Itsy bitsy carved vegetables and nouvelle fanned-out morsels of meat are on their way to oblivion, if New York's hottest restaurants are the gauge. The mode is light and fresh but plentiful, the lightness being in the sauces or saucelessness rather than the weight of the portion.
Jams (154 E. 79th St.) opened last spring, with Los Angeles' Jonathan Waxman in the open-to-view kitchen and Napa Valley's Melvyn Master in the dining room. Big windows, big black-and-white tiles and big bills (appetizers $9 to $15, main dishes $22 to $27) are the mode in this spare and clean-lined New American restaurant. While the appetizers sound complex and intriguing (shiitake and oyster mushroom salad with Smithfield ham, pine nuts and garlic croutons; or foie gras salad with deep-fried spinach and dandelion leaves), the main dishes are the best part. Mallard duck was as juicy, without fat, and as crisp as it could be, with a simple wash of duck stock, an utterly delicious tribute to plain cooking. Swordfish, though topped with irrelevant pineapple, was seasoned with a subtle version of Cajun spicing and grilled to absolute succulence. Vegetables are bright, crisply cooked asparagus, red peppers, beans, cauliflower or radishes. The chicken, grilled or roasted and not on the menu when I visited, is said to be the sleeper of the entrees. There are some flaws (woody white asparagus stems disrupted an otherwise delightful green pasta with wild mushrooms) and the complexities don't always have a logic, as in those deep-fried spinach leaves. But with Waxman's undeniable culinary talent and Master's way with a wine list, Jams clearly has a lot of life in it.
Mezzaluna (1295 Third Ave., near 74th Street) is as much for the watching as for the eating. It's a pizza parlor crossed with a Roman disco, and its walls are covered with original and amusing art on a mezzaluna (half-moon-shaped chopping knife) theme. Waiters here are grownup brassy street kids, and the clientele -- at least the late-lunch bunch -- look like incognito Italian royalty. The menu is mostly pizza and pasta (pizzas are only for lunch and late supper), but the hit is the variations on a carpaccio theme, particularly those paper-thin slices of raw beef on a bed of arugala topped with slices of parmesan and dark green olive oil. Despite their wood-fired baking and original toppings (carrots, eggplant, radicchio), the pizzas I tasted were doughy and bland, and truffled pasta wasn't worth the extra expense; house specialties, such as tortellini with pumpkin and pink sauce or pappardelle with porcini, probably would have been better choices. But the carpaccio and the fashion parade -- that's enough for a light lunch.