The places I walk by in Murray hill and never stop in:
We've lived in Murray Hill for over five years now and have walked by the following places hundreds of times on our way to old favorites. Are these places worth stopping into or should I just keep walking...
1. Byblos (just saw RGRs post on a different thread and thought to add this one)
2. Sam's Place
5. Frontier Diner
6. Nicola Paone
7. Carne Grill
Bonus question: There's also an italian place with an old grey stone exterior on 2nd ave and 32nd which doesn't seem to have a sign but you can always see an old style dining room through the windows. Anyone ever been here?
I can comment on two places on your list.
I keep hoping for a great Lebanese restaurant, so I tried Byblos a few months ago. I was hugely disappointed - in the brightly-lit, sparsely-decorated room, in the completely indifferent service and in the thoroughly mediocre food. The pickled radishes were nice.
Carne Grill, on Lexington, is glatt kosher and, in my opinion, over-reaching and over-priced. I occasionaly go there to meet my orthodox cousin for dinner. The food is okay but I would give it a luke-warm recommendation - and then only if someone in your party keeps kosher.
I have been to Toledo and to Trio. Both are good...not amazing, but good. Nicola Paone was awful.
I've eaten at Byblos and it's good (although I noticed a new reply about Byblos and the review wasn't good). I usually get vegetarian items off of the mezze section of the menu so my feedback probably won't help. It's a fun place to be late at night because they have entertainment.
With regard to Byblos, as I said in my post on the other thread, it's been ages since we've eaten there and until Deenso's comments here, I had not heard that the food has gone downhill.
We've been to Trio a number of times, but those experiences go back several years. The New American cuisine was artfully presented and well-prepared. Service was friendly and efficient. From the photos on the website, it appears the interior has been refurbished. The space used to have a darkish, clubby feel, but the booths along the left side of the dining area are gone, and there's now a more contemporary look with considerably brighter colors.
Trio's owners have an older sibling nearby, Villa Berulia, on 34th, b/t Park & Lex. Though I was not impressed with the Italian food the one time we ate there, I've now put V.B. on my "go to" list because I recently discovered that the Croatian specialties which were originally on Trio's menu and were dropped have been added to the menu at Villa Berulia. (The owners are from Croatia.) Those are worth going for, particularly the to-die-for strukli. I drool just thinking about them.
RGR, I hate to be the one to say the food at Byblos has gone downhill - 'specially since I have limited experience there - just 2 lunches, about 2 years apart. My comments must be taken as very subjective. The only Lebanese restaurant I can compare it to is the one where my parents used to take me in Pittsburgh during my palate-forming years: Sam Reemy. You know how it is - the food you grow up eating is always the best and you spend your lifetime trying to find the same flavors. It's entirely possible that Byblos is a perfectly good restaurant and it only fell short in my estimation because it didn't bring me back to my youth...
I appreciate your further explanation. I think we can agree that opinions with regard to food are always entirely subjective. While I never found the food at Byblos anywhere close to rave-worthy, it was pretty tasty. That could also be a function of what I ordered vs. what you did. I recall very much liking the cold mezzes combo and the lamb chops. As best as I can remember, service was adequate. It does sound as though nothing much has changed with regard to the interior which was then exactly as you describe it, i.e., brightly-lit with little in the way of decor.
We tried Al Bustan once and I felt the Lebanese food there was not significantly better than Byblos, if at all. The decor was quite attractive, but along with that came much higher prices.
We recently had dinner at ilili, on 5th Av., b/t 27th & 28th Sts. The contemporary Lebanese/Mediterranean is very different in style from what is served at Byblos and Al Bustan (at least, when we went). All the dishes we tried were delicious. The space is huge with interesting, appealilng decor. I consider the prices to be on the upper end of moderate.
I went to Byblos for lunch a few years back and it was quite good. Nothing amazing, but tasty -- especially since i wasn't paying. Haven't been recently though, so I can't comment.
I've been to Sam's Place a couple of times and really like it for old school red sauce Italian. The place is a real hole in the wall, but they do a good business both for lunch and dinners. The food is terrific for what it is -- mostly old standbys. Nothing to blow your mind, but when you are looking for good italian comfort food, I'd recommend it. The pricing isn't too bad either.