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Why is it impossible to find really good food on the UWS?

Just had dinner at Cafe Kefi (West 79th St) which replaced Onera and heralded in these posts. Food was passably akin to the Greek diner, it was assembly-line: no imagination, murky in taste, The worst part was the rush: rush with our orders, food arrived miracoulsy less than 3 minutes after ordering, finished dishes were dispatched literally seconds upon placing the final fork bite to the mouth, with busboys hovering over tables, as if starving to change the table. No question, staff has been ordered to get patrons in & out, for at least 5 (i figure) sittings per evening. How insullting, especially since I had been remembering delightful, relaxed, sensuous meals I savored in some taverna along the coast of a Greek island, sipping frosty Retsina ...

So my question, why is it impossible to find a really good neighborhood eatery on the Upper West Side offering tasty food carefully prepared in a relaxed (if not refined and quiet) setting for a lovely night out? Locals certainly have money, taste, and sophistication and we DO HAVE Zabars & Fairway.

Sorry,Fairway Cafe, Quest, Aix,Picholine (last 3 overated & expensive) don't cut it. The only places I can consider close (for now) is Earthen Oven (72nd St/Columbus) and Yuki Sushi (91st/Columbus) and perhaps, Shun Lee Cafe.

why do I have to travel to the Village (West & East) and Queens and Brooklyn for fresh, well-prepared and lovely dining?

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  1. I really enjoy Cesca on 75th and Amsterdam. It can be on the expensive side, but the food is delicious and the atmosphere is incredible.

    1. I don't like Cesca, I think the food is highly overrated and the service is obtrusive.

      You seem to have missed a few of the UWS "hits" in your list. What about Compass or Telepan? Both are highly praised on this board for having great food at reasonable prices. Compass, for example, has a wonderful $35 prix fixe dinner every night of the week.

      I agree that Earthen Oven is excellent and I really enjoy eating there. The chaana pindi is my favorite dish - the tangy sauce for the chickpeas is unique and tasty.

        1. re: citified

          Had a terrible brunch At Telepan (burnt food & lackadaisal service); Cesca lunch was awful, Compass pretty uninteresting, Calle Ocho can be fun but very loud with an emphasis on the scene over the food.

          1. re: 4 seasons

            Hahaha! I am laughing because, much as I hate to admit it, being a tried n' true UWSider, now that you put it in black and white, I find myself agreeing.
            It's not that these places are not good. It's just that there is nothing really "Wow" IMHO.
            I guess that's why we keep going back to Shun Lee (which isn't really "wow" either)
            Having said that, I wouldn't hesitate to take certain friends who visit us to a place like Compass which is safe, pleasant enough and generic.

        2. I have gone to Kefi a few times when it was really busy and I was never rushed, I had to track down the waiter. I agree the food is so so.
          My suggestion is Aloutte on Broadway between 97th and 98th Street. The food is excellent, the people are friendly. It is not, however, a palace.

          1. Couldn't agree with you more. The UWS is lacking in flavor. I mean the folks up there LOVE Celeste, and it's awful. A new restaurant, San Luigi, also bad.

            2 Replies
            1. re: lookingforpig

              Ugh, agreed about Celeste. Suckage - I don't understand why people like it. I really love Picholine, though. We had dinner at Epices (w. 70th) recently too and it was tasty - not amazing, but tasty.

              1. re: lookingforpig

                San Luigi is already gone! It lasted less than a year.

              2. agree, no special place on the uws.

                we all travel downtown for good food.

                1. My theory, as an UWS'er who heads downtown on the (infrequent) nights we dine out: The population on the UWS tends (in my experience) to be either not-stratospherically-wealthy families (who don't go out much) or long-time rent controlled/stabilized tenants (who don't go out much, either). There just isn't that critical mass of people without kids and with disposable income. Say a family of four goes out to dinner: That's $200 plus for the kind restaurants you describe.

                  I'm not saying there aren't ANY people on the UWS who have "taste, money, and sophistication" but we and most of our friends shop at Fairway and cook at home.

                  By the way, it's Ouest, not Quest. By the way, where do you go in Queens for "fresh, well-prepared and lovely dining."?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Peter1

                    There are too many great places in Queens to list, but a few of my faves are Sripraphai, De Mole, Cheburechnaya. Granted, they don't offer a lot in terms of atmosphere, but the food is AMAZING.

                  2. I was mostly with you until the part where you say Earthen Oven, Yuki and Shun Lee are much better than Kefi. Now I wonder if it isn't just a matter of (un)familiarity with a cuisine. I flatter myself to think that I know Indian, Chinese and some varieties of Japanese food pretty well. I think EO, Yuki and Shun Lee run from dreadful to mediocre. On the other hand, I don't think I'm in danger of being considered a connaisseur of French or Greek food and I think Ouest and Kefi are pretty great.

                    The service and ATM at Kefi is a little bit frenzied, you're right, but my food has always been fresh made, here, and delicious. My sole complaint is that there's so much overlap in ingredients, in small plates, that some of them do start to taste a little samey.

                    As for Ouest, to properly enjoy it, you have to eat red meat and not be too worried about calories. If you let go, you'll enjoy. (I'll agree with you that Fairway Cafe, AIX and Picholine are deeply uninteresting...)

                    Here are two more place for you to try: (1) Thai Market (don't do the noodle dishes... IMO they're the weakest link on the menu), and (2) Spiga (kooky neo-Italian; don't eat the fish dishes; DO try the prosciutto, chevre, and cantaloup sorbet appetizer if it's still on the menu).

                    What do you like in the Village?

                    1. to peter 1: still doesn't answer the ?, UWSers don't need a lot of money to enjoy a really soul-satisfying meal; I look for consistency in fresh, well-prepared food, congenial atmosphere, and caring towards patrons (especially if they're regulars). I always feel "at home" at Yuki, Earthen Oven and have never had a dreadful or mediocre dining experience at either. Perhaps Cimui has restaurants mixed up, or we have different values when it cimes to dining out. In Queens, when I've ventured out, I love Sweet n' Tart (Chinese in Flushing) and Sripraphai (Thai in Woodside). In the West Village: Spotted Pig (early only), Piccolo Angolo (family-style Italian - early only), Le Gigot (intimate French bistro), Moustache (Lebanonese cafe), Mary's Fish Camp (early only) and East Village: Prune (early only), Momofuku (early only), Jewel Bakao (splurge time but what a culinary experience), Peasant, and for afternoon tea - cozy Podunk - freshly-made tea and authentic scones and tea cakes. Now Brooklyn offers wholely a breadth of wonderful places to eat (and reminds me of Manhattan neighborhoods decades ago).

                      So maybe that's the answer. Instead of more expensive real estate and attitude to go with that, we need to go back to mixed (in every sense) neighborhoods, small family-owned places and authentic cooking/service which rely on regular patrons who know and care about what they eat.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: 4 seasons

                        The sushi at Yuki is dreadful, 4_seasons. The people who run it are fantastically nice, so I'm glad you feel 'at home.'

                        Earthen Oven is honestly only mediocre. I've given it two tries after hearing the hoopla on this board. The tandoori meats aren't terrible, but they also aren't especially inspired. The cachumbar was downright bad.

                        So, I agree. Perhaps we do have different dining values. Or perhaps you do have your restaurants mixed up.

                      2. I think the only place on the UWS I really like is Celeste's (Italian). There's also a Hummus Place, I hear. Have only been to the one downtown but it's good.

                        I was at Fairway cafe eating brunch and saw plenty of people taking probably hundreds' worth of groceries home, hailing cabs and double parking fancy SUVs. I don't think discretionary income is a problem. Maybe the real estate comes in too large of a size? Celeste's is pretty small (and always packed), but a lot of UWS places seem big compared to the little places in the East Village that only seat 20 and alway seem full. Maybe it's hard for a small business with a niche category of food to do well.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: traceybell

                          I wouldn't assume that all those people shopping at Fairway live on the UWS - I know plently of people on the UES who head over there to do their shopping.

                        2. I can't imagine when you've gone to Ouest but I have to tell you that my picky husband and I (who were both brought up eating high-end food in France) have been happy with every meal we've ever had there. To me, it's the only UWS restaurant I've been to--apart from Gari, which I also love--which really makes the cut, high-end wise.
                          Have eaten at Shun Lee and Picholine, but have not been wowed by the food (apart from the Picholine cheeses).

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: crinkle11

                            Just in case anyone is wondering (since the ref above is from 10/2007), we dined at Ouest last night and had an excellent overall experience. The truffled omelette souffle with mousseline sauce appetizer was a knockout, and the squab, served with a rich and flavorful duck liver risotto I'd order as an entree on its own if it were possible, was very good. Desserts were equally delicious, service was thoroughly professional, ambience was fine. I don't know what others are looking for, but for the price (not cheap; ran us about $100/person with tax & generous tip for 3 courses each, 3 glasses of wine, 3 coffees), this restaurant easily meets expectations.

                          2. I guess if you're looking for a fancy meal on UWS, u're not going to get it. I would agree UWS doesn't have the best food that people should be traveling miles for but there are definitely a number of good staples.

                            I've been to Pio Pio multiple times and have never been disappointed. Chicken is flavorful and succulent and definitely value for money. The shrimp dish was so tantalizing I had to hold myself back from hogging the plate (I was sharing).

                            Burgers are Nicks are always delightful and I'd take them any day over shake shack. Thai at Land, Rain and Charm are all great. I've heard Thai market is amazing but haven't ventured up yet.

                            Genaro serves up some mean pasta though not too happy with the $20 min and cash only rules. My new favorite place is West 107. American/Tex Mex/Southern. Absolutely delicious!

                            Guess everyone has their own preferences

                            1. Gennaro on Amsterdam at 92nd is one of the best restuarants in the city. Delicious Italian--their gnocchi is the best I've ever had but they're famous for their lamb chop. Cash only, get there early or you'll wait.

                              1. I'm inclined to agree with what most have said. Just moved to UWS for the summer from Queens and I find myself really looking.

                                Frankly I think it is almost impossible to get a top notch Indian meal in Manhattan, aside from possibly some decent fast food style spots in the Wall Street area (though I believe those are more driven by the value than the quality being astronomical). Generally the Indian restaurants I have been to on the UWS and elsewhere - which are always packed, inexplicably to me - are Bangladeshi run and offer sub-par takes on all but breads and tandoor meats. I don't think I've ever had a curry I really loved here.

                                I did try Malaysia Grill on 104th between Broadway and Amsterdam a few nights ago and was pleasantly surprised with most of my food, aside from the Randeng Beef, the sauce for which may as well have been from a packet.

                                I am a fan of Hummus place although it's really more about the convenience than it is the food itself, which I think is bettered by a $3 container of Sabra from the market.

                                Most of the places my friends on the UWS go to eat have been just awful, and many are glorified bars (without even having really good bar food on the menu!). Josie's seems to be not as good as the east side location, and whether they raised prices or I've become cheaper, I can't say, but it was an expensive meal for casual dining ($60 for 2 entrees and 2 sodas).

                                Any suggestions for good pasta in the UWS? Or am I just better off to hit the subway and head downtown?

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: CarGuy

                                  1. you might like the fresh (and inexpensive) pastas at la vela.

                                  2. there's very good south indian around lexington in the east 20s.

                                  3. mughlai on the uws is better for n. indian curry dishes than the competition in this area

                                  4. i agree that josie's is terrible. i never, ever go unless dragged by the ear.

                                2. I really love Metisse on 105 just off Broadway. My husband is French and swears by it. The chef changed last year and for a bit, it was mediocre at best, but he seems to have gotten it together. Just don't order dessert. Takes forever and isn't worth it. IMO.
                                  Also, Malecon on 98th and Amsterdam is probably the best food I've eaten on the UWS - amazing spanish/caribean (chicken, rice beans, etc.) Not fancy but delicious and well priced. Also, Turquaz (sp?) on 100th and Bway is outstanding - great buffet on the weekends as well. Just my 2 cents. Overall, as a long time UWS resident (who falls into the aforementioned not so wealthy category) I tend to go downtown to eat. C'est la vie.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: ringside71

                                    Agree with Kelea, on all points. Ate at Pio Pio for the first time three days ago. True, we were with friends who ordered in their native Spanish, and I couldn't follow everything, but the table was soon laden with wonderful things. My favorite was the lemon cerviche, and my next favorite was the shrimp. Cost was miniscule (25.00 per person) for the amount and good-tasting food.

                                    Maybe it has changed but I don't mind the all cash and the minimum at Genaro, but I mind the no reservations. Had to give it up.

                                  2. There was this wonderful little hole in the wall with about 6 rotating seasonal entrees on the menu, and all were from $8-12. The restaurant was on Columbus, I believe, somewhere in the 108th cross-street area, and it was called "A," after the A train. It was like my little secret, as most of my friends wouldn't venture that far to eat - it was too close to take the subway but a little too far to walk, though I did anyway. I wonder if any Chow-ers ate there and liked it? I don't know if it's still there - I just checked Menupages and it seems to have disappeared.

                                    When I lived on the UWS, I liked Sezz Medi and Max Cafe on 122nd-ish (Max makes a really great bruschetta and the place has really comfy couches and a wonderful atmosphere for a lazy afternoon coffee). I agree that Pio Pio was really really good - loved it, in fact. And there's another secret cheap eat I loved: at the 109th and Amsterdam deli, they serve a very limited selection of sandwiches behind the glass counter - ask for the spicy special, hot. It's so good there's a Facebook group devoted exclusively to the sandwich.

                                    I didn't have much money during my four years on the west side so eating at one of the pricier restaurants was only an occasional indulgence. That said, 'Cesca was one of my favorites, and I liked Nice Matin for brunch (still go there sometimes, in fact).