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Apr 10, 2007 04:37 PM

Referrals for visitors from SoCal in May

My wife and I will be spending 5 nights in NYC for our anniversary. The mere fact that I am posting here should make it apparent that much of the vacation will revolve around where we eat; which brings me to my question. Where should we go? We don't get to New York often so we'd like to hit up some must-do restaurants for dinner and/or lunch. Based upon reviews from this website, and articles I've read in magazines, I have a list compiled of several restaurants.
For a frame of reference I'd like to offer up some of mine and my wifes' favorites from our city, San Diego, and others we've visited around the country.

San Diego:

Nine Ten -
Kensington Grill -
Laurel -

San Francisco

Boulevard - One of the best meals we've ever had. If it would have ended at the salad course, I would have been fine.
Zuni Cafe - An SF icon.
Tartine -
Quince - Very romantic.

Chicago -

Kevin -
MK -
Blackbird -
Nomi -
Bongo Room - Best brunch on the planet!

Phoenix -

Barrio Cafe - I almost cried the mole was so good!
Pizzeria Bianco - THEE best pizza! In Phoenix. Who knew?

That's probably overkill, but I wanted to give an idea of where we've been. Here's my list of places we're interested in going to in New York.

Eleven Madison Park
Cafe Boloud
Per Se
Blue Hill
The Spotted Pig

I welcome any other suggestions. We'd like to do maybe three of these for dinner, with one big night for our anniversary. We'd try some of the others we can't do for dinner for lunch too. I'm not sure which one's would be better for which meal. We're staying in Murray Hill, 31st and Lexington, but it really doesn't matter location wise. We'll probably also do a show on one of the nights if that helps. We will be there Saturday thru Wednesday night. Thanks in advance for any help anyone can offer!

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  1. other meals theat have been memorable
    a voce
    cas mono
    cafe gray

    your list is great. i've been to all but per se and cafe boloud. memorable meals at babbo, emp,blue hill, the spotted pig, craft unlike a million others i was a tocuh disappointed with bouley....

    4 Replies
    1. re: jsmitty

      Thanks jsmitty! I was also considering some of the places on your list, especially Veritas, Prune and Hearth. My problem is in narrowing down the field. Too many good restaurants in NYC!

      1. re: Kico

        Hey, Kico, One of my favorite expressions -- so many restaurants, so little time (and that's for a native!) -- exactly fits your dilemma in planning for your upcoming trip. However, you can pack quite a lot of excellent dining into a 5-day stay. You will have 15 meals (plus snacks?) during that time period, so the key is planning. You need to decide how to apportion those meals among your preferred cuisines and dining levels. For example, I think most people would consider Veritas to be in the upscale category (but not anywhere near as expensive as Per Se), while Hearth and Prune are more moderately priced, with Prune being less expensive than Hearth. I have not been to Prune, but I have been to Veritas (many times) and to Hearth (once) and, while the cuisine served at both is Modern American, Veritas leans French while Hearth leans Italian. Also, the ambiance at each is totally different. Veritas' dining room is very small with elegant, sleek decor; Hearth is quite large and the decor is what I would call "early warehouse," i.e., rough minimalist. So, knowing such information can influence your choices.

        Looking at your list, I see you've included Eleven Madison. Since you are from California, if you've ever had the opportunity to sample Chef Daniel Humm's cuisine while he was at Campton Place, you might want to consider eliminating it in favor of chefs here whose cuisine you have never tried. If such is not the case, I think EMP, which I adore, is an absolute must!

        Of the others on your list, Cafe Boulud is a favorite of mine. The four menus + a menu of daily specials range amonst a variety of cuisine types. Every meal we've had there has been superb. While it is more casual than Daniel Boulud's eponymous 4-star temple of haute French cuisine, many of the patrons are from the tony UES area where the restaurant is located, and so the most of the men wear jackets and the ladies dress up just a bit.

        If you are going to a show in the midtown Theater District, it is more convenient to eat in the vicinity. There are literally hundreds of restaurants to choose from, so narrowing the choices down is difficult without knowing what cuisines you would prefer, whether you want something casual or a bit fancier, and if you want us to take your budget into consideration.

        Lastly, I note that you are staying in on Lex & 31st. There are some very good to excellent restaurants in that area. Here are just a few:

        Urena, on 28th St., b/t Park Av. S. & Madison. Alex Urena (formerly chef at Blue Hill and other restaurants) has opened his own place. There is some Spanish influence on the menu, but his superb cuisine he is essentially a mix of eclectic flavors.

        Ethos, on 3rd Av., b/t 33rd & 34th Sts. - Greek
        Turkish Kitchen, on 3rd, b/t 27th & 28th Sts.
        Penelope, on the corner of Lex & 30th St. American/Eclectic
        Park Bistro, on Park Av. S., b/t 28th & 29th Sts. Contemporary French.

        This is, of course, for starters. As the conversations progresses, more to come.

        1. re: RGR

          Excellent information RGR! I couldn't have asked for a more informative response on dining in NYC. From what I've been reading on the boards regarding the many restaurants I have in mind, and based on your review, Veritas and EMP are fast becoming the frontrunners. From your description of the decor I would say Veritas wins out over the "early warehouse" minimalism of Hearth. I have also read that EMP does a nice brunch. Any thoughts on that?
          One of the things I am very much looking forward to on our trip to NYC is the fact that people do "dress up"; even for lunch. Being from Southern California it is not uncommon to find one's self at a nice establishment in La Jolla for dinner sitting next to someone wearing jeans, flip-flops, and an untucked Tommy Bahama shirt. Granted we are much more laid back here and that's part of the charm, but come on! So I'm looking forward to experiencing places like Cafe Boloud not only for the food, but for the entire fine city dining experience.
          As for our pre or post theater dinner I would say my wife and I would be looking for Modern American fare at a total cost of somewhere around $200 with wine included. A place where we could be part of the whole theater scene would be great. Somewhere where we could hang around and have a few drinks. Would it make any difference whether we were planning on dining before or after the show? Is one any better than the other?
          Urena sounds like a great suggestion. Based on all the praise I've come across for Blue Hill, it must be pretty good. And it's nice to know it's so close by.
          Thanks so much again for your clear and detailed suggestions.

          1. re: Kico

            Hey, Kico, Glad you found my information helpful. :-)

            Regarding brunch at Eleven Madison, describing it as "nice" is a serious understatement! Spectacular is more like it. The brunch menu is essentially a copy of the lunch menu with the addition of a small section of breakfast foods. Skip over those mundane items and head directly for Chef Humm's exquisite cuisine. During the day, (sun)light streams through the massive windows, and the gorgeous space -- wonderful at night -- takes on a truly magical quality. (Note: At lunch, a 5-course Gourmand menu has recently been introduced.) You can view all the menu on EMP's website:


            When it comes to theater dining, pre or post is a matter of personal preference. You will find that most restaurants in the area have the hustle and bustle of the pre-theater crowd scene. We prefer to eat before the show. We usually reserve around 5:30 p.m., which is about half an hour before the big crush begins and allows us plenty of time to have a relaxing meal before strolling to the theater for an 8 p.m. curtain. If you prefer to dine post-theater, deciding where to go will depend on what time your show lets out and which restaurants are serving later in the evening. (Contrary to NYC's reputation as the "city that never sleeps," many restaurants in the Theater District don't remain open late enough for post-theater dining.) Also, if you decide to dine post-theater, you don't have to remain in the Theater District and can consider restaurants in other neighborhoods that serve late into the night.

            For pre-theater dining, taking into considerations your preferences, here are two places I highly recommend:

            Amalia, on 55th St., b/t B'way & 7th Av., opened about two months ago. The New American cuisine with a Mediterranean tilt is seriously delicious; the staff couldn't be nicer and or more capable; the large space is divided in such a way that gives sections a feeling of intimacy; and there are many touches of beauty and elegance in the hip decor. Their website -- -- is still under construction. But you can view the menu on


            West Bank Cafe, on 42nd St., b/t 9th & 10th Avs., has been around for many years. The modern American cuisine is excellent; service is friendly and efficient; and the space has attractive decor and comfortable seating.


            We aren't bar denizens, but for drinks pre- or post-theater, I would suggest the Blue Bar in the famous Algonquin Hotel, on 44th St., b/t 5th & 6th Avs.


            Re: Dress. I read your comments with interest. It may surprise you to hear that the same situation as you described an happen at restaurants here. There are still a few restaurants that *require* more formal dress, i.e., jackets for gentlemen. But for the most part, even most upscale restaurant have no dress codes. So, for example, at Eleven Madison, you will find one table with guys wearing jeans and sweaters while at the next, jackets and even ties (the latter especially at lunch when there are lots of business diners). And during the summer, it isn't unusual to see shorts during brunch! So, if you're wondering how to pack, unless you're going to Per Se, Le Bernardin or the dozen or so other restaurants that still have a dress code, you'll be appropriate and comfortable with "business casual."

            Since you will be here for 5 days in May when the weather is usually great for strolling around, if you are interested in checking out something other than fine cuisine, you might be interested in taking my (in)famous Lower East Side eating "tour." It will give you an opportunity to walk around a very interesting neighborhood and sample some foods that are emblematic of NYC. I'm appending it here:

            LES Food Excursion

            For the quintessential NYC deli experiences, no place beats Katz's, on the corner of Houston (pronounced "how-stun") & Ludlow Sts. You're there specifically for the pastrami sandwich. When you enter, you will be given a ticket. Instead of opting for table service, do what the "natives" do and get on line for counter service. When you reach the counter, put a $1 for each sandwich in the counterman's tip cup and order pastrami on rye. He'll give you a piece to taste. If you like it (the best pastrami is juicy and has some fat on it), tell him o.k., and he'll make your sandwich, give you some sour pickles, and punch your ticket. Then, continue along the counter for sides – the cole slaw is good -- and drinks. Find seats at a table in the center of the room. (Tables along the wall have menus on them and are reserved for waiter service.) When you’re done, take your ticket to the cashier in front. It's cash only. Note: For the purposes of this tour, unless you have a gargantuan appetite, it would be best to share one sandwich in order to leave room for more tastings along the way.

            When you exit Katz’s, turn left and continue along the same side of Houston St. You will come to Russ & Daughters, famous for all sorts of smoked fish and many other goodies. It's not a restaurant, but they make sandwiches to go.

            After leaving the Russes, continue west a couple of blocks until you reach Yonah Schimmel's. Get a tasty potato knish, and make sure to ask them to heat it up.

            Now it’s time for the quintessential NY drink – the egg cream. So, reverse yourself and head east on Houston until you come to Avenue A. (Note: Avenue A becomes Essex St. on the south side of Houston.) Turn left on A and head north until you get to the block between 7th St. and St. Mark’s Place. Look for a hole-in-the-wall candy shop, closer to 7th, with an overhead sign jutting into the street that says, “Belgian Fries.” (The place’s official name is Ray’s, but there is no signage to that effect.) One of the women behind the counter will make you a delicious chocolate egg cream.

            When you’re finished licking your lips, go back to Houston St. and make a left (east) one block to Norfolk St. Turn right and walk down Norfolk until it ends at Grand St. Two places to look for at the corner of Grand and Norfolk: Kossar's, for freshly baked bialys (another very NY food) and the Donut Plant (self-explanatory).

            Next, walking west along Grand St., you will come to Orchard St. Turn right. At 87 Orchard, snack on a pickle from Gus's World Famous Pickles.

            Then, continue to 97 Orchard, b/t Broome & Delancey, where you will find the Tenement Museum. The tour will show you what life was like for immigrants to NYC at the beginning of the 20th century. (
            Once you have finished the tour, Il Laboratorio del Gelato, right next door at 95 Orchard, is a must for some of the best gelato anywhere.

            If your sweet tooth is still not completely satisfied, the final stop on this tour should do it. Continue ahead (north) on Orchard, crossing Delancey, then one more block to Rivington St. Make a right and you will find Economy Candy at 145 Rivington.

            Note: It’s best not to take this tour on a Saturday since some of the spots are closed because of religious observance. Also, Donut Plant is closed on Mondays.
            If there's anything else I can help you with, please let me know.

    2. great places on your list...i'd also consider:

      Il Giglio (old school Italian, great shrimp fra diavolo)
      Keens Steakhouse (either for dinner or for a drink/lunch in the pub room)
      Picholine (though i haven't been there since they changed the menu/room)
      Lucien (nice for lunch/late-afternoon-meal if you find yourself in the East Village)

      1 Reply
      1. re: Simon

        Thank you for the suggestions Simon. I will definitely look into these. Lucien looks like a nice place for lunch.

      2. As a first response, I'd say if you get into Babbo (TRY!), you can cross Lupa off your list. The Spotted Pig is certainly bustling at night, but they don't take reservations so your time may be better spent going there for lunch. Get the burger. I'm going to Blue Hill this weekend, I'll let you know! I'm from SF and if you like Quince, I really think you'd enjoy Felidia. Can be pricey but YUM, one of my faves! EMP is great, and to be honest you'd fly home smiling after including any combo of places from this list and those below...have fun and congrats on the anniversary!

        3 Replies
        1. re: jthefoodie

          So far the line has been busy all morning for Babbo, but I will keep trying! A burger for lunch at The Spotted Pig actually sounds pretty darn good. I loved Quince! If Felidia is anything like it I will have to check it out. EMP seems to be highly recommended so I don't know how I can NOT go! Thanks for the help and well wishes!

          1. re: jthefoodie

            I have reservations at both Babbo and EMP! They definitely seem like can't miss places based on yours and all the input I've read on this site. Were you able to try Blue Hill? What did you think? RGR mentioned Urena in his helpful response, which features a Blue Hill expat in the kitchen. I will probably be trying one of those.

            1. re: Kico

              YES! I did get to go to Blue Hill, and I was very impressed - not only by the food (which both looked and tasted stunning, not a combination I often come by!), but also by the service. Respectful and knowledgable but not stuffy, there when you want them and gone when you don't - a gem of a dining experience. Standouts for us were the apps, including an eye-popping garden salad (trust me!) and perfectly cooked chestnut and squash ravioli...the chestnuts are in the pasta dough! Inspired by the fresh-from-the-garden flavors, I asked around our greenmarket for other frequent buyers and was directed by all to The Tasting Room. Also quite tasty, but Blue Hill has raised the bar for me. I can't wait to go back! I think of it as NYC's Chez-Panisse. Enjoy your stay, and please tell us all about it!