I’m lucky: After hounding NYC chef Tom Valenti for weeks about the opening of the West Branch, his new place on 77th and Broadway, I finally got to go to friends and family night. Tom said putting together the menu was a tricky balance between keeping food cost low and providing value. I think he's hit just the right mark, especially in this economy. The West Branch is an affordable brasserie, with classics like moules frites and steak tartare, but the menu also includes pasta (try the pillowy gnocchi with braised veal) and a great selection of sandwiches (the Cuban, a decidedly un-brasserie item, was perfect in every way). The room is typical Tom—warm and welcoming. And, in this economy, he has the key to success: a significantly sized bar with lots of plush banquette seats—an ideal place to escape for a beer and a juicy burger (on the menu too) or an icy cocktail and some puffy cheddar gougères.

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