Zoë’s New Chef Comforts Soho With Tamarind Short Ribs

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

pistachios.

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.

Zoë

**

90 Prince Street 966-6722

Dress: Casual

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.

* Good

* * Very Good

* * * Excellent

* * * * Outstanding

No Star: Poor