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Aug 28, 2008 08:35 PM

Downtowner Hits in the West 60's/70's...Suggestions Welcome

Backstory: for seven years i lived in Union Sq and i was a pretty hardcore downtown snob (foodwise and also just in general)...while i'd venture all over town and in all price ranges, i tended to denigrate the vibe/food quality uptown, particularly on the UWS...

But now, after a year roaming in Asia, it seems like i may be esconced in the greater Lincoln Center area for a few months...i'm oddly jubilant about it, and have quickly shed my downtown snobbery and am ready to embrace my new hood...*smiles*...

in the past i've occasionally housesat by CPW/90's so i know that area fairly well...but i don't know too much about places from say W.59th to W.80th...

i've been to 'Cesca (liked it a lot, w/ a few caveats), Picholine (loved it but haven't been there post-renovation), Enoteca Barbito (sp? -- seems good based on a brief stop there), and Landmarc (like the half-bottles of wine)...

I'm interested in all cuisines and all price ranges...but particularly French bistros, tapas, cozy/comfy/loungey bars, wine bars, coffeehouses, and spicy food of all kinds...

For reference, some of my fav downtown spots are: Lucien, n33, Balthazar, Ushi Wakamaru, Cafe Mogador, La Nacional, Von, Cacio e Vino, Fanelli, Casa Mono, Il Giglio, Great NY Noodletown, Odeon, Uminoie, Angel's Share...

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  1. Cafe Luxembourg at 70th and Amsterdam for good neighborhood French. Bar Boulud at 63rd and Broadway- I like sitting at the bar and casually mixing and matching items without necessarily committing to a full meal (but gets packed before an event at Lincoln Center). Frozen Pomegranate Margaritas and guacamole made table side (they will make it extra spicy if you request) at Rosa Mexicano at 62nd and Columbus (also prefer bar here vs. a table). I like to order-in Chinese from Shun Lee (get the chicken with 5 nuts). Loved Dovetail last time I went. Bin 71 is a nice wine bar for a weekend afternoon, but gets packed at night. Haven't found tapas that compare to downtown or even a great independent coffee house near Lincoln Center- so eager to hear what others suggest!

    2 Replies
    1. re: PurpleEats

      cool...maybe Cafe Luxembourg will become my local version of Balthazar...will try Bin 71 too...thanks!

      1. re: PurpleEats

        Tried Cafe Lux...i thought it was a mixed branzino w/ sauce vierge was excellent, but i thought it was a bit pricey at 28 bucks (i.e. a comparable dish: the trout w/ warm salad at Balthazar, is about 2/3rd the price)...the other things i wasn't thrilled with were the wine list (no French reds by the glass? -- just Italian, Chilean, etc, which is odd/bad for a French bistro) and the lighting (grim and grey)...but the bar is a fairly pleasant place to eat, and i'm sure i'll return at some point for some oysters or something...

      2. yup, eating up here is tough. i venture downtown a lot and there are several good places north of W96.

        but here are some places you may like. i tried to include recommendations serving your preferred cuisines, and i also attempted to stay within your stated nabe range but may have wandered a couple of blocks north of W80.

        let us know how these work out for you. btw, i love really spicy food but it's really hard to find up here within the typical mex, thai, vietnamese, indian restaurants.
        having just returned from asia, you will struggle to find anything up here that will come remotely close to meeting your spice needs.

        ouest - more upscale

        cafe ronda - tapas

        wine and roses - wine bar. i would have recommended enoteca but notice you've been there

        earthen oven - really good indian. might meet your need for spice

        edgar's - coffeehouse

        blondie's - comfy bar with the best UWS wings

        betolla - really cute place and decent italian

        good enough to eat - comfy and good for breakfast ... when it isn't too crowded

        telepan - more upscale

        arte around the corner ***** - really cute place for wine, coffee, desserts and finger food

        dovetail - more upscale

        chai thai - ok it is 4 blocks south of your range but this may be the only spicy place we have within several miles... and only if you ask for it. the food here is good.

        burger joint in le meridian hotel - W57

        lots of people also like barney greengrass for breakfast. manhattan diner is good diner food open 24 hrs.

        let us know what works out for you and welcome to the nabe.

        9 Replies
        1. re: nativeNYer

          thanks for all ronda looks good...will also hit wine&roses and arte...

          where is Chai Thai?...i don't like any Thai restaurants in Manhattan, regardless of neighborhood, but occassionally if i have a chat in Thai w/ the chef before i order, i can get something that's solid (Prem-On downtown is like that).

          1. re: Simon

            chai is on 8th avenue near W55. although it is one of the better thai restaurants in the nabe, i typically go downtown to jaiya for my spicy thai fix, and even that place varies depending on who is in the kitchen on a given day. although chai isn't at all authentic, it does seem less americanized than the other thai restaurants on the UWS and along 9th Ave, south of W60th. i've also found that they are unafraid to add lots of spice and the quality of the food is good. i believe that it is the type of place where you'd have easy access to the chef b/c they seem eager to please and are friendly.

            please keep in mind, though, my opinions re thai food are based solely on my visits to lots of thai restaurants throughout manhattan (and several other cites) but (unfortunately) i have not yet been to asia and did not grow up eating asian food. so what do i know? probably not a whole lot but i am not at all surprised you stay away from thai here. i will have to try prem-on.

            i'd love to hear your comments (re thai and otherwise) once you've had a few weeks to wander around these parts. enjoy!

            1. re: nativeNYer

              Hi. Prem-On is a very pleasant place w/ soft lighting on Houston near Sullivan. The regular menu is just okay and sometimes gussied up a bit for American/fusion tastes with specials that are slightly pricier than the regular menu. It's a popular place for dates and small groups but i've only eaten at the bar. Prices are pretty low given the nice setting and Soho-adjacent location. I usually order the same thing: chicken w/ cashews made w/ tons of chili paste, extra-spicy, Thai-style ("gai pad med ma-muang gap nam prik daeng, peet maak maak, jing jing beep-khon-thai"). Zaab City on 13th St is ok too, but only for the Isaan dishes like laab moo (ground pork salad) and somdam (green papaya salad).

              For anything else, i head to Queens.

              I did try two Thai places this past month on the high-UWS. One night i ate at the bar at Charm Thai (Columbus at 95th or 96th?). The laab gai (ground chicken salad) was decent, but the somdam was inedible and was prepared in the exact opposite of the way i'd requested it. I actually sent it back w/ a sweet smile (while praising the laab as delicious and telling them how happy i was overall -- that's how you complain in Thai).

              I also got a random order to go from a place on Broadway/101 called Sura, i think. Nice staff but the food tasted more like random NY Chinese food than Thai cooking. Will report back if i find anything noteworthy in the area. Occassionally one can get lucky and find a great chef in an otherwise bland restaurant, who is delighted to cook up some real stuff. I had a chef in Vancouver tell me: "Great! I'll cook a double order and eat the second portion for my own dinner!".

              1. re: Simon

                i loved the last sentence of your email. yup, that's so great and i would have been smiling all day.

                are you referring to sookk on W101? i think sura is a korean restaurant in the east village. i've tried both sookk and charm. had the same experience at sookk but charm was considerably better. i had begun to recommend charm to you (along with thai market near columbia's main campus) but wound up deleting those sentences once i noticed your comment about nyc thai.

                i've heard lots about zaab but haven't tried it yet. i did try Sripraphai in Woodside earlier this month but wound up disappointed, very surprisingly so. we had the bbq beef with chili and mint as an appetizer. we then shared one of the specials of the day (if only i can remember the dish!) and the pad thai. it all seemed very one-dimensional to me. i was waiting for a great burst of flavors but didn't quite get it. i couldn't help but wonder if they dummy down the spice and flavors for americans who they think may not like the dish otherwise b/c, judging from their reviews, we know they can cook. my friend, who is indian, tried it a few weeks before i did with her family and they were blown away. i just found it dull but it could have been our choices.

                1. re: nativeNYer

                  non sequitor (from Thai food): thanks for the Arte Around the Corner rec -- went there for a late lunch: cute place...the glass of Nero D'Avolo i had was luscious, even though i'm not usually into Italian wine, and the crabcake salad hit the spot...(i'm actually there right now w/ laptop, so this is sort of a live-podcast-from-the-scene chowhound review)...

                  re: Sripraphai, the one thing that is not-good is the pad-thai...and i think they may have toned down some spice since the renovation and foodie-fame...but i've never had a bad meal there...haven't been in a while but i used to always get the southern-style curry (which is the hottest thing on the menu and which they'll warn you against ordering), the duck salad or watercress salad, and garlic pork (which is not a spicy dish but is a nice counterpoint to some spicy seafood)...

                  I might have the name wrong on the Sura (sp?) place: it was literally a random takeout Thai craving stop as i was walking's BYOB, tiny, and dark, and possibly new?...on the east side of Broadway...

                  1. re: Simon

                    glad arte ATC worked for you. it is a great spot, and i can't believe i forgot to mention the free WiFi.

                    i passed by sura today so, yup, my apologies; it sure does exist right where you said you saw it. i can't find a single listing of this place on the web, though. sookk is one block north (W102 and W103), same side of broadway.

                    i'll have to give Sripraphai another try. we were running late the day we stopped by so we'll be back when we have more time. oh, is pad-thai typically prepared with crushed chili peppers? i think this is what draws me into Jaiya but i've never seen it prepared with chili peppers elsewhere.

                    1. re: nativeNYer

                      hi...normal pad-thai doesn't have crushed chili peppers (not that i have any particular objection to adding them)...i eat the dish very rarely though so i am not the best one to compare various versions 'round favorite Thai things are the Isaan dishes, Chiang Mai dishes, and some of the very spicy southern stuff...

                      i tried Cafe first i considered going to Cafe Luxembough, as i felt like eating oysters, but at 5pm, CafeLux seemed pretty dreary...the lighting was gave everything a grey flourescent cast...i'll def go back at a better hour (late at night?) but at 5pm on a Saturday it screamed ran off to Ronda...

                      i give Ronda about a hit the spot, in that it was a comfy and rustic place to snack and drink red wine...the hostess acted sort of jaded/annoying, but the server Miguel was a cheerful welcoming dude...the best dish was the lamb abondigas...gambas were adequate...caesar was underdressed and wilty but it had the right idea (i.e. at least it wasn't creamy)...while none of the wine i sampled was bad, i found the selection surprisngly weak for a tapas place...overall: a decent neighborhood option: am glad i have it in my back-pocket of snacking/drinking options: i'd surely return but wouldn't rush back...looking forward to trying the rest (Bin 71, Wine&Roses, CafeLux, etc)...

                      1. re: Simon

                        having so many problems with this site for several weeks. my reply just wouldn't transmit yesterday after more than 5 tries on my blackberry, and now it is lost.

                        anyway, just quickly, ronda is exactly as you have described. the service and food can either be really bad or great. it's sort of sad as it shows promise, and if they just got the hint, they could probably work out these kinks. oh well...

                        arte around the corner is the best of those i mentioned for light fare with an atmosphere. i haven't tried sol and sambra but that's about it up here for tapas/wine aside from what has already been mentioned.

                        1. re: Simon

                          simon, sook has chiang mai dishes on the menu. based on my one dining experience there, though, it's not very good. the ingredients were all noticeably high quality, but somehow nothing really came together well. if you haven't tried thai market, you should. it's the best thai in the area (or a little beyond on 107th, actually). the noodle dishes are not as strong as other menu offerings, in particular the appetizers and grilled items.

          2. If you feel like going back to Picholine, you should go on their website first to get your 50$ gift card. You just have to enter your name and address and they send it to you by mail. I received mine the week after I entered on the website. They are pretty quick.

            I have been to Bar Boulud a couple of months ago and loved their steak tartare.

            You could try Blue Ribbon in the 6 Columbus hotel. It is a nice restaurant.

            1. I am living at 89th and Columbus temporarily and have been investigating the Upper West Side culinary scene. I reside in Miami and have eaten in fine and not so fine restaurants in the USA and Europe. I wanted to add some places that I enjoy and do not get mentioned on Chowhound.

              After a movie, I tried Vince and Eddie's at 70 W. 68th St. which has been there for 20 years. Ate in the back room which has a fireplace and lots of windows for plenty of light. Very good roasted salmon in a parsley sauce. La Mirabelle is a French bistro at 102 W. 86th St. As soon as I walked in, I liked it from the charming and welcoming French hostess to the ambiance and the classic French menu. Very good duck with Mirabelle plum sauce. Even the waitress, Danielle, was French. Much better than Le Refuge on the UES. Nothing cutting edge about the menu. Just the classics. La Mirabelle reminded me of many bistros where I have eaten in France. I also want to mention Lisca at 660 Amsterdam between 92nd and 93rd. Good neighborhood Italian with a chef from Milan.

              After having done extensive research on Chowhound and other websites, I "stumbled upon" these three restaurants and hope that you will try them. I want to thank all posters to Chowhound for helping me to discover non Zagat or Michelin places. If you need recs in Miami, I am happy to help.

              2 Replies
              1. re: rebus1805

                thanks...the Vince&Eddie's review is especially good news as it is highly local for me...

                1. re: Simon

                  i don't love vince and eddies, personally, but the liver served with sauteed onions and bacon really is good -- if you like liver!

              2. i'm going to reiterate some suggestions:

                1. bar boulud (best new addition to the area, IMO; i've eaten through the charcuterie menu and moving on to main courses, now; everything i've had has been excellent)

                2. ouest (it's actually fairly bistro-y in feel)

                3. spiga (new italian; you might like it for the more innovative offerings and laid back vibe; pretty decent wines by the glass these days)

                4. pasha is good for turkish tapas

                5. hanafins is my favorite late-night sort-of-diner; the quality of the food is waaaay better than you'll find at most diners

                6. kefi is good for greek tapas

                7. the food at josie's is crap IMHO, but the cocktails are great. it might be a nice place to go just for drinks.

                8. georgia's bake shop is good for desserts, coffee and outdoor lounging during the day; they don't stay open late.

                9. cafe mozart -- i'm not really that fond of their overly sweet desserts, but it is a nice place to lounge and sip some so-so wine or coffee.

                10. hampton chutney -- you may know the downtown location in soho on prince st. in case you don't, it's a south indian fusion cafe that serves dosa filled with non-traditional fillings (arugula and goat cheese are common ones) and non traditional chutneys on the side. great ginger iced tea this time of year.

                11. bouchon bakery in twc, of course, for french bistro fare

                you know to go south to hell's kitchen for asian and mexican, i think, and about shimizu? it's hit or miss, even with omakase. but it's loads better than anything between 59th and 80th. and you might get along well enough with shimizu san that he sources you the better cuts.

                evelyn lounge might be the closest thing you'll find to angel's share...

                300 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10023

                2315 Broadway, New York, NY 10024

                505 Columbus Avenue, New York, NY 10024

                200 W 84th St, New York, NY 10024

                70 West 71st Street, New York, NY 10023

                Georgia's Cafe and Bakery
                2418 Broadway, New York, NY 10024

                Bar Boulud
                1900 Broadway, New York, NY 10023

                2286 Broadway, New York, NY 10024

                4 Replies
                1. re: cimui

                  thanks for the recap...Bar Boulud and Kefi are the probably the two that i will try first...

                  Will prob make it to Shimizu at some point too...Ushi Wakamaru is my go-to sushi place...have heard that Shimizu is great for sushi but not as good for sashimi, which is one of the reasons i haven't gotten around to trying it in the past...

                  1. re: Simon

                    >>Shimizu is great for sushi but not as good for sashimi

                    I think that's accurate, though what Shimizu san serves is about on par with what you get at Ushi when you don't sit in front of Hideo san.

                  2. re: cimui

                    believe it or not, cafe mozart is gone.

                    i was never a big fan of anything they served but, as you said, it was a nice place to lounge. although i haven't been there in over 4 years, it is kind of sad because it was a unique place that seemed to have been there for years.

                    1. re: nativeNYer

                      oh wow, that is hard to believe. where else are the julliard students going to perform in the evenings??

                      i have such great memories of cafe mozart. my big sister took me for the first time around 10 years ago when i was still in college. i thought the mud pie was the most amazing dessert ever! (times have changed.)

                      thank you for letting me know, native.