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BITE August 12, 2014

Curdled Hollandaise. Bodega Negra. Bâtard. Café Asean

Dear Friends and Family,
       I was shocked and saddened to read A.O Scott's damning review of "The Hundred Foot Journey," the new film of the book by Richard C. Morais. I loved that book. (Click here to read my review.) I gave it to friends and tweeted an alert to food-fixated followers. I imagine what fired Scott's  sneer was a prologue from Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg, celebrating their astute vision as co-producers of the movie -- "a promo trying to sell you a movie you have already committed to seeing," was how the powerful Times critic put it.

      He is appalled by "soft-core culinary montage, a blend of elegance and vulgarity." It isn't really that bad. Misguided yes. Limp, in spite of the soft core culinary pornography. I was disappointed, too, but not in a rage about it. I say see it. It's a B minus.

      And I must give Scott credit for noticing that in a lesson on sauces, the hollandaise is made with olive oil not butter, "making it aioli, or perhaps mayonnaise," as he notes with a flick of his whisk. I'd like to pretend I caught that too, but I didn't.

      Do you think A.O. Scott could be auditioning to be the next Times restaurant critic? Well, the editors did tap John Canaday, the music critic, for that job a long time ago. Canaday didn't like desserts, so he asked his wife for her opinion.

I recall Indian saris in the flowery colors framing today's Forkplay.

Here is Zachary Fredric, two weeks old. He seems unusually thoughtful.

Dark and Sexy

      Bodega Negra, in the lower intestine of the 16th Street Dream Hotel, is a spin-off of a London hot spot serving Mexican food -- "street, beach and free style." It's not easy to find as you brave the lobby. Don't trip. It's as dark as a vampire's coffin. A disco ball overhead and light bulbs in the wall of tequila barrels aren't bright enough to get Con Edison's meter humming.

      I'm wary. I've read the bleats of yelpers abused here. The indifference to their reservations. The welcome stand that becomes a chopping block of rejection. The time limit for the table. The missing spoons. The disappearing server. This is the kind of spot you might best book early if your legs don't start under your arms and your Prada is from the resale shop and you don't have the pallor of late nights hustling at the hedge fund.

      But somehow we've gotten by the maître d' and surprise, my pals and I like most of what we're eating. Feeling masochistic? You might want to try it too. Click here for a text on how to survive and what to eat. 355 West 16th Street between Ninth and Eighth Avenues. 212 229 2336.

Encore at Bâtard

      Revenge is a dish best eaten cold, the saying goes. And if eating well is what counts here, it looks like Bâtard could prove a fine revenge for Drew Nieporent. That was my final note in a rave review in BITE for Drew's new effort where Corton closed without warning. All he has to do, I said, is survive the ambition of his Michelin-starred chef Markus Glocker.

      I was back a few days later to taste more. The room was packed. A baby wailed. The sound-proofing helped but couldn't blur the roar of some animals at the next table. But annoyance faded with the first spoonful of intense corn soup poured atop a bed of raw scallop ribbons, corn bits and apple with crisp wisps of salsify.

      The house-baked Austrian poppy seed roll that had tasted stale on my first visit was perfect. I forced myself to not take a second, preparing to tackle the stock pot of Tafel Spitz, named for a cut of meat we don't have here but, no problem, as the chef noted, "American beef is even better." Precise, perfect cubes of short rib, beef cheeks and brisket had been poached with root vegetables, and "onions brûlée," as Glocker put it. There was a remarkable pouch-like spoon to deliver the heady broth to your mouth.

      Was it better than the remarkable lamb for two, or the magical turbot hiding an egg yolk to moisten its nest of spinach or the poussin posing as wiener schnitzel? Can you tell me which is your favorite Van  Gogh sunflowers? What can I say? Hit the gym, take care of yourself, look both ways crossing streets...reserve a table for next time as you walk out the door. 239 West Broadway between White and Walker Streets. 212 219 2777.

Spiritual Healing at Café Asean

      The four of us had said adieu to the Wong we loved so much on Cornelia Street the Saturday before it closed forever.

      "How come we've never been to Simpson's other place?" Peter wanted to know.

      "No reason at all," I said.

      So a few nights later, here we are at Café Asean, sipping a $30 bottle of Tempranillo, warm and intimate, like the rustic front room with its staccato of colorful lanterns above and scruffy painted chairs. They look not so much flea market as street finds. With everyone else crowded out back in the covered patio, the front room seemed especially welcoming and intimate.

      I knew that Simpson Wong did more and less authentic riffs on Vietnamese, Thai and Malaysian dishes here at reasonable prices.

      So I'm not surprised that the evening's special soft -shell crab summer rolls with mango, avocado, cucumber and lettuce with a chili peanut sauce verge on nouvelle Hanoi. The ruffles of leafy green lettuce and branches of mint and basil were good for wrapping the roasted duck roll. A river of roasted garlic and chili sauce added a good kick especially after the gentle sweetness of steamed Ghaw Chee, shrimp and chive dumplings in sticky sarongs to moisten in a ginger-lime dip.

      We almost missed the fabulous Ca Bam, our favorite starter, the waiter's suggestion. Bits of dried monkfish with peanuts and herbs to pile with lettuce and a shard of shrimp cracker in a leaf of lettuce.

      After a too long wait -- I'm not sure why -- a pair of waiters managed to find a spot on the small table for a new wave from the kitchen: Crispy pork belly nuzzled near "Burmese-style vegetable curry." Singapore slow-braised pork ribs -- oh, sorry, did I eat all that grilled lettuce? A Vietnamese squid stir fry. And whole roasted duck leg and breast nuzzled in long curls of udon noodles with Chinese spinach.

      Our waiter Simon can't believe all of us are not wild about the sticky black rice pudding with banana steeped in coconut milk. "It's what I would be eating back home in Vietnam," he confides.

      How embarrassing! It's "cash only." The reservationist ought to warn customers. What a flub.

117 West 10th Street between Sixth Avenue and Greenwich. 212 633 0348


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Photographs of Bodega Negra's pork belly tacos and finger-licking ribs, Bâtard's thrilling corn soup, Austrian pot au feu, and "veal tramezzini," and Café Asean's Ca Bam monkfish, the special soft-shell crab rolls, and the duck with udon noodles may not be used without permission from Gael Greene. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.