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San Franciscans visiting New York - 3 Dinners

We will be in Manhattan for three nights in September. Here are the three dinners we hope to schedule: EMP, Babbo, Balthazar. Any comments, thoughts or other suggestions would be appreciated. We also intend to have a shared pastrami on rye at Katz's.

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  1. Balthazar is a bit of a step down from EMP and Babbo - not sure if that is your intention... You sould do pizza for lunch too and something like patisserie claude and/or barney greengrass for breakfast.

    Personally, I'd do something like little owl, spotted pig or momofuku ssam instead of balthazar. People who actually live here will have better suggestions (I used to and visit frequently).

    1. I agree with tpigeon. Balthazar is more a destination for scene and vibe than for food. You might consider it for breakfast (particularly for the eggs en cocotte), when the people-watching is just as, if not more, interesting than at dinner.

      Babbo will be incredible, but mind the month-to-the-day reservations advice discussed in great length on this board.

      Have a great trip.

      1. Hey, bobpantzer,

        I have not been to Balthazar, but if it is you intention to include a French bistro, I would recommend Benoit, Alain Ducasse's new bistro, on 55th St., b/t 5th & 6th Avs. The food is delicious, and the interior replicates the original bistro with that name in Paris.


        If you would like to do another upscale restaurant instead of a bistro, there are several excellent ones to choose from. Let us know and we will make suggestions.

        When you go to Katz's, be sure to do counter service as we natives do. (Table service is for tourists. lol) It's traditional to tip the counterman a $1 or $2. He will give you a slice of pastrami to taste. It should have some fat on it and be moist. If you approve, he will make your sandwich and give you a plate of pickles and, if you like, sour tomatoes. He will mark the ticket you received when you entered. Hold onto it because you will need it when you exit. Be sure to have a Dr. Brown's soda (my choice is cream).

        10 Replies
        1. re: RGR

          Thanks, RGR, I have been following posts on this board the past month or so and have printed your LES tour which we definitely plan on doing--in fact, that's what's leading us to Katz's and, for sure, I will follow your rules and your route. Thanks for the Benoit suggestion, my wife is a retired French teacher and we have visited Paris often and that is what's leading us to a French bistro--with the weak dollar, we've opted for NYC this year instead of Paris.

          1. re: RGR

            Hi, I am also going to be in the city soon and want french bistro. we'll be staying at the hampton inn and I understand there's a french rest. right next door. Do you know anything about it? thanks. is Benoit the best choice?

            1. re: joni mae

              Hey, joni mae,

              There are several Hampton Inns in Manhattan. Which one are you staying at?

              1. re: RGR

                I believe it's the one on 8th ave. in the 50's.

                1. re: joni mae

                  Hey, joni mae,

                  Sounds as though the French bistro you are referring to that's right near that Hampton Inn is Tout Va Bien, on 51st, just west of 8th Av. I'm not a fan.

                  Also close by is Chez Napoleon, a family-owned classic French bistro, on 50th, b/t 8th & 9th. Though we've not yet managed to eat there, there have been only positive comments from Hounds who have.


                  I do think Benoit is worth the short walk to 55th, b/t 5th & 6th.

                  1. re: RGR

                    Thank you. That answers my question. Chez Napoleon is where we'll go. Sounds like what we're looking for. If you ever want info on South Carolina lowcountry, let me know.

                    1. re: joni mae

                      I'd love to know how Chez Napoleon is. There was a nice article in the NYT about them, and we thought it would be fun to try. One point that I noted was that apparently a lot of French tourists like to go there, because they can't find that kind of French "home cooking" at restaurants in France any more.

                      1. re: MMRuth

                        That is absolutely true, MMRuth. I am always surprised when I go to France how difficult is is to find places that serve organ meats. Chez Napoleon does these very well, along with the usual bistro standards. If there is a weakness, it is the vegetables, but that may be typical of French home cooking too.

                        1. re: rrems

                          Thanks - that's good to know - my husband loves organ meats.

              2. re: joni mae

                I've been to Benoit once and enjoyed my meal. Nothing outstanding, but a good brasserie meal. It's about on par w/Balthazar.

            2. emp and babbo get a lot of favorable comments on this board. deservedly so. balthazar might be a welcome relief from "high-end dining syndrome."

              for better relief, consider some oysters at shaffer city at 4:30 p.m.. have a vodka gimlet or two at the bar with a dozen blue points. enjoy the fish tank. when finished, walk down to una pizza napoletana. if you're there on a wednesday, skip una pizza napoletana (it's open thursday-sunday) and walk over to stuyvesant town (a nearby apartment complex) and catch a concert in the oval. it's free. walk over to bar jamon for some cava and very fancy spanish ham. be prepared to stand at the tiny bar. you can always move to casa mono (next door) when a table opens up.

              have too much fun.

              1. Bob: I'm a San Franciscan almost (Napa) who recently had a wonderful week in NY.

                Eleven Madison Park was terrific for my only visit there. Babbo (two visits) was less so -- cavernous, noisy, impersonal. I'm convinced that their food is great. But, my experience was hectic and not great.

                I agree with the suggestions above re The Little Owl-- intimate and very West Village. Also, Perilla is in the same category of calm, neighborhood delicious. Drinks before/after at Rusty Knot, Spotted Pig or the big emporiums of the Meatpacking District (Morimoto, Del Posto) are a wonderful evening combination.

                Let us know how it turns out.

                3 Replies
                1. re: cortez

                  Thanks for the input, cortez. Incidentally, we moved to SF last October after having lived in Yountville for over 12 years. I'll let you know about our visit when we return the end of September.

                  1. re: cortez

                    Babbo was "Cavernous" ...the Babbo I go to is anything but cavernous

                    Consider the phoenix like Gramercy Tavern as well...its very very good and has received lots of awards and accolades with its new chef...Danny Meyer knows what he is doing, for sure....Momofuku Ssam or Degustation for one of your dinners would be a nice interude between EMP and Babbo....

                    1. re: Cpalms

                      I was a little thrown by the description of Babbo as "cavernous," myself. Also, Babbo is loud but no moreso than many high end restaurants in SF, which tend to be pretty noisy.

                  2. Bobpantzer,

                    I have to thank you for all the great info on my picks for San Francisco. now you're going to be on my turf, so here goes:

                    Babbo is fantastic. It is the best destination restaurant in the city in terms of fantastic food and value. It's all about the food and wine there and there is no pretense. Definitely go there, and have fun with their very reasonably priced (for a restaurant) wine list. If you are looking for a less expensive, yet no less satisfying experience, try to book Lupa Osteria. The pastas are just as good as Babbo's, the menu items are inexpensive and the wine list is fantastic. In fact, it is done by the same guys who do Babbo except Batali's presence is a little less.

                    Balthazar is good for brunch, but for dinner it is just OK. You can do better. For French bistro style, try Landmarc at the Time Warner Center. If you can, try to score a table with a view of Columbus Circle and a view of Central Park. It's VERY New York, as all the cabs go by beneath you. They have a good steak frites menu, and the wine list is solid, and only marked up about $5-$10 above retail. You might also try Bar Boulud.

                    EMP is solid, and for a very New York experience it is worth the money. I've been there twice, for lunch and for dinner. I had a fantastic time, but in terms of value I wouldn't go back, but that's simply because I live here and have the time to explore other options. I'm a wine guy and appreciate good wine to go with my great food and I find that EMP's list is ridiculously over priced and limited in terms of reasonable selections for their food. Consider paying the corkage fee and bring your own special bottle that you can pick up from one of the fantastic wine retailers here.

                    Some other suggestions: Landmarc also has a fantastic brunch. Try Jean George for lunch--you get the same service, atmosphere and fabulous food for a fraction of the cost of dinner. Have a lavish lunch there, and maybe have a light dinner at the lively Otto Enoteca e Pizzeria by (Batali also) or Craft Bar, where you'll find fantastic small plates and fantastic wine by the glass and bottle along with a very stylish New York sensibility. Tabla is great, too. There's the more formal restaurant upstairs, and a more casual, although no less delicious cafe below called the "Bread Bar". For a truly creative cuisine experience I recommend the Tabla Bread Bar. You can put together a great a la carte selection and pair it up with a selection from their fantastic wine list.

                    I love the NYC food scene and love to share it with others. Any other questions, feel free to ask! Bon Apetite!

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Tyranisone

                      I gotta respectfully disagree on Landmarc. Dinner in a 300-seat restaurant in a shopping mall is hardly, let alone VERY, New York.

                      1. re: D...DF

                        Read and pay attention to what I actually mentioned being very New York.

                        "If you can, try to score a table with a view of Columbus Circle and a view of Central Park. It's VERY New York, as all the cabs go by beneath you."

                      2. re: Tyranisone

                        Thanks, Tyranisone, for your kind comments and for your suggestions. I have read a lot of comments on this board comparing EMP to Gramercy Tavern. Based on some of the comments, I'm thinking of replacing EMP with GT. What do you think? Incidentally, I'm kind of a wine guy myself but abhor some of those over priced wine lists. Having been in the wine industry in the Napa Valley for many years (Clos Pegase, Franciscan - before Constellation, and Trefethen) I have a sense of the mark-ups. So, I do appreciate your suggestion of paying the corkage fee instead. Which of the fantastic wine retailers in NYC do you suggest I shop for a special bottle?

                        I'm glad you seem to have enjoyed your visit to San Francisco. We are taking visitors from Florida to Boulevard next Saturday and I am already looking forward to it. I assume you did dine there. How was it?

                        Thanks again for taking the time to send your comments and suggestions.

                        Bob Pantzer

                        1. re: bobpantzer


                          I enjoyed Boulevard and will probably give it another chance the next time I'm in SF. There were some things amiss, but nothing that ruined my meal. You can see my review I posted on an old thread I ran across. NOPA, unexpectedly, was my best experience -- all the parts just came together for a fantastic meal. The service was very efficient and friendly, too. Anyway, back to NYC... EMP vs. Gramercy is a tough one. Both are fantastic. All I can say is that the dining room at Gramercy is comforting, and the food is a little more simple and rustic than EMP's very creative and polished menu. Stylistically, you might be better to stick with EMP as a good contrast to Babbo. They are destination restaurants and I certainly recommend them both for visitors. Choose Gramercy based on service and comfort level, but go for EMP for the posh food and vibe. You could also consider CRU. They probably have the best wine list in the cityand the food is excellent. Veritas is another goodie. In terms of good wine retailers, you can find fantastic older vintages, rare and interesting bottles at reasonable prices at Chambers Street Wine. You should also check out Crush Wine and Spirits for some harder to find and very interesting bottles.

                          For lighter fare or lunch one day I forgot to mention Tia Pol. It's my favorite tapas bar in town. Don't go too late in the evening as it gets very crowded. But it's a perfect spot for some delicious snacks and vino. You might like Degustation, also.

                          All in all there are just too many good spots, but if I had 3 days in town, here's where I'd eat: lunch at Union Square Cafe and Babbo for dinner, Jean George for lunch and a light dinner at Craftbar, snacks/lunch at Tia Pol, dinner at EMP. Perhaps I'd pop into Gotham Bar and Grill for cocktails.