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AL FRESCO DINING

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Last night, I ate a hotdog on my patio. My husband grilled it on a tiny hibachi, and I served it with coleslaw purchased from the supermarket and a green salad. No offense to any of the chefs who fed me so well this winter, but it was one of the best meals I’ve had all year.

I usually feel that way about anything I consume once the weather warms up. I don’t care what it is - a dirty water dog, a slice of pizza, a Dixie cup of cardboardy chocolate ice cream. And I don’t care where I eat it - my porch, on the sidewalk in a cloud of gasoline fumes, or on a blanket in Prospect Park. Whatever I eat outside tastes great.

Of course, I don’t expect everyone to embrace dining al fresco with the same lack of discrimination. So I’ve found restaurants that offer sophisticated cuisine in outdoor spaces that shield you from the usual sidewalk dining mishaps: ankle-gnawing schnauzers, the aroma of wafting garbage and that damn car alarm that won’t stop beeping.

Jolie, a French bistro in Boerum Hill, is an elegant oasis of serenity off busy Atlantic Avenue. It may be one of the most feminine restaurants too, with flattering lighting, paintings of dancing girls and French doors that open onto a bi-level terrace ringed with flowers and herbs. Under one of the 50 umbrella-topped tables, you can enjoy chef Michel Pombet’s classic French cuisine while sipping an "adult slushie." Two to try are the Tracey (green apple sorbet and Calvados apple brandy) and the Ida (Ricard Pastis and coconut sorbet with a sprinkling of raw sugar).

From now through the final match on July 9, the World Cup is being shown on a big outdoor, awning-covered screen. French film buffs will want to stop in around 8 pm for "Cinetastic Sunday," to watch classic French films shown al fresco.

Another eatery where traditional French cuisine is served in casual surroundings is Le Gamin in Prospect Heights. During the warmer months, the waitstaff at this funky little place opens the back door onto a small garden with umbrella-covered tables that seat 26. No one rushes locals, who linger over crepes, excellent omelets and an exemplary "salade nicoise."

In the evening, the wood-fenced outdoor space is surprisingly quiet for a spot on noisy Vanderbilt Avenue, and, judging from the handholding couples, romantic, too.

Housed in a three-story brownstone in DUMBO is Five Front, a bistro with one of the prettiest outdoor dining spots in the borough. The eatery, located beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, is also one of the finest places to dine on new American cuisine. I shared a meal at the bar with a friend recently and flipped for chef Paul Vicino’s airy goat cheese gnocchi (tiny potato dumplings), topped with a sprinkle of roasted beets and a drizzle of melted butter.

Striped umbrellas shade the 40 seats in the restaurant’s lush bamboo garden where a small bar is canopied by the leaves of a birch tree. The feeling of stumbling onto a secret gem keeps diners returning to this secluded spot.

I’m still thinking about my fabulous dinner in April at Nouvelle in Bay Ridge. Andy Yang, the chef at this Asian-French fusion eatery, wooed me with caviar-topped tuna, dazzled me with his lobster roll, and had me begging for mercy by the time the rib eye with truffle sauce landed on the table.

I’d still return for more if he was serving food out of a truck, but slumming won’t be necessary. There’s a lovely shaded deck in the back of the restaurant that seats 20. I plan on sitting beneath one of the yellow umbrella-covered tables there soon - just me, an ice-cold litchi martini and a plate of whatever "Andysan" dreams up that evening.

I had another Bay Ridge blowout earlier in the year at Amelia’s Ristorante, an Italian restaurant where chef Ken Deiner mans the kitchen and the dining room with equal zeal. He’s just enlarged his eight-table restaurant to include a garden area with seating for 65. The best thing about the new outdoor space - and, Deiner says, unique to the Bay Ridge neighborhood - is a six-seat raw bar where patrons can pull up a stool and watch as clams and oysters are shucked and plated.

If raw fish isn’t your thing, there are steamers as well as seafood kebabs available at the bar and candlelit tables. Now until early September is the time to stop in for macadamia-crusted soft shell crabs with a drizzle of light lemon cream.

It’s just a short flight down from Convivium Osteria’s rustic dining room to its garden. The 26-seat, pergola-covered area makes a breezy setting for chef Carlo Pulixi’s hearty Spanish, Portuguese and Italian fare. Standouts to try are the whole braised artichokes and the crusty rib eye steak-for-two. Climbing ivy, lush plantings and roses in bloom add to the feeling of enchantment diners have come to expect from this Park Slope old timer.

The ideal place for a break from the relentless hipness of Williamsburg can be found in the dramatic courtyard at My Moon, a Turkish-Mediterranean eatery. In the warmer months, owner Bener Bilgin opens the doors of the vast, 246-seat eatery onto a stunning, two-level bricked outdoor area with seating for an additional 90 persons. Planted trees help shade diners on the upper tier of the wooden deck; on the lower step, wooden tables and benches are surrounded by sheer, saffron-colored drapes that blow about each little space, giving the enclosed diners a breezy outdoor party room of their own.

While you’re there, sip a "Pomelitan" (Absolut citron vodka and pomegranate juice) and graze on small plates of chef Manny Marin’s meze. The grilled sardines, seafood filled grape leaves and "morcilla piquillos," Spanish red peppers stuffed with rice and sausage in green sauce, are recommended.

Walk through the small dining room of Ici, a casual bistro in Fort Greene, to a small, appealing garden surrounded by a white picket fence. Settle at one of the 27 seats or perch on the old-fashioned metal glider, and sample Texas-born chef Julie Farias’s French fare by way of the Panhandle. Her chicken liver schnitzel with shallot confit, and skate with wilted dandelion greens, lemon and brown butter are must-haves regardless of the temperature.

I couldn’t write a story about outdoor dining and not include Alma in Red Hook. The three-level establishment sports a year-round, tented roof garden with a view of the Manhattan skyline so glamorous and vast as to seem like a stage set. The eatery’s pan-regional Mexican fare receives kudos from food critics, as well as a loyal following who chow down on seared rare tuna with roasted mango and corn salsa and sip passion fruit and guava mojitos. Anyone who dines there agrees that the delicious fare tastes even better eaten so close to the stars.

 

 

Alma (187 Columbia St. at Degraw Street in Red Hook) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $12-$18. Dinner is served daily. Brunch is available on weekends, from 10 am to 2:30 pm. For reservations, call (718) 643-5400.

Amelia’s Ristorante (8305 Third Ave. between 83rd and 84th streets in Bay Ridge) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Dinner is available from Tuesday through Sunday; lunch is served Tuesday through Saturday, from 11 am to 3 pm. Closed Mondays. For reservations, call (718) 680-4650.

Convivium Osteria (68 Fifth Ave. between Bergen Street and St. Marks Place in Park Slope) accepts American Express. Entrees: $13-$25; steak-for-two is $35. The restaurant serves lunch on weekends, from noon to 3 pm, and dinner daily. For reservations, call (718) 857-1833.

Five Front (5 Front St. at Old Fulton Street in DUMBO) accepts American Express, Diners Club, Discover, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $15-$19. The restaurant serves dinner Wednesday through Monday, and brunch on weekends, from 11 am to 4 pm. Closed Tuesdays. For reservations, call (718) 625-5559.

Ici (246 DeKalb Ave. between Clermont and Vanderbilt Avenues in Fort Greene) accepts American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $14-$23. Dinner is served daily. Brunch is available on weekends, from 8 am to 4 pm. For reservations, call (718) 789-2778.

Jolie Restaurant (320 Atlantic Ave. between Hoyt and Smith streets in Boerum Hill) accepts American Express. Entrees: $16-$20. The restaurant serves lunch Tuesday through Sunday and dinner daily. Brunch is served, from 11 am to 4 pm, on weekends. For reservations, call (718) 488-0777.

Le Gamin (556 Vanderbilt Ave. between Dean and Bergen streets in Prospect Heights) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $9-$14. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner from 8 am to 10 pm daily. For information, call (718) 789-5171.

My Moon (184 N. 10th Street between Bedford and Driggs avenues in Williamsburg) accepts American Express, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $14-$18. The restaurant serves dinner daily. For reservations, call (718) 599-7007.

Nouvelle (8716 Third Ave. between 87th and 88th streets in Bay Ridge) accepts American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa. Entrees: $12-$15. "Omikase" is $50 for five courses. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday. Closed Mondays. For reservations, call (718) 238-8250.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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