A Radical Restaurant
After long delays, Tom Colicchio has finally opened Craft. Colicchio, also the chef at Gramercy Tavern, is widely admired for the refinement and intelligence of his cooking, but the buzz Craft is generating in New York City goes beyond the normal anticipation of a new venture by a respected chef.

Colicchio believes he can now get ingredients of such high quality that they need very little intervention on his part. His menu simply lists them. king salmon, cranberry beans, bluefoot mushrooms. tells you whether they're going to be raw, cured, roasted or braised, and leaves it at that. You do the rest. You make your own combinations, deciding whether you want an appetizer and a main course, a drawn-out tasting, or one big, table-straining smorgasbord. You pay for each item separately and even plate the food yourself; it comes to the table in expensive-looking copper pans.

One reason people are talking, I think, is that they suspect the emperor has just turned up wearing his birthday suit. The disarming thing about Craft. and the reason I believe Tom Colicchio may be some kind of genius. is that the emperor isn't naked it all. The lobster is simply roasted, as advertised, but at the bottom of the pan is an unadvertised quarter inch of tarragon-infused lobster jus. Anywhere but Craft, this would be known as a sauce. Scallops show up unadorned, but then the waiter sets down some condiments: preserved lemon, salsa verde, onion marmalade. Colicchio isn't abdicating his chefly duties at all. He is making some very smart choices that let him show off his ingredients without looking like he's just showing off.

Eating at Craft takes some work and a lot of money. (Leaving out tax, wine and tip, dinner for two came to $200.) But the payoff is a strange sense of liberation. Ask for lamb chops au jus in a sophisticated restaurant and you might as well be saying, "I don't care what edamame carpaccio is; just bring me a nice piece of meat." At Craft, you can get that nice piece of meat without shame, and without feeling as if you were tricked into it by manipulative menu writing. Colicchio hasn't reinvented the art of cooking, but he may have dealt the old-fashioned menu a fatal blow (43 E. 19th St.; 212-780-0880).

. Pete Wells

Places: A Night at the Opera
From now through September, Verona's Roman arena will be the center of the universe for Verdi lovers, as the city stages a marathon festival in honor of the 100th anniversary of the composer's death. Half an hour away in the Lombardy hills is an appropriately operatic lodging for Aida addicts: Palazzo Arzaga, a two-year-old deluxe hotel. The fifteenth-century structure still has its gorgeous frescoed rooms but offers modern amenities too, such as an outpost of the famous Tuscan Saturnia spa, a one-to-one staff-to-guest ratio and three restaurants. (The milk-fed lamb served in the dining rooms is raised on the Palazzo's nearby farm, also home to some 14,000 pigs.) And, incongruously enough, Arzaga is the site of the only PGA-sanctioned golf academy in Italy (011-39-030-680-600).

. Kate Sekules

Hotels: Chain Reaction
As an enemy of cookie-cutter hotels, I'm happy to say that the great big Hyatt corporation is making a stand for individuality. Its 204th hotel, the Elliott Grand Hyatt Seattle, is a 425-room tower that feels like a giant boutique hotel (721 Pine St.; 206-262-0700). It's jazzy and slick, with a de Kooning sculpture out front; a brick facade that fades from dark to light as it ascends, in a fashionable sort of ombré effect; a 3,800-square-foot health club; a technology concierge; and rooms furnished with bubinga wood, travertine and lamps made by local glass artists. And for its restaurant, 727 Pine, Hyatt has chosen a chef with a strong sensibility of her own: Danielle Custer, a 1998 F&W Best New Chef and the subject of our Fourth of July story.

The Elliott isn't the first hotel to carry the Hyatt name but still retain a personality. The Melbourne Park is glitzy in an appealing way, with a happening restaurant, Radii. Then there's the Shanghai Grand, the world's tallest hotel, with its 87th-floor restaurant. The Hong Kong Grand harbors China's biggest sake collection; the D.C. Park, in Washington, D.C., original Matisses and Picassos.

If big hotel chains want the baby boomers' business, they've learned, they have to do something impressive with their restaurants. In this regard, I'm pleased to note that Hyatt's new corporate policy seems to be to showcase F&W Best New Chefs: NoMI, the restaurant of the Park Hyatt Chicago, has Sandro Gamba of the 2001 crop at the stove.

. K. S.

Editors' Pick
Our Test Kitchen cooks know the value of a sharp knife. Perhaps that's why they wanted to take home this sharpening stone from Chef Revival (800-352-2433). The innovative rubber base raises the stone above the counter and holds it tight so it doesn't slip. a definite plus where knives are concerned. The model shown here, the Combo Stone, has a coarse side for cutting an edge and a fine side for honing it ($33); the company's high-end version, the Diamond Edge Sharpening Stone, is coated with diamond powder ($66).

. Monica F. Forrestall

Bookmark: International Style
We asked Nach Waxman to scan the 12,000 or so titles in his Manhattan bookshop Kitchen Arts & Letters (212-876-5550) and choose five of the best recent cookbooks by chefs from around the world. His recommendations:

Tetsuya by Tetsuya Wakuda. "Utterly overwhelming," Waxman says. Recipes like checkerboard tuna and hamachi with orange oil lay bare the techniques behind the dazzling fusion cuisine at Tetsuya's in Sydney (Ten Speed Press; $35).

Emotions Gourmandes by Frédy Girardet, in French. With the closing of Girardet's restaurant in Crissier, Switzerland, after 25 years, "people are very excited to have access again to the dishes they loved, like his cold salad of langoustines with apples and Asian seasonings" (Favre; $65).

River Cafe Cook Book Green by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers. Some 200 vegetable recipes from the great London restaurant. "A crossover that appeals to both professionals and nonprofessionals" (Ebury Press; $60).

La Cocina De Andres Madrigal by Andrés Madrigal, in Spanish. This book of recipes from the chef of Balzac in Madrid "generates an excitement about Spain that in the past only Paris could create" (Ediciones El País; $65).

La Cocina De Los Postres Oriol Balaguer by Oriol Balaguer, in Spanish. An award-winning pastry chef demystifies his imaginative desserts through breathtaking photos, step-by-step instructions and text that gives sugar and salt a chapter each (Montagud Editores; $119).

. Jessica Blatt

Drinks: Sailor's Delight
On July 31, 1970, the British Royal Navy ended its age-old custom of pouring a daily "tot" of rum for all men onboard its ships; the anniversary of what became known as Black Tot Day is still ruefully observed by some sailors with long memories. This year, though, the old salts will have something to celebrate, and to celebrate with: Sea Wynde rum, a new spirit modeled after the navy's recipe. It's the creation of Mark Andrews, a Texas oilman who has lately turned his attention from derricks to distilleries. (His Great Spirits Company makes Knappogue Castle single malt Irish whiskey, which won F&W's Spirit of the Year award in 1999.) A few years ago, Andrews bought up about 650 dusty, wicker-covered ceramic demijohns of British Royal Navy Imperial rum that had been auctioned off after Black Tot Day and had been sitting in an underground warehouse ever since. Then he began figuring out how to make more of it. He learned that the navy's finest was a mixture of rums from Guyana and Jamaica, so he and spirits expert Jim Murray went shopping in the tropics. Using the original product as their benchmark, they blended five pot-still rums from those countries and came up with Sea Wynde. It's powerfully aromatic; pour some into a glass and the room fills with the toasty smell of bananas roasted in butter. Great Spirits will part with the demijohns for a sum that runs to four figures apiece, but a bottle of Sea Wynde goes for $40, a price low enough to make those old salts think about reinstating their daily tot (800-882-8140).

Travel: Fast Tracks
Now you can lunch on jellied eels in London's East End, then dine that evening on the best bouillabaisse in Marseille. without leaving the ground. On June 10, SNCF, the French national railway, launched a new high-speed train, the TGV Méditerranée, that does Paris-to-Marseille in three hours flat. Combine that with the London-to-Paris Eurostar and the trip from the Thames to the Mediterranean is a six-hour straight shot. SNCF won Europe's high-speed title with the 1981 launch of the futuristic Paris-Lyon TGV, which, cruising at 168 miles an hour, rendered France's first and second cities a mere commute apart. This new railway, with glamorous stations at Valence, Avignon and Aix-en-Provence, will do the same for the south of France. Nervous flyers will have to wait until 2006 for the next phase in the TGV takeover: the two-hour-and-20-minute connection between Paris and Strasbourg. This is all good news. We only wish the French would bring back dining cars. with menus reflecting the terroir they're zooming across (888-382-7245).

. K. S.

Taste Test Barbecue Sauces
One of the more popular chores at F&W in recent days was taste-testing store-bought barbecue sauces. Visits to local supermarkets and specialty food stores yielded some 25 varieties, and we tasted them all, with ribs, brisket and pulled pork. Here, our four favorites.

. M.F.F.