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Two FL Chowhounds coming for 3 days/2 nights, seeking the best!

Greetings,

I'm a regular on the Florida forum, but my girlfriend and I are visiting New York City on August 2nd-4th, a Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and I come seeking good recommendations from fellow Chowhounds. I was there with my family in 1991, but I was a kid then, and now we're both 29 and about to celebrate our first year together. We're staying in Times Square, and have tickets to see Rent that Thursday night and Les Miz on the Friday night. Let me offer more information about us, to help you good folks narrow things down for me:

1. We won't be doing any drinking, so there's no need to recommend bars (even if they're awesome).
2. We like almost all food, but she doesn't like Indian, and we come from Orlando where there are dozens of great Vietnamese restaurants, so no need to visit those out there. We're open to just about anything else.
3. We're both grad students, so even though it would be great to hit one or two "nice" restaurants out there, we simply can't afford to party like rock stars. Local institutions, mom and pop places, and ethnic restaurants are the best!
4. My girlfriend has a disability so we won't be doing a whole lot of walking. Stuff that is close would be ideal, and she will have her walker with her, but I fully expect that we'll need to take a few cabs.

Right now, these are the food destinations we have in mind:
Katz's for pastrami sandwiches and the ideal deli experience
Norma's for fancy breakfast or brunch (she's been there before and adores it)
Grey's Papaya or Papaya King for the perfect NYC street hot dog
H&H Bagels for what we hear are the best bagels in the world
Magnolia Bakery for the legendary cupcakes (if it isn't too far out of the way)

But what are two great dinner destinations that we can get in and out of to make it to our plays on time? I looked at the website for Babbo and it looks amazing (and worth doing, despite the price), but can we realistically enjoy a fine meal and not be late to the theater? And could we even get in, at this point? Is Les Halles (the one Anthony Bourdain made famous) worth it? I'm thinking about one "big ticket" night out (a well-known landmark, maybe) and one equally good but a little more moderately-priced -- as long as we can get seated and served early enough! (I hope I don't sound like your typical obnoxious NYC tourist, but she actually planned this trip around going to see Rent with two of the original cast members.)

Also, is Famous/Original Ray's Pizza worthwhile, just to say we've had real NY pizza, or is there a better option? I've heard a lot about Grimaldi's, but Brooklyn is way too far afield for our limited time in the city.

Thanks a lot, folks! We can't wait to hit the greatest city in the world a week from tomorrow, and I'll be checking this thread (and the forum) in the meantime!

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  1. I just brought my boyfriend for his first and second trips to NYC in the past three months. I'll share some of the things that he really liked.

    As for getting around, I think that your best bet will be cabs and you'll get door to door service. Since you're not drinking, you'll save a ton! Cocktails are much more expensive here than anywhere else in the country that I can recall..think $14 Bombay Saphires and tonic, etc.

    Katz's is great. Search the board for the way to order in line instead of wait service for the local experience.
    The Papaya's are all good as far as I can tell and a super cheap lunch or snack.
    I went to Magnolia Bakery for the first time last month and was not impressed. I love sweets and this was way too sweet. Lots of other suggestions, do a seach.
    Unfortunately, I don't think that Babba will happen for you. You have to call exactly 30 days (to the day) in advance for a reservation. You could risk a wait if you show up exactly at 5 p.m. or at 10:30.
    I've not heard anything encouraging about Les Halles, but I'll be interested to hear other responses.

    We really loved Balthazar. www.balthazarny.com Without drinks, you can easily get out of here for $100 and it's a special place. Like walking off the sidewalk in NYC and into a brasserie in Paris. You'll need reservations, but you can get them with just a week or so notice, call now. The French onion soup is one of the best I've ever had.

    Tartine is also a great French inspired place that we love in West Greenwich. It's a BYOB place, which doesn't matter for you, but the prices are great. I don't think there's anything on the menu that's over $20. It's on the corner of 11th Ave & 4th Ave. they don't take reservations, so you'll have a little wait, but it's worth it. If not for dinner, go for brunch. It's $14.95 per person and includes fresh OJ and about 5-6 choices for your meal from Eggs Benny to French Toast. It's super cute and a perfect NYC village experience.

    You might want to consider making reservations for after the show, you won't be on such a tight schedule. You can hop in a cab directly from the theatre and be at the restaurant for a late dinner. (Grab a snack before the show.

    )

    Since you're staying in Times Square, I think one of the most important tips is to stay clear of there for meals. Things will be more expensive and directed to the tourists. Do yourself a favor and wander off the beaten path.

    I'll be in the city the week after you and I have reservations at Apizz in the Lower East Side for dinner one night. www.apizz.com I haven't been, but based on the recs here, I'm excited to try it. Again, you can totally do well since there's no drinks.

    If you're into tapas and small plates, I can't recommend Tia Pol enough. It's in Chelsea and it's a great, cute place. Good energy and busy. If you want to do dinner before the show, get here when they open at 5ish. We went after a show on a Friday night and didn't get sat until after 11 p.m. They don't take reservations. This is another place you can easily do for $50 for both of you. www.tiapol.com

    As an alternative to Babbo, you can look into Lupa (partially owned by Batali) and Otto Enoteca for pizza and antipasti(also owned by Batali). You could go to town on pizza and antipasti for $50!!

    Enjoy your trip! Congrats on your anniversary together!

    1 Reply
    1. re: geg5150

      I just checked and Otto does take reservations. www.ottopizzeria.com (and they're open for lunch). Really, this is a great place and you can get out of here for $25 before tax/tip. That's a STEAL in the city!!

    2. I like H&H a lot but keep in mind that they won't make you a bagel sandwich there, you've gotta buy your own cream cheese, etc. At least at the West 80th Street location. I'm not sure about elsewhere.

      Famous Original Ray's Pizza and all of its clones are good for one and one thing only -- proving that your average slice in NYC is better than your average slice in any other city. Usually they'll have cheesier pies with slightly thicker crusts (although it's still thin crust style) sitting around, and they'll reheat it for you in the oven. It's a good $2 snack on the go, nothing more, nothing less. If you can the real deal, you have to go with a coal fired oven pizzeria where you have an insanely thin crust pizza that bakes at an absurd temperature for only a few minutes, and is perfection right out of the oven. To me, that's the stuff dreams are made out of.

      All of the cupcake joints I like are downtown (Sugar Sweet Sunshine!), but you might want to try Amy's Bread (I believe there's one in Midtown West), 'wichcraft (located in Bryant Park, they are chocolate with frosting in the center), as well as Buttercup Bake Shop (at 51st and 2nd Ave I think).

      For pre-theatre dining, I like Marseille or West Bank Cafe. And I am also of the mind that your blowout meal shouldn't be the same night as your show!

      1 Reply
      1. re: kathryn

        Marseille is my favorite pre-theater. If you do go to Otto, I'd recommend sticking to small plates and don't leave without trying the olive oil gelato...

        Sugar Sweet Sunshine and Buttercup are far better than Magnolia, imho. Grey's Papaya over Papaya King.

        And I would take H&H off the list immediately - much better bagels to be had in the city. There's a great bagel spot in the Times Sq. area that some 'hounds prefer (I've never been though, so help me out here! Anyone know the place?). Before I knew better, my favorite used to be H&H...but a few years ago I was converted to Ess-A-Bagel on 51st and 3rd, which will make you a sandwich if that's what you prefer; just remember that good bagels don't need toasting, you can ask for whatever's freshest/warm.

        Happy anniversary and happy eating!

      2. Though I personally can't recommend anything, you might want to check out menupages.com- it's a list of many Manhattan and Brooklyn restaurants with menus, reviews, and prices. I hope this helps somewhat!

        1. Katz's is great. And, as another poster noted, you can search the board for how to order and the like. Grey's Papaya and the "recession buster" is perfect for a cheap lunch/snack. But Grey's is on the upper west side, so I don't know if that works for your transportation. You could hit them and H&H in the same trip. H&H is terrific; but it is purchase-only -- they won't make you a bagel with cream cheese or anything like that. You could also pop into Zabar's (right across the street) while you are there if you are into that. I strongly second the recs for Balthazar and Otto. For pre-theatre dining, I like Becco (though some on this board do not). You could also try some Ethiopian; it's a terrific and fairly inexpensive meal -- I like Meskerem, but many posters on this board prefer Queen of Sheba (both are midtown). And definitely check out www.menupages.com which will give you street addresses, menus and prices for the places you are interested in.

          1 Reply
          1. re: LNG212

            Being sensitive to your girlfriend's need, I highly recommend 4 posibilities near TImes Square and particularly the theaters.
            Marseille
            Le Madeleine
            Etcetera Etcetera
            Vice Versa (a bit pricier and you may be too late for a reservation but try it)
            Esca for seafood (if you can get in -- you may be too late)

          2. Hey, BBVLou,

            I do not agree with geg5150's "tip" to not eat in the Times Square area. The fact is, there are many excellent restaurants in that vicinity. You just have to know which ones they are. Several have already been suggested. For example, Marseille, on the corner of 9th Av. & 44th St., is an attractive, bustling brasserie with delicious French/Mediterranean cuisine. Same goes for the New American cuisine at West Bank Cafe, on 42nd St., b/t 9th & 10th Avs.

            http://www.marseillenyc.com
            http://www.westbankcafe.com

            Our favorite in that area for homestyle Italian is Trattoria Trecolori, on 47th St., b/t B'way & 8th Av. We particularly like the well-prepared pastas, and the tiramisu is one of the best versions anywhere.

            http://www.trattoriatrecolori.com

            More upscale is dbBistro Moderne, on 44th St., b/t 5th & 6th Avs. This is 4-star chef Daniel Boulud's restaurant specializing in his take on modern French bistro cuisine. If you go for dinner pre-theater, they offer a 3-course prix-fixe for $45 -- a terrific value for food of this high quality.

            http://www.danielnyc.com/dbbistro

            Whichever restaurants you choose for pre-theater dining, be sure to make a reservation. The big crush starts around 6 p.m., so I'd suggest 5:30-5:45, which will give you plenty of time for a relaxed meal and a leisurely walk to the theater.

            Glad to see you're planning to go to Katz's. It's on the Lower East Side, on the corner of Houston (pronounced "how-stun") & Ludlow Sts. (Definitely a cab ride from the Times Square area). Table service is available, but it's more fun to order at the counter like a native. Considering your g.f.'s situation, I suggest you first get two seats at a table in the center of the room. (The ones along the walls are for waiter service.) Your g.f. can sit and hold the seats while you get on line. Then proceed as follows:

            When you reach the counter, put a $1 for each sandwich in the counterman's tip cup – though not mandatory, it is a tradition -- 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. When you’re finished eating, take your ticket to the cashier in front, where it’s cash only. To pay by credit card, go to the counter at the rear where the salamis are sold. Note: Sandwiches are huge, so if you don't have gargantuan appetites, the two of you can share one.

            If your g.f. is up to walking a couple of blocks, you can walk west on Houston and check out two other famous NYC spots: Russ & Daughters (strictly take-out) and Yonah Schimmel's knishes.

            http://www.katzdeli.com
            http://www.russanddaughters.com
            http://www.knishery.com

            Re: Les Halles. The food is mediocre at best; service is awful; seating is so cramped, a sardine would be yelling for help; and the noise level is insanely high. In a word: Avoid! And, btw, Bourdain hasn't cooked there in years.

            Happy "First Year Together" Anniversary! Enjoy your visit to NYC and Bon Appetit!

            2 Replies
            1. re: RGR

              Yep, I should have been more clear, meaning if you're going to eat in/around Times Square, really know where you're going. Thanks RGR.

              1. re: geg5150

                Hey, geg5150,

                Because the Times Square area draws an abundance of tourists, many people make the mistake of assuming that restaurants there must be "touristy," and so they think it's best to avoid eating there entirely. Sure, there are touristy spots. But there are lots that aren't and natives -- often side-by-side with tourists -- do eat in them. :-)