I have a long history with the restaurant that used to be Duane Park Café and is now simply Duane Park. In 1998, when I was selling wine in NYC (back when the thought of paying my bills by way of journalism was a joke at best), I lived down the block from the place. Times changed—for instance, terrorists blew up the neighborhood, essentially—but Duane Park Café remained oddly unchanged. Well, not anymore.
First, longtime manager and now co-owner Marisa Ferrarin brought in her husband, artist Paul Etienne Lincoln, to redesign the place. What was once a slightly dated-feeling room is now, in a way that's somewhat hard to put one's finger on, unlike any restaurant I've ever walked into. It still has the requisite tables and chairs, sure, but with black-and-white wallpaper fashioned in Italy from enlarged 18th century etchings (Lincoln chose them), a rather grand chandelier that once hung in a plantation in Louisiana, and a line of blue velour barstools at the bar, it feels more like walking into a particularly aesthetically-driven European private salon than the typical NY restaurant. That said, it's a salon that also happens to serve terrific food and wine.
The menu has been completely redone, thanks to new chef Seaun Knight (formerly of Cello and Alias in NYC; pre-NYC, he helped open Emeril Lagasse's first restaurant in New Orleans, where he also worked with Susan Spicer at Bayona). Knight describes his food as "seasonal contemporary American with a southern twist," the latter evident in dishes like a perfectly seasoned Louisiana crabcake with paddlefish caviar and white remoulade, and pecan pie made with bittersweet chocolate and whiskey (which justified once again, as far as I'm concerned, my feeling that the only thing better than pecan pie is pecan pie made with Bourbon).
The wine list is short and well chosen, and it's also well priced, a relief after some of the muggings I've been subjected to recently. The '05 Le Meurger Bourgogne Rouge that I had with Knight's red-wine braised short rib ravioli, which are just as absurdly good as they sound, seems to be gone from the list already, but I'd happily order a 2004 Domaine Jessiaume Santenay Gravieres 1er Cru for $55 instead, especially since many of the '04 red Burgundies, which were so unfriendly to start, seem to be opening up.
So go there. Order the Berkshire pork chop, not just because it's good, but because it comes with smoked bacon spaetzle, and how can you argue with that? Have a glass of Château de Campuget from the Costières de Nimes. In fact, have another glass, since it's good and it's only $28 a bottle. That, to me, sounds like a mighty pleasant evening.