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Mar 16, 2009 08:50 PM

A week in Manhattan - please help us make the most of it

My husband and I will be visiting from San Francisco for a full week. Staying on the Upper East Side, but willing to travel for a memorable meal.

We love smaller, chef-driven restaurants in SF that serve seasonal/authentic food at not-outrageous prices (Range, Firefly, La Ciccia, Woodward's Garden, etc.) and hope to find some of their counterparts in New York. We'd like dinners to average under $150 for two with inexpensive wine (and no dessert, unless it's a prix fixe.) Far more interested in great food than a hipster scene, and strongly prefer places where we can reserve.

May go to two shows at the Village Vanguard, so it would be great if we had two worthwhile spots within reasonable walking distance.

Here's what I'm thinking so far. Which seems a bit Italian-heavy; which should I eliminate?

Jean Georges
Katz's, as part of the infamous LES Food Excursion.
Will walk the Brooklyn Bridge one day - Grimaldi's, or??
Gramercy Tavern (Tavern side)

Smith's (don't see much mention of it here, but like look of the menu and space)
WD-50 (probably not the tasting menu)

Thanks in advance for your thoughts and suggestions.

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  1. As someone who's visited SF several times and knows what kinds of places you're talking about even though I haven't been to those specific restaurants, I think both Kefi and Lupa should be on your list. They use excellent, fresh ingredients and make consistently delicious food. I haven't been to most of the other places, so I can't tell you which ones you should eliminate. Katz's is obviously a unique experience. I'm thinking you would probably appreciate Giorgione in the western reaches of Soho, though that's another Italian place. I'll try to think of some other ideas for you.

    1. Grimaldi's was pretty awful the last few times I went. You could get off the bridge at your first opportunity, walk to the Clark St stop and take the 2/3 a few stops to go to Franny's for pizza, which is probably the kind of restaurant you're looking for. It is not an old-timey Brooklyn place though.

      Dovetail is probably the worst of the many restaurants that Frank Bruni gave three stars to for no reason.

      I wholeheartedly recommend WD-50. The foie, duck and beef dishes are probably my favorites. I also like the tasting menu, and the have a half price wine deal that softens the cost.

      Look into Blue Hill, although that and WD-50 might be too much.

      6 Replies
      1. re: brooklyndude

        Franny's makes a lot of sense for San Franciscans who like cuisine based on fresh, seasonal ingredients. Blue Hill is very expensive, though, which is why I didn't mention it.

        1. re: Pan

          I think that some entrees are in the low 30's, so you could come in near 150 if you are careful.

          It is exactly what they are looking for otherwise though, and definitely uses some of the best ingredients anywhere.

          1. re: Pan

            Ditto - a lot of the restaurants of that caliber are going to be out of price range... Actually I'm not sure you're going to be able to do a lot of the organic/farm-to-table/seasonal places for $150 for two (and have wine), given tax (8.375%) and tip (20%).

            1. re: kathryn

              Sorry if I was unclear; that $150-ish goal was for the bill itself. So including tax, maybe, but not tip.

              We'll each get a main course, but often share one appetizer and rarely have dessert. So hopefully that will help us to keep things more or less within budget. This trip is a birthday gift for my husband and we got a fantastic deal on the hotel, so as I said, we can stretch to about $200 on at least a few evenings.

              1. re: dolcevita_sf

                I would suggest you consider Allegretti. Definitely a chef-driven restaurant, where Chef Alain Allegretti is puttin out superb Provencal-style French cuisine. Service is cordial and professional, and the space has lovely, romantic ambiance. Whether or not you share an appetizer and skip dessert, you can easily meet your budget, especially with a ceiling of $200.


          2. re: brooklyndude

            I have to agree about Dovetail. I just don't get the hype.

          3. Lunch:
            Agree w/ Katz's. In addition to Grimaldi's for "walking the bridge" options, I would also suggest looking at: The Bridge Cafe and Peter Luger.

            Not sure that you can dine for $150 for 2 people with some of the places you mentioned. What are some of your "must have/try" cuisines when you're here, besides Italian? Thanks.


            27 Replies
            1. re: LeahBaila

              Thanks for the feedback thus far!

              $150 for dinner is an average target; we can go to about $200 if it's really worthwhile, and I assume we'll get off more cheaply at a couple of places (like Kefi) to make up for it.

              Forgot to mention that we'll be there in May. Where do you suggest for dinner on Mother's Day that would be less likely to be full of families celebrating same?

              Hoping that some of the deals will still be happening by then.

              We're open to virtually any kind of food - we like everything: French, Indian, Spanish, Greek, a good burger. Was planning to skip Chinese/Thai/Vietnamese, since it is cheap and good here. Not big enough steak fans to be willing to pay for a high-end steakhouse.

              Other thoughts not on my original list:
              Oysters at Grand Central Oyster Bar (lunch)

              1. re: dolcevita_sf

                Since you haven't been to Grimaldis, walking the bridge itself will make the experience. You could take the train and walk back to save some time. For dinner Degustation is very good and although no reservations taken if you go early you could sit at the bar at Babbo.Brunch or lunch at Baltazar and lunch at Schillers or for mideast Moustachepitza. Good luck

                1. re: mick

                  I'd highly second Degustation. Their food is truly amazing and, depending on what you order, you can walk out of there spending $150 or less with a bottle of their cheaper wine. To me, Degustation is a must.

                  1. re: Taylor.Watson

                    Degustation is very good . Not sure I would call it amazing. Last time I went to Degustation desserts were not their forte. Perhaps another hound who has been more recently can let you know whether that is still the case.

                    I agree with other hounds about Convivio and Dovetail (to be fair my experience was last year).

                    Really enjoyed Lupa, reservations can be challenging.

                    1. re: financialdistrictresident

                      I don't think I had a dessert when I was there, but I thought their main dishes were really, really good.

                      1. re: financialdistrictresident

                        The dessert I had there at a recent 10-course tasting menu was FANTASTIC, but I paid $200 plus tax and tip for 2 people. The 10-course tasting menu is $75 w/o wine; the 5-course is $50 w/o wine. My meal there was the best I've had in several years, and yes, I would call the place "amazing."

                        1. re: Pan

                          Thanks, Pan. We must get back to Degustation again. We preferred the cheese platter to the dessert. The last time we went it was very good, some surprises but not in the same league as Robuchon or Falai. What was the dessert?

                          1. re: financialdistrictresident

                            Brioche soaked (overnight, I think the waitress said) in cream, sprinkled with sugar, blowtorched to caramelize, and served with slices of orange and pink grapefruit. We were comped half-glasses of a somewhat dry muscatel with the dessert, which further added to the wonderful sweet/sour contrast.

                  2. re: dolcevita_sf

                    I know you said you aren't big steak eaters, but don't let the name "Peter Luger Steakhouse" deter you from heading there for lunch and ordering the best burger you've ever had! Paired with an order of homemade onion just can't beat it.
                    May, IMO, is the most beautiful month in NYC. You couldn't have picked a better time! Perhaps al-fresco dining on Mother's Day would be nice? You may want to look in to: Barbuto.
                    For Greek, I love Pylos, though I've heard wonderful things about Kefi.


                    1. re: LeahBaila

                      Kefi is much better than Pylos - much more consistently delicious and FRESH. And it's cheaper!

                      1. re: Pan

                        Complete 180 degree turn with you. Loved Pylos, really disliked Kefi, Anthos as well, maybe that group does not work for me. The moussaka at Pylos was stand up and applaud great.
                        Peter Luger for burgers is super. Grand Central Oyster is still one of the neatest places in the city.
                        Ippudo for noodles
                        One of Batali's places and Lupa is very worthy
                        YASUDA for sushi as well.
                        Fette Sau in Brooklyn was excellent BBQ
                        For high level Chantarelle is superb

                        1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                          Chacun a son gout in terms of the taste of the food, and I do like the moussaka at Pylos (though I prefer their pastitsio), but the fact that I've been served fish unfresh enough to feel the need to send it back at Pylos (though in my experience, that's not a normal occurrence) and have never been served anything not perfectly fresh at Kefi is to me an objective piece of data.

                    2. re: dolcevita_sf

                      You can definitely do Hearth for $150 for two without dessert. It also fits your "seasonal" request.

                      1. re: kathryn

                        But why would you want to skip dessert there? I've always really enjoyed dessert there.

                        1. re: Pan

                          OP specified "no dessert, unless it's a prix fixe"! But I do agree with you. Skipping out on something like their apple cider donuts would be a crime.

                      2. re: dolcevita_sf

                        I've been following this thread with interest as an occasional visitor to NYC. As such, I can't comment with with great authority, but will offer a few humble opinions.

                        We decided to take a train to Brooklyn and walk *back*. Nothing against Brooklyn, just that the classic Manhatten skyline was in our forefront (not over our shoulder) the entire way. Also ate lunch in Chinatown, on foot, after arriving - but I'm thinking, San Fran vs NYC chinatown...meh.
                        Whichever way, stay on the appropriate walkway - Ive seen 40mph bicyclists screaming at dumb tourists to get outta their way.
                        Grimaldis is a landmark and a nice spot. Depending who you speak to, their pizza is great or mediocre. I think you should stop in and enjoy, even if just to compare to other pizza joints.

                        Grand Central Oyster Bar is a great place. You can snack on a chowder and oysters or have a full blown meal. I'd suggest sitting at the oyster bar (they have a cafeteria style dining room as well as a classier back room) if you like watching the action.
                        Also in Grand Central is Juniors. They're originally from Brooklyn, famous for cheesecake, and have a small outlet there.

                        We had a great time and great food at Babbos.

                        Oh yeah, you might just get away with $150 at Katz's, but it'll be tight. Kidding aside, it is rather expensive, >$20/person for a sandwich, fry and a coke. But its NY and its Katz's, I know, you gotta do it...

                        I will say, for basic, cheapie lunches, there are many deli style places that offer a great assortment of hot and cold buffet styles.

                        Have fun, GL!

                        1. re: porker

                          As good as Katz's is, you should probably share a sandwich considering you mentioned interest in the LES tour and there are so many cool/great places in the area that you wouldn't want to be too full to miss.

                          1. re: ian9139

                            Good idear, I took a brief look at a recent LES tour thread.
                            Like I say, I'm tentative to suggest Chinatown to someone from San Fransisco, but I love Chinatowns anywhere I go.
                            I think it was on Mott or Mulberry north of Canal towards Little Italy. There was a Chinese 1 item 2.99, 2 item 3.99, 4 item 4.99 etc etc. There are other places like this, but I happened to stop in there.
                            There's nothing like this in Montreal and I thought it was a fantastic snack!
                            Photo1 on the Brooklyn Bridge
                            Photo 2 at the GC Oyster bar. Note the action and the take-out window which passers can order stuff right from the tunnel.

                            1. re: porker

                              I'm familiar with the Bay Area and think that the only real reason to go to a Chinese restaurant in New York if you're from SF is to get Sichuan food, which we do better here - even in Manhattan, most notably at Szechuan Gourmet, on W. 39 St. - than they do there. Cantonese food is very good in the Bay Area, and they have some other types of Chinese food which you can't find here, such as an interesting Muslim Chinese place I went to a couple of years ago or so.

                              1. re: Pan

                                The best Chinese food in the Bay area is in the Bay area - not in San Francisco. San Francisco's Chinatown pales in comparison to NYC's three Chinatowns and it is more expensive. And there is no Fujian cusine.

                                1. re: scoopG

                                  Have you had any really impressive Fuzhounese food in Manhattan? If so, please specify where.

                                  We can't have detailed discussions about the Bay Area here, but due to personal experience, I disagree with your blanket statement about SF Chinatown and have also had excellent dim sum in Millbrae, so the Peninsula has been good to me.

                                  If your suggestion is that it's worthwhile for visitors from the Bay Area to go to Flushing, I would agree, but this is the wrong board to discuss that in detail, too. And I still say, Flushing aside, the best Chinese food we have in New York that's a good deal different from the strengths of the Bay Area is Sichuan. If you know of a Fuzhounese restaurant in Manhattan that's at all comparable to the deliciousness and quality of a place like Szechuan Gourmet, I want to know about it!

                                  1. re: Pan

                                    American East Fuzhou at 54 East Broadway - best decor.
                                    Best Fuzhou at 68 Forsyth (no English menu but 1 English speaking waitress)
                                    Best Fuzhou at 71A Eldridge (occasional smoking patrons aside)

                                    1. re: scoopG

                                      Smoking is a total no-go for me. Is there occasional smoking in any of the other places?

                                      I had a meal at the Best Fuzhou on Eldridge once as part of a large group. Two large tables smoked during the meal. The food was good but I didn't think it was at all comparable in deliciousness to really great meals I've had at places like Szechuan Gourmet or some of the best Cantonese places I've been to (e.g., a meal at Cantoon Garden and meals a few years ago at Congee Village, which may be going downhill).

                                      Are the other places better than Best Fuzhou at Eldridge in deliciousness?

                                      1. re: Pan

                                        No smoking at the other places whatsoever. American East has the best interior decor and the food is excellent. Love their fresh shrimp - which they take live from a tank a quickly cook. I've had some misses at SG - namely lukewarm Cumin Lamb although the last time it was served hot. And their Dan Dan Noodles comes up short - too oily.

                                        1. re: scoopG

                                          I wasn't suggesting that Szechuan Gourmet was perfect, only that it's arguably the best Chinese restaurant in Manhattan, and certainly an excellent restaurant.

                                          I appreciate your recommendations of Fuzhounese restaurants and will definitely try them out.

                                2. re: Pan

                                  Muslim Chinese in SF? Had to have been Old Mandarin Islamic, on Vicente in the Sunset. We were there not too long ago; really enjoyed the hot pot and onion pancake. The Extremely Hot Pepper was tasty, but insanely spicy, even for me.

                                  We're at the point of trying to narrow things down, rather than add to the list. So I think Chinese is out, unless we happen to be passing by Szechuan Gourmet at lunchtime.

                                  1. re: dolcevita_sf

                                    I think that's a reasonable choice. And yes, it was Old Mandarin Islamic.

                      3. It's north of areas you're considering but you could spend a lovely Sunday afternoon near Fort Tryon Park, go to the Cloisters, and have a memorable brunch at New Leaf Cafe. It is part of Bette Midler's NY Restoration Project. The food is very good, and the setting unique and gorgeous (indoor and outdoor patio eating) and smack in the middle of Fort Tryon Park. The #4 bus on Madison Ave. provides an interesting ride directly there or you can take the subway from the west side. You can reserve.

                        1. I've been to Smith's and remember that it was good but nothing memorable. However, they have a special deal going on now - $35 roasted spring chicken for 2 with sides and dessert on Monday and Tuesday nights so that definitely falls within your budget. It would be a shame if you went to WD-50 and didn't get dessert since it's one of the high lights of the restaurant. If you go to Degustation like someone had suggested, you wouldn't need to get dessert and the 5 course tasting menu is only $50 which is within your budget as well.