food 07.14.03


Alley's End, the former occupant of the space that is now Sueños, 311 W. 17th [8th/9th] 212.243.1333, was a charming, if sleepy, hideaway restaurant. Now, fuschia paint on the walls and chipotle coulis on the plate announce that chef Sue Torres is in the house. Ms. Torres has a strong following from her time at the Rocking Horse and at Hell's Kitchen, and she continues her exploration of Mexican cooking here.

With an Italian mother and a Puerto Rican father, Ms. Torres wasn't born to the cuisine, which seems to free her approach to it — she happily mixes chiles and tamales with tamarind, squash blossoms, and asparagus. Sueños has only been open a matter of days, so it is to be expected that not every dish is polished yet. But the place shows a lot of promise already.

Among the appetizers, smoked jalapeño cream sauce buoys lobster and corn fritters, while the smoked duck breast mini-tacos introduce the unexpected game flavor to great effect. But the fava bean and drunken goat cheese empanadas, however enlivened by the tomato-chipotle coulis, taste too much of dough. And the guacamole, which is made in a corner of the dining room along with tortillas, could use a little goosing.

No goosing is necessary with the main courses, since Ms. Torres makes ample (though not excessive) use of guajillo, costeño, and poblano chiles. Her balancing skills are apparent in the banana leaf-steamed pork tamale with grilled shrimp and ancho beurre blanc. Grilled salmon readily takes to its poblano sauce and Ms. Torres makes red snapper rock by pairing it with a guava-costeño puree. The tamarind-glazed sirloin and nopales (cactus leaves), though, would be better off without the creepy plantain-goat cheese pancake. And we wish, given the endangered status of Chilean sea bass, that it was not on offer here.

Sueños, which means 'dreams' in Spanish, makes a first-rate margarita. A couple of those along with Ms. Torres' fully-charged cooking and you can expect, if not sweet dreams, well-seasoned ones.

A.A. Gill's scathing review of 66 in this month's Vanity Fair is causing a lot of talk. Sample: "How clever are shrimp-and-foie-gras dumplings with grapefruit dipping sauce? What if we called them fish liver-filled condoms. They were properly vile, with a savor that lingered like a lovelorn drunk…" Ouch.

Ara Wine Bar, 24 9th Ave. [13th] 212.242.8642, is a small, new spot with three dozen or so wines by the glass. Up front is the bar, in back a tiny lounge. Quite a mixed crowd at the moment.

A little further west in the Meatpacking district, the folks at Florent, 69 Gansevoort [Greenwich/Wash] 212.989.5779, will be celebrating Bastille Day tonight in their usual style. The theme is "Marie Antoinette is turning 50" (Florent himself turned 50 recently). He says, "The theme is totally absurd since Marie Antoinette was chopped up at age 36 if I remember right. My dress will be shaped like a birthday cake with hoops and the theme inside the restaurant will be 'pastry kitchen mayhem.'" Eight acts perform throughout the evening from 7pm-midnight.

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