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Bread's on a roll

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ATKINS, Shmatkins - bread rises again. After the low-carb craze caused some restaurants to ditch the traditional pre-dinner bread basket, loaves are back in the limelight on some of the most buzzed-about menus in town.

Breads are the streetside attraction at the trilevel Bouley Bakery & Market. David Bouley's TriBeCa newcomer is home to a specialty market, sushi bar and demo kitchen - but patrons must first resist the aromatic first-floor array of dozens of loaves (fig, saffron and pistachio hazelnut, among them), either alone or as part of such sandwiches as lobster with yuzu mayonnaise and cheese-crusted croque monsieurs.

In a few weeks, when ex-Pastis chef Sascha Lyon debuts Sascha, his multilevel dining-and-lounge complex in the Meatpacking District, he plans to open Sascha Bakery right alongside, for sticky buns, beignets and buttered rolls in the morning and sweets the rest of the day.

Coming next year is Bouchon Bakery, in which Thomas Keller's ovens in the Time Warner Center will produce different goodies from those served at his revered Yountville, Calif., original. No word yet, though, as to what these items might be.

No such mystery at Blue Ribbon Bakery Market in the Village. Here, it's all toast, all the time at the latest addition to the Bromberg Brothers' five Blue Ribbon restaurants in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

"I guess from our point of view, the no-carb trend never really felt like a serious threat to thousands of years of heritage and history," says Eric Bromberg about the brothers' eateries, known for feeding off-duty chefs until the wee hours.

At the market, a selection of artisanal loaves - challah, nine-grain, flax seed and a dozen other kinds - are for sale whole or thickly sliced and popped in the Dualit toaster. Once toasted, they make crisp-crusted rafts for a variety of toppings, from loads of creamy smoked sturgeon salad or lemony hummus to simple butter with a sprinkle of fleur de sel or a drizzle of Mexican raw honey.

Inspired in part by the open-faced tartines the Bromberg brothers enjoyed in France, the concept also sprang from hanging around the bakery itself, Bromberg says, with bread coming out of the oven and "just putting something on it and eating it ... It's almost like getting a slice of pizza or something of that nature, where it can be a meal or it can be a snack."

The wood-fired brick oven at Blue Ribbon Bakery was an unexpected coup. When the Brombergs were scouting out a location for a new restaurant in the late '90s, they stumbled on a structure in the basement at the corner of Bedford and Downing that looked like an oven Bruce Bromberg used when working at Poilane in Paris, considered by many to be that city's top bakery.

"When we walked into the space where it was, we said, 'Holy cow, what is that?'" Eric Bromberg recalls. It turned out to be a community oven residents of the building used 140 years ago, before coal ovens.

"We felt like we were uncovering the history of New York," he says, "and the project then took on more of a historical restoration concept than anything else."

That 16- by 12-foot oven is the centerpiece of the restaurant, turning out some 1,500 loaves a day by baking 400 pounds of dough at a clip. The loaves are retrieved with 18-foot-long paddles. Customers can watch from the wine-cellar dining room downstairs.

The wood fire gives a special earthiness and crunch to the crusts of Blue Ribbon breads, which are also served at 35 other restaurants, including Café Gray, 'ino and Po.

Copyright 2004 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

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