Monday, November 9, 2009

Border Crossings

By Pat Tanner

Goodness knows I relentlessly extol the virtues of New Jersey restaurants and chefs to anyone who will listen - in print, in person, over the airways. But I also dine regularly in the megalopolises to our east and west, and the two outstanding and especially well priced meals described below give me a reason to tout our state for something often used to disparage it: being a mere “crossroads.” To me, we get the glories of New York and Philadelphia without the hassles of living in a big city.

Anthos, NYC. The handsome contemporary surroundings and accomplished modern Greek cooking of chef/co-owner Michael Psilakis are enough to make this midtown spot a draw. Add in a three-course pre-theater dinner at only $35 and it’s a no-brainer. Choices are limited but appealing across the board, and they include such high-end proteins as roast saddle of lamb (flavored, btw, with cinnamon and accompanied by cauliflower and stuffed grape leaves). Chicken poached in olive oil is to die for, and the olive oil ice cream that accompanies chocolate pudding cake will have you wishing for more. Add in a platter of complimentary mezes, a fabulous breadbasket, and utterly accommodating service and it’s hard to find a better bargain the Big Apple.

Bibou, Philadelphia. When my favorite finicky Frenchman recommends a French bistro, I know I’m in for a good meal. Even going in with high expectations, this tiny b.y.o.b. on South Eighth was able to wow me. Owners Pierre and Charlotte Calmels are, between them, alums of Le Bec-Fin, Daniel, and Brasserie Perrier. Between his cooking and her spot-on dining room management, the place practically levitates. Imagine impeccable consommé with sweetbreads for $8, foie gras over pain d’epices and with caramelized quince for $15, and pig feet stuffed with foie gras for $25. Nightly specials round out the short menu, and on my visit included a soulful pheasant stew over pillowy spaetzle. Fresh plum tart, “Mimi’s” chocolate cake with crème anglaise, and excellent French press coffee made me feel like I was in Paris. Note: cash only.

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