need replacements / updates for my usual haunts
My wife and I come into the city once or twice a year, and have usually gone to the same places for meals - Florent for a Sunday brunch; Grand Central Oyster bar just for the oysters, as the rest of the menu seems pretty mediocre; Nobu or Nobu Next Door for the omakase and/or sashimi & rolls; Balthazar for a breakfast or lunch; Barney Greengrass when we don't want to walk far from our UWS family apartment for a weekend breakfast; New Green Bo for dim sum that's far better - so far - than any of the big Chinatown palaces we've tried; Red Cat for a quiet decompress meal before we leave; Katz's for late night meat fix (sometimes Crif Dog for the same thing).
This time I'd like to try some different places. I read the boards here religiously, but it's so hard to know what's what and even harder to estimate price levels, levels of formality etc. without going to a place.
So: can anyone recommend any of the following, all in Manhattan:
a) a good, inexpensive & funky/different weekend brunch, fixed price menu & cocktails a plus but not necessary;
b) decent inventive and interesting sushi and/or other Japanese menu in a 'different' environment, not as high end as Blue Ribbon or Bond St. or Jewel Bako (we were going to try Sushi Yasuda but it looks really pricey?);
c) a good place that is not too touristy for oysters, maybe lobster rolls, or interesting seafood in general;
d) a good French bistro where I can get a great steak frites / tartare / steak au poivre / sweetbreads without breaking the bank. I tried Les Halles and while the tartare was OK it wasn't especially great, and something seemed just a little off or manufactured about the whole experience;
e) really good, homey, super crispy guilty-pleasure fried chicken - great mac & cheese or collards or various other sides a plus, but not necessary;
f) something interesting / different in Chinatown - we spend a lot of time in that neighborhood, and while we love New Green Bo, something different would be neat too.
g) and lastly, a nice, small, quiet and relatively inexpensive neighborhood restaurant ala Red Cat, with an interesting & different menu, where I will feel comfortable and can relax and not have to deal with snooty waiters etc.
I'm not asking for anything to replace Katz's, of course, since nothing CAN replace Katz's (or Crif Dogs, or the Shake Shack, etc.).
Thank you for any / all recommendations, advice, etc!
Best lobster rolls in Manhattan = Mary's Fish Camp in the west village. It's definitely on the pricey side and it's so small that you're guranteed a good hour wait on the weekends, but the food is worth the wait. Mermaid Inn in the east village also has a great lobster roll and is a bit easier to get into.
re: NYC Wolverine
The debate you will often read here is between Mary's and Pearl's, which is nearby on Cornelia St. I prefer Mary's. Mary's takes your name and cell number, then allows you to leave until they are just about ready to seat you. So, in the interim, you can go have a refreshing beverage, and during that time, I would suggest Lederhosen, 39 Grove St., www.lederhosennyc.com.
For great fried chicken, mac & cheese, collards, etc check out Mama's Food Shop on E. 3rd btwn A and B...$10 gets you enough food for 2 meals
For brunch, try Prune on first street in the east village--get there early, though, because I don't think they take reservations. Funky, cute place with unusual brunch items--I had an oyster omelet. They have a whole menu of bloody marys, too, which they serve with a shot of beer (not sure why, though).
For the small, interesting neighborhood restaurant, try The Little Owl on Bedford in the West Village. They do take reservations, but I think you have to call a few weeks ahead b/c they've become quite popular and it's a tiny space. Very simple, well-prepared food. They do set aside a couple of 2-tops for walk-ins.
I second Prune.
Also, for your sushi place, I recommend Aki on West 4th Street (not to be confused with other places of the same name). It is a sushi restaurant with Jamaican touches, which I believe come from the chef's time as chef to the Japanese ambassador to Jamaica. High quality and a very fun menu.
I third prune for brunch, and since you are going to be in Chinatown alot, I recommend a stop on canal street for a snack of bullet cakes - at least that is what we call them. There is a couple that makes these little thumbsized cakes that you can munch on while you wander chinatown - the first one will leave you saying these are ok - the second one and you will be addicted.
b) do not be afraid of prices at Yasuda. One of the best quality to price ratios I know. Go. Unless you are actually looking for sushi in the style of the restaurants you name;
c) Old disagreement, but I will take it up again with a previous respondent: I am a huge Pearl fan and finally slunk off to try Mary's, only to come crawling back. I find Mermaid really uninteresting and unmemorable. I made the trek to Tides today for lunch, due to one thing and another ended up getting a takeaway without high expectations, but it was great, if the only meal I should eat all week. I would definitely go back (at night). Especially want to try the bouillabaisse on strength of ch recommendations. It's borderline Chinatown, too, so in a pinch you might cover (f). For raw oysters, I don't think you are going to find any improvement over GCOB but there is no reason to alter your conviction that that is the ONLY thing (except perhaps fried oysters, and wine) that you should order there;
d) tough call. You'd think the place that did one of these classics well would be reliable on the others too but no. Have you tried Lunchonette? An old favorite for probably 15 years. The first place, and still the best, where I ordered cervelles, but to be honest that was pre-bovine spongiform encepalophy scare. And I don't recall tartare, but steak and sweetbreads and the rest: on the money. For tartare: try Employees Only. La Goulue gets it too, but you have to be in a certain mood and in certain company. Don't remember sweetbreads there. My favorite sweetbreads at the moment are Momofuku's. As you have discovered: Les Halles is to be avoided;
a, d and g are more perplexing. What do you consider 'different'? What makes for a place where you 'will feel comfortable and relax' etc. I don't buy fried chicken and still have a mess of greens, peas and ham hock from new year's (incidentally, Blue smoke was 'out' of both cornbread and collards on the 31st, and Whole Foods had no collards that day or the 1st).
All of these recommendations are terrific - thank you all for being such good sports and thinking about this and helping me out.
dbird, I guess for 'different' I mean something cozy and unpretentious, but at the same time not all hyper-modern or artificially antiqued - so many places are engineered experiences and not defined by the character of the food and customers. It's hard to define - I know it when I see it, I guess, which isn't that useful when I'm asking for recommendations!