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Where to Go Next: New York

Gusto Jody Williams has quite a fan club for her classic, classic, classic Italian food. Chef Mario Batali is obsessed with her homemade pasta. Keith McNally, who owns two of New York's hardest-to-get-into restaurants, Balthazar and Pastis, hangs out at one of the window tables taking notes about the chewy focaccia (the toppings change quite frequently, but there's almost always a version that includes slices of prosciutto and shavings of pecorino). Food writer Mimi Sheraton, perhaps the biggest devotee, makes off-the-menu requests. For her, Williams has prepared vincisgrassi, an ultrarich lasagna, layered with chicken livers, from Le Marche in central Italy that's evolved into a Wednesday special, and spiedini alla romana, a deluxe grilled cheese stuffed with mozzarella and pungent anchovy, then soaked in egg and fried. One reason it's so good is that Williams is an amazing fryer. Her specialty is deep-fried artichokes: They're small, tender and crisp, to be consumed leaves and all. "I have a guy and all he does is clean artichokes. Sometimes that's all I see in my kitchen, cases and cases of artichokes," Williams says. DETAILS 60 Greenwich Ave.; 212-924-8000.

Fatty Crab You never know what people will line up for in Manhattan's overheated Meatpacking District—but you wouldn't think it would be Malaysian food. Yet one of the area's hottest restaurants is Fatty Crab, a cramped Malaysian joint launched by Zak Pelaccio, chef at nearby 5 Ninth. Pelaccio cooked in Kuala Lumpur in the '90s at a relatively high-end spot called Seri Melayu ("In K.L., if a place has a roof and doors, it's high-end," he says); as a result, 85 percent of the menu is authentic. Typically, Wonder bread would be served with the very messy chili crab, and Pelaccio swears he's done it, but now he opts for thicker white Pullman slices to soak up the spicy sauce. The excellent crispy pork belly with pickled sweet watermelon is Pelaccio's own invention. The ceiling fans that give the place a low-key vibe aren't cheap Indonesian imports; they're chic fixtures from designer Chuck Matthews. DETAILS 643 Hudson St.; 212-352-3590.

Perry Street You're almost in the Hudson River by the time you arrive at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's newest restaurant, in the far West Village. Customers like Tom Ford sit on cream-colored banquettes and scope the room while dining on Vongerichten's version of comfort food: a surprisingly delicious combination of house- made mozzarella and confited pineapple; the city's prettiest vegetable soup, a dilly broth poured over baby vegetables; succulent baby lamb chops covered with chile-spiked breadcrumbs. The wine list, though well chosen, is tiny; in this Richard Meier–designed apartment building, where square footage is at a premium, there's not much room for a wine cellar. DETAILS 176 Perry St.; 212-352-1900.

Upstairs Walk up a flight of stairs to the dining room above Bouley Market and there (some of the time, anyway) is legendary chef David Bouley, standing at the stove in the open kitchen, presiding over a restaurant that's the size of a small New York City studio apartment. It's basically an all-time fantasy for the food-obsessed—especially because almost all the entrée prices are in the teens. There are pots of herbs on the counter that Bouley grabs to accent dishes like exquisitely seared halibut in a big pool of thyme-butter sauce. Bouley can do a lot of things, but he apparently doesn't make sushi. For that, he has a team of sushi chefs who prepare basic (and sensational) rolls and sashimi as well as little Japanese-style dishes like creamy homemade tofu garnished with tiny oyster mushrooms, or silky and sweet grilled eel with a tart mound of seaweed. DETAILS 130 West Broadway; 212-219-1011.

Del Posto Scoring a table at Mario Batali's newest restaurant is next to impossible, but so worth the effort. Everything is larger than life: Ceilings are 1,000 feet high (okay, over 20), waiters roll carts holding bollito misto and the almost all-Italian wine list has 300 magnums ("Just a start," says co-owner Joe Bastianich). The two-level dining room looks like a swanky black-and-white movie set from the '30s, with servers parading around carrying trays of perfectly buttery spaghetti with chunks of sweet crab and jalapeño slivers, and meaty duck breasts wrapped in porchetta. With help from his excellent chef de cuisine, Mark Ladner, Batali has created yet another great New York restaurant. DETAILS 85 Tenth Ave.; 212-497-8090.

The Café at Country It's hard to imagine just how much money chef (and de facto stylist) Geoffrey Zakarian spent on adorable accessories here, like the beautiful little flasks of olive oil on every table that sell for $25 each at the Norma Kamali boutique next door. Zakarian uses cute mini Staub cast-iron skillets and tiny casseroles throughout the meal—as in his appetizers of soft-boiled egg with crisp ham and asparagus marmalade, or roasted artichokes topped with Parmesan shavings and aged balsamic. Upstairs, underneath a restored stained-glass dome, there's a swank Champagne bar with 40 choices by the glass and a clever array of condiments (brandied apricots, flavored sugars). The second floor is also the setting for Zakarian's more serious restaurant, Country (not open at press time), where he'll serve a set menu that will change every two weeks: fennel tarte Tatin, sea urchin pappardelle, turbot with celeriac cream. DETAILS 90 Madison Ave.; 212-990-7100.

Jovia Chef Josh DeChellis created brilliant avant-garde Asian food at Sumile in the West Village. Now he's switched continents and moved uptown: At Jovia, he's preparing Italian-inspired food in a genteel town house on the Upper East Side. His innovations include burnt bluefin tuna cheeks with a sherry vinegar glaze and turnips, but his best dishes are high-carb, notably pungent Taleggio cheese ravioli in an intense beef broth or irresistible brown-butter mashed potatoes. DETAILS 135 E. 62nd St.; 212-752-6000.

Published March 2006
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