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Second Avenue Shuffle: Vandaag Closes, Calliope Opens

vandaagStephen Rex Brown

First, the good news: Just a week after its paint job, Calliope has opened in the former Belcourt space. Grub Street has a look inside, and you can find the menu at Menupages.

Now, the bad. A couple blocks up on Second Avenue, Vandaag has become the latest ex-Villager. Thursday morning, The Local spotted a sign on the window of the darkened Dutch restaurant indicating that it was closed due to plumbing problems. Today, a new sign regretfully informs patrons of a “recent decision to close Vandaag.” The note concludes, “Fortunately, we were able to move most of our team to new digs, in Brooklyn,” meaning Woodland in Park Slope.

Vandaag opened in the former Bounce Deuce space at Second Avenue and Sixth Street and garnered two stars from The Times and then another favorable review from The Local (“Perhaps Vandaag, too, will disappear before long,” worried James Traub back in November of 2010. “I hope not; it’s the only Dutch-Danish restaurant in the neighborhood.”) Unfortunately, it was under-performing even before it lost its chef back in August.

Anyone know where to go now for a nice shot of aquavit?

In The East Village, It’s A Chef’s Life

Belcourt Matt7Gloria Chung Matt Hamilton, chef and partner in the Second Avenue restaurant Belcourt, says that he puts in 60 hours a week to manage the restaurant. “I don’t see it as a burden,” he says. Belcourt, below, is part of a wave of restaurants that have helped the East Village become one of the city’s premier dining neighborhoods.
Belcourt exteriorGloria Chung

Cheese for breakfast? Why not?

In the upstairs tasting room at Murray’s on Bleecker Street, Matt Hamilton, chef and partner in the Second Avenue restaurant Belcourt, is moaning gently over a mouthful of Brunet, a rich Italian goat cheese firm in the center, meltingly gelatinous just below the wrinkly, earthy rind.

A chef’s life would be great, he says, if it just involved tasting and cooking. He imagines that’s how it probably is if you’re Tom Colicchio or one of those corporate guys. We moved on to the Salers, a Cheddar-like cow’s milk cheese from the mountainous Auvergne in France. Elizabeth Chubbuck of Murray’s explains that the sentimental Salers cows only give milk when their calves are nearby. Salers is rare, and like so many fine cheeses, expensive.

Matt doesn’t visit Murray’s daily, or even weekly. Usually, in fact, the rep comes to him. He changes his menu with the seasons, then makes small adjustments within each season. Every month or so he considers new possibilities for his cheese program. He currently offers a plate of four cheeses but would like to do more, would love to have a cheese tray. Elizabeth says she knows his palate; apparently it tends toward the creamy and funky. We eat some Stilton from Colston Basset, a cheese I grew up with.

My plan was to follow in Matt’s footsteps for a day. Over the last few years, the East Village has become one of the city’s premier dining neighborhoods. Alongside the inexpensive pizzerias, the discount sushi, and the tandoori restaurants of East Sixth, serious restaurants have established themselves. With some exceptions, like Daniel Boulud’s DBGB, the best of these are independent, not part of a larger organization or corporate chain. What makes these places run?
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