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Looking for neat foodie things to do w/ visiting gastronome friend from France

  • m

My childhood friend from France is visiting NYC and he's a serious gourmand--he really loves food and will try anything (he's extreme--makes his own blood sausage kind of thing). We only have a couple of days but I want to take him to do some of those neat foodie things only NYC has to offer. One limitation is that we have to keep it to Manhattan, since our time is so limited and he's on a business trip. What I'm really hoping to take him to are neat NY institutions known for food, like the Sturgeon King on Amsterdam or the pickle shops in the LES. I haven't lived in NYC in a couple of years so I don't remember everything so I need some help! If anyone has some neat ideas please let me know. We only have a couple of nights and aren't on a huge budget, so if there are some really don't-miss reasonable (i.e. entree under $30-40 or so) places that are either super adventurous or just do what they do perfectly, please recommend away!


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  1. I'm assuming you want to stay away from French food. Crispo is IMO the best Italian in its price range (entrees around $20) and better than many other more expensive places. This is the sort of food one does not find much in France so I think it would be interesting for your friend. Chow Bar is an American chef's take on pan-Asian and is also moderately priced, the food is delicious and the atmosphere is lively. Another uniquely American experience would be Virgil's Barbecue, which is inexpensive and tasty. Olana is a new restaurant with an interesting menu combining Italian style with the produce of the Hudson Valley. I have not been there yet but other hounds have praised it. I don't know the exact prices but assume under $40 entrees.

    1. I would recommend RGR's LES food excursion:
      If this isn't the correct site, do a search on the Manhattan board for the"LES food excursion"

      1. I will definitely bring him to Momofuku Ssam Bar for a dinner or a late night treat! I am pretty sure that's not something you can get in France and even Jean Georges said that he loved the food at Momofuku.

        As for NYC only, Russ & Daughters for smoked fish, Katz's for pastrimi, pickle guy that you mentioned, and RGR's LES tour should indeed cover a lot of the LES treats.
        Don't forget a good NY bagel at Ess-a-bagel.

        For other American / NYC Fares, may be Keens for steaks if you can't go to Peter Lugers?

        Also agree with having an Italian, though I will give Babbo an edge over Crispo (which is still good nonetheless). May be a Spanish tapa bar like Casa Mono. Sushi at Yasuda (may be at lunch to stay within budget?) will work too!

        1. oooh I LOVE the LES tour, thank you so much for pointing me to that. Perfect ideas. BBQ is also a fantastic idea, which (being from Texas) I should have thought of right off the bat! Anyone want to dispute Virgil's as best BBQ in NYC? I have been two 2 bbq places in NYC, one was in Queens in Little India and mediocre, the other was Blue Smoke which was amazing. Olana sounds neat, my friend is definitely about slow food too so it sounds like a neat place. I'm not too sure how interested he will be in Italian, but then again it's less about labels and more about amazing food. Sushi is probably something he can't get readily where he lives in the Alps, I don't know Momofuku will have to google that but sounds very neat. Please keep the recs. coming!

          I would especially appreciate recs. beyond the LES/pickle-bagel-pastrami-smoked fish scene since that seems covered. thanks!!

          3 Replies
          1. re: mp413

            I have not been to many barbecue restaurants, so I can't really say whether Virgil's is the best, just that I have had enjoyable meals there. There may be better choices around. If you decide to go for Italian, another good one is Pepolino. I tried it last night for the first time, based on good mentions on this board, and it was excellent. If you search Pepolino on this board you will find the short review that I posted.

            1. re: rrems

              Virgil's is fake bbq. They boil their ribs, it's for the folks who couldn't get into the olive garden or Friday's. For bbq go to daisy may or hill country.

            2. re: mp413

              Hey, mp413,

              I'm very pleased to see that you will be doing my LES tour. :-)

              With regard to bbq, Virgil's is definitely *not* the best place. My first pick would be Daisy May's. Cafeteria-style set-up, not much in the way of decor, but killer ribs.


              However, since you are from Texas, you should really consider taking your ami to Hill Country. Not only is the food very good, but it's got great atmospherics, i.e., a bustling vibe and Country music. Note: On weekends, there are live bands.


              Definitely take your friend to a steakhouse, which is what we have done when our French friends have visited here. Keens is our favorite, and if you're looking for a NYC institution, it definitely qualifies. It's been in its 36th St. location since 1885; therefore, in addition to delicious food and excellent service, there's the wonderful charm of old NY ambiance, i.e., walls filled with American memorabilia, and rows of old clay smoking pipes suspended from all the ceilings, plus pipes belonging to famous people dating back to the 19th century in display cases in the vestibule. And be sure to stop into the bar room where the huge oil portrait of Miss Keens in all her glory looks down upon all the happy imbibers.


              Finally, despite the fact that it may seem like the coals to Newcastle thingy, I suggest you take your friend for one upscale, haute cuisine meal. And to keep costs within your budget, do it for lunch.

              It will not surprise regulars on this board that I highly recommend Eleven Madison Park, our favorite NYC restaurant. If your friend is, as you say, a serious gourmand, I feel certain he will truly appreciate Chef Daniel Humm's sensational cuisine. While the underpinnings are French, it is inventive contemporary American. The wine list is stellar, service is very cordial and polished, and last, but hardly least, the space is gorgeous! During the day, with the light -- and, hopefully, sunshine -- pouring in through the huge windows, it's truly magical. Overall, in my view, a perfect NY haute dining experience.


              I hope your ami has a wonderful visit to NYC, and I wish you both Bon Appetit!


            3. I recently had some French friends visit and I took them on a food/sightseeing tour starting in the West Village, heading east down Bleecker Street toward SoHo, down through Little Italy and Chinatown, and ending up on the Lower East Side. We took a look at Murray’s Cheese and Faicco’s Pork Store, stopped at Claude for croissants (they were interested in seeing how NYC compared); bought some chocolates at Kee’s; browsed Dean & DeLuca; picked up a few more nibbles at DiPalo’s; took a turn around Chinatown checking out the produce, butcher, and fish markets and stopping for some char siu bao at Mei Lei Wah; and then did a partial Lower East tour buying the next morning’s breakfast at Russ & Daughter’s and ending up at Katz’s for pastrami sandwiches. They were pretty well wiped out—to say nothing of full—but talked about it for days afterwards.

              For restaurants we went to Keen’s (they couldn’t get over it), Casa Mono (which they adored), and a late BBQ lunch at Daisy May (which they got quite a kick out of).

              1 Reply
              1. re: JoanN

                That sounds like a perfect outing to me - I love that stretch of Bleecker, Kee's, DiPalo's, etc., and would add Despana as a possible stop on Broome St., en route to Di Palo's.

              2. Since you'll be downtown anyway, you could do soup dumplings in Chinatown.

                1. If your friend is an adventurous eater, Congee Village has some interesting things on their menu.

                  1. Take him to one of the great delis of NYC---my choice would be 2nd Avenue Deli but you can also go to Katz

                    1. Thank you guys these are all fantastic suggestions. I think we will definitely have to try Daisy May or Hill Country, they both sound great and bbq is a must--thansk lookingforpig and RGR! Chinatown is also a great NYC idea though I don't know it well so it's kind of intimidating to me! I imagine there are as many awful places as there are great ones. I don't even know what char siu bao is JoanN but thanks for that specific rec.--your walking tour sounds really great! And thanks ChowDiva for recommending Congee Village, I don't know it but he is definitely an advenurous eater so he'd probably like it.

                      To be honest, the only rec. I'm not really persuaded on is to take him to a steakhouse. I know it's an American/NYC thing but it seems kind of boring? But if we decide to do that I will definitely keep Keen's in mind. Thanks!

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: mp413

                        I would definitely do Chinatown. Amazing 66 is a good choice for lunch/dinner. If you want to do dim sum, I like Golden Bridge. I was in Paris last year and found that Chinese food is not quite the same in Paris as it is in NYC. A lot of the stuff was premade lying around.

                        1. re: mp413

                          Char siu bao is a pork bun that comes either steamed or baked. Mei Lei (or Lai) Wah has both, but the baked ones are easier to eat out of hand as you walk down the street. When I took my friends to Chinatown, we walked south of Canal Street down Mulberry to Bayard Street south again on Mott Street to Pell. Make a left on Pell, walk to the Bowery, make another left onto Bayard and a right on Mott Street to get you back to Canal. It was really just a quick few blocks to give them a flavor of Chinatown before heading up to Houston Street and Russ & Daughters and Katz's Deli

                          Russ & Daughters
                          179 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002

                          Katz's Delicatessen
                          205 E Houston St, New York, NY 10002

                          Mei Lai Wah
                          64 Bayard St, New York, NY 10013

                          1. re: mp413

                            In Chinatown, I'd try New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe (Bayard) for soup dumplings, and Jing Fong for dim sum.

                          2. Off the top of my head, I'd shoot for the following:
                            2nd Ave Deli
                            Curry row
                            Grand Central Oyster Bar

                            And maybe Magnolia? Not my cup of tea (I don't really like cupcakes), but lots of people love it.

                            If you go to MOMA, stop in at The Modern -- the Bar Room is pretty reasonably priced and I've always been happy with the food there.

                            Street vendors for kebab or falafel. Or hit up the "Dosa Man" at Washington Square Park for vegan Sri Lankan food.

                            Also, I love Cafe Habana, but only for their Mexican corn!

                            If you can make it to the outer boroughs, go to DiFara's in Brooklyn for pizza and Jade Asian in Flushing for dim sum.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: lmoy

                              Curry row does not have any outstanding food, the Oyster Bar has been coasting for years, and Magnolia is poor. The popularity of Magnolia can only be explained by the ignorance of tourists and bridge-and-tunnel types (not to imply that all tourists and b&t's are ignorant, but enough to keep this place in business are).

                              1. re: rrems

                                Hm, okay. rrems is right -- curry row isn't outstanding, and Oyster Bar certainly is coasting. But curry row is still often a fun place for out-of-towners to explore, and Oyster Bar, with its cave-like setup, oilcloth tablecloths, and near 100-year history is a neat experience if you happen to be in Grand Central -- but do go there only for oysters, never for entrees.

                                As for Magnolia, I can't comment personally since cupcakes gross me out, but I do know a handful of people who grew up in Manhattan, have been going to Magnolia for years, and continue to love it, so I guess it's not sustained merely by "the ignorance of tourists and bridge-and-tunnel types."

                                Also, I know it's a subject of debate, but in the last few months I have found the pickles at Pickle Guys to be better than the pickles at Guss.

                                1. re: rrems

                                  i've never understood the appeal of magnolia's either. The frosting tastes like rehydrated powdered sugar - yuck. Compared to all the lovely french pastries your friend might enjoy at home, these cupcakes might be a dud.

                                  just my 2 cents but i'm also not sure about a french-inspired place like Eleven Madison Park. I work with many French people, and anything remotely "trying" or "hinting at" being French or overly sophisticated inevitably draws negative comparisons to their home countries' "better versions."

                                  Reminds me of one time we ate at David Burke and Donatella. The dessert arrived, which was cheesecake lollipop sticks on a "tree". The French shook their heads in disdain at this over-the-top American invention. i mean---cheesecakes --lollipops--on a tree! Too much, they said. They'd rather have a simple slice of cheesecake.

                                  so i think simple, lowbrow, and authentic American or specialty ethnic is the way to go.

                                  BBQ, Steakhouses, Brooklyn Pizza, Soul Food, Delis--are all on target.

                              2. I am amazed at how you guys are really turning out for me on this query! Great suggestions. While Magnolia might not be the best (I have no idea), I think cupcakes are a great idea, like bbq--something uniquely American. Like asianbun pointed out he won't be impressed by us trying to do what they do to a T :) I think definitely bbq, definitely typical LES delis/shops, definitely pizza, definitely Chinatown--and thanks to all for the specific recs!--definitely cupcakes...now I just need to narrow down two restaurants worthy of our dinner dollars. I think sushi could be a good plan since he lives away from the ocean, and maybe a steakhouse for the next night.

                                I'll check the board for great sushi recs., but if anyone feels like repeating them here that would be appreciated too--I have really gotten amazing advice on this thread.

                                Thanks in advance for helping me show my friend everything the city has to offer :)


                                1 Reply
                                1. re: mp413

                                  I see that the LES has been well spoken for but little, if anything, has been mentioned about the UWS so I will just throw a unique and different dining experience into the mix with Turkish food from Zeytin at 85th & Columbus.
                                  Also in the same area is a fine restaurant that gets much praise from the locals, Ouest.