Volume 16, Number 9 | July 29–Aug. 4, 2003

MOVIE/REVIEWS


“66”
243 Church Street at Leonard
Appetizers: $7; Main courses: $20
212-925-0202

Not a typical New York Chinese Restaurant

By Lauren Fouda

There’s a new sleek and sexy Chinese restaurant in Tribeca on Church Street.

“66” is the latest venture of Jean Georges Vongerichten, owner of Jean Georges at the Trump Tower and Jojo’s on the Upper East Side.

The restaurant’s monochromatic low-lighting design is by Richard Meier. The cushions in the lounge area are a perfect spot for sipping quirky, stealth cocktails.

Before your meal: choose a ginger marja-rita, made with sauza tres anejo tequila, lime, fresh ginger and ginger salt, or a kumquat mojito, concocted from Bacardi, sparkling mint leaves, and whole fresh kumquats, both smooth and deceptively potent.

The remainder of the restaurant is just as smoothly orchestrated, featuring modern, silver-topped tables in the main dining room. And a long, gleaming communal table, which affords a single diner or a couple the perfect balance of privacy and interaction with others, not to mention that it is available whenever you can’t get a reservation for an individual table. The only drawback, the music — a samba and hip hop soundtrack — seemed out of place.

But the food is the starring attraction. A pared-down, concise, yet comprehensive menu is screaming with flavor and, even better, heavy on the appetizer and dim sum selections, making it easy to keep the bill from skyrocketing if you can only resist the tempting seafood main courses.

An order of scallion pancakes makes an unassuming appearance on the table, but these buttery, crisp treats are devoid of the usual grease characterizing the delivery-Chinese version. It becomes glaringly clear, if it weren’t already obvious from the ambiance, that this is not a typical New York Chinese restaurant.

Snubbing categorization as usual, Vongerichten, has created a unique and inimitable cuisine all his own.

The parade of small plates only improves throughout the meal: a humble dim sum basket yields mouthfuls of smooth earthiness and sharp sea foam in the shrimp and foie gras dumplings. The flavor of each tiny package is whittled to a razor sharp edge with a grapefruit-soy dipping sauce.

Barbecued spare ribs, lacquered with a sweet glaze that’s reminiscent of duck a l’orange, are lean (but not too) and impossible to eat gracefully. You’ll feel sacrilegious chewing off a bone in such a sophisticated place, but try to let it go.

Sautéed Asian greens, one of the best choices from the vegetable section of the menu, bask in understated simplicity. The serene pool of baby bok choy, enrobed in a subtle, tender broth, are simple and soothing even in appearance, eliciting sighs of relaxation and contentment as everyone realizes, finally, that they’re in deft hands.

Tastebud electricity intensifies with the masterpiece of chili prawns with lily bulbs and sweet walnuts that makes a smashing cameo at the table. The young, halved walnuts marry perfectly—if surprisingly—with the sweet chili heat and tender curled shrimp, and the dish is studded with members of the allium family (of which garlic, lilies, and onions are members).

After these sweet-spicy-savory wonders, the dessert list presents a few fairly, interesting options. Green tea ice box cake benefits from chewy, yet crisp caramelized pistachios and a heap of macerated strawberries. The green tea and cake slices, however, are uninspired.

The ice cream selection is decidedly indulgent: our creamy trio of tastes far surpassed the aforementioned green tea. Luscious, milky mango trumps the syrupy grocery store version; black sesame, reminiscent of Middle Eastern sesame candy with peanut butter’s pastiness, converts my fellow diner into a sesame connoisseur-by-

color as he develops instantaneous disdain for the white variety and vows to convert his local bagel shop.

Lemongrass, not unheard of but unusual in desserts, makes a star appearance in ice cream form for a simple, refreshingly modern finale to a meal characterized by the same elements.

Along with the bill, we’re given a pair of homemade, flavored fortune cookies with clever messages, a cute take on a standard that demonstrates this restaurant’s attention to detail.


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