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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!

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  1. I'm not sure where it fits in-but you may want to check out Telepan-it's become one of my favorites...brunch, lunch or dinner.


    1. 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.


      1 Reply
      1. 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.

      2. 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

        1. 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.


          2 Replies
          1. re: slynnkiino

            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.

            1. re: AssociEat

              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.

          2. 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).

            1 Reply
            1. re: dbird

              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!

            2. For brunch: Cafe Condesa, or Cornelia Street Cafe.

              For French: Marseille or Pigalle.

              For neighborhood restaurant: Little Owl.

              Can't help you with the others, though.

              1. a) Check-out Freeman's located at Freeman's Alley which is just off Rivington bet. Bowery and Chrystie...they have good mac & cheese and cocktails too @ a pretty funky cool space.

                b) I would check-out Sakagura...located in the basement of a building diagonally across from Yasuda (same building with the resto called Hapon)...enter the building lobby go down one floor then voila...not a sushi place though but, they do serve sashimi and a lot of other interesting mostly tapas sized cooked japanese stuffs...try the buta kakuni, saikoro steak and the daikon salad --plus great dessert and sake collection in a really nice very serene space.

                c) If, you like Red Cat, check-out Mermaid Inn in the East Village where you can get decent oysters...though I will still go to Pearl Oyster Bar for a lobster roll.

                d) Balthazar or the Landmarc

                e) I concur with the Mama's recommendation ! Grab a serving of their banana pudding as well if they have it.

                f) Congee at 98 Bowery St.
                Nha Trang @ Baxter
                Nyonya @ Grand St.

                g) Try Blaue Gans in Tribeca...a cheaper version of Wallse

                Drop by Russ and Daughters for the best selection of pastrami and other appetizing stuffs on your way home from Katz!

                2 Replies
                1. re: nyufoodie

                  I think you're a bit confused. Russ does not sell pastrami or, for that matter, meat of any kind. Appetizing includes many kinds of smoked fish and varieties of herring.


                  P.S. At Katz's, it is all about the pastrami.

                  1. re: RGR

                    ...I meant smoked fish/lox...my favorite there is their pastrami lox which prob caused me to just write pastrami (which i do usually get in katz's as i used to live in the ev two blocks away from katz's and russ).

                2. C) POB is my vote. Better service than Mary's fishcamp too. Love everything over there, but the lobster rolls are to die for.

                  1. I agree with Mama's Mary's and Prune (best bloodys).

                    Add to Brunch: Clinton St. Bakery (get ready for wait) ALias (you can also satisfy craving for fried chix (with fennel seeds) and Mac and chs althogh not the best in city). 9th st. Bakery also pretty deccent.

                    Chinese: NY Noodletown; Nha trang, Nice Restaurant for dim sum

                    Non-sushi Japanese: sakagura on 45th; Kasadela on E. 3rd.; minca on 5th for ramen

                    1. Shaffer City (5W 21st. St.) has the best oysters in Manhattan. As an added bonus, tourists never heard of the place.

                      1. Second the Blau Gans recommendation for g).
                        Also maybe The Village on w 9th(?) st. Eatery on 9th ave and 51st or so theoretically fits this bill as well. Not sure if the menu is "interesting" at either of these places.
                        I used to live in Hell's Kitchen and I think the best neighborhood place around is Market Cafe on 9th ave and 39th or so. If you're not actually in the neighborhood, not sure its really worth the trip though. It's in a depressing part of town right behind the port authority. The service is sometimes indifferent, but the price to food quality ratio is as high as it is anywhere in Manhattan.

                        1. My pick for a place that serves delicious and interesting seafood and fish is Tides, the teensy "shack" on the LES. The cozy space has pleasing minimalist decor and a very unique ceiling. The owner, Stephen, is a really nice guy who goes out of his way to ensure that diners have a first-rate experience.


                          When it comes to French bistros, I think it's hard to find one that has all the dishes you crave. Here are some moderately-priced bistros we like:

                          Gavroche, Cosette and Park Bistro all serve well-prepared hanger steak with frites. At La Petite Auberge, ris de veau is on the menu, as well as a very peppery steak au poivre, which is served with frites.

                          See menupages for Park Bistro

                          1. If you're going to be on the UWS for brunch anyway, check out the Neptune Room (sibling restaurant to Jane, cocktail included with entree, great French Toast) or the prix fix brunch at Ouest (great bread basket).

                            I also agree with previous posters that Prune and Clinton Street Baking Company do great brunches. Prune is the quirky, imaginative one and you can find lots of discussion in previous threads. My theory is that whether or not you like it depends on how much in line your tastes are with Gabrielle Hamilton, and how willing you are to go with the flow. I'd advise getting there at 9:45am to skip the lines.

                            Clinton St is way more homey-cozy-comfort food and a traditionalist's breakfast but, damn, those are the fluffiest pancakes in town and served with delicious, delicious maple butter. Alias is a little more different (they serve goedda!) and more hip in this regards.

                            As for the seafood, I like the Mermaid Inn a lot, but the decor is supposed to evoke a New England fish shack (or so I've been told) and you may find that either charming or cheesy. Additionally, they don't serve dessert, really, just have complimentary chocolate pudding so you might want to try to have dessert elsewhere (Chikalicious, perhaps?).

                            For your late night victuals, I say you should consider a trip to the new Momofuku Ssam Bar on 2nd Ave (13th Street) for some of the best artisanal pork in town.

                            1. Prune. Totally good idea. I think they open for brunch at 10 on Sunday. If you get there when they open you should be able to get in. If not...hope you brought something to read.

                              Mama's is another great spot too- great chocolate banana bread pudding and ridiculously cheap.

                              For a great lunch: The Spotted Pig in Tribeca. Get the burger with a side of gnudi. Try their authentic hand-pulled cask ale (just like in London).

                              Golden Unicorn has never let me down for Dim Sum.

                              Flea-Market off Thompkin's Sqaure Park is a nice French bistro.

                              A good decompress dinner would be The Little Owl. Get the flintstone-sized pork chop.

                              1. a) i agree w/ other posters: Prune and Clinton St Baking Co. i also love Five Points for brunch.

                                b) Ushi Wakamaru on Houston St... this is the best affordable sushi/omakase i've had in NYC -- i think it's as good as Yasuda or Jewel Bako, my favorites, and better than Blue Ribbon

                                c) hands down Pearl Oyster Bar. my sister loves Mermaid Inn, but i think pearl is better. they have also have a great fried oyster roll (only on the lunch menu, but they serve at dinner).

                                d) my favorite french bistros are Artisanal, Raoul's and La Goulue, depending on my mood. i usually eat foie gras, cheese and frites at these spots, so i can't comment on the tartare. I did have an excellent steak tartare at Country recently.

                                e) i think Mama's was much better a few years ago... that said, i love the mac & cheese and collards at Blue Smoke, but have never had the fried chicken. i also love the mac & cheese at Artisanal and Balthazar. i also like Pink Tea Cup in the west village (i usually get the smothered pork chops).

                                f) Dim Sum Go Go -- no carts but excellent fresh dim sum. Congee Village is my new favorite restaurant... very very inexpensive and i love the congee w/ pork and 1000 yr old egg. i haven't had anything bad at either spot.

                                g) I LOVE THE RED CAT. also, Ouest (UWS), Falai (LES), Cookshop (West Chelsea), Savoy (SoHo esp in wintertime with the fireplace), The Place (west village)... i think they're all quite good and relaxed.

                                ps, I second The Spotted Pig (it's more in the meatpacking district/west village) for lunch for 2 reasons: the food is wonderful and it's difficult to get at dinner.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: sister2

                                  I second ushiwakamaru, my Japanese friends refuse to go elsewhere!

                                  1. re: djwackfriz

                                    you might noodge them to to try a few other things while they are here halfway around the world!

                                  2. i confess i didn't read all the posts on this board, so please excuse me if i'm a bit repetitive:

                                    (a) i saw a lot of people mentioned prune for brunch, but i don't think it falls under "inexpensive". i love prune brunch, and maybe it's just me and my friends, but we always want an extra side of the potatoes and get a dutch pancake to share (HEAVENLY) and at least 2 special bloody mary's each (my faves are the bloody bull and the one with all the pickled veggies). i always end up paying about $35-40 for brunch when i go there. i've heard alias is great and ninth street market (also super long wait due to size). ninth is southern style down home brunch. if you feel like venturing out to brooklyn, enid's is great. long wait as well, but free coffee while you wait, and i've always been sat immediately for 2 at the bar. well priced too!
                                    (sorry chowhound, for the bk mention, but this is multi-answer reply! please don't erase


                                    (b)i second aki on w4. DELISH. and if you go before 7 i think (and leave before 8) you can get the 3 course dinner + soup or salad (both great) for $26 and a great deal. almost all the apps are amazing, my fave is the titanic. their miso and soy sauce are all home made. fish is very fresh. TINY place, need res.

                                    (c) pearl's and mary's. interesting seafood at aquagrill. 25 different oysters daily. i think ditch plains is also a "seafood shack in the big city" type place, but haven't been so can't attest.

                                    (d)hmmm, raoul's? not cheap though. back atrium room is romantic... someone told me they have a cheap bar steak frites. artichoke and foie gras are yum yum.

                                    (e) NOT dirty bird. (don't ask, find my rant on this site if you're really curious). i think hip hop chow on 2nd is sort of fun. their fried chicken is quite good, a huge portion, with mac and cheese and collard greens, but the last time i went it tasted a bit burnt.
                                    maroons on 16th is good for chicken, and they do chicken and waffles for brunch. they tend to be slow though. if you want to go to harlem, there's amy ruth's, charles' southern kitchen, and sylvia's.

                                    (f) dim sum - i've gone to a lot of places, but i still think jing fong is the best. they've improved over the years and are great if you get there before 12:30. they have a station of tables too, where you can walk up to and get stuff. ping's is also a good dim sum option but much pricier. if you miss the early dim sum hours, try dim sum go go on e broadway. they have like 20 different dumplings, no carts, but you can get everything you want. they have a giant shark's fin soup dumpling, YUM.

                                    other favorites: nyo nya (malaysian) nha trang on baxter (viet, the best!), kam chueh (open til 4 am, good seafood), fuleen (great for groups), ny noodle town, happy shabu (sichuan hot pot style), $1 dumpling place on eldridge north of grand (sesame pancakes with meat and kimchi awesome too), congee village. pongsri thai on bayard and baxter corner, but favorite thai is pam's real thai in clinton.

                                    (g) hmm, which hood?

                                    1. Balthazar for oysters. I love the Oyster bar but I think Balthazar's are better. Raoul's on Prince Street for Steak Frite's. You will love it. Balthazar or Cafe Loup for brunch. Chinatown, I am digging the Big Wang on Elizabeth lately. Amazing Wok at 66 Mott has gotten great reviews on this board. My 2 meals there were only average. Grand Sichuan 24th/9th has amazing Crab/Pork soup dumplings and the"natural chicken dishes there are great if you do not feel like dealing with C-town. For a decompression meal, try Tavern on Jane. Really mellow and fun, good food. My favourite neighborhood joint.

                                      1. A potential alternative to the comforts of Red Cat is Alta at 64 W. 10th. Their Mediterranean cusine has a tapas vibe, but the dishes have a substantial amount of gravitas. The wine selection has depth and the dark, wood interior is cozy.