The restaurant has a new chef,
Stewart Woodman, and he has quite a pedigree. He was formerly a sous chef at Le
Bernardin and Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, and also worked with
Jean-Georges Vongerich-ten at Mercer Kitchen and Jean Georges. He uses simple,
top-quality, identifiable ingredients (no mystery purées or weird combinations
of unlikely foods), and his style of cooking is modern and uncluttered. But
this past week, he put his mind to comfort food. After last Tuesday, said Ms.
Laffredo, “We felt that many of our regular neighborhood residents wanted the
option of something a bit simple, rather than the more creative items that have
become a standard of our new chef.”
So foie-gras skewers and
oysters with three toppings were gone (they’re back now). Instead, Mr. Woodman
offered pizza and hamburgers-normally reserved for lunch. Indeed, there was
plenty of comfort to be gleaned from his thin-crust pizza, topped with goat
cheese, sliced fennel sausage and roasted tomatoes. The thick, juicy hamburger
came with terrific fries, to be dipped in a creamy pink chipotle mayonnaise, as
did the beefy sirloin steak, sliced rare and served with grilled asparagus.
Orange-glazed shrimp, lightly
spiced with chili and orange powder, arrive on jasmine rice with crisp slivers
of fried lotus root. If you order spinach salad, you get a pile of young leaves
topped with slivered white mushrooms and idiazobal cheese (from the Basque
region of Spain, it’s made with goat’s milk and tastes like smoked manchego).
The salad is tossed with pistachio oil and surrounded with toasted pistachios.
A green salad is made with crisp leaves of treviso, romaine, red oak and bibb
tied in a bundle like a hayrick in a Brueghel painting and dressed in a
vinaigrette flavored with smoked bonito flakes.
But back to comfort food.
Short ribs certainly fit the bill, and Mr. Woodman braised his with tamarind,
tomatoes and brown sugar seasoned with coriander and Szechwan pepper. They
were deep mahogany in color, heaped on
mashed potatoes with rock shrimp and harissa sauce, which sounds curious but
went wonderfully. A pork chop studded with sage and garlic confit and slowly
roasted emerged rather tough, although it had good flavor. But the outstanding
dish I tasted was the lobster, roasted in the wood-burning oven. It arrived in
its scarlet shell, reclining on a farina cake within a circle of rich lobster
sauce and slivered vegetables.
Desserts are just the sort of
generous, no-nonsense creations you need at a time like this, dishes Mom would
make (although I doubt she has candied sage leaves or verbena in her pantry).
The moist lemon-cardamom Bundt cake was my favorite, with lemon sorbet and
lemon-verbena sauce. But the chocolate layer cake was also wonderful, served
with a milk-chocolate sorbet on a pool of zinfandel-raspberry sauce. The peach
hamantaschen is a recipe from the pastry chef’s grandmother. A plum crisp was
garnished with candied sage leaves and topped with vanilla-sage ice cream.
Baklava, heaped with a zeppelin of green pistachio ice cream, was made with
layers of flaky pastry and, of course, loads of pistachios. At Zoë, they like
Mr. Woodman is now putting
together new dishes for the fall. When the crowds return to Zoë in the coming
weeks, they’ll find Mr. Woodman’s changes most comforting.
90 Prince Street 966-6722
Noise level: Can be high
Wine list: Comprehensive, all-American
list of more than 250 wines; two dozen by the glass
Credit cards: All major, except Discover
Price range: Main courses,
lunch, $10 to $14; dinner, $18 to $28
Lunch: Tuesday to Friday, noon
to 3 p.m.
Dinner: Monday to Thursday, 6
to 10:30 p.m.; Friday, 6 to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 5:30 to 11:30 p.m.; Sunday, 5:30
to 10 p.m.
Brunch: Saturday, noon to 3
p.m.; Sunday, 11:30 to 3:30 p.m.
Light menu: Tuesday to Friday, 3
to 5 p.m.
* * Very Good
* * * Excellent
* * * * Outstanding
No Star: Poor