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Apr 13, 2008 02:21 PM

My brother (the chef) comes to NYC - with 6 days notice

I may have yet another enemy to add to my ever-growing list. My family is really doing a number on me these days! I just finished planning the big parental visit in May, and now my brother calls me and says "hey, I'm coming to NYC in 6 days, let's eat!" He's never been here before, so at least I don't have to worry about repeat restaurants. And he's not really a theatre goer, so we don't have to eat anywhere near Times Square!

However, he is a chef (albeit an inexperienced one - he finished culinary school about a year ago) AND he's from Chicago, so he's no stranger to places like Alinea, Charlie Trotter, etc. He wants to check out a few places while he's here, but since the parents won't be funding the trip, we definitely have to watch our budget. He specifically requested WD-50, and I'm sure he'd love to try one of Daniel Boulud's, Jean-George's, Mario Batali's, or Thomas Keller's places, or whoever else doesn't have a Chicago outpost. Recommendations that won't break the bank would be MUCH appreciated. He's in his late 20s and a little bit of a stoner, so things that are a little more hip and with more of a "scene" would probably be good. I was thinking of Lupa or Otto over Del Posto or Babbo, for instance. I could also really use some recommendations on cool places to have a drink or three - I don't really do bars, so I'm completely useless in that regard. He's interested in both beer and wine, not so much liquor. Places with live music get bonus points (as long as the music is stoner-approved!).

I'm not sure yet what his travel schedule will be, so I can't make too many plans. although I did manage to book WD-50 for 11pm on Saturday, yuck (I'm going to pray for a cancellation so we can get in earlier). I'll know more tomorrow, hopefully, but if you hounds want to load me up on ideas now that would be great. I live in Queens and I will definitely be taking him for a culinary tour of Queens' finest, so we've got ethnic food covered. He'll also be wanting to do some food shopping - we may check out Arthur Ave, Russ & Daughters, etc. Any suggestions you have for that would be appreciated as well!

Thanks guys! I don't know if I could survive familial visits without Chowhound!

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  1. WD-50 is overpriced IMO but the food is good, so if he insists, fine. If he likes a scene, Bar Blanc has it and the food is superb. Allen and Delancey is great too, but it will be hard to reserve unless you are very flexible. If you don't want to blow the budget, I would highly recommend Crispo and Marseille.

    5 Replies
    1. re: rrems

      Thanks rrems. I think reservations anywhere are going to be a bit of a problem, unfortunately. I reserved Esca for Saturday at 9:45 in case we can't get in any earlier at WD-50, but Lupa is pretty much completely booked for now. I agree that WD-50 seems really pricey, but he was pretty firm on wanting to go there, so that will probably have to be our "treat" meal. I'm thinking Otto would be perfect for something a little more casual, but I'm sure it will be impossible to get in. The menu at Bar Blanc looks great! I'll run that one by him for sure. I was also considering Aquagrill (he loves seafood, oysters especially), but I wasn't sure if the vibe there was young/casual or not.

      1. re: biondanonima

        Otto is open pretty much all day, so you could drop in on an off hour and dine, if you wished, like a late lunch or pre-dinner snack.

        1. re: kathryn

          That's true - maybe if we're in the hood we'll get a pizza and some olive oil gelato as a snack - those were my favorite things on the menu there anyway!

          1. re: biondanonima

            Esca is about as un-hip as you can get (the one time i went it was a sort of older preppy crowd)...and i found the food overpriced and the vibe generally unappealling...

            if you must do a Batali place, i'd suggest Casa Mono...sort of perfect if he likes wine (and sherries) and wants to try a trendy NY place that's not too pricey.

            Russ&Daughters is a must.

            For drinks, he might enjoy n33 (33 Crosby)...the tapas there are just ok, but it's a fun place for wine or sherry.

            You might also enjoy getting some endive salade, steak frites, red wine, and chocolate cake at Lucien (First Ave, betw 1st and 2nd St)

            1. re: Simon

              Yeah, I know Esca isn't hip, but I love the food. Casa Mono is probably a better choice for my brother though. He's not in love with Mario the way I am, though, so we may not do a Batali place at all.

    2. Hi biondanonima, how many days are your brother staying in NYC?

      I think the best way to save on money and still be able to enjoy high-end dining is to take advantage of the prix fixe or bargain meals at lunch time. For instance, you should definitely take him to Jean Georges' main dining room and get the $28 2-course prix fixe (with each additional dish for extra $12) at lunch. The menu is always the same as the dinner menu and no skimming on the portion size. It is definitely the best bargain in town!

      I believe WD-50 has just started offering lunch as well, so instead of a 11pm dinner, why not have lunch at WD-50? You can save the dinner at Tailor, run by former WD-50 pastry chef Sam Mason. They have savory + sweet dishes + drinks + a scene, so I think your brother will enjoy it, esp. if he is interested in those molecular cooking techniques. (Just a word of caveat, nothing in NYC is like Alinea, so I hope your brother is not looking for something better but rather something similar).

      There is nothing that you can really replace Keller's Per Se (obviously Bouchon Bakery won't cut it), so again you may try lunch at Per Se which will be cheaper yet still magnificent TK's experience.

      Lupa will be great for dinner if you are doing a lot of fine-dining at lunch time.

      One place that I can think of as a must-go and unique to NYC is Momofuku. While it is probably impossible to get reservation at Momofuku Ko, you will still be able to enjoy innovative and bold flavor at the Ssam Bar. David Chang is a young and rising star in the culinary scene, so I think your brother should be interested in knowing what he is all about!

      You may also try out Maze at Gordon Ramsay or Bar at the Modern for both food and the "scene". Tavern Room at Gramercy Tavern is another option. They are definitely more causal and more reasonably priced than the main dining areas of the restaurants.
      I won't recommend Craftbar as a cheaper alternative of Craft as it doesn't reflect the excellence of Craft. However, the flagship Craft restaurant is worth a try, albeit a bit expensive.

      Blue Hill will be a great way to experience seasonal and local cooking, especially with the appearance of delicious spring vegetables now. It's tasting menu is reasonable in NYC standard ($70, excluding tax and tips and drinks), but it may be a bit similar to Charlie Trotter in Chicago.

      Lastly, from my understanding, Spanish tapas seem to be more popular and more readily available in NYC than in Chicago. There are many great tapa places in NYC, such as Casa Mono (owned by Mario Batali), or Degustation (French-inspired Spanish tapas cooked in an open kitchen). More traditional tapa dishes are avaiable at Tia Pol and Boqueria, but do expect a looong wait during prime time.

      Of course you guys need to check out Russ & Daughters and Katz and some NY pizza!

      31 Replies
      1. re: kobetobiko

        Thank you - that is quite an exhaustive list! He's only going to be here from Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon, so we won't have time for all of that, obviously! I just checked and WD-50 is only open for lunch Wed-Fri, so that's out. JG is only weekday lunch as well, but I thought we might try Perry St. for lunch/brunch on Saturday if he wants to do a JG restaurant.

        I have heard that WD-50 is nowhere near as good as Alinea, and I will definitely warn him of that. My guess is that he wants to draw that comparison for himself, though. Momofuku is a GREAT idea and I will definitely mention that to him - he loves asian food.

        Thanks again, and keep 'em coming!

        1. re: biondanonima

          Momofuku Ssam is the best thing for my stoner friends. No contest.

          1. re: roze

            LOL, that's high praise! I know we wouldn't be able to get into Ko, so it looks like Ssam is the winner if we want to do a Momofuku.

          2. re: biondanonima

            I have never been to Alinea (hope to change that this summer), but the desserts at WD-50 are awesome as they are done by Alex Stupak (ex-Alinea). Not sure if he's had Stupak's work before.

            If you're into that sort of experimental dessert bar thing, check out Will Goldfarb at Michel Cluizel (inside the ABC Carpet and Home Store), Chikalicious, or p*ong.

            1. re: kathryn

              My brother is actually not a big dessert person, but if it's cutting edge dessert, he might be more inclined. I'll keep those places in mind, especially Michel Cluizel (love his bars - Noir Infini, OMG!).

            2. re: biondanonima

              Second kobe's rec for Momofuku (any one) and Degustation. Because Degustation is an open kitchen, your brother can observe how the chefs work. And there really aren't too many restaurants like Degustation around in terms of the type of food offered.

              And Prune is big with some chefs as well as Blue Ribbon.

              1. re: Miss Needle

                For Degustation, definitely make reservations in advance. The place is tiny.

                Note that there are several restaurants in the Blue Ribbon chain. I think Miss Needle is referring to Blue Ribbon Brasserie. I love eating there, especially late at night. No reservations for parties < 6 unfortunately, and the waits can be a pain.

                1. re: Miss Needle

                  Just scored an 8pm reservation on Saturday night for Degustation. I hope he goes for it instead of WD-50...

                  1. re: biondanonima

                    Hope so too. I wasn't the biggest fan of WD-50. And he's been to Alinea (which I've heard is much better than WD-50).

                    When the chef at Degustation realized we were foodies, he actually made a few extra courses off-menu for us to test it out. It's kind of like eating at the sushi bar -- you can form a rapport with the chef and have it to be a more interactive experience. As your brother is a chef, I can see him really digging that.

                    1. re: Miss Needle

                      Totally - that is very much his thing. My brother is also one of those people who can and will talk to anyone about just about anything. I'll be sure to mention your comments to him AND call the restaurant to see if we can get preferential seating near the chef!

                      1. re: biondanonima

                        We actually weren't sitting right in front of him, but he noticed us and came over a few times. He was really a very nice guy and cared about his diners' experiences. He was really curious to what our feedback was. I love chefs like this -- who are there to make the customer happy.

                        1. re: Miss Needle

                          Also I think they now have two tasting menu - one for $50 (5 course) and another one for $75 (10 course). I suppose the 10-course tasting may have some dishes that are not on the a la carte menu?

                          I think Degustation is a great choice! Wait, but please tell me you are not skipping Momofuku. It's a must!

                          1. re: kobetobiko

                            Yeah, I heard that - the 5 course tasting sounded like a great deal, so 10 courses for $75 is really amazing. I looked over the menu and it looked like you could order just about everything on it for $120 or so, so we'll just have to see what my brother wants to do and what the chefs are willing to cook up for one of their brethren! After reading the reviews I am really excited about it myself - way more than I was for WD-50!

                            1. re: kobetobiko

                              Yeah, I did the 10 course -- the portions were half the size of the 5 course. So it's not really more food (well, maybe a bit more) but you get to try a lot more things which I prefer. There's nothing I hate more than food marathons -- I just don't have the stamina for them. I don't remember if the 10 course tasting menu had some dishes not on the a la carte.

                              Biondan, $75 is really a great bargain for a 10 course meal of that caliber, especially when you see all the labor that goes into it. It really makes you appreciate the food a lot more. A few times I've done labor-intensive fancy plating stuff at home for fun. After hours on my feet and with my aching back, I started to realize that I'd rather go out.

                              1. re: kobetobiko

                                Just heard back from my brother - looks like we're going to do Momofuku Ssam on Friday for dinner and Degustation on Saturday for dinner. Still not sure about Perry St. - honestly, knowing him, I think he might prefer to hit Katz's, Russ and Daughters, etc. I'm keeping the reservation as an option, though. That's probably all we'll have time for, aside from a few places in Queens. I'm looking forward to it myself - Momofuku Ssam is not a place most of my friends would ever want to try!

                    2. re: biondanonima

                      Saturday lunch is your perfect opportunity to try Perry St. I don't like Otto and Esca. How about Vice Versa instead of Esca? Aquagrill is very good, but I have only been for lunch. It does not have any "scene" or "vibe". It's unpretentious, laid-back and the food is plentiful and good.

                    3. re: kobetobiko

                      Tailor definitely has a scene, but keep in mind that the Tailor-crowd likes to dine late. If you go at "prime time" you may find yourself in a half-empty restaurant! I was at the bar this past weekend, Saturday night, left around midnight, and the dining room was completely full still. Also if your brother is into molecular gastronomy, make sure you look at the cocktail list, to try Eben Freeman's solid cocktails at Tailor. I know you said he's a beer/wine guy, but they're interesting at least from an execution standpoint.

                      To clarify, there are three Momofukus. Momofuku Ko, Momofuku Noodle Bar, and Momofuku Ssam Bar. Of the three, Ssam Bar is probably the one with the most scene. The Noodle Bar is more bright/homey and has a lot of people ordering ramen. Ko is, well, more sedate, has only 14 seats, everyone gets a ten course tasting menu. But if you're into wine/sake, the pairings are great. Of course, if you DO get lucky and get reservations, I'm sure he'd enjoy being able to interact directly with the chefs as it's counter seating only.

                      1. re: kathryn

                        Thanks for the heads up on Tailor. I've never heard anything about it but the cocktails sound like something that might interest my brother.

                        As for Ko, I'm not even going to try - I know how hard it is to get in, and I think the tasting plus pairings would be way out of his budget. I know he'd love it, though - maybe if he comes with my parents at some point, we can get them to treat us both!

                        1. re: kathryn

                          Are those places hard to get into? Both my husband and I love a well made drink, but are hardly cool enough to get into a "club". Let's just say that I don't wear skirts small enough to get me to the front of the line. Think soccer mom, not Heidi Klum. That being said, I'd really like to go to a few fun places like Death & Co. or Pegu Club, but would hate to get turned down.

                          1. re: KateMW

                            Death & Co and Pegu Club are first come, first served so it's best to go there early (like 6pm), and on an off night (Sunday through Wednesday). I've never seen anyone turned away for not being dressed right, but it's probably best not to look slovenly, you know? I'm sure you'll be fine -- you don't need to look like you're going clubbing.

                            For PDT, you can make reservations on the day of, around 3pm, by calling. If you don't happen to get a reservation, note that the bar is always first come first served. Again, it's best to get there early.

                            Most of the nice cocktail lounges that we're talking about are on the small side, and no standing. No standing means you're not rammed shoulder to shoulder with strangers, but it's harder to get in if you don't plan. Tailor is slightly different in that it's a restaurant, and you can order one of their signature cocktails if you dine there.

                            1. re: kathryn

                              Is PDT the place that is part of some hot dog place? The no standing thing sounds like HEAVEN!!!! I'm excited!

                              1. re: KateMW

                                Yes. It is inside Crif Dogs on Avenue A and St Marks Place.

                                1. re: kathryn

                                  Just to be more precise about Crif Dogs/PDT's location, it's on St. Mark's, b/t Av. A and 1st Av.

                                  1. re: kathryn

                                    Yes! That's it. A local friend and her husband love Crif Dog and PDT.

                          2. re: kathryn

                            I went to Tailor and really loved it, but you're right about the timing. We had 8:30 reservations and it felt like we were there for the early-bird special. I think it was a Thursday.

                            But! the cocktails and the food were wonderful, beautiful, and creative. I would definitely try it.

                          3. re: kobetobiko

                            One more thing: I like Gramercy Tavern a lot but the Tavern Room doesn't feel very hip to me. More like welcoming stable house? That out-dated mural of the fruits/vegetables seems like the antithesis of "stoner cool." The food is very good, but it's not a scene. Craft is hipper in this regards, but only by a little.

                            1. re: kathryn

                              Hi kathryn,

                              When I suggested Tavern Room at Gramercy, I was only recommending it based on the fact that it is cheaper than the main dining room. The cheaper food + scene combo applied to Bar Room at the Modern and Maze only.

                              I don't think OP's brother needs a scene for every meal, just one or two.

                              1. re: kobetobiko

                                Fair enough, just wanted to give the OP a heads up on what to expect... (If they do end up at the Tavern Room, the giant stuffed meatball is a must.)

                                1. re: kathryn

                                  What could be bad about a giant stuffed meatball? Yummy!

                                  Are both the Tavern Room and the regular dining room open for lunch? Do I have to specify when making rez.?

                                  1. re: KateMW

                                    The Tavern Room is open all day, i.e., no closure between lunch and dinner, and does not accept reservations. .

                                    Gramercy's dining room serves lunch Mon.-Fri., and while you might be able to snag a table at lunch by just showing up, I, for one, would not go without a reservation.

                                    1. re: RGR

                                      Definitely make reservations. And if they can't squeeze you in, get on the wait list. Cancellations do happen, and they'll be happy to let you know.

                          4. A few of my must-do dinners in NYC have already been covered (WD 50 and Tailor; WD 50's tasting menu is well worth the expense, IMO). I'd also add Aquavit's tasting menu for innovative, technique-heavy food that is still grounded in the classics.

                            For more low-key eats, look into Yakitori Toto, Aburiya Kinnosuke, 'Ino, Mary's Fish Camp, Empanada Mama, Fatty Crab, and Dim Sum Go Go.

                            If you want to shop for ingredients for home cooking, check out Chelsea Market (esp. the Lobster Place for seafood; the Italian grocery store has some interesting, harder to find ingredients, tho everything is overpriced), Essex St. Market, and maybe Bleeker St. between 6th and 7th avenues.

                            BTW, for reservations, try both opentable and calling the restaurant, separately. I've been able to score tables this way, even if one of the methods doesn't work.

                            1. I would agree with hitting up as many lunches as possible. Try Le Bernardin for lunch, rediculously cheap, J.G, 11 Mad park. Also make the trek to brooklyn for difaras. Any chef should enjoy seeing Dom make his pies. The dedication to the craft is impressive.
                              Bar Boulud is delicious for sunday brunch.... and as a stoner brother, im sure he wont be getting up too early, so youll miss the UWS family crowds.
                              Other than the restos, make sure he gets his feel for NYC too,
                              bagels at murrays (imo)
                              2nd ave deli
                              burgers- shake shack(burger joint?)
                              regardless, there are enough good recs on this thread that im sure he will be stoked.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: feedmegood

                                Forget 2nd Ave. Deli! In its reincarnated form, it has received too many negative reviews. Katz's, where it's all about the pastrami, is *the* place to go for the quintessential NYC. deli experience.

                              2. Last time my brother (also a chef, although one who worked in NY for awhile and still has many connections) visited we hit up, Prune for brunch, Fatty Crab, Spotted Pig, Blue Hill, the Momofukus, Blue Hill (at Stone Barns), Shake Shack, Employees Only, Daisy Maes, and mom's house. Sadly, my mom's probably not going to cook for you and your brother, but I highly reccomend the rest of the above for your brother's trip. I also think its worth going to Lupa as walk ins, had a great meal there this past saturday, and truthfully it just wasn't all that crowded.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: prdct

                                  I highly recommend the lunch prix fixe menu at Bouley. I think it came out to $35 a person before wine and the food was better than Gotham Bar & Grills $95ish a person dinner.

                                  1. re: uvahustla

                                    I've also seen the many negative reports about Bouley, but I also had a great lunch there, with outstanding service, and posted a report about it.