Scene: Spice of Life… Urban Studies… Downtown’s Olive Branch…

Looking for a great bite, or maybe a little bit of fun? Check out some of New York's newest hot spots.

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This story first appeared in the February 7, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Dishes like pan-roasted grass-fed beef and sautéed snapper are appealing in their ways, but entrées are far from the main event at Varietal, a new Chelsea restaurant put together by food and wine director and owner Greggory Hockenberry.

Peek into the immaculate dining room for a glimpse at a unique chandelier made of what seems like hundreds of glass wine goblets, then tuck yourself into a seat at the bar for one of 75 wines by the glass and a dazzling array of sumptuous appetizers and delicious, if slightly odd, desserts. Beware the hard sell of bubbly at the beginning of the evening — “It will cleanse your palate!” — unless you’re in the mood to splurge on grower Champagnes. Alternatively, a $1,200 magnum of 1987 cabernet sauvignon from Joseph Phelps Vineyards in Napa is always available.

The restaurant, which opened in December, still has a few hiccups to work through, but delectables like the monkfish liver appetizer and a goat’s milk bread option help make up for it. Pastry chef Jordan Kahn, a graduate of Alinea in Chicago and the Thomas Keller empire, offers up weird and delightful treats like celery root with cherry wood ice cream and absinthe with sour apple sorbet. And if you’re over the whole cocktail thing, the Mexican lemongrass tea certainly warms up a bitter February night.

Varietal, 138 West 25th Street, 212-633-1800.
— Amy S. Choi

Buyers in search of a little comic relief and some serious exercise should make a beeline to Equinox for Urban Rebounding, an exercise class conducted entirely on mini trampolines.

The 45-minute class might look like a laugh to passers-by — who often stop to peer in to see what all the smiles are about — but the routine provides high-intensity, low-impact cardiovascular conditioning. The crux of the class is a combination of moves borrowed from Jane Fonda-inspired aerobics, sport-specific drills, sprints, push-ups and ab crunches. Overachievers up the strain by working out with hand weights. Participants can burn between 300 and 500 calories, depending on weight, body composition and, of course effort, according to instructor Gregg Cook. He keeps the energy level high with his enthusiastic commands.

JB Berns invented Urban Rebounding after being sidelined with a knee injury. Eager to keep his cardiovascular fitness level up without aggravating his injury, he turned to the rebounder, a tool often used for physical rehab. Berns draws on his martial arts background for various exercises, but Cook thinks it’s all that bouncing that keeps people coming back.

“There is a feeling of freedom and buoyancy — and feeling like child bouncing on his parents’ bed,” he said.

Equinox Fitness offers Urban Rebounding at its clubs at 205 East 85th Street (212-439-8500) and 140 East 63rd Street (212-750-4900.) Guest passes are $35.
— Rosemary Feitelberg

Downtown’s Olive Branch
Like many savvy uptown natives these days, Fig & Olive is making its foray into the downtown world.

Fig & Olive’s new Meatpacking District location, which opened Dec. 19, is neighbors with Pastis, Hotel Gansevoort and Spice Market. At 5,000 square feet, the new spot is about four times larger than the Upper East Side original and seats 200.

The Mediterranean restaurant is as diverse and bountiful as the region from which it takes its inspiration. At the Fig Cafe, visitors can taste dishes and sip cocktails. The Olive Room seats formal diners; a 16-foot marble communal table faces the open kitchen, and a 36-foot marble bar and lounge suits the area’s social types.

Executive chef Pascal Lorange, formerly the private chef of Julio Iglesias, has cooked for Oscar de la Renta and Princess Stephanie of Monaco. He also spent time in Spain, and he draws on that Mediterranean region for Fig & Olive’s menu.

Guests start with a complementary olive oil flight that includes a selection from Spain, France and Italy. Tasting menus offer selections of vegetables, crostinis, cheeses, cured meats and, of course, olives. For an appetizer, try the salmon and tomato carpaccio. True to the restaurant’s name, Fig & Olive’s main courses all include extra virgin olive oil — from grilled skewered lamb on couscous with figs (koroneiki olive oil) to the papillote of sole with vegetables (baussy fruity olive oil) — and many include figs. And if a bottle of olive oil doesn’t hit the spot, perhaps a bottle of the region’s wine will.

Fig & Olive, 420 West 13th Street; 212-924-1200.
— Whitney Beckett

Palette Meets Palate
Veteran chef Dennis Foy shares his artistry at the stove as well as the easel in his new eponymous TriBeCa restaurant. He painted the land- and seascapes (all for sale) that transform the former Lo Scalco walls, and he also tosses creative fire into each dish.

Some unexpected pairings include tuna tartare with apples and cinnamon rather than avocado. Butternut squash soup meets air-dried duck and marshmallows, and the top-line nut-themed cocktail draws from Charbay black walnut liqueur, house-made chestnut simple syrup, Frangelico, Amaretto and cream — with nutmeg sprinkled on top. The presentation reinforces the creativity, making a standard dish like braised short ribs pop from the plate, thanks to a colorful bed of spicy red cabbage and baby carrots. For dessert, a chocolate hazelnut dome shines like a cue ball.

The chef himself comes out in his whites to schmooze with patrons. Foy has certainly had time to get the whole restaurant recipe right. For the last 30 years, he has reigned over fine kitchens in Manhattan and New Jersey, including Bay Point Prime, EQ and Mondrian.

At the newest Dennis Foy creation, prices range from $8 to $18 for appetizers, $24 to $35 for main courses and — for the truly inspired — about $7,500 for a painting.

Dennis Foy, 313 Church Street; 212-625-1007.

— W.B.

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