DESTINATION DINING

212, My New (Culinary) Lucky Number
By Dina Hoffer

If you’re like me, part of the holiday tradition has always been heading to NYC at least once between Thanksgiving and New Year’s…I am a proud New Englander and love our Massachusetts Currier and Ives scenes, but there’s something magical about spending a couple of days in the City… whether it’s to bring the kids to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, max out the credit cards at Barney’s, Saks, or FAO Schwarz, take in a show (this year it’ll be BECKETT SHORTS starring the incomparable Mikhail Baryshnikov), or brave the insanity that is Times Square on New Year’s Eve. This year, though, there’ll be an added treat when we take our annual holiday pilgrimage to The City ~ the new and improved 212 Restaurant. I was lucky enough to experience first-hand the incredible transformation of the place and then talk to Malisa Meresman, Account Executive from Benvenuti Public Relations, about her culinary gem of a client.

The New Partnership

Owner Philippe Kayadjanian has joined forces with Chef Vincent Chirico and together, they are taking 212’s cuisine to new heights. The refreshed and revamped space continues to be the same fun, sexy, energetic place it’s been since 1999, but now it offers a top notch new American menu with creative, light and “Can I try a taste of yours” dishes featuring intense, fresh flavors, creative combination, and stunning presentations ~ all at moderate prices.

Executive chef Vincent Chirico has the remarkable ability to apply his four-star background to create sophisticated dishes that are exciting but not intimidating. The young graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park began his NYC career at Aquavit at age 20, cooking literally next to Marcus Samuelsson. After a few years of working at Aquavit, Chirico continued his training in France with a stage at Georges Blanc. He has also held critical positions at Daniel under Chef Daniel Boulud, Union Pacific with Rocco DiSpirito, Jean-George Vongerichten’s JoJo and Mercer Kitchen and at Tocqueville. Most recently, Chirico was the executive chef at Frederick’s.

The New Menu

New salads include the Maine lobster salad with heirloom tomatoes and avocado as well as the crispy calamari salad with greens, raddichio, banana and miso dressing. Appetizers such as Asian style crab roll, Thai basil and preserved ginger dipping sauce and rock shrimp popcorn with sweet chili lime sauce are true standouts. Look for specials, too, like marinated yellowtail (hamachi) with tiny hon shimejji mushrooms and a side of ginger that’s freshly pickled in house.

Chirico has also introduced a new category to the menu: pizzettas. Perfect for a light lunch and even better for savoring over cocktails, these freshly baked flatbreads have a crisp outer crust and feature a host of high quality, sweet and savory toppings including proscuitto di parma with melted brie and sweet fresh figs and fresh wild mushrooms with robiola cheese and truffle.

Entrees include kobe beef (offered by the ounce) with wasabi ginger dipping sauce), roasted chicken with chanterelles and parsnip mousseline, spa-style baked tilapia provençal with olives, oregano and steamed asparagus, made without cream or butter, fresh tagliatelle with seasonal truffle and castelmagno cheese, and grilled tuna nicoise with housemade olive tapenade, quail eggs, tomato, capers, and fingerling potatoes. For dessert, there’s sublime panna cotta, crème brulee, molten chocolate cake and warm mini-donuts.

Every lunch entrée, even steak, is priced under $20, and the three-course prix-fixe lunch is a steal at $20.07. Hours for these lunch prices are Monday-Friday, noon-1:30 PM.

The award winning brunch menu features fresh juices and smoothies, Gerber baby food, salads, sandwiches, late breakfast, eggs and omelettes as well as main courses and pizzettas all priced under $20.

The Amazing Cocktails

212 has always been known for its happening bar scene and a mind-boggling array of specialty cocktails and vodkas. The cocktail menu features creative cocktails like the Asian Cosmopolitan (Stoli citron, dry sake, Cointreau, pomegranate and lime), frozen cocktails like the Mangoya (Malibu mango, Bacardi coconut and mango sorbet), 6 flavored mojitos, champagne cocktails such as the Kir Imperial with fresh strawberry puree and champagne brut rosé as well the 212 cocktail for 2 ~ “The cocktail that will change your life” ~ made from Pink Vodka, Bacardi Coconut and Alizé Blue Passion poured into a carved pineapple with fresh squeezed juice. The vodka menu lists more than 120 vodkas from 23 countries featuring 35 different flavors. The extensive wine list includes 200 wines from California, France and Northern Italy, more than 40 half-bottles and 10 wines by the glass.

The success of 212 can be attributed to its ability to adapt to a diverse clientele any time of the day or night. During lunch hours, you’ll find Upper East Siders and “ladies who lunch.” After work, 212 draws professionals and a sophisticated crowd. Later in the evening, the bar and restaurant fill up with twenty to forty-something singles, models, professional athletes, politicos, and celebrities. During brunch hours, it’s the perfect place for families with kids and toddlers in tow. With the partnership of Vincent Chirico, recognition for the high level of the cuisine at 212 will be yet another reason for continued success.

The minimalistic design and the soft beige chair covers, white cozy banquettes, and touches of navy and baby blue of the dining room transports patrons to the French Riviera (perfect when there’s snow falling outside). The dining room seats 75, and there’s room for 14 outside.

212 is located at 133 East 65th Street between Park and Lexington and is open 7 days, from noon to midnight (1 AM on Thursday, Friday and Saturday) and for Saturday and Sunday brunch from 11AM to 5 PM. Telephone: 212-249-6565. Check www.212restaurant.com.