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Feedback Needed on NYC Itinerary for Visiting Dallas-based Chowhounds

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My fiance and I are visiting New York City from May 24th-27th. I've carefully researched all of the the various conversations on this message board along with cross-referencing Frank Bruni's reviews and my recently purchased copy of Zagat New York City.

To say the least, we're excited to visit the mecca of American dining . . .

Thursday Dinner: Degustation (10:15pm)
Notes: We arrive in La Guardia at 7:15pm Thursday and thus, I'm hoping we'll be able to make a 10:15pm dinner after getting our luggage and checking at the hotel (Millenium Hilton near Ground Zero).
Questions: The 5-course tasting menu looks like a great option. Is that best way to go here?

Friday Breakfast: Ess-A-Bagel (10am)
Notes: In my humble opinion, Ess-A-Bagel made the grestest onion bagel I've ever eaten and I've simply GOT to take my fiance for bagels and lox.
Questions: Are we better off to buy some bagels here and go to Ross and Sons (not sure if I'm getting the name right) for the lox and cream cheese? If so, can we walk or is it better to take the sub or a cab? Also, is there anywhere (like a small park with benches) near Ross & Sons to sit and prepare/eat our bagels?

Friday Lunch: Jean Georges (2pm)
Notes: Trying to budget our money and take advantage of the prix-fixe lunch. We're going to request the main dining room. Do I need to specify to sit near a window or anything? Any must-have dishes to order?

Friday Dinner: Momofuku Ssam Bar (11pm)
Notes: We're seeing Spamalot at 8pm, thus the super late dinner. This place looks like a lot of fun.
Questions: Will there still be a long line to get seated at 11pm? What are the must have items?

Saturday Brunch: Prune (11am)
Notes: Looks like the most adventurous brunch option.
Questions: Are we going to get slaughtered by trying to get a table for four (we're meeting some friends that live in the city) at 11am? Should we go earlier? Later? What are the best brunch items?

Saturday Dinner: Babbo (9pm)
Notes: We're dying to try Babbo . . . I am so excited. This'll be the budget blower. I'm torn between doing the pasta tasting menu or ordering some key appetizers and pastas a la carte and splitting them with my fiance to create our own little tasting menu. Mint Love Letters, Beef Cheek Ravioli etc . . . so many things to try. Which are the must haves?

Thanks in advance for any feedback and insight you can provide us!

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  1. I wasn't impressed with Prune's brunch or the service. I don't understand what all the hype is about.
    Can you not buy bagels at Russ and Daughters? Perhaps one of the other hounds will know the answer.

    1. Russ and Daughters does have bagels. Frankly, I think making your own lox and cream cheese sandwiches on the fly can be a pretty messy -- and might I add, kind of smelly -- operation. Plus, you'd need to bring along a knife to cut the bagels you buy elsewhere. So, since Russ does make sandwiches to go, in my view, that's the easy way to do it.

      As to where you might go to sit and enjoy your little feast.... I think there are places to sit along the center mall on Allen St. (Russ is b/t Orchard & Allen.) If not, there's a small playground 3 blocks east, on the corner of Houston & Norfolk Sts., that I'm pretty sure has benches.

      2 Replies
      1. re: RGR

        I agree -- have Russ & Daughters make the sandwiches for you. It'll be pricey but worth it. There's also benches outside of American Apparel next door, where you can sit if the weather is nice.

        As for Prune, I'd show up at 9:45am if you don't wanna wait. If you show up at 11am, you'll probably end up waiting an hour or so, especially if the weather is nice. There's nowhere to wait inside of Prune, too, so if it's raining or something, the wait may suck. At Prune, I like the "Prune" juice (a combination of many fruits but no prunes actually), as well as the deep-fried Monte Cristo sandwich, the Dutch pancake (oven-baked) and the merveilles. And there's a whole long Bloody Mary menu of something like 10 different varieties. And each Bloody comes with a beer chaser.

        At Ssam bar, there will be no or a minimal wait at 11pm on a Friday night. If they do say there's a wait, it will be short, as my experience has been that they routinely overestimate the time it takes. Here's my recommendations for Ssam Bar items:
        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/39370...

        This CHer also did a short trip to NYC that included Prune, Ssam Bar, and Degustation:
        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/393597

        1. re: RGR

          No need to go so far! Go to First Park, west side of 1st St. and 1st Av., if you're going to be doing this.

        2. I think you have a great list!

          The four dishes at Degustation that I thought were mind-blowing were the egg with asparagus, the croquettas, the scallops in jamon broth, and the rib-eye. If all four are on the tasting menu, then get it. If not, the two of you could order a la carte (the good thing is that the ala carte portions are the same size as the portions on the tasting menu), and try even more dishes.

          Momofuku Ssam - if I could only have two dishes, it would be the brussel sprouts and the veal head terrine. If I could have two more dishes, it would be the rice cakes and the apple salad. And maybe a plate of ham.

          The only thing I had at Babbo that I really didn't like was a side of farro with beets... I find Babbo technically excellent but kind of soulless. Everything tasted pretty good, but memories of the dishes I had there don't elicit a strong emotional reaction the way memories of some of the dishes from Lupa do (and dare I say it? The beef cheek ravioli I made from the Babbo cookbook tasted a lot better than the beef cheek ravioli at Babbo). On the other hand, there have been enough negative Lupa reports recently (and my own experiences in the last three years have been hit-or-miss) so I won't urge you to drop Babbo and go back to Lupa instead (in the past, I would have).

          1 Reply
          1. re: daveena

            I had a wonderful experience at Babbo both times I have been there. I've never tried the pasta tasting menu, although a friend of mine did and told me it was too much food.

            I would recommend ordering 1-2 apps (grilled octopus - a must) and 2-3 pastas (I've tired the beef cheek ravioli, mint love letters, sweet potato lune and the black spaghetti. My favorites- beef cheek ravioli and black spaghetti.) to share with your SO. Depending on your appetite, you could also order 1 entree to share. But, you have to leave room for dessert!

          2. the lox at ess-a-bagel is very good, so i would just get the sandwiches there and not fool around with trying to put together a meal while sitting on a bench outside. that said, russ and daughters is a fantastic store that's well worth a visit. perhaps take a walk over after brunch on saturday and pick up some snacks.

            4 Replies
            1. re: wleatherette

              Ideally I'd try and make a sandwich, but only if I were carrying it home...

              I'm not a discerning lox eater, but I have to say if you're visiting from out of town the lox is much better at Russ and Daughters - and the bagels are decent too; definitely not an Ess-A, but not too far off. (That gives me an idea - maybe this calls for a taste-off of lox sandwiches from both places?)

              1. re: theannerska

                i think that if the original poster's ideal bagel is an ess-a-bagel then she'll be disappointed by the ones available at russ and daughters. i'm not denying the overall superiority of their lox, but i recently got nova from ess because i didn't have time to go to russ, and it was great. it's a more than adequate substitute.

                1. re: theannerska

                  Hmm - maybe a bagels and lox "taste-off" is the answer. I'll see if I can squeeze it into the itinerary . . . but the "SO" is not a fan of the early wake-up call.

                  1. re: skedhead2000

                    A taste-off seems very do-able...get one bagel and lox sandwich at each place, split them in half so that you and your SO each get to taste them. Ess-A has a location on the LES that isn't exactly close to Russ & Daughters, but it's very walkable.

                    wleatherette, I agree re: bagel differences - I'm a diehard Ess-A fan. I'll have to try their lox again next time I go, it's been a while...

              2. first off, i dk if anyone noticed or was as charmed as i was how you texas-ized russ and daughters to ross and sons! :) i'd definately skip russ and just stick with ess. you can stop by russ during the day later sometime if you like.

                i think you have a stellar itinerary. a few things. if all goes well you could make your DEGUSTATION res. i noticed they serve until 11pm, so you're prob the last seating, which plays in your favor. also, don't worry about the windows at JG, they are there, but there are no real views, all the seats are the same and you'll enjoy that one a lot.

                the only other things i'd rec is maybe skipping PRUNE for something like ODEON or BUBBYS, both an easy walk from your hotel. i am thinking of your s.o. again and admit i am trading a somewhat more adventuresome food-focused brunch at PRUNE for more comfortable, yet still bustlely fun/traditional nyc tribeca brunches. or if you insist on interesting chow perhaps try the filipino/pan asian CENDRILLON in soho for weekend brunch. all are busy yet still much more relaxed settings than trying to eat at a PRUNE brunch.

                i really want to hear about DEGUSTATION more so have fun and report back!

                2 Replies
                1. re: mrnyc

                  Just ate at Babbo. We were a party of 5 and created our own tasting menu. Standout dishes were the charred octopus, the pasta lune, and the black spaghetti.

                  1. re: mrnyc

                    Thanks for the feedback (to everyone) . . . I called Degustation this afternoon and booked a 10:30pm reservation for the night we arrive in NYC (Thursday). Thanks for the Prune feedback. I like weird food and my fiance, bless her heart, comes along for the ride (though she's pretty fearless . . . except when it comes to beef tongue).

                  2. ok...i lived in dallas for awhile and appreciate your excitement and anticipation of our restaurant scene. are you getting sick of javier's and nick and sams?

                    anyways, to answer your questions:
                    1) you can't go wrong with the tasting menu at Degustation (but if they're still doing their riff on the "cheesesteak", you have to try it.
                    2) the russ and daughters "experience" is second to none, although it's not a formal restaurant. it's a cultural landmark, however, and one of the treasured experiences that connects us to all those who came before us (try the gaspe salmon or wild baltic)
                    3) Jean Georges should be an excellent lunch. I never make it that far uptown but have been there for dinner.
                    4) Ssam Bar is great. You shouldn't have a problem at 11. Try the rice cakes, steak ssam, rib pot, yellowfin sashimi, pork buns, apple salad, brussel sprouts
                    5) Prune does a nice brunch, but it does get crowded quickly. try the rattatouille if you get in.
                    6) Babbo is the best. the pasta is the star but don't get the tasting menu. you will 100% get sick. but do get three split betw. 2 people (black pasta, goat cheese tortelloni, and fennel and sausage)
                    enjoy!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: joe_restaurant

                      awesome feedback - thanks Joe Restaurant.

                      1. re: skedhead2000

                        Hi skedhead2000,

                        I think you definitely got tons of great advice from everyone, so I am not going to repeat the same thing. Just want to suggest somethings that may be different from others:

                        - While the tasting menu at Degustation is great, I actually like to order a la carte especially when I am sharing with my friends. For tasting you two will get the same dishes, but for a la carte two of you can sample and share pretty much everything on the menu (which was what I did whenever sharing with a friend). Yes, they still have the cheesesteak!

                        - for Momofuku, the best dishes are the offal and vegetables, followed by small plates and then entrees (like rice cake / clay pots). The least impressive ones are the ssams, and they are filling (so you get full and can't try other things). So I would recommend ordering ssams only after you have tried other things and still feel hungry (which, IMO, is quite impossible...)

                        I think your plan looks fantastic and you are all set! Hope you have a wonderful trip and let us know how it turns out!

                    2. TRY MAMA MEXICO ON E 49ST NYC ITS GREAT

                      1. Took two hours to get through and make a reservation at Babbo. Ouch!. Actually dialed for a solid hour starting at 9am central time (at work on a Thursday. . . nice) getting a busy signal. Had a meeting at 10am and began calling again at 11am and got through in 5 minutes. The only openings were 5:30pm and 10:45pm - ugh! Took the 10:45pm option . . . maybe we can get there at 10pm and have a drink and appetizer at the bar. Does anyone know any tricks for trying to improve your reservation time once we get in town? Is it worth the bother to stop by at 5:30pm to see if any folks canceled?

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: skedhead2000

                          Anybody else think this is a little ridiculous? And anyone else know why this happens? They have probably only purchased one or two phone lines. Most restaurants could easily do the same thing if they only had one or two lines, but they would rather not take up their client's entire freaking morning...

                          For Jean Georges at lunch, I recommend the blue fin tuna and the cod over lemon spaetzle. The scallops looked good too but I didn't try them myself. The menu does change often though, I believe.

                        2. I ate at Momofuku Ssam Bar last week and it was very good. I highly recommend the brussel sprouts (as odd as that may sound). They were fried with chilis and mint...I have been craving them ever since. We also enjoyed the hangar steak ssam and the virginia ham. Lots of people really like the pork buns, but I found them average.

                          1. Rats! A chance to give advice to a fellow Texan board member, and I'm late to the party and everything's been said.

                            Looks like a delicious couple of days you've got lined up. Just to chime in on what seems to be the controversial point, if I had to choose one I would definitely pick Russ and Daughters. The bagels at Ess-a-bagel are much better than the ones at Russ and Daughters, due in no small part to their freshness (still warm or bust!). The fish at Russ and Daughters is magnificent, definitely better than the fish at Ess-a-bagel, which I would characterize as being pretty good. For me, the quality of the salmon is more important, but a comparison tasting sounds like the way to go.

                            It's too far to walk comfortably from one to the other, especially in the morning while trying to breakfast. 21 blocks? I'd go ahead and spring for the cab ride, if I were you.

                            If you have room, there's lots of other great stuff at Russ and Daughters. I'm partial to their whitefish salad on a bagel, sometimes with a little wasabi flying fish roe on there for good measure.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: ratatosk

                              Fellow Hounds,
                              Thanks again for the feedback here. Definitely will try and get to Russ & Daughters to try their fish! We're having second thoughts about the brunch at Prune . . . sounds like mixed reviews there.

                              1. re: skedhead2000

                                Oh, it's fantastic. I love Prune. It is a tiny space, so it becomes less and less worth it the longer you wait. But the dutch pancake is fluffy buttery and incredible. The bloody mary packed with pickled vegetables is an experience in itself. Staff is friendly.