Sauvage: Its progenitor Maison Premiere started out as an oyster and absinthe joint, so I had no idea what to expect when I walked into the tersely named Sauvage a few days after it opened. It enjoys a splendid summer location across the street from McCarren Park, where the crack of the baseball bat punctuates your meal. The room is shallow and sunny in the early evening; the servers wear tight rolled-up jeans, pink ironed shirts, and pony tails, like cast members from Grease.
That said, the food is notably non-greasy. In fact I found my first meal astonishing in most of its elements. The point of departure for the menu is the French bistro, but chef Lisa Giffen has morphed the hell out of the classic recipes in the most modern fashion, and vegetable matter predominates in most dishes. Colored an intense dark green, a lettuce soup seemed to suggest pesto, but then played the flavors out with much more subtlety. A tubular crouton containing cheese provided extra excitement (and nourishment). A pair of sea urchin lobes came foamily flavored with radish and rhubarb, while a minced fluke crudo was awash in whey.
While the apps skewed expensive, the entrees seemed relatively cheap. My companion and I enjoyed a French pot au feu featuring a chicken sausage and bird piece that was mainly skin (crunch, crunch), with baby vegetables in a dark, rugged broth, and schmaltz toast on the side — a circus of flavors and textures. And the so-called pork porterhouse was a massive hunk of perfectly cooked meat that could have been (and was) shared by two. Itching to get back to this place, and will do so once again in the very early evening before the place is slammed and when people are still strolling in the park. — Robert Sietsema
Russian Samovar: Kachka in Portland is the type of restaurant that will convince someone that Russian cuisine is one of the world's great cuisines, which I firmly believe it is, at least after a shot or two of vodka. Russian Samovar in Midtown West will not convince anyone that Russian cuisine is great; in fact it might just turn you off from it even if you're a bona fide Russophile like me. But sometimes your nostalgia takes root and you just need a place where you can eat some pelmeni while a piano player taps out a rendition of Podmoskovnie Vechera.
Samovar's pelmeni – veal, pork, and beef dumplings – normally come in a flavorless broth that makes the dough soggy. On Wednesday I asked for them to be served without, resulting in an entirely more serviceable dish (if only they finished the pelmeni with butter!). I paired them with more carbs: a big plate sour cherry vereniki – firm little ravioli that you dunk in sour cream to take the edge off the slight sweetness (Russians love cherries). I washed it all down with a beer and listened in as someone started talking about me in Russian. And then I started speaking Russian. — Ryan Sutton
Sunny & Annie’s: Despite strong recommendations from friends, neighbors, and colleagues past and present, I never made it into famed Avenue B deli Sunny and Annie's until THIS WEEK. Allow me to paint a picture: Southern ex-pat craves pimento cheese and decides to walk to Empire Biscuit for breakfast, only to be greeted by papered-over windows and a locked door. Forced to regroup and stunned with hunger, she heads to the nearby deli and picks the first vegetarian sandwich she sees. Turns out that sandwich — the 2016 — had not just pesto, grilled mozzarella, fresh goat cheese, spinach, seaweed, and avocado, but also ~three~ pieces of bread, making it the first non-meat double decker I've ever seen. I grew up eating lots of sad cheese-and-tomato sandwiches around people who instead got glorious stacked club sandwiches, so I'm considering this a huge win for veggie fans everywhere. — Sonia Chopra
Olmsted: Congratulations to Prospect Heights, which is now home to one of the most beautiful new restaurants of the year. The garden is even lovelier than it looks in photos. It’s almost a shame that people who live so close to Prospect Park are the ones who have such easy access to this little oasis. Before the summer ends, I will definitely want to go there to share a bottle of rose and a bowl of fried fiddlehead ferns, which had the unusual but pleasing effect of tasting both like fried pickles and fried clams.
The meal also did not disappoint. Chef Greg Baxtrom’s fine dining chops shine through in the dishes, which were plated artistically and took simple ingredients and turned them into an experience. The standout was the carrot crepe, which was almost dessert-like in how rich and creamy and carrot-y it was, though dishes like the dry rubbed scallops and the radish top gazpacho also impressed. Plus, the four of us managed to go through two bottles of wine, and at the end of the meal, the bill still ended up okay at about $70 each, including tip. Olmsted felt like a great solution for people who want to experience expensive tasting food — but don’t want the slog of fine dining establishments of old. — Serena Dai
The Commodore: This impish Williamsburg restaurant reminds me of Pleasure Island, that place in Pinocchio where all the kids turn into donkeys. The dining room has old arcade games, a hair metal soundtrack, and a TV showing dopey B movies. All the food is colorful and generously portioned. And no matter when you go, there’s always a few people at the bar getting tanked on bright red drinks. The chicken biscuit I had last Saturday was just as good as the one at Pies ‘n’ Thighs, and I loved the chilaquiles and the warm kale with bacon. — Greg Morabito
Zing’s Awesome Rice: Yes, the fried rice is awesome, and it comes attractively plated with two domed scoops on either end of a long plate, with sriracha squirted in the middle in the shape of a heart or a leaf. But is it worth $11.99 to $13.99 for a modest serving, so that a full meal with app and beverage will run you $20 or $25? That’s for you to decide. The rice is loaded with umami, has diced vegetables in it, and offers as a main ingredient a choice of Chinese sausage, bacon, chicken, tofu, or shrimp. For an extra dollar or two you can pick a more exotic form of rice, including a black rice with a particularly nutty flavor. Beverages run to beer and infused sake.— Robert Sietsema
Soy: There's a tiny, cash-only Japanese place on Suffolk Street that I just kind of happened upon recently — and now in the last couple weeks I've been three times. The food and the cozy space (green walls, mismatched diningware, tchotchkes here and there) are lovely: The menu is small but varied, with a lot of vegetable and tofu dishes — though I hear the curry rice and spicy tuna and avocado bowl are also favorites — and there's a nice-sized bar for solo diners. — Sonia Chopra
Win Son: East Williamsburg’s newest Taiwanese-American restaurant is much needed in an area with not that many good Asian restaurants. (There are several wonderful Vietnamese restaurants in the area, like Bunker and Lucy’s, but few Thai or Chinese spots.) I was curious, and honestly, I was eager to love it.
But Win Son feels like it needs some time to figure out what it wants to be. Dishes like the lu rou fan — a classic Taiwanese dish with pork stew over rice — nailed the comforting flavor but lacked enough meat and sauce to cover all the rice properly, leaving portions of the dish not flavorful enough. The flavors of the pan-grilled pork buns and marinated cucumbers were okay but uneventful and lacking in the addicting comforts of the classic dishes. They were also both overly piled with fried garlic, cilantro, or scallions, which added little and ended up feeling like filler. I have no problem paying more money for good Asian food, but the restaurant doesn’t seem to know if it’s trying "elevate" Taiwanese food or recreate classics at their purest. Instead, it does neither. Win Son has potential, but it’s not quite there yet. — Serena Dai
Buttermilk Channel: I think that brunch was maybe not the best time to try this Carroll Gardens restaurant for the first time. The servers were on their A-game and all the food was nicely prepared, but it was the opposite of chill at 10:30 a.m. on a Sunday. Total zoo, actually. Every seat was full, including the ones at the bar, and there were maybe 20 people waiting inside for their tables. Midway through our meal, we witnessed the dozen or so diners on the patio get drenched in rain. Some of them kept eating! Others grabbed their coffee cups and ran inside. — Greg Morabito