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Cooks County: A Perfect First-date Restaurant?

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Wed, Nov 16, 2011 at 11:38 AM

click to enlarge Jonagold apples - F. FRIESEMA
  • F. Friesema
  • Jonagold apples
At the end of 2011, the year that the gastropub finally wrestled formal dining into a bathtub to drown, we pretty much know what a good, new restaurant is going to look like. There will be an open kitchen, and noise, and a very decent selection of obscure wines by the glass. The eggs and the berries and the carrots -- pretty much everything -- will have shiny farmers market pedigrees, and the meat will be sourced from farmers who have been profiled in Saveur.

The style of cooking probably will be Mediterranean, but Mediterranean by way of Lucques, which means that the squid in red wine sauce or the braised lamb shoulder with dates will be a bit heavier, a bit sweeter and a bit crunchier than what you might find in Marseilles or Tangiers; the seafood soup will be prepared on the grill in the style of Mark Peel; and none of it will represent a particular cuisine but will be finished with impeccably fresh produce. We have all been conditioned to paying for bread now, so the hot pretzels or the dense cast-iron bread will be events instead of empty carbs.

A lot of people have been following Daniel Mattern and Roxana Jullapat since they were young cooks at Campanile, through their stint at Ammo. Cooks County, which they opened with Claudio Blotta of Barbrix in the former Bistro LQ, is a cheerful place that feels like a wine bar but functions more as a restaurant, with actual appetizers and main courses, as well as Jullapat's aggressively homey desserts -- focaccia with roasted grapes, cranberry chess pie and hot beignets oozing chocolate cream. A perfect first-date restaurant? If you're persuaded by clams steamed in vermouth, nettle fettuccine with chanterelles, and beef tenderloin with sunchokes, I'm guessing it might be.

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