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Seeking a few good recs for a mid-June trip (lots of details inside)

Greetings, Manhattan Chowhounds!

I'm a regular on the Florida forum, but my girlfriend and I will be in NYC from June 18th through the 22nd, and we're hoping you can point us to some great places. We're staying at the Doubletree Metropolitan Hotel New York City at 569 Lexington Ave (in Midtown?), and we'll be spending some time near Baruch College of The City University of New York at 55 Lexington Avenue. We will probably take cabs most places or walk to anything that's close. Just something to keep in mind: I recently graduated grad school and may or may not have a great new job by then, and she's in grad school currently, so neither of us are loaded.

We visited NYC for a whirlwind 2-night trip last year, and some of the highlights included:

West Bank Cafe (based on a recommendation from here; it was pretty good but I don't think it blew either of us away, no offense)
Norma's (her idea; very decadent, but the service was so snooty and snobby that I don't think we'd go back)
Katz's Deli (completely awesome pastrami on club, and we're definitely going back this time)

We also grabbed two meals at those convenience store/deli/supermarkets you guys have all over the city -- surprisingly good gourmet sandwiches that saved our lives in the draining August heat. And I got a slice of pizza from a random Ray's (not sure which one) somewhere near St. Mark's Bookshop in the Village, which was really good.

Since we will have more time and won't be as rushed, we're looking forward to a few great meals this time around, although not necessarily expensive, trendy, or fancy. That said, I would have loved to get us a reservation at Babbo based on all the hype, but by the time I called, they couldn't get us in at a time that worked. Can anyone recommend one really awesome restaurant for a special night out? We don't want French or Indian food, stuck-up service like Norma's, or tiny portions. I don't mind paying for quality, as long as there is some quantity involved too. :) Maybe an interesting tasting menu, so we can sample lots of specialties? Are there any Italian places that are similar in food style to Babbo that won't break the bank? How is Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill? The online menu makes it sound fantastic.

Beyond that, how worthwhile is Barney Greengrass: The Sturgeon King? I saw Anthony Bourdain go there on his old Food Network show, and since I love delis and smoked fish, would it be worth a trip even though we're also going to Katz's? Are there any other must-try delis, particularly anything close? I'm cool with either Jewish or Italian-style delis -- I like nothing more than great sandwiches with salted, cured meats and wonderful cheeses. What about fantastic bagels near our hotel? Would H&H be worth a special trip?

My girlfriend definitely wants to try the frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity, so we'll go there at some point. I have been checking out the Il Laboratorio de Gelato website, as that sounds right up my alley, and neither of us would be opposed to sampling the famous cupcakes at the Magnolia Bakery.

Are there any interesting "concept restaurants" these days? I always thought it would be neat to try the Automat, just for the experience, but I'm reasonably sure it has been gone for years, if not longer. Any sort of unforgettable or unique dining experiences for a couple of 30-year-olds from Orlando?

Also, we don't have Trader Joe's in FL, and everyone raves about it. Would a TJ trip be worthwhile to load up on snacks and goodies for the hotel room and the trip home? What about Dean and Deluca? We wouldn't say no to amazing Mexican, Thai, Greek, or Chinese food either, particularly if any places are convenient to the hotel.

EDIT: One more thing -- we don't drink, so no need to worry about wine selections at restaurants or finding cool bars to hang at.

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  1. Definitely worth hitting Trader Joe's for snacks during and after. It's located on East 14th Street near Union Square so you may want to coordinate the visit with your other activities. If you're into nuts, they have an excellent and rather extensive selection; last but not least, they are reasonably priced!

    Enjoy your visit!!

    1. for your batali fix, try LUPA for lunch. otherwise, i would suggest a relative splurge at GRAMERCY TAVERN. there is fine dining and the less expensive walk-in front section. very nice & no snooty there.

      bourdain aint gonna lead ya wrong -- BARNEY GREENGRASS is totally worth it. go for breakfast.

      for fun there is a new retro style automat on st. marks place aka e8th st (that's around the corner from the bookstore).

      make sure to go to IL LABORATORIO DE GELATO on the weekend when traffic is closed & there is shopping along orchard st. have a glass of wine & a truffled egg & whatever else grabs you to eat at 'INOTECA.

      enjoy your visit & report back!

      1 Reply
      1. re: mrnyc

        Yes, we have an Automat. It's called Bamn! and it's not very good.

        There are other gimmicky places in town (Ninja comes to mind, as do some of the children's themed places like Mars 2112 or Max Brenner), none of which really get positive reviews.

      2. > Doubletree Metropolitan Hotel New York City at 569 Lexington Ave (in Midtown?)

        Yup. Lexington and 51st Street. I don't know the area that well but I do know that Aquavit is around there. There's not much else of foodie-note around there. Midtown places often survive / do well just due to location...

        > Baruch College of The City University of New York at 55 Lexington Avenue.

        That's 24th Street and 3rd Avenue. You are very close to Curry Hill and a lot of the good places in and around Gramercy/Flatiron and Union Square, at different price points such as Tiffin Wallah, Chennai Garden, Roomali, Saravanaas, Shake Shack, Blue Smoke, A Voce. You'll find you get a lot more recommendations if you name the specific intersection, in general, BTW.

        Re: Babbo. Did you try calling one of Mario Batali's other restaurants, like Lupa? Note that you can also dine at Babbo as a walk-in customer but that requires a bit more patience and planning, and it won't feel quite as special. But it is doable.

        For your special night out...the cheapest tasting menus I know of are at Degustation and the red-hot and popular Momofuku Ko. Both are counter seating only (no tables) and rely upon an open kitchen where you can observe your food being prepared. Neither of those are French or Indian. However, the Ko reservation is next to impossible. Degustation is a definitely possibility, so call and reserve soon.

        You might also want to consider some New American restaurants or those specializing in local ingredients, like Craft, Blue Hill, or Gramercy Tavern. My favorite is Gramercy Tavern It's pretty popular, so I'd call ASAP to make reservations. They have some of the best service in town. Do you have a maximum price point for your special night out?

        Barney Greengrass is definitely worth a trip because it's very different from Katz's -- all that wonderful smoked salmon. It's old school NY. However, if time is a consider, you can easily get your smoked salmon fix at Russ & Daughters, which is very close to Katz's Deli. However, Russ & Daughters only does take out. You can easily choose a nice smoked salmon to go on a bagel with cream cheese and get it to go. At Katz's Deli, the thing to order is the pastrami. Go to both!

        Il Lab is definitely worth a trip. Keep in mind that they close early, like around 6pm, so it's not a good after-dinner spot. Skip Magnolia, it's overrated, and the frosting is sugary-coma-inducingly-sweet. I always feel a bit sick after eating a Magnolia cupcake. If you want more interesting sweets and baked goods, though, try La Maison du Chocolat, Sugar Sweet Sunshine Bakery, Grandaisy, Kee's Chocolates, Birdbath, Abraco, Bouchon Bakery, Madeline Patisserie, or Batch, the Dessert Truck, the Wafels and Dinges truck....

        TJ's and Dean and Deluca are fine if you're nearby, but the line to checkout at TJ's is always a mile long. Even the express line takes forever on a normal day! That's because there's only one TJ's in NYC. There's multiple Dean & Deluca's, but D&D is usually pretty expensive. It's a splurge snack for me there if I go. I get a few take-out items (usually from the meat or cheese or baked goods counters) and leave. For example, they carry cupcakes from Sage (who don't have a Manhattan retail presence) as well as iberico ham from Spain.

        > amazing Mexican, Thai, Greek, or Chinese food either, particularly if any places are convenient to the hotel.

        Manhattan is kind of weak on amazing Mexican and Thai, I can't think of any awesome Greek by your hotel, but you are rather close to the midtown location of Peking Duck House (can't speak to its quality as I've only been to the Chinatown one).

        Manhattan for visitors:
        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/521062
        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/514935
        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/510567

        Best breakfasts/brunches in Manhattan:
        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/445794

        Here's a recent thread about quick take out / snack places:
        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/514186

        Make sure you check out RGR's LES Noshing Tour too:
        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/493333

        1. Don't forget New York's food carts. Cheap and quick (except for the long lines at some of the most popular ones. A search on "food carts" or "vendors" should point you in the right direction. Or perhaps someone more knowledgeable than I will make some specific suggestions around Baruch.

          1. I too felt Serendipity was "a must" - trust me when I say - it isn't.

            3 Replies
            1. re: texann

              Skip Serendipity. Long wait, over-priced, and (other than the frozen hot chocolate) the food is not so good BUT they have a per person minimum forcing you to eat bad food to taste the one good thing on their menu.

              1. re: Love to Eat

                I haven't eaten at Serendipity but have seen some negative reviews. But in light of your girlfriend's wishes, I think Big Bad Lou would have a MUCH more pleasant trip giving in and going to Serendipity. It's just one meal/dessert.

                About your Italian place, if you can't get into Lupa, you may want to give Otto a try. It's another Batali joint specializing in pizzas although their pizzas are their weak point. Their antipasti is really good (especially their vegetables). Their pasta isn't bad either. And the gelato is ridiculously delicious -- I think it's better than Il Lab. Bar Pitti is also not a bad place either if you want Italian.

                Not Italian, but Batali also has a Spanish tapas place called Casa Mono. It's very hearty robust food. I love tapas-sized portions because you can try more things. And these tapas are pretty large compared to what you get at other tapas restaurants.

                1. re: Miss Needle

                  How about Crispo? for your dinner out?? It was recommended to me by the local nyc chowhounds and was really terrific.