In NYC... Midtown for 3 (4... but) nights
OK... so I have to attend a family function on a Saturday Night... but will be in NYC on Thurs the 19th... Fri the 20th... and can also dine on Sunday the 22nd.
I'm looking for MUST GO TO places... on a budget. Ideally, like to keep it about $100 and under per person (with some booze) and I may be dining alone. If I am, I do prefer to eat at the bar.
I don't want a list of who's who on the Food Network, Bravo, etc. I'm looking for KICK-A$$... so good that you-might-take-a-bite-out-of-your-finger-while-licking good!
I am a big fan of The French Culinary Institute for lunch and dinner. Food tends to be very nice to quite good and certainly cannot beat the price! Besides, Chef Jacques Pepin may stop by the table and ask how you are doing. I've now met him twice.
I know of places like Blue Ribbon. I haven't been to NYC since '03... so I'm seeking out... just people who do SERIOUS FOOD.
And, I work at a Steakhouse in Chicago... so no steakhouses! The place I work at is a dry-aged emporium and I'm quite sick of beef (ok... if you know of a place that offers some serious braised short rib... I might bite). I want beautiful fish... amazing and hidden gems of Italian magic or French artistry... The best damned Mexican place in NYC! I am VERY open to all cuisine... except Steakhouse!
I am a big fan of lining up 3-4 places and just having an appetizer at each one on a given night... so that is a possibility.
Beautiful fish...well, it's lower-end than the places recommended so far, but Kefi, Columbus Av. between 84th and 85th Sts., sure has beautiful fish. It's a perhaps barely medium-priced Greek restaurant, about $30-35/person for dinner before tip. Literally everything I've eaten there has been excellent.
I certainly appreciate all info thus far. Babbo IS awesome and may make a return to the bar.
No, certainly not dead-set on Mex and in Chicago, I live in Viet/ Thai heaven on Argyle... just looking for really good places where people actually cook. Molecular Gastro isn't my interest at all.
I am staying on 64th btwn 2nd and 3rd. Dunno if that helps to point me into other directions. Can get around NYC pretty well. Very comfortable taking the subway or walking.
You mention wanting "beautiful fish"...
Fishtail, David Burke's new restaurant, is close by where you are staying, on 62nd, b/t Park & Lex. I haven't been, but reports have been favorable.
For delicious modern Mexican cuisine with an emphasis on fish and seafood, I would recommend Pampano, on 49th, b/t 2nd & 3rd.
From your place you could walk to Aquavit; can't remember exactly where but somewhere around 55th, park/madison. Swedish cuisine, with lots of variations on fish, including, of course, pickled. The hot smoked salmon is not to be missed. Other excellent options as well. The cafe is slightly less expensive but still has some fantastic options, and by no means super casual.
momofukus are great with people OR eating alone. (ssam, noodle bar, milk bar)
degustation, if you can get a reservation.
i'd normally recommend wd-50, but you've got alinea and moto in chicago, so there's places which you can do in your hometown.. and that blows your budget.
go to soto in the village for sushi but great other dishes that's within your budget.
re: bob gaj
Ditto -- I would avoid any molecular gastronomy while you're in town, as well as Mexican, Thai.
If you can dine out for lunch, you can easily do Jean-Georges or Eleven Madison Park.
If you've an interest in cocktails, there are lots of places in NYC that share a philosophy with the VIolet Hour, some of them being Flatiron Lounge, Pegu Club, Tailor, Death & Co, PDT, etc.