To New Yorkers, Dennis Foy has been a sort of Halley's Comet of the culinary galaxy. The chef and restaurateur brightened the city at the end of the '80s with the opulent Mondrian, returned 10 years later with the vivid, ephemeral EQ, and has now reappeared in Lower Manhattan. New Jersey diners may be less starstruck by Mr. Foy, who has maintained a steady presence in their state for 30 years.
The new restaurant, goldleafed, pink-lit, and hung with Mr. Foy's paintings, covers the same culinary ground he's staked out over the years. Clean flavors prevail, artfully arranged with a Franco-American sensibility that's modern but never outlandish. The impact of a dish is never diluted, never hard to find. When he does, occasionally, offer an avant-garde flourish, it takes a back seat: a thick, substantial foie gras terrine (at $18, the priciest starter) served on a round of buttery toast with a smear of tart prune purée, is garnished with what the menu calls "eis and snow." A thin gel layer made from eiswein lies on top of the torchon, and a sprinkling of fluffy powdered foie gras fat decorates the purée, but the look and the name are the primary legacy of the clever additions, far more dramatic than any flavor effect they have.
More typical is a simple, warming starter of puffy gnocchi ($12), seared off-brown in a pan and piled into a little bowl with savory mushrooms and a hint of cheese. And a crabmeat tian ($15) — a terrine cooked in an earthenware mold, browned on top and tender inside — could not be better. Huge, luxurious chunks of excellent crab comprise a mild, richly buttery cake sweetened with fresh herbs and onion and served warm, a Provencal-style snapshot of the sea with a little spicy heat. Any uncalibrated note would stand out in such a fine, subtle dish, but there is none.
The clean lines of Mr. Foy's cooking make for an unusual approach to heartier fare, like roast loin of lamb ($34), which typically calls for rustic, maximal flavors. Here, the meatiness is minimized, as pale slices of none too moist lamb lean against spears of piquant broccoli rabe, on a bed of sweet-spiced squash puree and accented by swirls of a vinegary, peppery reduction. Short ribs of beef are often almost a caricature of heartiness — they're served at so many New York restaurants, typically on the bone, with dense agglomerations of flavor, braised in intensifying media like red wine or coconut milk. In Mr. Foy's domain, though, they're off the bone ($28), more moist and tender than most, with an unbeef-like smoothness that's mediated but not overwhelmed by fat. Their bed of red cabbage has a keen, light tartness that, again, keeps the heartiness to a minimum. Even cassoulet ($24), which can't help being deep and earthy despite the delicate porcelain casserole in which it's served, has an unwonted purity and harmony amid its hunks of garlic sausage and lamb.
All of those dishes are tasty, especially the beef, but none measures up to what the chef draws from seafood, as seen in the tian and in a main course of wonderfully fresh fluke ($24). Cooked golden, it's piled three filets high on a platform of soft, delicate baby leeks, which could pass for scallions on first glance but have much more character. A thin, creamy sauce, orange with citrus and saffron, enfolds the moist fish and a quartet of little shell-less mussels.
The varied, international wine list and Kimberly Bugler's desserts ($10) have a compatible fineness. A tart with a flavorful pistachio crust and attractive louvers of sliced pear packs remarkable flavor, even without a sweet scarlet assist from a scoop of brandied sour cherries. Butter is the primary flavor in a plum financier, with almond a close second, and the plums adding a fruity overtone; similarly, the rum in the accompanying rum ice cream is hard to detect.
Mondrian was a good descriptive name for that restaurant, evoking the cool, colorful modernism of the chef's technique. But since then, that technique has proven itself distinctive and consistent enough that Dennis Foy is a perfect, recognizable name for this new venture. I hope it lasts.
Dennis Foy (313 Church St., between Lispenard and Walker streets, 212-625-1007).