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Five Affordable Alternatives to NYC's Hottest Restaurants

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Don't have the cash flow right now to try any of the cool new restaurants you read about? Or simply can't get into any of them on a busy night? Here are a few recommendations for inexpensive, accessible alternatives to five of the hottest new places in town.

2011_the_dutch_splurge_steal1.jpg5) The Dutch/Salt & Fat: Andrew Carmellini's Soho American restaurant is the hottest ticket in town right now. There's a little something for everyone on the menu, the bar program is stellar, and the room is a stunner. Although the portions are generous at The Dutch, most of the entrees are around $25, and the appetizers are about half that. So if you want to enjoy some inventive, very satisfying cuisine but can't afford a big splashy night out, consider Salt & Fat, a buzzy new restaurant in Sunnyside, Queens. Chef Daniel Yi spent time in the kitchens at Sapa and Monkey Bar before opening his own place, and he has put together a menu of American comfort foods with a few Asian, Mexican, and Italian influences. The menu includes fried chicken, pastas, scallops, whole fish, and a steak — all dishes you can get at The Dutch, but everything here is priced between $7 - $15. They also serve a monster fried gnocchi and bacon creation called "crack & cheese," which is worth the 7-Train ride alone. Salt & Fat has a handsome dining room with nice woodwork, exposed brick, and framed black and white photos — it lacks some of the sparkle of The Dutch, but it's definitely airy and chic in its own way. [The Dutch Place Page; Salt & Fat Place Page]

2011_splurge_steal_cafe.jpg4) Leopard at Des Artistes/The Astor Room: The real reason to go to this recently-opened restaurant is the room: husband and wife team Gianfranco and Paula Sorrentino spent a lot of time and money restoring the murals and other design details from Cafe Des Artistes, so that this new project retains much of its charm. The menu from chef Vito Gnazzo features many luxurious Italian dishes, with most entrees in the mid-to-high 30s, and pastas for around $20 a plate. But if you want to dine in a lovingly restored grand old space at a much lower price, head to The Astor Room in Astoria. Many years ago, this was the private commissary for the Kaufman Astoria Studios. It remained virtually untouched for nearly 80 years, until it was spiffed up and reopened to the public this past winter. The menu is something of a fine dining value: the pork chop, veal parmesan, and fish dishes are generally a good ten to fifteen dollars less than what you'll pay at Leopard at Des Artistes. There are also a handful of appealing entrees like a chicken pot pie, summer risotto, and plate of fish and chips for under $20. [Leopard At Des Artistes Place Page; The Astor Room Place Page]

2011_boulud_sud_nomad1.jpg3) Boulud Sud/Nomad: Daniel Boulud's foray into Mediterranean cuisine is drawing early raves — the flavors are big, there's some nice work on the plate, and it's all served in a comfortable modern dining room. The prices are approximate to Bar Boulud next door — moderate, but erring on the expensive side. If a meal at Boulud Sud is just outside your budget, consider Nomad in the East Village. Here you can also enjoy some expertly cooked North African and Middle Eastern dishes, in a stylish white tablecloth dining room. The menu does not feature the same European influences as the one at Boulud's restaurant, but you can still get a chicken tagine, trout almondine, and kebab entree, as well as a number of sandwiches and dips to share. All dishes are around $10, and although the dining room can fill up on weekend nights, you shouldn't have to wait too long for a table at any time. [Boulud Sud Place Page; Nomad]

2011_splurge_steal_ciano_porsena1.jpg2 Ciano/Porsena: Ciano is pretty much the very definition of a splurge restaurant — it serves comforting, at times very ambitious food, with prices that reflect the pedigree of the chef and the quality of the ingredients that go into each dish. If you're looking for inventive but accessible pastas and market-influenced Italian starters and entrees, Sara Jenkins's Porsena is a great alternative. The pasta is the main draw here — the menu features a number of classic dishes like spaghetti pomodoro and maccheroncini ragu, as well as unique creations like the penette with cauliflower and breadcrumbs, and orechette with spicy lamb sausage and mustard greens. All of the pastas are in the $12-$18 range, but the portions are generous and can be ordered as entrees, not just "primi." For those that want a big piece of meat, the menu also features a pork chop, roast hake, and chicken, all of which are $25 or under. But if all you want is pasta, a few starters, and a glass of wine, it's easy to get out of there for under $35 per person. [Ciano Place Page, Porsena Place Page]

2011_splurge_steal_empellon1.jpg1) Empellon/Cantina Royal: Alex Stupak's new taqueria serves vibrant Mexican food in a cool downtown space with a great bar scene. The tacos will run you anywhere from $18-$26 for an entree portion, and many of the appetizers, like the awesome queso fundidos, are priced in the low teens. If that's too rich for your blood, take the L-train to Cantina Royal in Williamsburg. This new project from one of the owners of La Superior has a menu that also features both familiar taqueria favorites, and a few more forward-thinking dishes made with exotic ingredients. Starters like the scallop ceviche, duck confit double-tortilla taco, and octopus tostadas are all $8, and entrees like the seafood tumbada are in the mid-teens. Cantina Royal also offers a long list of of fresh-made salsas, and the space boasts a well-stocked bar perfect for dining, or drinking and snacking. [Empellon Place Page; Cantina Royal Place Page]

· All Previous Editions of Splurge/Steal [~ENY~]

Boulud Sud

20 West 64th Street, Manhattan, NY 10023 (212) 595-1313 Visit Website

The Dutch

131 Sullivan Street, Manhattan, NY 10012 Visit Website

Empellon

230 West 4th Street, New York, New York 10014

Astor Room

34-12 36th Street, Astoria, NY 11106 Visit Website

The Leopard at des Artistes

1 West 67th Street, Manhattan, NY 10023 (212) 787-8767 Visit Website

Cantina Royal

58 North 3rd Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211

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