The Other Critics: Wells Praises the Dining Room at the Modern; Three Reviews for Manzanilla

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Cuozzo likes Manzanilla's big, comfortable interior. Photo: Erin Kennedy/New York Magazine

This week, Adam Platt hit up two flatiron hot spots where the drinks are as good as the food. At Korean gastropub Hanjan, soju complemented skewers, while the Southern cooking at neo-bourbon bar Maysville is worth a special trip. Both received two stars. Spanish joint Manzanilla drew a bunch of other critics who had mostly muy bien things to say about the food (while throwing in a Don Quixote reference or two). Where did the others chase cravings and grab bites? We serve that up, straight ahead.

Pete Wells revisited Danny Meyers MoMA restaurant, the Dining Room at the Modern, a gallerylike space that stands back so that artistry can happen on the plate. Compared to the restaurants early days, complicated dishes pay off in rewarding layers of harmony and contrast. Three courses of foie gras are inventive and still taste of foie gras, a squid-ink spaetzle with sea urchin is elegant and powerful, and lobster tail with pimento broth is daring and wonderful. With more focus and intensity, the restaurant got a star more than the two Frank Bruni gave it in 2005.

Robert Sietsema sampled the Egyptian eats at El Omda in Astoria and praises its Pharoah-worthy seafood. With the exception of lamb chops so tender, you almost dont need to chew, hed gladly skip the nicely cooked meats for the brine-doused whole fish the most vibrant-tasting fish flesh imaginable. Also of note: the ironically-named-but-delectable foul (stewed fava beans), delightfully smoky baba ghanouj, and stuffed grape leaves, all of which would make a spectacular vegan feast.

At Brooklyns Red Gravy, Saul Boltons new Italian joint, Tejal Rao found a neighborhood restaurant where the food is good even if you dont live around the corner. She affirms the pasta-making prowess of former A Voce chef Ayesha Nurdjaja, whose calamarata is a hot, fatty delight and uni bucatini is undeniably gorgeous in its pool of butter and white wine. While chilies, seafood, and red-sauce staples comprise the restaurants bright, brainy Italian food, clumsy service is an issue. Then again, not even an doltish server could keep her from enjoying the meatballs.

Perhaps as a celebration of Womens History Month, Ryan Sutton put together a list of restaurants where women are calling the shots at the stove and in front of the house. Taking the top, middle, and last spot are April Bloomfields shrines to oinkers and oysters, while Amanda Cohens veggie-only Dirt Candy and Susan Povichs Red Hook Lobster Pound (the citys best lobster roll) round out this list of female-led restos.

New critic alert! The New York Observer's Joshua David Stein thinks Manzanillas Dani Garcia has balls the size of his excellent squid-ink-and-cuttlefish croquettes. Besides occupying an enormous space, the chef gets props for pushing an ambitious, high-end Spanish restaurant, an endeavor at which numerous chefs failed. Stein champions croquettes that may be the best fried thing in the city" and octopus as tender and smoky as Billie Holiday singing Strange Fruit. He likens the menu to Spanish cuisines greatest hits in that theyre cliché, but he seems to be loving the music.  

Jay Cheshes also gave Manzanilla love for its sleight-of-hand spins on Spanish classics. The croquettes get another enthusiastic mention (super-savory), as well as roasted suckling pig with ultra-succulent meat, and candy-crisp skin. He says desserts like the pineapple iceberg" and fruity meringue floating in a passion-fruit sea cant be missed. Overall, the restaurant is the great new introduction to Spanish cooking that the city needed. Four stars.

Manzanilla isnt the citys best Spanish restaurant, says Steve Cuozzo, but its the biggest, most comfortable, good one by a mile. He still awarded it a couple of other bests for its sherry offerings and kale salad, which has runny, poached quail eggs, Valdeón blue cheese, puffed wheat, and almonds ("loved it every time"). Though a monotonous cheese plate misses the mark for dessert, he believes the restaurants flavor constellations are persuasive enough to keep a Duane Reade takeover at bay for a long time. Two stars.

Trying the Spanish fare at a restaurant that isnt Manzanilla, Stan Sagner declares culinary fireworks to behold" at the Upper West Sides Andanada 141. While most dishes are almost too pretty to eat, he recommends the greaseless tender chipirones, blissful migas al pastor, and a loony deconstruction of arroz con leche. Though there are a few odd mains on the menu, and insanely expensive Jamon Iberico is dry and chewy, the food of wildly talented chef Manuel Berganza is a welcome addition to the citys selection of Spanish eats.

Aamans-Copenhagen is Le Pain Quotidien with a Scandinavian makeover, says The New Yorkers Silvia Killingsworth. At Tribecas home of smorrebrod, she finds that the Danish open-faced sandwiches are artfully supplemented with fillings like beef tartare, chicken salad, and her tables favorite, pork paté with aquavit. The malted rye is complexly sweet, savory, and nutty, unlike any youll get on a pastrami sandwich in New York. Her only quibble? Dont call kale salad kale tartare.