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Scenario: If you could only go to four-five restaurants in NYC...which would you choose?

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  • magnolia Nov 27, 2000 07:14 AM
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I am going to NYC for several days around New Year's
and am trying to compile my restaurant list and make reservations as necessary.

Ideally, I'd like to try four-five places, at which I would be willing to make a reservation and spend a bit as necessary, for lunch or dinner.

My criteria are: 1) food quality 2) wine list 3) service 4) ambiance, in that order. I'm not averse to eating in the 'cafe', 'bar' or other 'annex' of a main restaurant if it's basically the same food, same chef scenario. They don't all have to meet all four criteria but they should meet at one of the first three! And if it's a total, cheap dive in a with fantastic food - then that's fine too.

I'd like to try: 1 French; 1 Italian; 1 "eclectic" or creative; 1 "American"; and 1 other

I'm saving the 'rooms with a view' for drinks only unless someone advises that there's a place where great food can be had while gazing over city lights.

Howler seems to the be the only one who really dissed Tabla in a big way...his anti-fusion argument is interesting but I'm willing to overlook the philosophy if the food is superb. Question is whether I'd be just as happy (and get away more cheaply!) by eating at the bar, and therefore I wouldn't 'use up' my 'eclectic/creative' allocation.

Lupa seems a good bet on the Italian...French & American & other wild cards. I'm thinking USC or Gramercy Tavern? Can anyone comment on American Place?
Has anyone been to the Russian Tea Room lately?

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  1. Forgot to mention a steak house.

    1 Reply
    1. re: magnolia
      m
      Michael Shriro

      Peter Lugar's in Brooklyn.

    2. 1. Italian: Lupa
      2. American: Gramercy Tavern
      3. Scandanavian (eclectic, given the chef): Aquavit
      4. Danube (E. European -- hungarian?!)
      5. Union Pacific (haven't been, hear it's perfect)

      1. 1)Tabla (Upstairs but also downstairs if you do not have a reservation as it is open seating).

        2)Gramercy Tavern

        3)Felidia

        4) Veritas Fabulous wine list at exceptional prices with very good food.

        5) Peter Luger or Sparks for steak

        6)Tocqueville,(East 15th St.) not yet very well known with wonderful food, service and ambiance. Small, quiet and romantic. To me, a must try for the whole forum.

        1. If I only had four or five meals in New York, I would be tempted to eat them all at Pearl Oyster House. That would be just enough time to work your way through the rather small menu, with seconds on the fried oysters, the perfect lobster roll and the salted shrimp.

          Anyway, bearing in mind that you probably aren't looking for experiences you can easily replicate in London:

          American restaurant: the Lobster Club, on the Upper East Side, which has extremely good seafood, a wonderful list of American whites and a swell neighborhood feel. (I also like An American Place quite a lot, but it has something of the feel of a grand museum display to it.) Other possibilities include Gotham Bar & Grill (magnificent squab) and the often-overlooked Gage & Tollner in Brooklyn, which has the most beautiful old dining room in New York--still gaslit. Or Veritas, of the astonishing wine list.

          Italian: Esca. Amazing sea urchin risotto and raw-seafood dishes.

          Steak: Peter Luger.

          French: Lespinasse, especially for a suckling pig lunch. The most refined of the big-ticket places. Or Bourdain's surly-yet-wonderful bistro Les Halles for confit and blood sausage.

          Eclectic: Sono. Japanese cooking as reinvented by a Japanese chef with impeccable French technique. Leagues above the dreadful chinoiserie of Tabla, AZ or...Chinoiserie.

          1. Daniel
            Nobu
            Babbo
            Gotham
            Luger

            1. Da Umberto
              Gramercy Tavern Bar
              Gotham
              Rosa Mexicana (did you mention mexican?)
              Balthazar

              1. Assuming you've got a chunk of disposable income:

                Gramercy Tavern dining room, not the bar--it's quite different, even though chef Tom Colicchio and pastry chef Claudia Fleming squire both areas of the restaurant. Actually, if I had to choose, I would eat there four to five times New Year's week!

                Peacock Alley: Laurent Gras (Alain Ducasse protege) is at the top of his form, and so is the surrounding Waldorf Astoria hotel.

                Water's Edge: You take a little ferry from easternmost 34th Street to an utterly enchanted and highly festive chunk of heaven in Long Island City with one of the best wine lists I've seen and some astonishingly good food--plus THE view of the Manhattan skyline. This would be the ultimate New Year's Eve spot.

                Le Bernardin OR Oceana--New York City's seafood is the best I've ever tasted anywhere (except certain fin fish of the Mediterranean, all of which is now available here too, just a dozen hours later). These two restaurants are my favorite seafood places on the planet.

                I have been to the Russian Tea Room--three times in the last year, in fact--and I think people just love to tinkle on Warner LeRoy (who rebuilt the place). I dined at RTR dozens of times in the last 30 years, and IT HAS NEVER BEEN BETTER than it is now. That doesn't make it one of the greatest restaurants in town, but it's certainly the most dazzling, and what New Year's Eve-week couldn't use dazzle?

                Bon appétit and Happy New Year, Magnolia!

                Assuming you've got a bit of money:

                Gramercy Tavern dining room, not the bar--it's quite different, even though chef Tom Colicchio and pastry chef Claudia Fleming squire both areas of the restaurant.

                Peacock Alley: Laurent Gras (Alain Ducasse protege) is at the top of his form

                Water's Edge: You take a little ferry from easternmost 34th Street to an utterly enchanted and highly festive chunk of heaven in Long Island City with one of the best wine lists I've seen and some astonishingly good food--plus THE view of the Manhattan skyline. This would be the ultimate New Year's Eve spot.

                Le Bernardin OR Oceana--New York City's seafood is the best I've ever tasted anywhere (except certain fin fish of the Mediterranean, all of which is now available here too, just a dozen hours later). These two restaurants are my favorite seafood places on the planet.

                I have been to the Russian Tea Room--three times in the last year, in fact--and I think people just love to tinkle on Warner LeRoy (who rebuilt the place). I dined at RTR dozens of times in the last 30 years, and IT HAS NEVER BEEN BETTER than it is now. That doesn't make it one of the greatest restaurants in town, but it's certainly the most dazzling, and what New Year's Eve-week couldn't use dazzle?

                Steak house? At the moment, the best steakhouse in Manhattan is the brand-new Rothman's Steak House on East 54th Street. Breathtaking beef.

                Italian? Babbo, hands down, if you can get in.

                Bon appétit and Happy New Year, Magnolia!

                4 Replies
                1. re: Tom Steele

                  By all counts the food is amazing but reviews indicate the ambiance suffers from hotel-dining-room syndrome.

                  At the risk of being indelicate...Would lower 30-somethings feel out of place?

                  I'm intrigued by the possibility of sampling something from what sounds like 'ne plus ultra' of wine cellars...and I can't remember the set-up of the Waldorf, so I wonder if all diners or drinkers have equal access to the hotel's cellars, or if they belong specifically to one of the restaurants? I.e. is it possible to rock up to one of the hotel's bars and just have wine?

                  Thanks for all your tips.

                  1. re: magnolia

                    The food at Peacock Alley can be stunning, although perhaps more from an intellectual perspective than from a hedonistic one.

                    But it must be said: the dining room is indeed dreary, and most of the other customers will be elderly couples revisiting the scene of decades-old seductions and food-savvy Japanese tourists who have heard that Gras is the master of minimalism (the best menu is a succession of dishes each of which have but two ingredients).

                    And the cellar, while more than adequate, isn't remotely among the best in New York. For serious drinking, I would suggest either Veritas or Bayard's.

                    1. re: Pepper

                      Granted, the dining room is a bit lugubrious, although nicely flowered. There are no windows to speak of, and it's sometimes nearly empty.

                      And Gras's cooking IS "intellectual" rather than hedonistic. But eating involves five senses, all of which are filtered through the brain. Gras is the Thinking Person's Jean-Georges.

                      Most hotels with the pedigree and stature of the Waldorf have superb wine cellars. While it may not stand up to a wine-generated restaurant like Veritas, I've had some lovely bottles at Peacock Alley, thanks to the extremely helpful sommelier.

                      As for Magnolia's thirty-something question, it depends entirely on mood. Peacock Alley is formal--even a bit stiff. But I know I would have been thrilled in my early thirties to have dined there (not THAT long ago!).

                      1. re: Tom Steele

                        I enjoyed this restaurant, but now that you guys mention it, we (in our early 30s) were the youngest people there, by about 20 years! But, Magnolia, the service was fine and we did not feel uncomfortable in the least - and if you long for the company of your own generation, you can run across the street right after dinner for a drink at the bar at the W (what's it called? Blue or something like that?)

                2. It's so hard to just pick 4-5...thank goodness I live in New York. But here are my two cents...

                  1) French: Daniel. The menu changes every month or so but they have a truffle risotto at the moment that's worth enduring unspeakable torture for.

                  2) Italian: Babbo. Lambs tongue with portabello and a poached egg or the famed beef cheek ravioli with truffles...hmmmm...(not really as scary as it sounds).

                  3) Eclectic: Nobu. Go omakase and hope Masaharu Morimoto hasn't left by then.

                  4) Other: Aquavit. Love the sheet of water cascading down the stone wall. I've been there several times and it still mesmerizes me. Fun mango tasting dessert!

                  5) Another other: Bouley Bakery. Best fish entree I've ever had (steamed halibut with tarragon and a beet/horseradish sauce). More memorable than the fish entrees I had at Le Bernardin, Oceana, or Cello.

                  BTW, I didn't find Mesa Grill all that exciting when I went. Decent flavors, but not worthy of being one of 4-5 restaurants.

                  Enjoy! I'll be doing the restaurant thing around that time (friends in town). I'm planning Peter Luger for steak...

                  1. 1. Kabab Cafe (and have dessert and tea afterwards at Mombar)
                    2. Savoy
                    3. La Espiga
                    4. Sweet-and-Tart Cafe
                    5. La Portena (making absolutely certain, if it's a weekday, to arrive in the neighborhood early enough to get a tamale from the woman at 74th and Roosevelt; and if it's a weekend, stay in the neighborhood late enough to have an arepa for dessert, at 79th and Roosevelt, and if you wish an oblea as well, at 82nd and Roosevelt.)

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Jeremy Osner

                      Jeremy - Addresses please or at least approximate ones - or at least borough! I admit to being woefully manhattan-centric - I'm guessing Roosevelt Blvd is Queens? I'm drooling for those tamales. Will they spoil my appetite?

                      1. re: magnolia

                        Oops, sorry, let me rectify that:

                        1. Kabab Cafe: 25th Ave. and Steinway St., in Queens. Not easily accessible by subway but a quick cab ride from Manhattan. Mombar is two doors down.

                        2. Savoy: Prince St. and Crosby St., in downtown Manhattan.

                        3. La Espiga: 42-13 102 street, in Queens. #7 train to 103rd St.

                        4. Sweet-and-Tart Cafe: 136-11 38th Ave, in Queens. #7 train to Main St.

                        5. La Portena: corner of 37th Ave. and 75th St., in Queens. #7 train to 74th St. The tamales are outside the train station; see my posting at the link below.

                        Wow... 80% of my favorite restaurants are in Queens, 60% are near the #7 train.

                        Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                        1. re: magnolia

                          To rival Savoy, would recommend La Luncheonette -- I don't have the address handy but it is on 9th Ave. or possibly 10th, near 18th Street. A long thread discussing it at the link below.

                          Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                      2. I'm going to try to keep within a budget. You could easily spend more and I will try to note that and where to do it. Here are my recommendations.

                        Eclectic: March - A wonderful townhouse on the East side that serves Asian accented French food. The wine list is outstanding. The ambiance is perfect. It's very romantic. I hope that you are bringing a signifigant other.

                        If you want to really get crazy (moneywise) go to Nobu and put yourself in the chefs hands for the evening. Actaully, it's probably not that much more expensive than March.

                        American: Gramercy Tavern - If you feel like a big spender, go to the back room. If you are interested in saving a few bucks, go to the front room. Perfect ambiance and service. The wine list is very well thought out and reasonably priced. The food is wonderful.

                        If you want American food with the best wine list in NYC go to Veritas. The wine list is not to be believed, and the food is excellent too. Unfortunately the prices have begun to creep up for the wine, but as the original stocks get depleted and they have to replace stock via auction, thems the breaks. Bargains can still be found.

                        A bargain can be had at 71 Clinton Fresh Food if you feel like traveling to the lower East side. Great food, pedestrian wine list. Very good prices.

                        Italian - I would recommend saving a little cash here. Go to Po. Get the six course tasting menu for $35/pp. Pay the $10 corkage and bring your own bottle. Great staff. Nice, but cramped ambiance. The best dollar for dollar meal in NYC.

                        If you want to go all out for Italian food go to Il Mulino or Babbo.

                        French: You have so many choices here. I won't even bother giving the highlights of the restaurants. I'll just name them and idicate any pet peeves or things of importance. Daniel, Lespinasse, Jean Georges (terrible ambiance with drill sgt. waiters) or Bouley Bakery (the most reasonably priced of the four listed). Bouley could arguably be considered American food.

                        Enjoy,

                        Mike

                        1. The restaurants here are very popular ,and crowded,and possibly crazy around New Years,but all are very special:eclectic-Union Pacific;American-Etats Unis;Unique-Nobu;Italian;Lupa,Babbo,orEsca;French-Balthazaar[yes it"s a big ,old hypey scene,but if you go at off hours,you'll notice that it is a great looking space,and that the food is quite good.]also Pearl Oyster Bar for lunch,Diner out in Williamsburg,Gramercy Tavern for late afternoon tea....Enjoy!

                          1. Magnolia-
                            A lot of the restaurants people have suggested to you get tops of the list in Zagat's year in, year out. There's nothing wrong with that, and those restaurants are great but I just get bored silly when I hear all the usual Babbo/Gramercy Tavern/Nobu stuff. My parents take me to those places when I go into town (and I'm grateful when they do), but if I had a friend from abroad coming to visit, these places are where I would take him ---

                            1. French - VERITAS. Amazing wine list. While it's not Frenchy French, a place with their list of Burgundies is French enough for me. And the food is as great as the wine. Like all master cooks, the guy at Veritas (whose name I can't remember now) has an absolute mastery of French technique.

                            2. Italian - LOMBARDI'S No way can you get an approximation of the New York pizza in London so you should have one when you visit. And of course, I mean one of those coal oven places, not off a second-rate deli in Midtown. At Lombardi's, get the clam pie, if possible. But any other pie you get there will be great. (There's no urgency to go to one of the many great Northern Italian restaurants when you visit NYC, since there are so many of those in London, but if you must, try Elio's or Settemezzo (sigh).)

                            3. Eclectic/Creative --- Can't help you in this category; sorry.

                            4. American --- For this, I would suggest my favorite diner/luncheonette in New York -- EISENBERG'S on 5th Ave. and 22nd st., where you can get a real chicken sandwich made with roast chicken, and great meatloaf on Thursdays. When you walk in you feel like you've walked into a Billy Wilder movie from the 50's.

                            5. Other --- My favorite Japanese restaurant - HONMURA AN, specializes in soba, but they have a few fish available as sashimi. Also, one of the few truly reliable Soho restaurants.

                            6. Steak --- PETER LUGER's, what else?

                            Hope you have a nice time.

                            Cristina

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: Cristina

                              The rye bread they use is just dismal. Shameful really, to slop the good meat on that commercial cotton. I just dont understand.

                              1. re: Cristina

                                Well funny you should mention it - my 'final' list (for places that require reservations) is:
                                Veritas
                                Spark's (no time to go to Luger's plus I think my friend is not yet up to the deliberately brusque service)
                                Etats Unis

                                places that don't require reservations that are worked into the schedule:
                                Jin Fong or Silver Palace (or however you spell it) for Dim Sum
                                Eisenberg's (!)
                                Gram Tav for lunch
                                Charles's Southern Kitchen

                                1. re: magnolia

                                  Don't go to Silver Palace for dim sum. They've been having nasty union strikes outside for years. While Chinatown waiters don't suck up to customers in general, especially during dim sum time, Jin Fong waiters are pretty bad. A waiter there trashed some dumplings and when he remembered I wanted them "to go", put them back in carry on box. beware!

                                  Better to go to the Nice Restaurant on East Broadway. Nice staff, and interesting selection of non-dim sum stuff that they even tell white people about!

                                  It's great you're going to Veritas and Eisenberg's. 'Can't go wrong. If you go to Eisenberg's for breakfast, get scrambled eggs and lox. Don't get scared of the rye. It usually isn't dry.

                                  Cristina

                                  1. re: Cristina

                                    Jin Fong has been really good lately...much better, in my estimation, than any of the other vast dimsum parlors in Chinatown, although the 20 Mott location of Sweet n' Tart probably serves the best stuff. (And none of them could really compete in Los Angeles, Toronto or San Francisco, but that's another story.)

                                    I would personally substitute Barney Greengrass for Eisenberg's, especially if lox 'n eggs is a possibility: while Eisenberg's may satisfy fairly specific nostalgic longings for Americans brought up in the '50s and '60s, it is not, to put it mildly, worth a journey.

                                    1. re: Pepper

                                      Yea! I agree w/ Pepper for once!! Barney Greengrass should be on the chow-tourist map -- not only is the smoked fish and chopped liver top notch, the setting and service is totally evocative of a practically vanished New York. This morning the waiter came out yelling, "potato pancakes [not a regular menu item] just out - fresh, hot - three to an order, who wants 'em?" Even though everyone in the restaurant had already ordered more than they could eat, everyone had a plate... and they were gorgeous, crisp and tasty...

                              2. I too would like to know what four or five places you all would recommend, given one weekend in New York, but on a student's budget. The more hole-in-the-wall and unpretentious, the better. Someone once told me (I think on this site) that the best food in New York is either less than $10 or over $100. Wine lists, ambiance, and even service are irrelevant to me, so I'd be very interested to know the best FOOD in New York City. Cuisine does not matter; I'll try anything.

                                Thank you in advance for your guidance!

                                Alex.