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Don't get me wrong: I love trying out new restaurants. It's just that once I fall for a spot, I like going there repeatedly. It's not that I get hooked easily; it's actually the opposite. So when I get won over, it just sinks in a bit deeper, stays a bit longer (there must be some sort of study—in the Annals of Superfluous Research perhaps—on how playboys experience the same phenomenon with women). The criteria for me are fairly simple: absolute knockout food, reasonable prices and a certain warm graciousness about the staff. The first restaurant in New York City that won me over this way was 'inoteca (and subsequently its older sibling, 'ino), then Tía Pol, then Fatty Crab (though I think the graciousness there stems more from a certain pity than anything else; one server still remembers me from when I was the lone customer wearing an outrageous Halloween costume two years ago).
Currently, my favorite food rut (or let's call it a food groove) is Chiyono, a tiny, tiny spot on East 6th Street—the East Village's Curry Row. My favorite dish there, grilled mackerel, is a stunner that always makes me think of an essay by chef Gabrielle Hamilton, published in Food & Wine, in which she describes the joys of eating fatty fish. When I went to Chiyono last Friday night, though, my friend and I had a pork feast: pork gyoza and two bowls of kaku-nu, ultra-fatty pork belly slowly simmered in a soy sauce that trumps any pork belly dish in recent memory (and I've had a lot). About ten seconds after we ordered, the chef, Chiyono Murano, always delightfully decked out in a colorful bandanna and apron, came out of her kitchen and exclaimed, "Wow, you love pork!" Yes, we do, and we found the place for it—over and over again.