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111 W. 17th St.
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Julietta Ballestero, chef and owner of Crema, a chic restaurant in Chelsea, comes from a family of artists and focuses her cuisine not only on flavor and technique, but color, architecture, and finishing flourishes, such as edible flowers. Crema's understated decor of salmon stucco and mirrored walls is highlighted by jars of bright yellow lemons on the bar. A small back patio with big orange umbrellas provides a romantic dining spot in warm weather. Ballestero is from Monterey but trained here at the International Culinary Institute, and likes to fuse her native cuisine with international touches.

Dishes for the table to share include Ensalada Campesina, an assortment of grilled vegetables, avocado, panela cheese, and green aioli with cumin-lime vinaigrette. A house favorite is the Callo de Hacha Con Chile Morita y Mango: dry scallops are pan-seared in the smoky chile morita, set on a sweet corn cake, and topped with avocado mousse, mango salsa, chipotle aioli -- and a purple flower. It's as tasty as it is beautiful to look at. An outstanding appetizer is the Taquitas (small rolled up tortillas) de Chilario with slow-cooked pork, chile ancho, jalapeno vinegar, chipotle-cilantro drizzle, and crema. The adobo-marinated grilled skirt steak, Tacos de Carne Asada, is paired with black beans in corn tortillas with a killer chile tomatillo sauce on the side that will leave you wanting more. Ballestero glazes Pekin duck breast for a popular entrée, Magret de Pato en Mole, served over mole poblano with roasted plantains, pomegranate honey, crema, and a potato cheese enchilada. Lunch and dinner noon to 10:30pm, Thursday to 11 pm; Friday and Saturday to midnight; Sunday 10pm. -- Marian Betancourt

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