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First Time NYC Visitor From SF

Hello All,

I will be visiting New York for the first time from San Francisco in February along with a friend who's mostly been only for business. I've read through the board and came up with a tentative plan below. We are not big drinkers and are hoping to keep an average food budget of about $100/person/day.

Day 1 (Thursday)
- Lunch: Grimaldi's & hot chocolate @ Jacques Torres
- Dinner: Perilla (open to other suggestions)

Day 2 (Friday)
- Lunch: Jean-Georges (How far in advance do I need to make lunch reservations? What do patrons typically wear during lunch? We are visiting either the Met or Natural History in the morning and don't want to dress too formal if not necessary.)
- Dinner: Degustation/Alta/Pamplona/Suba??? (Which one? I'd like a Spanish restaurant since that's something not prevalent in SF)
- Dessert: WD-50 (Will they be too busy to accept a dessert-only party?)

Day 3 (Saturday)
- Breakfast: Union Square Green Market? (Is the market even worth visiting in the middle of winter? What are some cheap breakfast eats around the area?)
- Lunch: Open, something casual and cheap
- Dinner: Eleven Madison Park (or another "splurge" restaurant that's uniquely New York)

Day 4 (Sunday)
- Brunch: Preferrably at a restaurant that takes reservations, opens no later than 11 AM, and is in a neighborhood where we could grab food for our flight home.

We are staying in Midtown East on Lexington in the upper 40s, are there any good breakfast (pastries, bagels, coffee, espresso, etc.) spots nearby?

All recommendations are much appreciated. Thanks!

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  1. For Spanish - Pamplona is not Spanish, but Mexican seafood - excellent though expensive. My favorite for Spanish is Casa Mono for lunch (you need a reservation) - but it is also expensive, though if you restrain yourself in a way that we don't, you could keep the bill down. I've also enjoyed Boqueria. I believe Alta is "small plates"/Mediterranean - not pure Spanish, but I've not been.

    Green Market - I enjoy going all year round. You could then walk down to Bleecker St. in the Village and check out Faicco's, Murray's Cheese, etc. Had a good hamburger at Stand last weekend - near the Green Market - also a great toasted marshmallow milkshake.

    Edit - my mistake about Pamplona - thought you were referring to Pampano.

    Breakfast - you could walk down to Madison & 38th to Chez Laurence, or up to 59th between 5th & Madison to Bottega del Vino for my favorite cappucino and breakfast panini.

    1 Reply
    1. re: MMRuth

      for breakfast hit essa bagel on 1st av and 20th st.,from there i would stroll down ave a and go to the coffee bar across from tompkins sq park,while your at it take a stroll through the park(interesting people watchin to say the least)

    2. pamplona is most definitely spanish - the chef worked under adria for a bit. check out pamplonanyc (i think).com for the menu. alex urena is his name. paella includes rabbit in it, bunuelos are nice, my friend is craving to go back (we last went to urena)...

      degustation is wonderful, but you have to sit at a small bar (like a sushi bar). i found it nice, but there are some who wouldn't. it's great to watch the chefs cook right in front of you. but the plates are tapa-style.

      btw, your friday will be tight at $100/person.

      wd might seat you at the bar for dessert...if you can't eat there, i'd check out chikalicious or p*ong. i don't believe chik takes reservations; pong does.

      if you're stuck on saturday, momofuku noodle bar (yes, i know you're coming from san fran) might be good. or poutine to go from pomme frites (french fries / gravy / cheese curd)...interspersed with a slice from ray's on 11th/6th ave, or joe's (on carmine/6th ave)

      or peter luger's in brooklyn, for a burger? or, similarly, queens for random ethnic you can't find in san francisco (ie. russian? ethiopian?) i can't throw our sripraphai because you can get thai that's top notch out there as well.

      don't forget to get a bagel while you're in town, but i can't offer suggestions there. i DO know that doughnut plant supplies dean & deluca in rock center with donuts, and other pastry shops provide to that location.

      1 Reply
      1. re: bob gaj

        You are absolutely right about Pamplona - my mistake - I read "Pampano"!

      2. i agree with the $100 dollars per person per day being a bit of a stretch for friday. that being the case, i would spend a little more and swap out jean georges for Gordon Ramsay at the london. I've been to jean georges twice for lunch and wasn't impressed either time (one time the sauce which had been applied with a sqirt bottle had tried to the plate it had been sitting there for so long). gordon ramsay is 45 bucks, jacket required, amazing food. only open for lunch thurs and friday.

        1. Breakfast - I'd actually probably get an egg and cheese on a roll, plus coffee, from one of the trucks - they're all over midtown in the morning - sometimes I really crave them, and I'll buy a bag of Kaiser rolls to replicate them, but I'm too much of a wuss to really slather on the griddle grease, so mine never taste as good. At some point, you should get a bagel from Ess-A (21st and 1st).

          Thursday - maybe do dinner at Katz's, and roll over your savings for the day to Friday? I'm also a huge fan of Momofuku Ssam Bar.

          Friday - I love Degustation - and while the SF is weak in Spanish in general, it is completely lacking in new-wave Spanish.

          For Saturday breakfast, I'd get a pretzel croissant and hot chocolate from City Bakery - (18th and 5th) - that should keep you warm while you're wandering around the Greenmarket.

          Saturday lunch - I've been holding off making any sweeping statements re: Turkish food in SF vs. NYC until I try A La Turca, but now that I've tried a new place in Berkeley that's drawing positive comparisons to A La Turca, I can say with some confidence that Turkish food is better in NYC. Consider Ali Baba (34th and 2nd) for delicious pide.

          Saturday dinner - since Daniel Humm came from Campton Place, I don't know if I would choose EMP if you're looking for something uniquely New York - I'd probably go to Le Bernardin for my splurge.

          1. nice choices overall...id go with:

            day 1: grimaldis and jacques torres...also walk across the street to almondine, which is a better bakery...i think they have the same owner...their sandwiches and coffee are good too.
            perilla for dinner is a great choice...get the duck entree...great place...great service...

            day 2: great lunch idea...i say you call ahead about jean georges...i havent been but the lunch special looks amazing.
            id definitely try degustation over the others here...nice room, fun time with the right company. not everything is a hit but the sweetbreads and short rib stuffed squid were great. also, great bottle of priorat on the menu.

            day 3: id go to city bakery nearby for breakfast...that place just rules.
            id go with 'ino on bedford for lunch. cheap, delicious italian meats and cheeses...small place on a great little street.
            eleven madison park...yr insane to think yr gonna do this place for that amount of money but its good.

            1. Day 2 dinner, Degustation over the others. Also consider Casa Mono or Tia Pol

              1. Compared to what you are probably use to (ie. the Farmer's Market at the Ferry building), the Union Square Green Market is a joke. I would definitely skip it.

                1 Reply
                1. re: bussy26

                  bussy, comparing the Greenmarket to the Ferry Street Market is like comparing apples to oranges. They are not the same types of places. And anyone who's into slow or sustainabale food will enjoy the Greenmarket on Saturday, even in midwinter. There are lots of wonderful things to taste and to see.

                2. Good choices overall. Perilla is a must. Lunch at JG won't leave you much for dinner, but so what, it's a good deal and a wonderful experience, and you can have a cheap dinner that day. For Saturday, EMP is great but it will more than kill your budget. You might want to consider Dovetail on West 77 St. It's new and absolutely wonderful. I would consider it a high-end restaurant without the sticker shock. You can search this board for my and others' postings about it.

                  1. Degustation is a great choice for a unqie experince - it's counter seating FYI so would not recommend for more than 2 people.

                    Do not waste your time on Pamplona. Had such high hopes for this place and my recent meal there both food and service were not good.

                    EMP is also a wonderful splurge :)

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: bdurrett

                      I totally disagree with you about Pamplona. We've been there several times. True, the Spanish-inspired food is different from what it was when the restaurant was the more upscale eponymous Urena's. But despite the change to a bistro-style concept, Alex's "simpler" cuisine remains complex and delicious. The burger, which is composed of beef, suckling pig and chorizo, is reason enough to go there. As for service, we have not encountered any problems. The last time we had dinner there, all tables were occupied, and everything went very smoothly.


                      I do heartily agree with your EMP rec. No surprise to regulars on this board who know it's our favorite NYC restaurant.


                    2. Thanks for all the comments thus far! Also wanted to note that the $100/person/day is not hard set, we do have a bit of wiggle room.

                      Any recommendations on the Sunday brunch?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: purple gator

                        Some people on this board will disagree, but I think that Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill on 5th Ave has a great brunch. And they take reservations, and you could pick up airplane food in the neighborhood.

                      2. Bagels -- Ess-a-bagel on 3rd just below 51st. --PR

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Prabhakar Ragde

                          Yes -- daveena posted a rec above, but I was going to suggest the location at 51st and 3rd, much closer to where you'll be staying. Definitely worth a stop. This is one of the places I miss most when I'm away from NY.

                          1. re: Prabhakar Ragde

                            Or take a longer walk, look at the neighborhood(s) and end up at 1st Ave. between 53rd & 54th at Tal Bagels. Really good nova too. Nice for a brunchy breakfast. Very casual. Served across the counter. Tables to sit and eat.

                          2. I currently reside in SF and go to Manahattan every so often. I would definitely recommend Degustation. It is spanish influenced, not traditional. It kind of depends on what you want. When I went, it was some of the best food I've easily ever had. We ordered about 66% of the dishes on the menu between 2 people. Every dish was excellent. The service was also excellent. The atmosphere is great.

                            I've also been to WD-50. If you call and make a reservation citing that you are going to be there for dessert, they might be able to work something out for you. I liked the desserts at WD-50, but I thought the appetizers and main courses were very tasty and interesting.

                            1. I liked desserts at WD-50 the best of everything I've eaten there. I've walked in on a slow night, asked to be seated at the bar, and gotten seated in the main dining room. I just realized I've never actually seen them to be at 100% capacity, so you probably won't have a problem. But of course, call to make sure. Also: I would recommend ordering a selection of plates from the menu and sharing rather than the chef's tasting, so you can cover more ground.

                              For Sunday brunch, perhaps Tasting Room or Balthazar? Both are in Soho (a bit far from your hotel though) and take reservations. Then you can get delicious food to go from many places in Soho: the Balthazar Bakery, Ceci Cela bakery, Kee's chocolates, Grandaisy bakery, sandwiches from Alidoro, heck, even Dean and Deluca.

                              1. Hey purple_gator! I'm a transplanted Bay Area gal now living in NYC and you're coming to the right place for food. The restaurant scene here continuously amazes me. For Spanish I really like Alta. It is tapas only, if that's what you're looking for. I work in the neighborhood and eat there often and have never had anything I didn't enjoy thoroughly.

                                1. Maybe for lunch on Saturday you'd consider Despana. It is a great Spanish food specialty store that has very tasty sandwiches too.

                                  1. Lunch saturday - katz's

                                    Sunday Brunch - Barney greengrass should be a possiblility. You can have brunch there, and you can get bagels and whatever kind of fish you are craving for the plane ride home there.

                                    1. For bagels relatively near where you are staying, I love Daniel's Bagels on 2nd Ave. between 37th and 38th. Personally, I find Ess-a-Bagels too fat and doughy--I like mine a bit crisper and chewier.

                                      I don't think Friday HAS to blow your budget if you do the prix-fixe lunch at Jean-Georges.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: katie570

                                        I think if you skip a dinner Momofuku Ssam, you are really going to miss out. David Chang is the most decorated young chef in the US for good reason. His food is quite amazing, delicious and completely unique (and a bargain)....read the times review, alan richmans article in esquire, the posts here and other boards...do yourself a favor and go (skip perilla, its ok but SF has got many similiar places)

                                      2. I second the trip to the stretch of Bleeker with Faicco's, Murrays Cheese, Amy's Bread, Bleeker Street Pizza, Joe's Pizza, and another Italian pastry shop I can't think of. You're also near a few other italian markets, Ino's for paninis, a Blue Ribbon takeout spot with some snacks..... but, if you're someone who thinks the Ferry Building market is a superduper one of a kind, must see experience, then yes you should by all means visit the Union Square green market. Winter can be hit or miss for vendors, depending on the weather obviously, but it's been pretty good lately and we haven't been having really cold temps yet. Check the schedule before you go though. A trip to Zabar's, Grandaisy bakery, H&H bagels, Fairway market, Levain Bakery for huge (not cheap) cookies, Alice's Tea Cup for scones, the gelato place, and Grey's Papaya for a grilled hot dog, all while uptown for Jean George might fit the bill as well. Okay maybe the hot dog wouldn't be the best amuse bouche but....

                                        Oh, and your hotel sounds as if it's in walking distance to Grand Central which has a gourmet market and then there are concessions in the basement level too. You can get Juniors Cheesecake there, and get a quick breakfast in a pinch.

                                        I would also suggest going for a burger somewhere. New York has some great burgers, but I would avoid the new trend towards fast food burgers with fancy ingredients like Shack Shaker, or Brgr which are along the lines of Burgermeister in SF, and go for the real thing. Also, it might be tough, but if you're good at keeping your budget, you could probably even get away with trying a New York steakhouse.

                                        Brunch: Stanton Social for a tapas style brunch. They take reservations, and you can try a lot of fun dishes. Second to that would be standing in line at Shopsin's nearby, or even Clinton Street Baking company (which I don't find all that mind blowing, but it's fine). There's some fun food in the area to take home, specifically Donut Plant, Kosar's Bialeys, Economy Candy, Sunshine Bakery, Gelato lab, dumplings, pickles, Russ & Daughters, etc.Actually, Russ & Daughters might be a place to get your bagel. I think they use H&H which are a standard in the old New York war over who makes the best bagels. At least this way you'd be assure great shmear on them.

                                        Re: Jean George, if you have trouble with reservations, walking into the Nougatine room shouldn't be a problem. There were plenty of casual jeans and sweater people eating at Nougatine without any hint of snobbery towards them from what I could tell. Stick to the prix fixe, it's a great deal.

                                        Dessert: there's a dessert bar at ABC Home, which is a really cool housewares type store (pricey, but fun window shopping) from the old dessert chef from Room4Dessert. Check to make sure they're open first, because there hours don't seem as set as they should be. It's part of a chocolate "bar" set between two a Spanish Tapas place and a Cuban or Latin place, all inside the store.

                                        As for Spanish food, I would guess you're not going to be hugely impressed with anything Tapas like, since SF has a ton of it.... and might want to think about old family style Spanish food in the way of Paella instead. Maybe Arepas or Cubanos sandwiches would be other good options as well. Both are cheap.

                                        Your hotel sounds like it's pretty close to the Ess A Bagel people mentioned, if you're used to walking. As mentioned already, Egg and Cheese on a toasted buttered kaiser roll, with or without bacon is a bit of a ritual here. Most bodegas with deli counters make them, and you'll see carts on the street selling them too. I used to find them repulsive before I tried one, and now I think they're some of the most addictive food stuff on earth. Something about the combo of egg, cheap cheese, with the bread really works.

                                        6 Replies
                                        1. re: sugartoof

                                          Having lived in SF for a long period, and still making the frequent visits, there's no way that Tia Pol, Boqueria, Las Ramblas, Solera (these are the ones that I frequent for tapas) would take a back seat, imho, to ANY Spanish tapas place in SF.

                                          I have made the rounds in SF and, sadly, anything good in Spanish dishes (save for Basque) and tapas, sorely lacks in the great Bay Area.

                                          1. re: RCC

                                            I've not been to SF for years, but have you tried Casa Mono?

                                            1. re: MMRuth

                                              I'm very intereseted in going to Casa Mono. Read many good things about it and will definitely do it soon.

                                            2. re: RCC

                                              While I've yet to make it to the others, they're high on my list of places to try. I've been to Solera, though, which doesn't get much notice on this board. I still remember every aspect of each course, the great wine and the fantastic service. Pricey though, and a different scene from the others (which I gather are more high-energy, bustling tapas bars) -- when I was there for dinner, it was fairly quiet and relaxed.

                                              1. re: RCC

                                                Sorry you feel that way. Have you tried Alegrias? There's also Ramblas, Charangas, Bocadillos, Esperpento, (then while not Spanish, but still with small plates Piperade, Baraka, and Isa). A lot of people swear by Andalu too, but I've never tried it.

                                                I think your NY suggestions for Tapas are really good ones, but I disagree that SF is short on decent Tapas. Most people who enjoy Tapas have at least one favorite they adore. There is however a huge void of Spanish food of a non-tapas variety.

                                                1. re: sugartoof

                                                  We've dined at Alegrias on more than a few occasions. It's quite close to our home. Their dishes are OK and I admire the chef/owner for doing their perrenial monthly close-downs to travel all over Spain and replenish/enhance their culinary offerings. I like their tripe a la Madrilena. I wish they'd do something about their thin Spanish wine list.

                                                  Ramblas and Esperpento will not make it to being equal with any NYC ones that I mentioned, imho. I have not been to Charangas. Where is that?

                                                  Piperade is one good Basque-style restaurant and which I have yet to find an equal here in NYC.

                                            3. Excellent choices, purple gator!

                                              If you want a nice prix fixe lunch/brunch instead of Jean-Georges on Friday or for Sunday, I'd recommend Bouley or Maze (the more casual Gordon Ramsay restaurant at The London Hotel -- I actually enjoyed it more than lunch in the formal dining room).

                                              I haven't been to Pamplona or Suba, but between Degustation and Alta, I'd recommend Alta. I actually just posted about it here:

                                              I also like Tia Pol for Spanish tapas, but you can't make reservations and it can be a LONG wait.

                                              For your day downtown on Thursday, I'd also recommend Doughnut Plant on the LES for a snack. It's always tasty and a real crowd-pleaser. And while you're there, stop by Il Laboratorio Del Gelato too -- by the founder of Ciao Bella.

                                              One final piece of parting advice: Someone needs to get the wicked hot chocolate when you go to Jacques Torres. It's fantastic.

                                              1. great choices can be found at Cafe Zaiya, a japanese bakery which also has lots of bento boxes and all sorts of sweets and savories. located on 40th st between 5th ave and madison, for breakfast or lunch. located in the curious little "mini japan" between a couple of other casual places and japanese bookstores, they've got great lunchy goods like various chicken sandwiches, burdock root sandwiches, spicy tuna puff, mochi donut, really nice selection (almost too much) and prices very affordable (maybe $2 to $4 for most of the baked stuff). good for your expensive day maybe, to offset. saturday lunch perhaps?

                                                and, they have beard papa. mmmmm, beard papa.

                                                1. You'll need to make reservations for Jean Georges FAR in advance. Their prix-fixe lunches are crazy popular.

                                                  As for dessert at WD-50, I know of no rules that stipulate what dishes you must order to get a table. You might also try Taylor's - a very dessert specific restaurant opened by the former pastry chef at WD-50.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: thislittlepig

                                                    That's Tailor with an I run by Sam Mason. It's not a dessert specific restaurant, per se, as it has savories as well. Both menus are about the same length -- and some of the savories are sweet, and some of the desserts are more savory, etc. Personally, I thought the desserts at WD-50 outshone the desserts at Tailor.

                                                  2. Funny how I agree with people from the top to bottom. I agree to try the lunch at Gordon Ramsay's. We were there for dinner 2 weeks ago, and it was fabulous, but would really blow your budget. Lunch at $45 was such a great buy that we decided to have a ladies lunch there in the near future. And having cravings for an egg and cheese on a roll, NY deli style (what we used to call deli's I guess have become the new bodega, but out on LI they are still delis), is something that happens every now and then.
                                                    Aside from that, I am looking for a good Sunday brunch when my sister is in town. It's not a meal I usually eat out in the city, so can't go to the normal places I like. Has anyone been to DB Bistro for brunch, if they even have it? Love their pre-theatre special. As a matter of fact, the OP may want to throw that one in for dinner if you want to watch your budget. They have a 3 course that is $45 I believe, and really excellent.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: robinsilver


                                                      dbBistro serves breakfast on Sunday until 11 a.m. No brunch. However, Daniel Boulud's second-tier restaurant, Cafe Boulud, serves Sunday brunch. We did it in December, and the food was excellent, as has been the case whenever we've had lunch and dinner there. The usual polished service and civilized atmospherics. A thoroughly enjoyable experience.


                                                      Eleven Madison Park is our favorite place for brunch. We always skip over the breakfast side of the menu, opting instead for Chef Daniel Humm's exquisite lunch dishes. But if you prefer breakfast foods, I'm sure they are equally as delicious. Service is cordial and professional. Sitting comfortably in that gorgeous dining room with the light, and especially sunlight, pouring through the huge windows, truly heightens the overall experience.


                                                      For something less upscale, Marseille, on the corner of 9th Av. & 44th St., is a bustling brasserie with eye-catching decor and very good food. The cuisine is French/Mediterranean, so some dishes of that type are included along with the usual brunch items.


                                                    2. Since you're staying on Lexington in the 40s, you're just a few blocks away from Grand Central Terminal. For a first timer to Manhattan, you should definitely check out grand central oyster bar. For to-go food you can munch on, there is a host of gourmet deli style take-away shops in GTC.