There's nothing that Clair de Lune doesn't do well, but the one thing Sean Kelly's place does better than anyone else in town is appetizers. Picture the plateau de fruits de mer -- one of the few mainstays on a menu that changes according to the whims of the chef and the winds of commerce -- with its spiced shrimp, half a lobster and immaculately fresh Littleneck clams and Malpeque oysters lying like knobby gems on a bed of ice. Or the antipasti misti -- a wildflower sketched in food with bright-orange persimmon, powerful house-cured sardines, roasted red peppers, caper berries, black olives, tiny cubes of marinated chèvre, homemade bracciole and crisp-fried baby artichokes drizzled with basil aioli. Yes, Clair de Lune puts out some wonderful dinner plates. Yes, it does great desserts. But in his starters, Kelly is painting a picture. To every diner who sees one of these plates in front of him, he's carefully explaining, in the best way he knows how, what that diner can expect from the rest of his meal: excellence, and nothing less.
Triana warmed our hearts -- and stomachs -- with its molten chocolate cupcake. It's just what it sounds like: a spongy, dark-chocolate cupcake, dusted with confectioners' sugar, with milky chocolate lava inside that oozes out to mix with sweet macerated strawberries, vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of thick caramel sauce. While it may take a while for your cupcake to reach the table (the menu suggests you order it before your entrees so that it will be ready when you're done with dinner), it's so good, so devilishly decadent, that we'll never again look at the cellophane-wrapped Hostess variety with anything but pity.


Triana warmed our hearts -- and stomachs -- with its molten chocolate cupcake. It's just what it sounds like: a spongy, dark-chocolate cupcake, dusted with confectioners' sugar, with milky chocolate lava inside that oozes out to mix with sweet macerated strawberries, vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of thick caramel sauce. While it may take a while for your cupcake to reach the table (the menu suggests you order it before your entrees so that it will be ready when you're done with dinner), it's so good, so devilishly decadent, that we'll never again look at the cellophane-wrapped Hostess variety with anything but pity.
Who says there's no place left for the classics? At the Fourth Story, pastry chef Syd Berkowitz blows us away with his towering, spongy, cream-cheese-frosted and achingly sweet carrot cake with coconut-rice-pudding ice cream and warm bourbon-raisin sauce. The first time we tried it, it made us want to get up, make new reservations and eat a second meal just so that we could taste its goodness all over again.


Who says there's no place left for the classics? At the Fourth Story, pastry chef Syd Berkowitz blows us away with his towering, spongy, cream-cheese-frosted and achingly sweet carrot cake with coconut-rice-pudding ice cream and warm bourbon-raisin sauce. The first time we tried it, it made us want to get up, make new reservations and eat a second meal just so that we could taste its goodness all over again.
Artisan cheeses from around the world come together beautifully on the cheese plate at Vesta Dipping Grill. Far from the plain, cutting-block cheese presentations of yesterday, this new-age version of the old standby is pumped up by the inclusion of fresh strawberries, raspberries, figs, candied walnuts, and salad greens laced with aged balsamic vinegar. And knowing full well that a properly arranged cheese course can do double-duty either as a jumpstart for the tastebuds or a gentle cap to a great meal, Vesta offers its plate both as an appetizer and as a dessert.


Vesta
Mark Antonation
Artisan cheeses from around the world come together beautifully on the cheese plate at Vesta Dipping Grill. Far from the plain, cutting-block cheese presentations of yesterday, this new-age version of the old standby is pumped up by the inclusion of fresh strawberries, raspberries, figs, candied walnuts, and salad greens laced with aged balsamic vinegar. And knowing full well that a properly arranged cheese course can do double-duty either as a jumpstart for the tastebuds or a gentle cap to a great meal, Vesta offers its plate both as an appetizer and as a dessert.
Cheese whiz Jeremy Myers takes home the Cheesehead Trophy this year, for capably arranging the globe-trotting cheese board at Cook's Fresh Market, and for having more milk-related trivia stored up in the old melon than any other human being should ever need in ten lifetimes.
Cheese whiz Jeremy Myers takes home the Cheesehead Trophy this year, for capably arranging the globe-trotting cheese board at Cook's Fresh Market, and for having more milk-related trivia stored up in the old melon than any other human being should ever need in ten lifetimes.
Chef Matt Selby's grillardins at Vesta Dipping Grill win the Fire-Eater Award. Not only do they deserve it just for hanging tough in a restaurant where damn near every menu item has to come (at least in part) off their station, but they also put out some of the best, most butter-tender and flawlessly temped tenderloin we've had anywhere.


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