey Campanaro's Mediterranean-accented cooking, it's easy to understand the crush: His super-thick pork chop and house-made ricotta cavatelli inspire groupies. The check is slipped between the pages of a tiny comments book, where one review sums up my thoughts: "Hard to believe we're in the big city and not in a little inn in the countryside." Entrees, $19-$32.

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