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First week of January - high end and low end picks for Toronto visitors

I realize every other post is from visitors to Manhattan searching for the "best" but please have patience and help us (January 1-7)!

We don't know where we're staying yet in Manhattan, but we are looking for:
1. a great deli (anything better than Katz's?)
2. great coal-oven pizza (anything better than Lombardi's?)
3. other low-end eats, cupcakes, Mexican, chocolate, bakeries and snacks near main touristy areas such as 5th Ave shopping, Madison Ave shopping, David Letterman studio, Central Park, museums, Century 21, etc. (are Gray's Papaya, Magnolia bakery, Fauchon or Virgil's BBQ worth checking out?)

4. Looking for a couple of medium-range places (anything better than Les Halles? What about Batali's places?)

5. One high end place that is actually considered somewhat good value - we don't care about wine list (considering Aquavit, Jean Georges, Daniel, Tabla, Eleven Madison Park, Per Se, The London, Bouley, Peter Luger or Sushi Masa) I've already been to Craft, Babbo, Nobu, Le Bernardin and Nougatine. Worried that it's too late to get reservations at most of my top picks.

6. unique dessert place - maybe one with trendy desserts with unusual ingredient combinations?

7. trendy lounge or bar with terrific martinis and cocktails (preferably using fresh juices) for the 30-something crowd (not necessarily with great food) preferably without a cover charge

No chinese or japanese. Would also consider excellent Mexican, Malaysian, southern BBQ and anything else not done well in Toronto. Thank you so much! My 3 girlfriends are "poor grad students" and can't spend as much as I'd like on food.

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  1. Some New York-type things:

    - I really would go for Katz's; it lives up to all the hype.

    - Not sure if this is considered "good value," but Peter Luger is an excellent steakhouse and a New York institution - though it's located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, so you may find more info about that on the Outer Boroughs board. Very much worth the trip. If sticking with Manhattan, Keen's gets consistently good reviews.

    - Junior's Cheesecake has a location just off Times Square and is a must for NY-style cheesecake (original or strawberry are best). Haven't tried their normal food...

    - Bagels/cream cheese/lox are pretty essential - check out Ess-A-Bagel, which has a location at 51st St. & 3rd Ave., pretty close to the Bloomingdale's if you're doing shopping around there.

    Some good low-end eats: there are lots of threads about this topic, and they're usually requests for specific neighborhoods, so doing a search may help turn up more pointers. By no means a complete list:

    - Gray's Papaya is worth it! Get the concession special (two hot dogs and a drink), but I actually prefer the other drinks over the namesake papaya flavor.

    - Not so sure about Magnolia bakery though - it's trendy, but there are better places (this is discussed a lot; I'm not a cupcake person, though, so sorry about the lack of detail)

    - Not sure if there's Israeli/Middle-Eastern food in Toronto, but Azuri Cafe is delicious and authentic Israeli, good for falafel/schwarma. Located on 49th St. near the corner of 10th Ave. - 9th Ave. is lined with all sorts of cheap ethnic eats, so that may be worth checking out as well.

    - Street carts are also worth checking out if you're up for it; the one on 53rd St. & 6th Ave. is considered one of the best and sets up late at night.

    - Not sure if they've got quality gelato in Toronto, but Il Laboratorio del Gelato and Otto are good here. Rocco for cannolis.

    That's all I can think of for now...happy chowing, and enjoy your stay!

    1. Re BBQ - NY City isn't exactly barbecue central, but I like RUB a lot (lots of discussion on this list). Much better than Virgils.

      You mention Masa, but later say 'no Japanese'. I've not been to Masa - $400 per person is out of my range - but would love to go. But this could only be worth it to someone who really loves and knows sushi.

      For chocolate stuff, City Bakery is very good, but not near any touristy stuff, unfortunately.

      Peter Luger is endlessly discussed: The short story: Fantastic steaks, long waits, gruff waiters, and other food that is only pretty good. Cash only.

      Of the high end places you mention, I've not been to all, but I think 11 Madison Park is a fantastic place.

      1 Reply
      1. re: plf515

        Wow, I didn't think anyone could charge $400 per person just for food (or does that include sake/pairings?) I should have said "no cheap or moderate Japanese unless it's extraordinary" -- sorry. (We have plenty of Japanese places in Toronto, some of which are quite memorable)

      2. 1. Katz's for sure! It's all about the pastrami. The most succulent has some fat on it. Do counter service as the natives do, and don't forget the tradition of putting $1 per sandwich in the counterman's tip cup.

        4. Anything better than Les Halles? Well, let's see... Les Halles food is barely mediocre, service leaves a lot to be desired, seating would make a sardine feel uncomfortable, and the noise level will have you running for the aspirin bottle. Other than that.... lol A far superior brasserie option is Marseille, on the corner of 9th Av. & 44th St. Delicious French/Mediterranean cuisine served in a very attractive, comfortable setting.

        http://www.marseillenyc.com

        5. Regulars to this board know that Eleven Madison Park is my current upscale favorite. Considering the superb quality of Chef Daniel Humm's cuisine, the $76 3-course prix-fixe is an excellent value. The signature duck for two is not to be missed! It's a big place -- gorgeous space! -- and you should not have difficulty reserving now for the first week of January, which is usually one of the slowest restaurants weeks in NYC.

        http://www.elevenmadisonpark.com

        If you're going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, you might want to consider having lunch nearby at Cafe Boulud, 4-star chef Daniel Boulud's second tier restaurant. The food is truly excellent and at lunch, they offer a 3-course prix-fixe for $25 -- a real bargain for this level of cuisine and service.

        http://www.danielnyc.com/cafeboulud

        Many other upscale restaurants offer well-priced lunch prix-fixes. It's a great way to sample the city's best places without spending a fortune. Another of my favorites that offers this option is Fleur de Sel.

        http://www.fleurdeselnyc.com

        6. ChikaLicious is a dessert bar where you can sit at the counter and chat with Chika while you watch her preparing the kinds of desserts one finds at high-end restaurants. They are small, artistic, and yummy. Expensive, but worth it.

        http://www.chikalicious.com

        For excellent Mexican food, I recommend Pampano, which specializes in fish and seafood.

        http://www.modernmexican.com/pampano

        Hope you have a wonderful visit to NYC and Bon Appetit!

        8 Replies
        1. re: RGR

          Agreed with RGR.

          Eleven Madison Park is an excellent choice for an upscale meal (along with the other suggestions). I was there this weekend and the 4 course meal for $88 is one of the best deals in town.

          Outstanding Foie Gras, Halibut, Lobster, and the duck for two was great. The cheese course was well done and the chocolate souffle(sp) with Carmel and Fleur de Sel Ice Cream is amazing.

          For dessert I would recommend a late night stop at WD-50.
          Drinks- Pegu Club

          Hope this helps

          1. re: ChrisZ

            ChrisZ, Thanks for your post. I hadn't known about that 4-course $88 prix-fixe, which is a very new addition to EMP's ever-evolving menu. They obviously felt they again needed something to bridge the gap between the $76 3-course and the $120 Gourmand menu. Looking at what you ordered, it appears that a cheese course is one of the options. If so, that's excellent.

            1. re: RGR

              RGR-

              If you opt to do a four course tasting, the cheese course is
              offered as a desset option, but I am sure given their great attitude and flexibility it can be placed anywhere. All in all one of the best dining experiences I have ever had. An extra course at 11MP is worth another $12 dollars.

              1. re: ChrisZ

                ChrisZ, Thanks for the clarification. And, yes, dining these days at EMP is a stellar experience.

            2. re: ChrisZ

              Wow, Pegu Club's website proves that this is a dream destination! I get so sick of Toronto bartenders who expect a big tip for opening a bottle of mediocre beer!

              1. re: Food Tourist

                The bartenders there are amazing. Enjoy!

            3. re: RGR

              Is Mexicana Mama (2 locations I believe) any good in comparison with Pampano? For Malaysian, how is Nyonya in Little Italy?

              Eleven Madison Park certainly seems like a favourite for good value!

              1. re: Food Tourist

                There are some minority opinions on 11 Madison Park. Also, I thought that the desserts were the best part of the meal, and the pastry chef is departing shortly.

                Many hounds will know that I prefer Skyway to Nyonya. I got takeout from there again on Tuesday night. Jumbo prawns with "Thai sauce" (tasted pretty Malaysian - somewhat chillied with tamarind and tomato paste, I think), double order of roti canai, kangkung belacan, Ipoh roast chicken. Everything was really tasty and tasted authentic, too.

            4. for a late afternoon coffee and pastry i offer de roberti's in the east village
              http://www.derobertiscaffe.com

              1. How is the Doughnut Plant? I hear from a Canadian hound that the coconut donuts are worth the 8 hour drive!

                1. Our family (who live about an hour's drive west of you, and turn our noses up at Tim's) quite enjoyed the offerings at Doughnut Plant in March, and are planning to return this December. We were a bit disappointed with Il Laboratorio del Gelato. --PR

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Prabhakar Ragde

                    Why or in what way were you disappointed by Il Laboratorio?

                    1. re: Pan

                      The flavours weren't as intense as the best gelato we've had in Firenze, Rome, Berkeley, and L.A. Il Lab's seems a bit austere and muted. The texture is right (and that is a problem at many places) but it's respectable, not stunning.

                  2. One of my favorite higher-end (without being outrageous) restaurants is Blue Hill, near Washington Square Park. A lot of the food served is food grown at the restaurant's very own upstate New York farm. The seasonal menu is really heavenly, it would be hard to tell you what was good because it changes so frequently. The service was also a pleasure to sit down to, the dining room is run so smoothly and with such care and detail and HOSPITALITY. One of the best meals and all around dining experiences I've enjoyed in a very long time.

                    1. For a high end place you might want to try Mario's new restaurant Del Posto. Its very different from Babbo, but equally as good. Reservations might be a bit tough, but last time I was there, the place was suprisingly empty!

                      I've eaten all of Mario's restaurants, and one of my favorites is Otto. Its a much more casual, laid back atmosphere. The food is much more basic (just pizza, pasta salad) but equally as good.

                      Another good place to eat is Artisinal. Its a French bistro type place and the food is good. if you like cheese, they are famous for their cheese bar.

                      Magnolia is proably a good choice for a bakery. Its famous, and the food is really good. You might also want to check out Bouchon. They have a bakery and brasserie/bistro type place that has good sandwiches and such. Its in columbus circle and is very good!

                      Aquavit is also good for a upscale dinner, but I prefer Del Posto!

                      1. OH! I can't believe I forgot this. There is a little patisserie on Spring Street just off of Lafayette called Ceci Cela that is really stellar. It isn't one of those glorified "white trashy" cupcake peddlars with "grandma's" recipes, it's an honest to goodness French patisierie. They hand roll their own decadent truffles, not fancy or dressed up, just simple dark dark chocolate ganache truffles. The fruit tarts are all delicious, not just beautiful. I can't resist the eclairs, and it's hard to find a good one in New York, for some reason...something about the glaze not being right, and using whipped cream or custard, instead of pastry cream.

                        And it's just down the street from Lombardi's, which was mentioned in the OP and is always a pretty reliably good NYC pizza. And in the other direction you have Balthazar and Balthazar Bakery. And if you head south you will hit DiPalo's (on the corner of Grand and Mott) where you can pick up all the essential ingredients for some amazing Italian antipasti and/or sandwiches which you can bring back to your hotel and enjoy with a good bottle of wine. Little Italy may not be a culinary destination for its restaurants, but DiPalo's is an excellent shop for cured meats and cheese. Get your bread at the Sullivan Street Bakery, which isn't far from your hotel on 47th Street, and the hotel picnic is complete.

                        For chocolate I recommend Jacques Torres shops, either in Dumbo or on Hudson St (if you go to the Dumbo location, stop at Grimaldi's for pizza). Or if you are wandering in Rockefeller Center for any reason stop at Maison du Chocolat for a truly religious confectionary experience...and grab some champagne truffles at Teuscher while you're at it.

                        If you're feeling really adventurous go to Totonno's in Coney Island for pizza. It's one of the best in the city, some would argue THE best. Save room for a hot dog at Nathan's on the boardwalk...even in January.

                        1. Blackout cupcake at The two little red hens bakery. 86th second avenue. The best chocolate cupcake I've ever had in my entire life.

                          In the meatpacking district One little west 12 serves a killer strawberry mojito.

                          Bouley is located near century 21 and they have a prix fixe lunch menu.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: csw

                            Two Little Red Hens is a real gem. I've really liked everything I've had at the 85th St. branch and the original Park Slope branch.

                            1. re: Pan

                              My friends bought me the Brooklyn Blackout cake for my birthday this year from Two Little Red Hens, and it was indeed a perfect cake. Dense, rich, icing not too sweet, and darkly chocolately.

                            2. re: csw

                              Two Hens also does a great gingerbread, which sells by the piece...and for a nice alternative to the blackout, the Brooklyn cream cupcakes are really delicious too - yellow cake, pastry cream filling, chocolate fudge frosting with the zip code "11215" written on top. Let it sit at room temperature before enjoying :)

                              And yep, I used to work there many years ago.

                            3. For your high end - Jean-Georges for LUNCH (Mon-Fri only). This is astounding value and unforgettable food and service. So book now! Every dish is $13 (or $11 - can't quite recall) and 4 of these will absolutely fill you. In the evenings it's around 4 times as much.