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Restaurants Now: Aureole, Browntrout, Burma Superstar

07.24.09
From townhouse to Times Square: If only all moves could be as smooth as Aureole’s into its new location. Plus, a fine Chicago restaurant that doesn’t flaunt its green credentials and great Burmese food in the Bay Area.
aureole

New York City: Aureole

These days, when a big-deal chef opens one restaurant, more often than not it turns out to be two. At the new Standard Grill, under the High Line, the raucously casual front room hides a cozy inner sanctum with an entirely different (and more expensive) menu. Charlie Palmer’s new Aureole, which sits proudly in Times Square, is also two separate restaurants. At the bar, where big windows look out to 42nd Street, people crowd in to air-kiss and clink glasses after work as they snack on pastrami pork belly sliders and fluke sashimi. Meanwhile, farther inside, people sit quietly enjoying chef Christopher Lee’s prix-fixe menus. His style is to combine elegant ingredients in exciting ways. He turns scallops into sexy little passion fruit sandwiches and tops them with foie gras. Crisp, tiny fried oysters come with a puddle of kimchi gelée and a fluff of lemon powder. Ravioli hide a rich purée of artichokes; it is hard to have any restraint. Entrées tend to be hunks of gorgeous protein like Copper River salmon, aged rib-eye steaks, lamb snuggled up to accompaniments like quinoa, preserved lemons, black garlic, and pickled ramps. The wine list, as anyone who has been to the Las Vegas Aureole would expect, is deep, focused on the major grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet), and filled with hard-to-find bottles. At $84 per person, it’s my bet that the real money here will be made on the more casual lunch menu (big burgers, tuna Niçoise, a noodle bowl) and in the bar. But fans of the old Aureole, in its much-lamented little townhouse, will not be disappointed by its replacement. 135 W. 42nd St., New York City (212-319-1660; charliepalmer.com) —Ruth Reichl

Chicago: Browntrout

Like any kind of business that goes green these days, restaurants like to talk about it—a lot. Their menus and servers never let you forget that what you’re eating is organic, that the coffee is fair trade, and that the linens are made by carbon-neutral, solar-powered elves. But at Browntrout, a new spot in North Center that is easily one of Chicago’s greenest restaurants, things are done a bit more subtly. The rooftop garden, house-filtered water, and locally sourced foodstuffs—none of it is presented as anything special (if it’s presented at all). Instead, it’s assumed that things would naturally be this way. And you will definitely be able to appreciate Sean Sanders’ food—perfectly cured trout with crème fraîche, juicy chicken thighs in an expert jus, hearty lamb chops with celery risotto—even though it all arrives without any fanfare or fuss. I’m positive of this because Browntrout is one place where you can rest assured that everything will be done the way it should be. 4111 North Lincoln Ave., Chicago (773-472-4111; browntrout.com) —David Tamarkin

Oakland, CA: Burma Superstar

How can you deny a place with a name as excellent as Burma Superstar? The people of San Francisco, Alameda, and now Oakland can’t, so you will sit and wait for a table, enduring a kind of torture as you inhale but can’t have the savory, herbal, tart smells of Southeast Asia. They’re familiar and yet probably also a little unlike what you may be used to, since the cooking of Myanmar (formerly Burma) hasn’t gained much of a foothold in our country. Purists (all six of them) might argue with some of Burma Superstar’s somewhat mainstreamed approaches, but the food is delicious, balanced, and full of funky flavors, not from fish sauce but other forms of ferment. You can find these flavors most classically in the tea salad: tangy, weirdly mellow tea leaves tossed with lettuce and vegetables, rounded out with the crackle and aroma of fried garlic, peanuts, and sunflower and sesame seeds. If you see dishes that remind you of other cuisines—samusas and plathas, for instance, are not unlike Indian samosas and parathas—get them; they will surprise you with their nuanced differences. But don’t snooze on the really weird ones, like the flash-fried okra, bright green and bobbing in tomato curry with hardboiled eggs. 4721 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, CA (510-652-2900; burmasuperstar.com) —Francis Lam



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