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Celebrity chefs up the ante in New York City

This story originally appeared in the Dallas Morning News travel section earlier this week.

NEW YORK CITY – The biggest names in food are making a splash in The Big Apple.
Not that New York City really needs the help, but an infusion of top celebrity chefs has helped boost the city’s already red-hot profile for food lovers. New additions include Wolfgang Puck’s first Manhattan foray and a stunningly designed spot by Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio at one of the city’s newest and sexiest hotels.

Here’s a look at some of the latest openings, plus a few to come.

CUT BY WOLFGANG PUCK

Great meat is the name of the game at CUT by Wolfgang Puck, located at the sumptuous Four Seasons Downtown New York. – Photo Courtesy Antonio Diaz

I’ve been to hundreds if not thousands of restaurants around the world, and I don’t remember one that was more buzzing with action and energy than CUT, the new Wolfgang Puck dining spot at the gorgeous Four Seasons Downtown. It felt like everyone in the crowd except my wife and I were wolves of Wall Street, with Ferrari’s or BMW’s fired up and ready for them at the curb should the president of a South American country suddenly call and need investment advice. The pounding music from the likes of The Ramones (not what you’d expect at a Four Seasons restaurant, for sure), Talking Heads and David Bowie added to the energy. Oh, the food? With a name like CUT, this is obviously a beef-centric spot. The waiters come by your table before you order and display deep red steaks and Wagyu Beef with more marbling than the Four Seasons lobby. I sampled an outrageously tender New York Strip steak and tasted perhaps the best lamb I’ve ever had; perfectly charred and crispy on the outside and tender as can be. The tuna tartare was lovely, the baby beets gorgeous and the Brussels Sprouts with onions roasted just-right. The sommelier seemed to be on a first-name basis with America’s top wine-makers and found the perfect bottle. Dinner for two with a nice bottle of wine will probably cost you $250 to $300.

FOWLER AND WELLS

Fowler and Wells offers not only great food but a stunning decor at the Beekman Hotel in New York City. – Photo Courtesy Bjorn Wallander

Time will tell how Tom Colicchio’s menu and execution holds up. But there’s no doubt of the physical appeal. The restaurant is located inside The Beekman Hotel, which might be the most overwhelmingly beautiful interior of any hotel in the city, or any in North America. There’s a giant atrium style interior, and when you’re at the bar you feel as if you’re gazing up inside a multi-tiered, steel and wrought iron wedding cake; with fantastic plays of light and a feeling that will send any architectural fan into a speechless stupor. Even native New Yorkers come in to gawk, cameras ready and Instagram accounts on full alert. Top dishes include rabbit schnitzel and hot smoked monkfish. I sampled a fantastic beef cheek ravioli with bacon, brussels sprouts and chanterelle mushrooms, with six god-sized ravioli that was nearly enough to make a meal for $24. You’ll find interesting cocktails, too, including the Pegu Club with Boodle’s London Dry Gin, Orange Curacao, lime and Angostura bitters. The bar food is different from the restaurant, I was told, but both are overseen by Colicchio.

WHITE GOLD BUTCHERS

The pork at White Gold Butchers in New York City is perfectly seasoned and remarkably tender. Photo Courtesy White Gold Butchers

Most of the big names seem to be opening in lower Manhattan or Brooklyn these days, so it’s good to see veteran April Bloomfield (The Spotted Pig, The Breslin Bar and others) opening on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. White Gold is both a 38-seat restaurant and a butcher shop, with gleaming cuts of roasts and Porterhouse steaks to tempt you as you gaze about. There’s also a brilliant tin ceiling. I sampled lovely mushrooms with kefir cream and perhaps a tad too much horseradish on charred toast and a lovely salad with charred satsuma oranges and fresh fennel served on brilliant crimson and white Treviso leave. The brussels sprouts were too mushy for my taste, but the roast pork was gently spiced and as moist as a spring morning. They also serve flaked potato squares that are cooked with beef fat and piled high and served perfectly crispy. Seldom do the words “meat and potatoes” conjure up this type of goodness. My wife and I had two starters and a main dish between us, plus a glass of wine each, for about $100.

CARLA HALL’S SOUTHERN KITCHEN

Fantastic Nashville-style “hot chicken” is served up in a sunny location in Brooklyn at Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen. – JIM BYERS PHOTO

On the other side of the pricing chart is this Cobble Hill/Brooklyn spot serving up Nashville-style hot chicken from Carla Hall, who has appeared on shows such as Top Chef and The Chew. You place you order at the counter, with a choice of five degrees of heat (the most powerful is called Boomshakalacka) and a couple sides and sit at long picnic-style tables while you sip lemonade or iced tea and wait. It’s perfect chicken; crispy as a sun-fried Miami tourist on the outside and tender and juicy inside. The medium spice, number 3, had kick, but not so much that my mouth needed first-aid attention or even a big gulp of lemonade. I can’t vouch for the hotter ones, but there’s a sign in the men’s washroom that suggests patrons wash their hands before they touch delicate parts of their body if they’ve touched the really spicy stuff. I found the mac and cheese tasty but a bit soggy. The washrooms have fun, old-time recipes for cookies and main dishes. One person’s cookie recipe promises a product that’s the “Next Best Thing to Robert Redford.” Our chicken breast and thigh with two sides and cornbread was $14.50.

OTHER SPOTS

The meatballs are outrageously tasty and moist at Atrio, located at the lovely Conrad New York. – JIM BYERS PHOTO

Located at the sleek and vibrant Conrad New York, Atrio Wine Bar and Restaurant is one of my favourite restaurants in the city. Executive Chef Gerron Douglas previously worked with famed New York restaurateur Danny Meyer and has worked alongside top names like Emeril Lagasse, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Jose Andres.

COMING UP

Anne Burrell, she of the spiky blonde hair and appearances on Worst Cooks in America, is due to open Phil and Anne’s Good Time Lounge in the Boerum Hill area of Brooklyn soon.

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