June 14, 2004 | Ask Gael

Are you a chef groupie?

        I think of myself as a stalker, quick to follow a promising whisk on the climb. I first noticed Linda Japngie’s assertive way with citrus and chili heat when she was in the kitchen at Jimmy’s Uptown, gentrifying soul food and island classics with tricks picked up at Bouley. Now she’s toying with Mexican idioms at Ixta—a narrow room with not many tables and a cafeteria look warmed by relentless orange. Japngie’s idea of guacamole, undiluted by tomato, is uniquely buttery and addictive. Squash-blossom quesadillas with fresh pico de gallo, “blooming” diver scallops spicily glazed, and lobster-and-black-bean taquitos are just what gringos like us appreciate. Not so, crumbly corn tortillas with fast-food shrimp. A Tijuana ranch steak with poblano creamed corn pleases the hard-to-please Road Food Warrior, and my pals are locking forks to get at my double appetizer order of cleanly and crisply fried soft-shell crabs nested on fabulous lime-spiked corn salad. With entrées at $18 to $22, three courses and a drink could run $50 per person, tax and tip included.

48 East 29th Street 212 683 4833
Providing a continuous lifeline to homebound elderly New Yorkers

Cafe Fiorello