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Nov 23, 2007 12:07 PM

California Cuisine or Cal-Med-Ital in NYC?

It's been over five years since I've been to NY. I grew up there but have spent most of my adult life in LA and Berkeley. Going to see family over the holidays and my husband and I are looking for a place to take my family to dinner. Of course I'm trusting my family from NY to take us to the real NY spots and the Italian food, Chinatown, ethnic foods, etc., but I'd love to find a great Californian place (fresh, local, lighter, borrowing from/influenced by various cuisines). In the Bay Area, I live four blocks from Chez Panisse and the Gourmet Ghetto, and our favorite places in the Bay include 1550 Hyde, Bacar, Delfina, Cafe Gibraltar near Half Moon Bay, etc. Looking for something along these lines, but not sure where to start. Any input would be much appreciated. Thanks!

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  1. We've eaten our way through Chez Panisse, Delfina, Boulevard, Bacar and Zuni Cafe countless times over the years that we lived in the Bay Area. I agree with you in the sense that these are as close to what I expected as the quintessential Cali-cuisine (or Cali-Med-Ital as in the case of Delfina).

    In NYC, Hearth would, imho, be quite close to what you're describing. Marco Canora of Hearth thrives on carefully-chosen fresh ingredient that makes up his very good and high-quality Italian-inspired dishes.

    1 Reply
    1. re: RCC

      i'll second hearth. anyone who appreciates zuni or a16 will feel right at home.

    2. I haven't been to any of the restaurants you mention. However, a good place to start in NYC is Gramercy Tavern, where Chef Michael Anthony excels at the type of cuisine you describe. The restaurant consists of the casual Tavern Room (no reservations accepted) and the more formal dining room, which is really not particularly formal, i.e., no jackets needed but requires reservations.

      Blue Hill is another good option for that style of cuisine.

      1. What we call "Californian" is usually referred to as "Greenmarket" or "market-driven cuisine" on the Manhattan board - try searching on those terms.
        Here's one to get you started:

        Just so you know... restaurants serving this type of cuisine in Manhattan tend to be more formal (and more expensive) than ones in the Bay Area. For me, part of what makes it "Californian" is the fact that it's so deeply ingrained in our culture that you don't have to go to a fancy, expensive restaurant to experience it. I actually kind of prefer it in a super casual environment - tattooed servers, humble stoneware, no tablecloth (but good stemware, of course).

        I'll admit I'm curious why you're looking for Californian cuisine in NYC, when you live four blocks from Mecca...

        10 Replies
        1. re: daveena

          Chez Panisse, Delfina and Bacar, as per the OP's example, are pretty much in line with the costs at, say, Hearth.

          What NYC restaurants are you insinuating that serve similar style cuisine?

          1. re: RCC

            Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe, Picholine, Blue Hill, Telepan, Toqueville, Craft.

            I haven't been to Hearth - it looks lovely (and not at all formal). I do think it hits a higher price point than Delfina, Cafe Chez Panisse, and 1550 Hyde (you're right that it's the same as Bacar). You could make the argument that entrees in the $26-32 range is nearly the same as entrees in the $18-28 range, but I find that makes the difference between a $100+/pp night vs. a $70 pp night.

            1. re: daveena

              Hearth formal? Never posted that. We like Hearth for the informality that it is to us. Plus, who asked for or posted about the $100 vs. 70 pp night comparison

              IMHO, GT, USC, Telepan, and Craft are not within what the OP was looking for in terms of market-driven, ingredient-of-the-day menu.

              1. re: RCC

                I never meant to suggest that you said Hearth was formal - I had made a general statement that restaurants doing market-driven food in NYC are more formal than restaurants doing market-driven food in California. My saying that Hearth is not formal was a concession in your favor.

                The point I was trying to make is that this style of food is done extremely well in California, and costs less than in NYC. You said that Hearth is at the same price point as the restaurants in the Bay Area that the OP named. My $100 vs. 70 pp. comparison was to counter that assertion.

                As someone who adores eating in NYC (to the point of doubling up on dinners, and even some lunches on my last visit, in order to fit in every meal I wanted), I'm trying to understand why someone would seek out this particular style while visiting from the Bay Area, when there are so many other cuisines and styles in NYC that are not available to us here.

                1. re: daveena

                  I get you and thank you for the clarification. I also have to admit as to being puzzled as to why the OP is looking for the type of "Cali-style" cuisine when in New York.

                  1. re: daveena

                    Thank you for all the suggestions, links, and clarifications. Definitely gets me started in a good direction. To answer the question of the choice for this cuisine while in NY--lots of reasons. First, my husband and I are hosting, so we wanted to share something we love, and it's not simply about the food and preparations, but for the laid back atmosphere as well (good to learn that that's not necessarily the case in NYC). Obviously it'd be better to do this in the Bay Area, but with everyone's busy schedules, not sure the family can all get together here in the next year or two. Second, we're Chinese and though born in the US, I've been eating Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Indian, Malaysian, Vietnamese since I could hold a pair of chopsticks. When the family's together, wherever we are, the default is Asian food. Last year when the family came west for my wedding, I had wanted to take them to Chez Panisse Cafe, but everyone requested Yank Sing, sushi, and Indian instead! Actually, my parents and two of my siblings were totally intrigued when I explained in detail Chez Panisse, Gourmet Ghetto, Cal cuisine, and the whole slow food, local/fresh, sustainable/organic movement (and only my other sibling who's been living in LA for the past five years knew what I was talking about), so it'd be great to demonstrate what I was describing. Lastly, I have an organic heirloom tomato and vegetable garden, make my own food-scrap compost (go ahead, make the Berkeley jokes!), and work at a sustainable winery in Napa; though I'm not militant about eating organic, I definitely care about where my food comes from and the story behind it, and I'd be really glad if my family is open to the idea of considering the source of their food. So this dinner isn't really for me and my husband. Thanks to all the information everyone! PS, I'm going to be there for nine days--lots of meals to go around, don't you worry!

                    1. re: winewwine

                      Gotcha. Actually, when I was trying to figure out your rationale, that was pretty much the scenario I came up with.

                      Again, I haven't been to Hearth - from the online menu (and from steve h. and RCC's recs), I think you'll get the style of cooking that you're looking for, but you may not be able to fully impress your family with the significance of local sourcing - I took a quick look at the online menus of all the restaurants named in this thread, and of the ones currently up, only Blue Hill, Union Square Cafe and Toqueville seem to name their sources (and even then, USC and Toqueville use the generic term "Greenmarket" for their vegetables, rather than the name of the farm. Blue Hill names itself, of course).

                      In any case, I look forward to your trip report... I'm in a perpetual state of preparation for my next NYC trip...

                      1. re: daveena

                        Well, as we often find out, restaurants' web sites don't have the most up to date information all of the time...also, I would gather than sometimes, a certain farm doesn't have an ingredient, so the restaurant must find some other source. And/or the name of the farm isn't enough to bring people in but the term "Greenmarket" does?

                        The easiest way to really find out who is shopping where is to show up at the Union Square Greenmarket in the early morning, look for the chefs (people with big crews buying huge bags of produce and carting them away are a giveaway), and then ask the farmers who's buying their stuff!

                        PS A market-driven, ingredient-of-the-day menu sounds pretty much like what the Tasting Room is doing.

                        1. re: kathryn

                          OK - I just looked at the online Tasting Room menu, and I think that looks like the perfect East Coast expression of Alice Waters' philosophy. North Fork surf clams, Montauk bream, Violet Hill Farm Guinea Breast... if part of the OP's goal is to introduce the concept of local/sustainable to her family, that would do it.

                          I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing that the origin of every vegetable isn't named on these menus - menus in Oakland and Berkeley can actually be kind of cumbersome to read, and sometimes border on self-parody (I tried finding a good example from Oliveto and Chez Panisse from today, but they're relatively restrained... they mostly just name the source of the protein... vegetables/fruits get named if they're from a superstar farm, like Chino Ranch). But I do think that if the OP is trying to get her family to think about where their food comes from, it helps to have the names of the farms printed on the menu.

            2. re: daveena

              Try also searching on "local" or "locally-grown" restaurants. The thread linked to above is a great place to start.

              I have to second the recommendation of Gramercy Tavern. It's not Formal with a capital F formal but it's classy and perfect for a family get-together.

              Daveena, maybe OP just wants something different in contrast to the Italian, Chinatown, ethnic spots that her family is going to take her to?

            3. The closet comparison in NYC is what Adam Platt, restaurant critic for NY Magazine, coined as "Haute Barnyard." This includes Peasant, Hearth, Blue Hill, and Craft, Telepan, and Cook Shop.

              2 Replies
              1. re: livetotravel

                peasant might be closest to the op's request.

                1. re: livetotravel

                  He came up with the term originally to describe the Tasting Room. I was fortunate enough to go there for their one year anniversary--they decorated the place with hay bails in response to the review.

                2. Check out Blue Hill -- very much the seasonal farm-to-table vibe. So much so that I usually direct visitors from the Bay Area away from it...