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New York City: Apiary

It’s a silly name. (As a friend said, “I know it’s about bees, but it sounds like a place to keep apes.”) The Ligne Roset furniture is a little too self-consciously sleek for the space. Even more damning, the menu reads like that of every other “local, seasonal” restaurant around town. So you might say Apiary has three strikes against it. But then there’s Scott Bryan, who took over as executive chef two months ago. Just as he did in his years at Veritas, Bryan demonstrates why talent makes a difference in the kitchen. The combination of rare duck breast, celery root purée, and lentils, for example, once again seems revelatory—the deep, rich flavors are perfectly balanced, leading you on greedily from bite to bite. This just might be the place to remember why you liked all these dishes so much in the first place.

Apiary 60 Third Ave., New York City (212-254-0888; apiarynyc.com)

New York City: Minetta Tavern

Cross Balthazar with Waverly Inn and you’ve got an idea of how it feels at the new Minetta Tavern, which is just like the old one, except the food is better. The place has been buffed and shined to a cozy golden glow, and the menu—a compilation of hits from bistros around the world—is utterly likable. You can choose between roast chicken, côte de boeuf, a fine plate of American cheeses. There’s a pasta, a pile of roasted marrow bones, an awesome pig’s foot rolled into a gorgeously gooey croquette. Four variations on the potato theme tempt you to try them. And although I really wanted to hate the $26 burger, resistance is futile when meat is this good. The wine list ranges from an $18 carafe to a $1,500 La Tache. Dessert? Why not a soufflé? The celebrities are out in force, and it looks to me like Keith McNally’s got another hit on his hands.

Minetta Tavern 113 MacDougal St., New York City (212-475-3850)

New York City: At Vermilion

For a Californian like me, Asian-Latin fusion is nothing new; I was eating teriyaki burritos at Danny’s Oki Dog in West Hollywood when Gerald Ford was president. But until I sat down at Manhattan’s new At Vermilion (the second restaurant by the people behind Vermilion in Chicago), I’d never tasted—never imagined—anything as successfully fused and flat-out delicious as duck vindaloo arepas. The dense, crisp-edged little corn cakes heaped with spicy shredded duck worked so beautifully that my only complaint was numerical: There are only four arepas to an order, and I wanted about two dozen.

The arepas aren’t the only thing to love here. Artichoke pakoras with coconut-chile sauce flavored almost imperceptibly with eggplant; blackened tamarind-glazed pork ribs with “chips” of fried tapioca; crabmeat wrapped in huitlacoche-filled crêpes alongside buttery quinoa—these are inspirations of the most delicious kind. The downsides? An unaccountably empty dining room and overpriced wines ($70 for a Soave that wholesales for $12?).

Vermilion 480 Lexington Ave., New York City (212-871-6600; thevermilionrestaurant.com)

New York City: ’inoteca

Transfer the Lower East Side’s scruffy little ’inoteca a few miles north, and despite the same amiable menu of great small dishes and the equally impressive wine list, the feel of the place becomes entirely different. There’s an electricity about the new outpost that makes you feel that you’ve come to the right place. A buzz fills the room as people inhale their suppli, their spiedini, their mozzarella in carrozza. The owners have added plates of pasta and polenta to the snacky menu of fried and skewered foods, panini, and plates of cured meats, and with most dishes falling in the $11 to $12 range and cocktails at $10, it’s easy to see why the place is so packed. What’s not to like? They’ve even brought along the beloved truffled egg toast.

’inoteca 323 Third Avenue, New York City (212-683-3035; inotecanyc.com)