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Restaurant R&D – Chowhound's List of Manhattan’s Most Compelling Restaurants

  • j

A longtime fan of this site and a 15 year restaurant professional is finally getting to Manhattan. I am opening a restaurant and lounge this fall in San Diego with 200 wines by the glass and a seasonal/organic menu.

After many hours of research I have compiled the following list (in no particular order) of restaurants to visit during my upcoming 5 day trip 8/19 – 8/24. I am hoping to have your comments on which restaurants to REMOVE (different than most requests that I see on this board ) as I have 5 days and want to only hit those restaurants that are compelling for their exceptional physical design or a culinary style that is utterly unique.

Whenever possible I want to hit the most expensive restaurants at lunch time and the insanely popular restaurants at dinner opening (Babbo and Casa Mono etc.). I can schedule up to 4 restaurants a day based on my schedule and budget (plan on 1 item per stop) but restaurants that are prix fixe are automatically disqualified (Per Se is on the list because I have to see that space); as are sushi restaurants or other primarily ethnic restaurants.

My list of compelling lounges to visit can use some editing as well so any feedback is greatly appreciated!


2.Bar Blanc
3.L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon
4.Gramercy Tavern
6.La Pizza Fresca Ristorante (Una is closed)
7.Bar Boulud
8.DB Bistro Moderne
9.Momofuku Ssam Bar
12.Upstairs at Bouley
14.Casa Mono
16.The Spotted Pig
17.Jean Georges
19.Blue Ribbon Brasserie 97 Sullivan St -
23.Per Se
25.Eleven Madison Park

1.Pegu Club
2.Employees Only
3.Please Don't Tell
4.Death and Co.
5.Angel's share
6.Little branch
7.Flatiron Lounge
9.East Side Company
10.Stanton Social
11.Bar 89
12.merc bar
14.Fun - Under the Manhattan bridge.
15.Remote Lounge -
16.Idlewild - Shaped like an airplane.
17.Milk & Honey - "Private Bar".
18.Burp Palace - Bartenders are Monks. Serves hundreds of beers.
19.Chibi's - Sake bar.
20.Chez Es Saada - Moroccan
21.ñ - Small tapas bar.

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  1. Based on food alone, I would nix Pastis, Balthazar and Buddakan. I don't think their food is in the class of places like EMP, JG, Per Se, Babbo, etc...

    2 Replies
    1. re: tpigeon

      Normally, I'd agree with you. But I think the OP is taking this trip from a different perspective. EMP, JG are different type of restaurants than Pastis or Buddakan. I would definitely do Buddakan. I would drop either Pastis or Balthazar -- but I think it's good to do one. I'm leaning towards Balthazar because the ambiance is warmer and the food is better. Even though Artisanal is a French brasserie, you should still check it out for its cheese cave.

      I'd also choose between Craft and Hearth, leaning towards Craft. You may also want to check out The Modern, at least for a drink.

      You may also want to check out Prune for food only. I don't think the atmosphere is something you're looking for. But the food is very unique. Not always my type of thing, but it's a big favorite with a lot of chefs and foodies.

      1. re: tpigeon

        I know I'm late the the party, but I completely agree with tpigeon and cross Pastis, Balthazar and Buddakan off the list. I think I'd probably also exclude The Spotted Pig (eh...what's the fuss?).

      2. If you want to venture outside of manhattan for lounges, you should add Clover Club in Brooklyn on Smith St (some of the same owners as Pegu) and Deity on Atlantic Ave. in Brooklyn.

        I'd add Cru to restaurants. Falai too.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Nehna

          Oh you might add Matsugen, JGV's new Soba restaurant in Tribeca. We're going for the first time on saturday. Bruni gave it a very strong write up this week. And I've been craving house made Soba ever since Honmura An closed up. So fingers crossed on the replacement.

        2. 4.Gramercy Tavern

          The formal dining room's food is more impressive than the casual Tavern Room. It's a very popular restaurant, but a little bit less popular for lunch than for dinner. Note that the formal dining room does not serve lunch on weekends. I'd try to make a reservation for dinner here ASAP if you want to get the optimal GT experience.

          8.DB Bistro Moderne

          I like db bistro moderne a lot but if you're a tourist mainly for food, I'd say skip it. However, if you're in the neighborhood (midtown, Times Square, Theater District), it is a good choice.

          9.Momofuku Ssam Bar

          Great choice and one of my favorites. Solo dining is quite easy here as the majority of seating is counter seating. Go for dinner, not lunch. Dinner has a nicer buzz, the menu is more expansive.
          14.Casa Mono

          I believe they are open for weekend lunch and it is less crazy crowded then.

          16.The Spotted Pig

          I'd definitely hit the SP on a weekday lunch. Less insanely crowded.


          Portion sizes are pretty large here unless you get the tasting menu, BTW. Might be difficult for a solo diner. And they recently stopped their lunch service. :(

          19.Blue Ribbon Brasserie

          It's a really popular restaurant, but if you can snag a bar seat, you can dine at the bar, BTW.

          For lounges, if you are a cocktail nerd (like me), M&H, PDT, and D&C are a must. Sit at the bar. Tailor is nice too but really loud and crowded on weekend nights. I usually want to talk to a bartender and it's hard when they're slammed with Grey Goose and tonic orders. Angel's Share is nice, too, but the drinks are on the sweet side. Have you thought about B Flat or Brandy Library? Oh, and Burp Castle is really fun -- lots of beers, no music, and you can also pop into Jimmy's No. 43 next door for more obscure beers and some nice gastropub food (try the head cheese). Spitzer's Corner and DBA also have a good selection of beers, and Spitzer's Corner recently got a new chef. The new menu seems much more ambitious than the old one. It's now Wayne Nish (March) doing the food. For sake, what about Sakagura? Oh, and the former Jimmy's No. 43 chef is now doing food at Pegu Club, my friends tell me he's doing fantastic stuff, but I haven't tried the new menu yet. BTW, Remote Lounge has closed, and Bowery Electric has opened in its place. For wine bars, try 'inoteca or Gottino or Terroir....

          1. The Campbell Apartment at Grand Central Terminal..best lounge in NYC!

            3 Replies
            1. re: Beach Chick

              Great atmosphere, note that it's a little awkward to get to (I found the entrance confusing if you're coming from the big hall). Also there's live jazz and something like a 2 drink minimum on weekend nights. The drinks are definitely on the sweet side, too.

              1. re: kathryn

                After taping a show earlier that day and we all had our party hats on and our driver dropped us off in front of GC and being a San Diego gal, I just thought it would be inside..we walked all over for about a half hour, before asking someone and the directions were still confusing..there really is no sign and its on the outside of the building tucked in the back..a true gem that I'm so glad we found..
                Love NYC!

              2. re: Beach Chick

                I like the Campbell Apartment, but I have to respectfully disagree with Beach Chick. Not even close to the best lounge in NYC. It's generally over-crowded, over-priced for the drinks offered and way too loud to have a decent conversation. It's fine to meet for a quick drink early in the evening on a weeknight before heading home and the space is nice, but otherwise, nothing special.

              3. I've been to 11 of the restaurants on your list (1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 11, 15, 17, 20, 21, and 25)so I can't comment on the others, but I would say you definitely should NOT drop Degustation, Bar Blanc, Scarpetta, Babbo, Jean-Georges, Picholine, EMP. If you are going to EMP, I would skip GT I would also skip Artisanal.

                2 Replies
                1. re: rrems

                  Agree with skipping Artisinal for the food; it would be worth some time to stop by the cheese cave and get a sample there, but as far as their other food, I was not very impressed.
                  While it seems you wanted more editing than adding, one other neat genre of restaurant to go to would be the wine/panini pairings, such as at Bar Milano (which purportedly started the craze) or at 'ino. Intimate atmosphere, excellent pairings of cured meats with other ingredients.
                  As re the lounge list, I would say M&H, Death and Co are relatively similar, but if you can hit up both it's well worth it, both are fantastic. PDT is a fun concept and worth a stop, and test out ordering something from Crif Dogs while you're there; it's fun to see how there's a little door through which the food is delivered from one side to the other. Have not been to little branch but have heard that on wkends it becomes hectic and a bit frat-tastic; I would check it out during the week if possible to try and avoid.
                  Enjoy, and hope to see a post following your visit on your thoughts!!

                  1. re: orthorunner

                    "my upcoming 5 day trip 8/19 – 8/24"

                    It appears that the OP has long come and gone....

                2. I need to get out more since I have only been to 1,3, 4, 21, 22, 24 on your list. I don't do lounges. You might want to check out the physical desgin of Rayuela's bar and restaurant (Lower East Side, Allen near Delancey). While downtown you could dine at Falai (sadly missing from your list, on Clinton Street) and walk over to Bacaro (on Division at the end of Orchard) to check out their physical space. Artisanal, Pastis, Balthazar are all French bistro types - pick one or drop them all.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: financialdistrictresident

                    Yes, I'd go to Balthazar over Pastis. My reason for going to Artisanal would be to check out the cheese plate and their wonderful lists of wines by the glass.

                  2. 20.Chez Es Saada - Moroccan has been closed for years.

                    I would add, just from a design perspective, one of the AvroKO spaces: Public. You really could just walk in and walk out. I don't think you have anything on your list from thatarea of the City, Nolita.

                    1. I've actually never heard of Fun (lounge #14 on your list). What/where is it?

                      1. i believe that idlewild, fun, and chez es saada are all closed.

                        1. 3.L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon - Absolutely go for the food at the bar, the ambiance in the dining area is a little too "Hotel Lobby" for me.
                          4.Gramercy Tavern - Absolutely go for the food, service & Ambiance
                          6.La Pizza Fresca Ristorante - While Una is a must-visit, and La Pizza Fresca is good, I wouldn't say it's a 'must visit'. Outside the Neopolatin-style pizza, there's little that separates LPF from other mid-range italian options in terms of food/ service & atmosphere.
                          12.Upstairs at Bouley - Absolutely go for the food and ambiance
                          14.Casa Mono - Absolutely go for the food and wine - just phenomenal all around.
                          15.Babbo - Personally I don't get it - I think it's just something about me, so I can't recommend it. But I don't want to dissuade you from going since many people really enjoy it, and it would be good for your research.
                          16.The Spotted Pig - Absolutely go for the food.
                          17.Jean Georges - Absolutely go for the food & Service - interiors are very french/modern.
                          18.Craft- Absolutely go for the interiors - foods good enough.
                          19.Blue Ribbon Brasserie 97 Sullivan St - Absolutely go for the food (bone marrow in particular) and the atmosphere. This is one of those places that gets better as the evening ages.
                          21.Artisanal - Absolutely go for the atmosphere, wine list & cheese cave.
                          22.Pastis- slightly edges out Balthazar for a great brasserie I don't think you need to go to both unless you're comparing/constrasting styles.
                          23.Per Se - No question
                          24.Balthazar - See Pastis, unless you're interested in comparing two different takes on the brasserie, then I don't think you need to go to both.
                          25.Eleven Madison Park - absolutely go for the food, service and atmosphere. I also recommend having a drink at the bar.

                          1. Thanks very much for all of the specific feedback hounds; I think you have saved me 6-8 hours and at least a couple of hundred dollars :)

                            1. I'm fairly new to NY so don't have the depth that other 'hounds do, but...

                              I'd ditch:

                              8.DB Bistro Moderne

                              I'm on the fence with:
                              16.The Spotted Pig - food is hit or miss, tho' I've had great service

                              I usually go during late Sat. afternoons with no wait and a nice seat at the bar:
                              14.Casa Mono

                              Near Death & Company is EU - it might be worth a peek in at the space, which is lovely and they maintain it very well.

                              1. Not a bad list, but I wonder how many of those you'll be able to get into if you left it this late to make reservations?

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Wilfrid

                                  I think you can get a seat at the bar at Babbo.

                                  1. re: Wilfrid

                                    I have a feeling that the OP will be doing a lot of bar eating. This trip is more for research as opposed to him/her enjoying a meal. As the OP will just be eating only one thing per restaurant (with the exception of Per Se), I can see a lot of restaurants refusing to have him/her sit at a dining table unless it's an off-hour or something.

                                  2. I have been trying to book Scarpetta with no luck so that may be difficult. Buddakan is a fun space, but you are better just going for a drink there. I would pick Lupa for food over Babbo. You might want to add Allen and Delancy to the list as well as JoJo (on the upper east side). Park Avenue Summer is also another option. I have been to most of the restaurants on your list and they are great picks. Also might want to try a drink downstairs at Bond Street for a nice lounge.

                                    1. LOUNGE SKIP LIST:
                                      7, 12, 13, 14 (closed as mentioned), 15, 16 (now an extremely cheesy bar white rabbit), 21 (surely there's a better tapas replacement but, I haven't really had any amazing places worth recommending).

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: bigjeff

                                        red cat - the best restaurant of its type (i.e. mod casual american) in the city
                                        lure - fab seafood, fab decor, fab service
                                        tia pol/quinto pino - very authentic, very delicious, quirky spanish tapas

                                      2. Babbo and Craft (specially) are musts.