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May 1, 2007 09:04 AM

NYC vacation - high end restaurants plus other typical American?

I must say I´m thrilled to have found this forum! In about two weeks, my boyfriend and I (Swedish, 30 yo) are going to New York for 10 days. We will be staying in Harlem near Marcus Garvey Park but plan to go everywhere in Manhattan and some to the outer boroughs as well (will post this on outer boroughs board too). A big feature of our trip will, of course, be FOOD. I have a lot of questions, so have broken them down into two posts. I have read a bit on the board already so have some ideas, but would love new suggestions too!

I am a "pescatarian"(no meat other than fish or seafood), but my boyfriend eats everything. We don´t like overly touristy places, but as long as the food is fabulous they´re OK.

What would you recommend for...

1. High end type restaurant (dinner)? My ideas so far are: Eleven Madison or Gramercy Tavern. If these are impossible for reservations this late, any other suggestions?

2. High end type restaurant (lunch)?

3. Brunch?

4. Seafood and/or caviar? Ideas: Barney Greengrass, Pearl Oyster Bar

5. Classic American Diner?

6. Soul Food? Ideas: Amy Ruth´s, Miss Maude´s

7. Steaks (for the boyfriend...)?

8. Bagels, bialys? Ideas: Essa Bagel, Kossars

9. New York style Cheesecake? Ideas: Carnegie Deli, Juniors in Brooklyn

10. Bakeries? Ideas: Lee Lee´s in Harlem, Ciao for Now

11. Anything in Harlem not to be missed?

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  1. I thought of one more question - are reservations typically necessary also for lunch at higher end restaurants?

    1. You should definitely try to have a meal at Esca. David Pasternack is a genius and the place is a lot of fun. Not sure if they do lunch but get a reservation for any time they can seat you - it'll be memorable.

      1. Hi there, swedegal. When are you coming to NYC? What types of foods do you have easy access to at home?

        Both Eleven Madison Park and Gramercy Tavern are fine choices for a high-end dinner but they are both very popular. Keep in mind that Gramercy Tavern also has a casual front room called the Tavern Room, and a formal room called the Dining Room. For GT's Dining Room, I'd say planning a month in advance is good since it's very popular. You'll probably be able to snag a reservation for EMP later in the game, say 2 weeks out. Of course dining early or dining late or dining on an off-peak day will increase your chances of getting a table. Both restaurants use a popular online reservations system called

        If it doesn't work out, I'd try the Bar Room at The Modern would be a good alternative. EMP, GT, and The Modern are all Danny Meyer restaurants. I recently had a great high end-ish dinner at the Bar Room at the Modern with two friends.

        For a high end lunch, I'd go with one of the value-packed prix fixe options at places known for higher prices at dinner. Try this thread:

        My favorite brunches are: Balthazar, Clinton Street Baking Company, Five Points, The Neptune Room, Sarabeth's, Cookshop, Prune, and the aforementioned Barney Greengrass. All of these are quite popular places; most have long lines if you don't arrive early or late. Be sure to check which ones allow reservations (I would recommend making them if you can, as New Yorkers love their brunches), as well as researching which ones are Sundays only, weekends only, etc. For example, Clinton Street Baking Company has some of the finest pancakes and biscuits around but require a 1-1.5 hr wait on the weekends, but is completely uncrowded on a weekday.

        For seafood, do you like oysters? A trip to the famous Oyster Bar at Grand Central might be in order. And if you like smoked salmon, make sure you stop by Russ and Daughters for takeout (there's counter service, no seating).

        For a classic Jewish NY Deli, go to Katz' Deli on Houston St. Can't go wrong with their pastrami.

        For ambiance and history, I like the steak at Keen's Chop House, but can't speak to their non-steak options.

        For bakeries, there's a whole host of options. What in particular do you like? Pastries? Bread? Sandwiches? Cupcakes? Pie? Regular cake? Croissants? Cannoli? Something else? How do you feel about Japanese bakeries or Ukrainian bakeries? NYC is pretty specialized and I've yet to find a single bakery that excels in everything -- but if you have a craving, please let us know. For example, Kee's Chocolates makes the best truffles in NYC and you won't be able to find them in Sweden. but I'd imagine that some French chocolatiers you might want to avoid while you're in the US?

        Also, I'd check out these threads:

        Have you given any thought to other genres? What about Chinese, Japanese (perhaps some high end sushi), Thai, Korean, Indian, Italian, Spanish, BBQ, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Dominican, etc.? It's hard to recommend without knowing what you have access to at home...

        Oh, and don't forget to eat some NY style pizza while you're here and perhaps some hot dogs. But your list does look very good!

        1. Hey, swedegal, Going down your list of inquiries....

          1. High end type restaurant (dinner)? My ideas so far are: Eleven Madison or Gramercy Tavern. If these are impossible for reservations this late, any other suggestions?

          If you are willing to be flexible, you can probably get reservations at either EMP of GT, even at the last minute. Try using OpenTable, but I find you can often do better by calling the restaurant directly because they do hold back tables from their OpenTable listing.

          If I had to pick between these two, no contest. Definitely Eleven Madison! While Chef Michael Anthony has substantially improved the cuisine at G.T. (at least, in the Tavern Room, which is where we ate in January), Chef Daniel Humm's cuisine at EMP is truly sensational.

          2. High end type restaurant (lunch)?

          Many high end restaurants offer "bargain" lunch prix-fixes. One of our favorites is Fleur de Sel. They have two: 3-courses for $29 and 4 courses for $46. The food's excellent, there's a fine wine list, service is professional, and the small space has attractive contemporary decor.

          If you like Indian food, Devi serves some of the most superb Indian cuisine around. Lunch is a 3-course prix-fixe for $24.07, and all the selections are taken directly from the dinner menu. The large space has unusual, elegant decor.

          As regards reservations for lunch, while it's usually easier to get a table for lunch at high end restaurants, it's always a good idea to reserve. I generally call the day before or even the same morning.

          4. Seafood and/or caviar? Ideas: Barney Greengrass, Pearl Oyster Bar

          Tides, on the Lower East Side, is a teensy fish/seafood "shack" with delicious food. The interior has a simplistic elegance about it and one of the most unique ceiling you will ever see.

          5. Classic American Diner?

          Ellen's Stardust Diner, on B'way & 50th St., has a retro-50's theme and a singing waitstaff.

          7. Steaks (for the boyfriend...)?

          Our favorite steakhouse is Keens, which has been in its 36th St. location since 1885. Delicious food, including excellent fish for you, + unmatchable old NY ambiance.

          8. Bagels, bialys? Ideas: Essa Bagel, Kossars

          Definitely Kossar's for bialys.

          9. New York style Cheesecake? Ideas: Carnegie Deli, Juniors in Brooklyn

          Forget Carnegie. And you don't have to go to Brooklyn to have Junior's famous cheesecake. Junior's now has a full-service restaurant on 45th St., west of B'way, as well as an outlet downstairs in Grand Central Terminal.

          Note: If you are going to Brooklyn, I'm sure someone on the Outer Boroughs board will strongly suggest that you go to DiFara's for pizza. Sage advice!

          10. Bakeries? Ideas: Lee Lee´s in Harlem, Ciao for Now

          Not sure of what you are looking for, but Amy's Bread has superb breads, as well as a variety of sweets. Also, Continental breakfast menu + sandwiches (made on their breads, of course), salads, etc. Three locations.

          Since you say you've researched the boards, you've probably come across my (in)famous Lower East Side eating "tour." But in case you've missed it, I'm going to append it here. It will give you the opportunity to walk the streets of an interesting, historic neighborhood while sampling a variety of foods emblematic of NYC, including Katz's pastrami and Kossar's bialys.

          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.
          I hope you and your boyfriend have a terrfic visit to NYC and Bon Appetit!

          1. In terms of a high end restaurant (for lunch or dinner), while I haven't gotten the chance to go to either of them, Eleven Madison Park has been getting a great deal of positive press lately and is generally considered (at this point) more interesting and innovative than Gramercy Tavern. I second Kathryn's recommendation of the Modern and the Modern Bar Room; I've gone to each for lunch and have found both of them to be excellent. Also, I happen to think the Museum of Modern Art itself is a destination in New York worth visiting, so it might make sense for lunch.

            In terms of steak, the quintessential New York steak is Peter Luger in Brooklyn. While other steak options like Quality Meats, Wolfgang's, and Craftsteak are all in Manhattan (and thus easier to reach) and may also be a better dining experience in general, if you want the epitome of the New York style steakhouse, than you probably want to go to Peter Luger.

            In terms of seafood, I've heard a lot of raves about Esca, which is an Italian seafood place. Other high-end alternatives would be BLT Fish and (super high-end) Le Bernardin.

            A couple of places that don't fit directly anywhere on your list but which I think are distinctive and memorable in and of themselves are: Bouchon Bakery in the Time Warner Center, the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park, and Momofuku Ssam (at 2nd Ave and 11th) for the dinner menu.