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table 8

New York City: Table 8

Govind Armstrong’s sleek New York version of Table 8, ensconced in the super-modernist Cooper Square Hotel in the East Village, is so new they’re still adjusting everything from the lighting to the air conditioning (and hopefully the booming bass on the sound system). Even so, the place is already swarming with upper-crust diners anxious to see and be seen amidst the bookshelves, walls of leather and glass, and “salt and charcuterie” bar. (The designer clearly knows the clientele—there are even hooks for women’s handbags under the tables.) Though the menu is still relatively small, Armstrong is judiciously adding two dishes each day, such as a perfectly house-cured duck prosciutto, a deeply flavorful lamb terrine, and sautéed scallops with a wonderfully satisfying spring succotash that deftly combines richness and freshness. Nothing needs to be adjusted about food like this.

Table 8 25 Cooper Square, New York City (212-475-3400; thecoopersquarehotel.com)

San Francisco: Kitchenette

You’ll know you’ve found the place when you spot a cluster of dubiously parked cars opposite warehouses coated with a patina of rust and a crowd of hungry loiterers hanging around a loading dock. Kitchenette, a pared-down lunch operation in a part of town called Dogpatch, offers just a few tasty items daily (you can check out the ever-changing menu in advance on the website, but there’s no phone). The set-up is beyond simple: A few stairs put you on the loading dock, where you place your order and take a number. Then the loitering begins. There are benches arranged between cars, where you can awkwardly position yourself and dig into a hefty meatball sandwich drenched in Fatted Calf–enhanced amatriciana sauce, or try to dress a tarragon-laced salad of gem lettuces, peas, slivered radish, and avocado. Local cod tacos were a highlight of my visit: three corn tortillas smeared with avocado and filled with cornmeal-dusted fish, cabbage slaw, sautéed chiles, cilantro, and a drizzle of crema. Kitchenette’s pedigreed chefs—including Brian Leitner, formally of Chez Panisse, and Douglas Monsalud, from Fog City Diner and Betelnut in San Francisco—call their food “spontaneous organic covert nourishment.” I’d like to add “delicious.”

Kitchenette 958 Illinois St., San Francisco (kitchenettesf.com)

Oxford: Snackbar

When Elvis Costello was in Oxford, Mississippi, recording his 2006 album, The Delivery Man, he pinned John Currence with the nickname Johnny Snack. (Currence, who recently won a James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef: South, catered Costello’s recording and rehearsal sessions from the kitchen at City Grocery, his flagship restaurant.) Last month, Currence made good on the name, when he opened Snackbar, a neighborhood-focused restaurant in an old strip mall. (It shares the strip with Big Bad Breakfast, Currence’s year-old paean to the Southern diner.) The Snackbar vibe is straightforward: shellacked wainscoting accessorized by taxidermied deer heads; louvered blinds to filter the parking lot light; raw bar in front, featuring Apalachicola’s best; drinking bar in back, where Sazeracs are poured with a sure hand. Vishwesh Bhatt, Currence’s longtime collaborator, is in the kitchen, turning out creolized takes on Mississippi-Louisiana small plates. Like trout in brown butter and pecan sauce, oysters smothered with Rockefeller-ed collard greens, duck confit on a bed of chopped apples, and, for dessert, the fat wedge of caramel cake that tastes like it was liberated from a Baptist bake sale.

Snackbar 721 N. Lamar Blvd., Oxford, MS (662-236-6363)

Madrid: Estado Puro

Carles Abellan did it first, then Alberto Adrià (Ferran’s brother). Now, it’s Paco Roncero’s turn. Like those other stars of Spain’s molecular gastronomy stratosphere, the high-tech chef of Madrid’s Terraza del Casino has opened a down-home tapas bar. Located in a cozy room whose barrel-shaped ceiling is lined, delightfully, with those elaborate combs that Spanish women use to prop up their mantillas, Estado Puro translates as “pure state,” which gives you an idea of what Roncero is up to—as long as you believe that the pure state of, say, salt cod is to be rolled into chestnut-sized balls and deep-fried to a parsley-flecked crisp. It’s true that most of the tapas are little more than well-chosen produce, lightly adorned: steamed cockles dressed with gellified lemon; a lovely take on patatas bravas in which tiny new potatoes have their tops hollowed out to make room for a dab of hot sauce. Not everything succeeds. A simple porcini carpaccio was bland, and its pine nut vinaigrette too sweet. Tigres—a classic dish that blends mussels with béchamel, packs the mixture back in the shells and tops the whole thing with breadcrumbs—was, in this incarnation, a deep-fried ball of vileness. But the best tapa of all? The mini-hamburguesa served with grainy mustard and caramelized onions—hardly what I’d call pure but delicious nonetheless.

Estado Puro Hotel NH Paseo del Prado, Plaza Canovas del Castillo, 4 Madrid (34-913-302-400; tapasenestadopuro.com)