December 19, 2005 | Ask Gael

And what's a barbounia?

        It’s a small, not all that remarkable Mediterranean fish, but the restaurant that has taken its name is making waves already with a gentrified take on food from the Mediterranean. And the imperative cocktails that are highly original and, for once, not too sweet. Try the grape-blueberry Stolichnaya “Sappho” or the muddled orange-port-Campari “Valencia.” Sexy drifts of cream-hued fabric soften the room and heighten the drama, though the feathered chandelier is weird - “angels on acid,” we decide. But that’s easy to ignore once we’re into executive chef Michael Cressotti’s smartly tweaked, mostly Greek classics: savory spreads like taramosalata, kalamata tapenade, and toasted-walnut yogurt to spread on luscious flat bread. So-called moussaka of portobellos, crisply crumbed, in a smart mini cocotte. Wonderful fire-roasted sardines, tasting of mustard oil with tangy Granny Smith - fennel salad. The hefty cured meat board comes with dried-fruit chutney and fresh cherry-walnut bread. First-rate rib eye at $36 and lamb chops at $33, naked on the plate, seem expensive to me (sides are $6 extra). But gently priced lemon-rosemary roasted chicken comes with saffron orzo, wild mushrooms, and broccoli rabe. Snapper, a bit too cooked for our taste, rides on lentils with artichoke, olives, and red peppers. Desserts seem to be a work in progress.

250 Park Ave. S. at 20th St. 212 995 0242