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Coming to NYC from the UK - looking for restaurant recommendations/ideas

I'll be coming to NYC with my boyfriend just before Xmas (14-18 Dec) and am trying to figure out where to eat in that time. I'm a huge foodie, but I also want to eat somewhere that really feels like I'm in New York/USA! I've done so much research, and names such as Bouley, Cafe Boulud, Per se have come up, but I think I want something little less fancy (no jackets required for example). And the idea of a really good French or Italian isn't really a big draw for me. So far I've narrowed my list down to Gramercy Tavern (the bar area) for dinner (is it hard to get a table at the weekend btw, how early should we get there?), Union Square Cafe for casual (bar) lunch and Candle 79 for yet another dinner (we're both vegetarian, tho I eat fish). What do you think? Are these good choices? Any better suggestions? Thank you so much!

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  1. Welcome, Belma79. You'll have a great trip in December! Since both of you are vegetarian, I won't recommend the "great American steakhouse" institution known as Peter Luger's. What's more New Yorkish than an old school steakhouse! Instead, might I suggest Blue Water Grill near Union Square or AquaGrill in Soho. You'll find a variety of fresh, well preparted seafood with great selections. In the East Village, there are several vegetarian, organic, and natural restaurants to choose from: Angelica's Kitchen, Zen Palette, and Pure. Best of all, since these choices are in the Village,no jacket required!

    1. Very few NYC restaurants require jackets. Cafe Boulud does not require them though most of the gentlemen do wear them. So, if that's what stopping you from going there, it shouldn't. The cuisine is superb and, while it is French-inspired, the menus reflect many other nationalities. Plus, one menu is entirely devoted to vegetarian dishes. Service is cordial and polished, and the space has attractive, but not fancy, contemporary decor. Their $24 3-course lunch is an extraordinary bargain though, because choices are limited, it may not work for a vegetarian.


      The bar area at Gramercy Tavern is called the Tavern Room. They do not take reservations. Waits can sometimes be as long as an hour or more, particularly on weekends, but you're likely to have luck snagging a table for dinner more promptly if you eat early.

      How about Indian cuisine? I know there is lots of that in the UK (we had some pretty good Indian food in London last time we were there), but even so, I highly recommend Devi, which has truly superb cuisine. Lots of excellent choices for vegetarians, including a vegetarian tasting menu, as well as delicious fish and seafood preparations. Contributing to the wonderful dining experience is a space with unusual and elegant decor. Casual dress is fine. At lunch, they offer a 3-course prix-fixe for $24.07 with good options for vegetarians.


      2 Replies
      1. re: RGR

        So what's arriving "early" at Gramercy Tavern?? 19.00h, or earlier? I really want to try this place, so if I get there around then, on a weekend, am I likely to get a table that night? Thank you!

        1. re: belma79

          You will certainly get a table. That's not the problem. It's a question of how long the wait will be since, as I mentioned, the Tavern Room does not take reservations. Lots of people don't mind waiting. They have drinks and hang out at the bar until a table becomes available. However, there is a better chance of getting a table more quickly for dinner if you show up early, i.e., between 5 and 6 p.m. (17.00h-18.00h). But bear in mind that even that doesn't guarantee there will not be a wait.

      2. I'd skip Indian coming from the UK, it will never come close to what can be had in London/UK in general.

        You should have sushi while you're here if you like raw fish. It's not as good as the west coast but generally much better than what can be had in the UK. Sushi Yasuda, Jewel Bako, Blue Ribbon Sushi.

        As another poster said, its rare you'll find a jacket required in NY. If you want to do high end and go a bit less stuffy, I'd suggest Cru.

        Hearth is excellent and more casual in the E. Village.

        Definitely have pizza while you're in NY. Lombardi's in Soho/Nolita is my personal favorite. Grimaldi's is another popular recommendation if you plan to hop across to Brooklyn. After Lombardi's, go nearby to Rice to Riches for a place that specializes in only rice pudding of various flavors (my favorite is the cherry/marscapone cheese variety).

        Inoteca in LES is a great small plate Italian spot. Also, for high end but not stuffy Italian, Babbo (all of Batali's restaurants are generally very good....Babbo, Lupa, Casa Mono, etc).

        And of course, do the bagel/Jewish deli thing while you're here. A search of chowhound will give you loads of opinions on where 'the best' can be had.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Nehna

          I guess you didn't read too carefully. While they should definitely have a bagel, as well as a bialy, Jewish deli is out because they are *vegetarians*. However, the fish eater can top that bagel or bialy with appetizing from Russ & Daughters (take-out only) or have the sit-down experience at Barney Greengrass. Definitely very NY experiences.


          1. re: RGR

            No, simply forgot when I recommended it. But as you pointed out, jewish deli easily includes bagels with lox.

        2. mermaid inn on second avenue in the east village and tides on norfolk street in the lower east side are both great options for fish-eaters.
          i would stay away from zen palette, though i've heard good things about pure food and wine.

          1. there are far too many good restaurants to cater to your diet than to bother with candle 79. perhaps if you're heading to that neighborhood for the Met or what have you, you can grab a quick lunch at their place on 75th/3rd - candle cafe.

            1 Reply
            1. re: harrison

              have you been to candle 79? would you not recommend it? i liked the idea of it, but i see your point too! i only want to go if its a REALLY good foodie experience. :o)

            2. I'm a London guy who's been living in NYC for the last 18 months and I suggest that the must try eating experiences over here (bearing in mind your dietary preferences) are Jewish Deli (Russ & Daughters take out is fantastic - smoked salmons, pickled herrings, cream cheeses), Sushi (Ushiwakamaru or Seki for pricier, Ebisu or Kanoyama for more mid price), Japanese Izakaya (Sakagura, Aburiya Kinnosuke), American Diner style (I'm no expert on these but 24 Prince and Penelope are good options; Empire Diner is an authentic setting but with just adequate food offerings), New American/American seasonal (Blue Hill Stone Barns outside the city is the best option for this but in the city places like Little Giant, Hearth, Tasting Room, Little Owl always get honourable mentions), NYC Grand Cafe style (I like Gotham Bar & Grill), pan Latin American (Caracas Arepa House is a good, low key option in the East Village), Brunch menus (I'm not a brunch fan but Five Points and Prune regularly get rave reviews). I also like a couple of the Spanish eateries notably Tia Pol (tapas with a twist), Degustation (avant garde Catalan style) and Despana (deli/take out with good bocadillos and some excellent cheeses - try the Nevat for example). If you want to try some different grog, you should check out a sake bar and I would recommend Sakagura and Aburiya (see above), Decibel or else purchasing some from Landmark Wines or Astor Wines. Jacks is a nice coffee shop on W10th if that's your scene. I'm not a huge pizza lover but the one institution that I tried, namely Lombardis, was tasty pizza and, whilst inevitably overrun with tourists, still very New York.

              I definitely wouldn't bother with Indian food over here and would probably give Italian and French places a miss too. I've also been underwhelmed by Mexican options although they still beat what's available on this front in the UK.


              1 Reply
              1. re: oonth

                Wait, "I would give Italian and French a miss...".

                I will not pretend to be an expet on London's food, but I am pretty sure we can hold our own in the French and Italian areas. I dont think it is neccessary to go through the long list of great restaurants that serve these cuisines. You can check the board for those.

                As for Mexican, try Pampano on e.49th (lex).

              2. Wow! Thank you for all this input - this is so helpful. Need more help though!
                Have not seen any comments about Union Square Cafe for lunch - do you think it's not a good idea? It's just that I love the idea of eating at the bar there, seems so American!
                And Candle 79 - do you think I shouldn't bother with it? I will be going to the MET, so maybe a snack, rather than a proper dinner, at the Candle Cafe would be better? It's just that Candle 79 seemed like a good bet - a "proper" classy restaurant, and all veggie (and not Indian or "healthy" veggie place). So maybe Cafe Boulud (how "relaxed" is this place??) or Hearth would be better? Cru doesn't seem that friendly for vegetarians.
                Shushi is out as my boyfriend doesn't eat fish (although I do, sorry caused a confusion there), and not that keen on Indian.
                I have been to NY before, and tried bagels, Lombardi pizza etc. etc. This time I am more interested in good dining out, as in, sitting down to eat and taking your time!
                SO, at the moment I'm thinking this:
                Still Gramery Tavern (the Tavern Room) for dinner, USC for lunch. BUT, still not sure about my other dinner. Maybe Hearth? Or Cafe Boulud? Or Balthazar? Or should I go for something different and do Latin American ?
                Will definitely want to try a few bars such as Decibel (thanks oonth!). Also would really like to have Brunch, so maybe Prune? Or Clinton Baking Company?
                Thanks everyone!

                1. i'm not a fan of brunch at prune, but many people are. if you search for it, then you'll find at least a few threads with lots of opinions and info. i'm a clinton street baking company fan, and there are also several recent threads regarding their brunch. if you choose either of these places, go early as they're not very big (prune especially is tiny) but are very popular. a few other ideas for brunch: cafe habana on elizabeth (stylish but low-key pan-latin), great jones cafe on great jones street (southern/cajun-sytle with great cocktails), old devil moon on east 12th street (southern/mex), alias on clinton street (new american/southern). actually, all of these places tend to get pretty crowded but they're all in neighborhoods that are good for strolling around in if there's a wait.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: wleatherette

                    thanks! i did look into clinton street baking and will definitely go there too - i was thinking prune for brunch, and clinton for breakfast, either on the friday or on the monday. why pick one, when i can go to both! like the idea of great jones cafe too....

                    1. re: belma79

                      of the brunch places i mentioned, i would consider all of them save old devil moon for dinner as well.

                  2. Oh one nice very vegetarian friendly spot would be Artisanal. Large brasserie (Balthazar sort of vibe) with amazing cheese fondues and chocolate fondues and probably the best cheese selection (for a restaurant) in the city.

                    1. I'm a vegetarian (or an occasional "pescatarian,") and I assure you that you'll be able to find plenty of "foodie" appropriate meals here in NYC. I second (or is it third) the veto on Candle 79 - overpriced, hit or miss food that rarely tastes like ANYthing. Instead I recommend Gobo (there's one near the Village and one on the Upper East Side) - it can be loud (something of a scene - and the open kitchen doesn't help,) but they take reservations and their tempeh is fantastic. Or try Blossom in Chelsea - delicious vegan "new American" fare that rivals it's carni counterparts. I'm sure you'll like it - you can check out their menu on their website. If you're looking for a more casual lunch option, I suggest Red Bamboo in the Village - their fake chicken dishes are superb - and it is very much a local place with plenty of regulars. As far an non-vegetarian restaurants go, Hearth has fantastic fish options, and their vegetables are to die for. Plus, they are happy to turn any of the pasta appetizer options into an entree for your boyfriend. (I often do that with their ravioli or heavenly gnocchi.) I suggest you make a reservation if you're planning on going on a Saturday night - otherwise, you should be able to walk in and get a table.

                      1. Just a quick note: restaurants like Cafe Bouloud and Bouley will definitely make accomodations for vegetarians - just tell them when you make reservations. I had several delicious meals at both back when I was a veggie.

                        1. Thanks everyone! All these suggestions are great and I'm currently looking into all of them. I've come across some great reviews of Blue Hill in GW as well. Any thoughts on that? For (seasonal) American fare? Thanks again!!