3 Week Chowfest; Help!!!
LA hound here who literally just flew in this morning for work for the next 2.5 - 3 weeks. I'm scrambling, since this was so last notice (hence the lack of due diligence research that I would normally do), but am looking to experience the best NYC has to offer over the next few weeks.
I'm thinking of everything from Per Se to street carts, from Pizza in Brooklyn to Szechuan in Flushing. We are willing to travel to any borough for a great meal, and I am also willing to do great lunches, too -- I should have the flexibility to pull that off.
I'm up for anything, though Thai/Japanese/Chinese are cuisines I would move down the list due to the preponderance of amazing joints in Los Angeles. That's not intended as a slight on NYC at all ... and please feel free to recommend places you think excel in those areas.
Cost is not too much of a concern, though palate fatique is ... and also the ability to get reservations at so many places on such short notice. I would probably do a couple of nicer/finer type places for dinner and then the next few nights look for some more rustic/ethnic/local cuisine.
One thing to note is that we are very comfortable getting around the city, as we both lived here for a couple years right out of college, though God bless us we didn't have a clue what we were missing out on foodwise here ... sigh ... c'est la vie.
Here's what we (my wife and I) are avidly looking for, and what we're fine with missing this trip:
1) I have a Sweet Tooth. Well, more like an entire mouth of them. I love layered pastries, cakes, cupcakes, candies, ice creams, gelatos, etc etc etc. If it in any way is fit for being called "dessert", I want it! I only had a quick time to scan some threads but it looks like some recs were the following:
Batch, Chickalicious, Dessert Truck, Magnolia, Mitzy’s Macarons, Tafu, Milk at Momofuku ... what else am I missing? Are any of these worth skipping, or musts? Please feel free to chime in with any and all thoughts.
2) I love Italian, and no place in the US does Italian like NYC, or so I've heard. I was able to swing a late res at Babbo sunday night, but what are some other places to try? Again, a quick scan brought me the following:
Lupa, Scarpetta, Otto, Del Posto, Convivo ... what else? Thoughts on these?
3) Ethnic! The one thing LA does best is a variety of ethnic foods, and I am betting NYC has some great places as well. I'm thinking Morroccan, Lebanese, Jamaican (or any Carribean, for that matter) Israeli, Greek (gotta be in Astoria, right?), Indian (not great Indian in LA, either Northern or Southern) ... what's the best in NYC? What do you guys have that I can't have better anywhere else unless I actually go to said culture/country? Again, we're willing to hit any borough.
4) Street Food, yay! Where are the best carts (feel like I saw there's a great halal cart somewhere around the 50s and 6th ave)? Any other places like such? I'm thinking here, unless it's MINDBLOWING that I'd prefer to keep in Manhattan, but if it's good it's good, right?
5) Pizza? Yes please! NYC is home to some AMAZING pizza, so where must I go? I'm thinking of trying Di Fara tonight (if I can make it in time), but I am sure there are other great places, both in Manhattan and in Brooklyn, to hit too.
6) Lunch options near/in Hell's Kitchen; I'll be working around 46th and 10th, so places in the general vicinity that are note-worthy (I'm thinking 5 Napkins Burgers) are certainly appreciated.
Oh, and in general I will say that, being from the South, I am willing to pass entirely on BBQ and Creole/Cajun/Southern.
Sigh ... there are so many places to consider that it IS a bit overwhelming. Spotted Pig, Blue Hill, Degustation, Shopsin's, EMP, Daniel, Per Se, Le Bernardin, La Grenouille, Gramercy Tavern, Momofuku, wd-50, Gotham B&G, Jean Georges, etc etc etc ... and that doesn't even get into considering burgers, steaks, etc.
Some quick thoughts from a non-NYer (who traipses in regularly!)
Carts: Search that word! There are several favorites that will be easy to find.
Hell's Kitchen Midtown/9th and 10th avenues: lots of well-prepared round the world food. Again, just searching 9th and 10th (or spelled out) in Manhattan will get you there quickly and easily. Also try Columbus Circle, as there was a fairly recent thread, and "gourmaniac", who is a friend and recently asked the same thing.
You know this, but do the Outer Boroughs board: Indian, there's Saravanna's (spelling??) - well-loved in Manhattan; OB board - Wafa's/Lebanese; Golden Shopping Mall in Flushing (with other close by street food) is a must do! Hints: In "mall": ChengDu Heaven (Szechuan) now has English menu, Xian for lamb burger and liang pi has pictures. You must get Xianjiang lamb skewers on street nearby (look for link to Moskin/Flushing/NYTimes guide...), and unfortunately, Roosevelt Mall seems to be shutting down, so skip that. GO WITH AN EMPTY STOMACH - There's TONS to eat there!
And a personal favorite - look for kathryn's great posts (in general) with great links - always a treat! (Edit: As I was saying (just saw this!) http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6109...)
Oh - Also try (websites) MidTown Lunch, Eating in Translation, Sietsema at the Voice, and Serious Eats/NY, for other compendiums of interesting food (Well, MTL has "edible" food, but they sniff out better whenever they can!)
The spelling is Saravanaas, and I highly recommend it.
Flushing is indeed the best neighborhood for Sichuan-style (I haven't been to Chengdu Heaven but love Spicy & Tasty), but Szechuan Gourmet on 39th St. between 5th and 6th is also excellent, though in my experience, for spicy dishes only (whereas almost everything on Spicy & Tasty's menu is at least solidly good if not quite a lot better than that, including non-spicy dishes).
a213b, loads of people here would have told you the same thing you report about Magnolia. I think the nays have it if we were to take a vote of Magnolia posts on this board, and I'm among the naysayers.
For Greek in Manhattan, Kefi on the Upper West Side (Columbus between 84th and 85th) is a very good restaurant, but right in Hell's Kitchen, there's a great bakery - Poseidon - on 9th between 44th and 45th, where there's nowhere to sit, but you can get great savory and sweet pastries. I understand there's an even better place in Astoria, but if you feel like taking advantage of what's going to be nearby, Poseidon is very likely to really make you happy. I know it gives me a lot of joy.
Thanks for some pointers on Sichuan; I'm saving that for when I am in definite need of a change of pace, spice and flavor wise. Also appreciate your other pointers, too. Poseidon is almost right around the corner from where I will be working, so I will for sure hit that up.
As for Magnolia, well, let's just say I will now be taking the recs from said friends with a HUGE grain of salt ... as in, Dead Sea evaporated puddle sized grain of salt.
The salt will come in handy because Magnolia's cupcakes are in dire need of them! Their cupcake recipe does not include any salt in the cake batter. Grrr.
There are FAR better cupcakes around town. My favorites are at Chikalicious Dessert Club, Sugar Sweet Sunshine, and Sage American Kitchen (available at Dean & Deluca).
One of our veteran cupcake fans did a run down a little while ago:
Note: Batch recently closed and is in the process of relocating to Chelsea.
I've been to Chengdu Heaven, Spicy & Tasty, and Szechuan Gourmet, and I think I would have to say that I actually liked Spicy & Tasty the least. They are all good but it's possible I ordered wrong! I go to Szechuan Gourmet quite frequently and it is excellent, but I'm not sure I've done enough Sichuan in Flushing to say that it is the best in all NYC. But we have an embarassment of riches.
Tried Sugar Sweet Sunshine tonight ... some of THE best cupcakes I've ever had from a bakery!
We got one each of the Sunshine, Ooey Gooey, Lemon Yummy, and their Strawberry Cupcake (can't recall the name). Each of these was moist without being super-dense and heavy, and all of the frostings were delicious.
In order I would rank them as follows:
1) Strawberry: Holy Crap! This thing was freaking AMAZING!!!!
3) Lemon: No, the numbering is not a mistake ... that's how flipping good the Strawberry was. That being said, the Lemon was really tasty, too. Had I not had the Strawberry, this would have been my favorite, easily.
4) Ooey Gooey & Sunshine: These were each very good, nice and moist with a good, thich buttercream that wasn't sickeningly sweet. Nice frosting-to-cake ratio too. I'd be happy with these, but each of the fruit ones were superb.
I've tried many of the cupcake places in LA (and other cities), and tend to find the vast majority of them are dried out, or under-frosted, or the frosting's too sweet (or not sweet enough). These were better than almost all of the ones I've had in LA. This place is a real gem!
Ok, first night's report ...
1) Katz's Deli: We struggled trying to decide between Katz's and either Grimaldis or Di Fara. Thank GOD we decided on Katz's.
What a blast from the past! From the moment you walk in and are handed your ticket, you realize this place is something special. It's a bit chaotic at first trying to make head's or tails of where to get what, where to sit, the table-service tables versus the "free-for-all" tables, and more. Nevertheless, stepping to the side for just a minute and observing quickly allowed us to take the scene in and figure out or plan of attack.
We grabbed a table with no problems at 8:00 and my wife took a seat while I went up to the sandwich counter to order. I waited in line but a second when one of the countermen, who looked like he was as much as part of the place as its foundation, asked if I was ready. "Absolutely!"
I ordered the Pastrami on Rye, and he asked if I wanted it Juicy like Lucy, to which I eagerly nodded. I tipped a couple bucks (directly to the tip jar) and while he was prepping he set up a plate with 4 - 5 slices of the pastrami on it for me to sample whilst waiting.
Oh. My. God! Juicy, succulent, mouth-wateringly tender and juicy, packed with flavor ... absolutely divine.
I felt my eyes might pop out, and I most likely would've gone slack-jawed ... but I realized that if I did so I'd lose some of that delicious meat that God himself must have cured in the back of house. It took all of my control not to reach over the counter and grab the entire piece and flee the place like a man crazed with thirst who finally spies an oasis in the distance.
Seriously, this sandwich is like crack, and my wife is of the same opinion. I texted both my father and sister (who's trying to decided if she wants to attend Columbia Law) and told them, "I just at the most amazing Pastrami sandwich of my life; maybe the best sandwich EVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Perfectly complemented by the Rye and the tangy mustard, I'm already having difficulties trying to make myself go somewhere different for lunch tomorrow ... heck, I want to go back right now! Washed down with a Dr. Brown's, this was an almost perfect meal.
2) Dessert Truck: LA is known for it's numerous Taco Trucks, which I very much enjoy, so when I read there were similar style trucks in NYC, but one was based on desserts(!), well, I knew I just had to try it.
We "walked off" the sandwich on the way up to St. Marks in order to try the Dessert Truck. Did I mention I have a mouth full of sweet teeth? Well, I do.
There was a bit of a line (maybe 10 people total), but it moved quickly. When I got to the window we ordered the Brioche Donuts and the Chocolate Bread Pudding. After a short wait we had both in our hands, ready to eat.
As for the donuts, they were tasty -- warmt and cinnamon-y, the vanilla creme inside provided a nice contrast in both texture and taste to the dense donuts. I really enjoyed these, but would have preferred them to be hotter. $5 gets you three donuts, each one that one *could* eat in a single bite, but best served to eat in a couple. Very tasty, and not oily nor greasy at all. I would definitely eat these again.
The Chocolate Bread Pudding was very tasty, but certainly unlike the bread pudding I am accustomed to when I visit my family in the South. It was more like a Chocolate Pots de Creme, which is not a bad thing at all ... just not what we were expecting. That being said, it was very tasty -- rich, but not overly sweet, with the occassional chunk of soaked bread providing a slight contrast in texture.
I wish this would have been warmer as well, and more "bread-y", if that makes any sense. Nevertheless, the flavor was delicious.
3) Magnolia Bakery: I had heard good things about this place from friends who'd visited NYC, so we were off from the East to the West Village. Upon entering, we found ourselves greeted by the warm, delicious smell of butter and sugar and flour baking, and quite a crowd.
We quickly settled on Red Velvet and Vanilla Cupcakes, as well as a slice of their Lemon Cake, which is the special this month. Instead of eating there we brought it back to the hotel.
The Red Velvet Cupcake: Hmmm ... what's the best way to put this?
Disgusting! Dry, with a horrific whipped cream-cheese frosting, this cupcake contradicts everything my Southern sensibilities dictates should comprise a red velvet cupcake. We literally each ate one bite and tossed the rest. Words can't do this cupcakes poor execution justice.
That being said, we still had hope ...
Only to have it dashed (again) with the Vanilla Cupcake with Vanilla Buttercream frosting. Again, the cake was dry, and the buttercream had hardened. Also, I'm pretty sure I got the tongue-coating taste of shortening used in the frosting. This, too, was a failure.
Lastly, we held out hope for the special, the slice of lemon cake. Again, 'twas dry! Ugh, it is NOT hard to make moist cakes people!!! The frosting was another whipped confection, which just was not working for me, though I will say the lemon curd used to fill the layers was good, especially when used to moisten the dry cake.
I think it's fair to say we will NOT be headind back to Magnolia, in any of its locations.
But, Katz!, my god Katz! I will see you again soon, my friend. I'm drooling already ...
Sorry you had to experience the disgusting cupcakes of Magnolia. There are tons of Magnolia haters on this board (including me), and we've been kind of vocal about it. But whenever you pass by their Greenwich Village store, it's always packed (usually with tourists) so one may assume that the haters are just hating because it's popular. But their cupcakes are seriously bad.
I agree with Chikalicious and Two Little Red Hens for cupcakes. I'm also a fan of Mitchel London's for the red velvet and yellow cake with dark chocolate ganache. Here's a recent round-up of cupcakes in NYC that may interest you. Magnolia was somewhere in the middle.
re: Miss Needle
Just to comment on some of your other requests:
1. Desserts -- Batch is closed for now. If you're into higher-end dessert bars Chikalicious is probably for you. In terms of taste, though, I actually preferred items from the Chikalicious Dessert Club as opposed to the regular restaurant (they are two separate storefronts). I thought Dessert Truck was very good. Transcendent? No. But I think some of the high praise comes from getting higher end desserts from a truck. My favorite item there is the bread pudding with the bacon creme anglaise. The bacon is really subtle. I also liked the pot de creme. Not a huge fan of the well-touted olive oil chocolate cake. Mitzy's Macarons are the best macarons in NYC right now. Best time to go is on a Monday when the orders come in. Macarons don't have a very long shelf life. And if you go by Friday or Saturday, chances are they may have sold out, or whatever they have won't be too fresh. Momofuku Milk Bar isn't really my favorite because I find their stuff way too sweet, heavy and cloying. But if you're a dessert buff, I think you should try it out because a lot of the stuff is really creative, and you won't find things like this anywhere. I haven't tried the soft serves, but it seems like that's what people are raving about. You should definitely try the cereal milk creations as I think very unique to Milk Bar. They even trademarked the name "cereal milk." For gelato, I'm a huge fan of Otto and Grom for gelato. Most posters here seem to love Il Labatorio del Gelato. It's good, but they seem to serve it way too cold, and it kind of mutes the flavors.
4. Street Carts. The cart that you're talking about is on the SW corner of 53rd and 6th during the NIGHT (I think after 7P or 8P). There's a day cart on the SE corner, but I wouldn't recommend them as there isn't great turnover and the meats tend to just sit there. But I still prefer the Trini-Pak cart on 43rd and 6th.
6. Lunch places near Hell's Kitchen -- I do love Five Napkin. Another place you may want to consider is Azuri for falafel. They're Kosher so they may be closed for Passover.
I know the choices in NYC can be overwhelming. Hey, I think the same about LA. If you want to try Per Se but not experience the sticker shock, recently they've had an a la carte menu in the lounge. It's still not cheap, but it's less expensive than the tasting menu. And no reservations are required for now. And I do think that you should try one of the Momofukus when you're in town as that type of food is unique (for now, as I surmise a lot of Momofuku copycats as time progresses). Momofuku Ko is difficult to get in (reservations are only online). Momofuku Noodle and Ssam are good (but don't order the ramen at Noodle -- I know, counterintuitive, but it's really not their strongest dish).
re: Miss Needle
For gelato, L'Arte de Gelato is also very good. But I drool for the Otto olive oil gelato. Oh, and since the OP is going to Babbo anyway, they'll probably get to try it there, as well. I love their sorbet and/or gelato sampler.
> The cart that you're talking about is on the SW corner of 53rd and 6th during the NIGHT (I think after 7P or 8P).
And it's great, but be careful the red sauce is HOT. Nuclear hot. Ouch.
More info on the famous chicken and rice cart:
Don't get pulled in by imposters. Make sure they are serving it in round containers. Yellow bags. Red and yellow circular logo! Many carts, if asked, will say, "yes, we're them," even if they are NOT!
kathryn (et al):
Thanks for the rec! Just tried the cart tonight and it was DELISH! I got them to mix the chicken and the lamb, and then mixed in the white sauce and (eventually) the full SMALL container of the hot sauce -- did I mention we like spice?
It was the perfect dinner on a night where I just wanted to relax and take it easy. Mixing everything together it was a fantastic meal, equal parts tasty morsels of grilled meat, crispy iceberg lettuce, chewy orange rice, the thick creaminess of their white sauce and the heat of their spicy red sauce. At heart I'm a meat and rice kind of guy ... put some meat and rice on a plate, let me mix it up, and I am ONE happy camper! This did not fail to deliver on the promise I've read about on these boards.
Just an FYI, we split one order and it was the perfect amount for the two of us -- and for $6, that just CANNOT be beat.
One last questions -- there's a cart on the opposite side of 6th Ave that had a WAY shorter line and looked to be the exact same, with the round containers and yellow bags. Is it?
Yeah ... was there 'round 8:45 or 9, so that must have been it. It looked EXACTLY the same as the one on the SW corner, but I opted to go with the one that had the longer line in an effort to ensure authenticity.
Regardless, as I am staying just right down the street, I will most assuredly be headed back.
re: Miss Needle
Miss Needle, thanks for the words (both in this post and the one below).
I should've realized when I heard all of the Aussie and French accents that it was tourist central, but then I felt like hitting the original location (certainly NOT the one in Rock. Center) would guarantee me my best shot at getting their best efforts.
I will have to read over your linked thread for more ideas on great cupcakes. Thanks!
And it sounds like Chickalicious is a MUST hit for someone like myself. And, too, as a lover of Macarons, I will make it a point to get to Mitzy (or have my wife go since I'll be working) on Monday to get the best, freshest assortment ... thank you so much for your tip on that.
Please feel free to chime in with other thoughts as you have them ... I've sort of decided this will serve as my "pseudo blog" whilst here in NYC.
I guess I'm too late...I was going to warn you to NOT go to Magnolia's. And the two you got are probably the worst ones. The only thing that is 'ok' is the chocolate frosting and the banana pudding. For real cupcakes, go to Sugar Sweet Sunshine. They're awesome. Moist cake, great frosting, not too heavy.
a213b-I enjoy reading your report. I had the same feeling about Magnolia. :) Having just came back from a week of food and theater (and my fourth trip in the last 12 months) in NY, I look forward to reading more about what you're gonna eat in the most culinarily diverse city in the world.
A few things that I particularly enjoyed in the past and that I can't really find anything comparable in LA:
Rice Pudding: These are not your ordinary rice puddings. They are very rich and very sweet, and they are served cold. If you are in SoHo, you should definitely stop by Rice to Riches. It's a funky place. I've recommended the place to many people visiting from LA and they all loved it. I've even had hem ship out here to LA for my kid's birthday. My favorite flavors are chocolate chip and anything with tangy fruits like lemon, raspberry and apple.
Dessert Tasting: I concur with other CHers' recommendation of Chickalicious. I ate at the dessert counter (love their gelato), then went across street to get some cupcakes and cookies to go.
Brownies: Fat Witch in Chelsea Market is so good. I like the Original Witch Babies, Blonde Babies, and Red Witch. This is a hit with all my friends in LA. Oprah loves it, too. :)
Green Tea Cupcake: Amai Tea and Bake Shop in the East Village makes a really amazing green tea cupcake. Their green tea cookies and scones are also amazing. (This place is within walking distance from Momofuku so you can do both on the same day.)
Pork Buns: Being a Taiwanese, I grew up eating pork buns but I like Momofuku's version much better than our own version. You can have them at both Noodle Bar and Ssam Bar. While at Momofuku, also try their kimchi apples.
Blueberry Cornmeal Pancakes: Had some very delicious ones at Alice's Tea Cup. Scones are also very good.
Chocolate: Pierre Marcolini on Park Ave. makes some of the highest quality chocolate in the world. Stop in for a cup of hot chocolate if you are in the area.
Cookies: Every time I'm in NY, I always get some Amy's Cookies from Dean & Deluca. They are so good. I also had a very delicious Red Velvet Cupcake from the DD at Rockefeller Center once. I don't remember which bakery it's from though.
Millefoglie: A layered puff pastry, like a Napoleon,with vanilla cream and shaved chocolate from Sant Ambroeus in the West Village (they also have a location on UES). This reminds me of the millefuille I had at Hotel de Crillon in Paris. They also make very good gelato. You can stop in for desserts only at the bar.
Rugaleh: I love the ones from 2nd Ave Deli. Always get a tin to take home.
Smoked Mussels: from Zabar's (not in the cafe but in the market side). These are so tasty. Also get some of olives, some bread and wine for late night snack in front of the TV.
Hot Dog: The Spicy Redneck at Crif Dogs is GOOD! Deep fried bacon-wrapped dogs with spicy toppings. Yum!
Izakaya: We have plenty of izakaya in LA but nothing like the quality of Sakagura. I go there everytime I'm in NY. They also make the best green tea ice cream (real strong and rich green tea flavor) and black sesame creme brulee.
Pastrami: Yes, you've found the best! I even brought 2 lbs back to LA for my son, and now he wants more.
Some restaurants that I've tried in the past:
Per Se--I'm not a big fan of Per Se or The French Laundry for that matter, but since they serve a la carte menu now, you should try it.
Jean-Georges--definitely must take advantage of the lunch special.
Le Bernardin--if you like seafood, you should try it. Nothing like it in LA.
Bar Boulud--great anything from the charcuterie menu (must try head cheese)
dbModerne-I had great desserts for after-theater once.
wd-50--fun food, good cocktails. I didn't get to do dessert tasting but heard that's the thing to do.
Annisa--love this place in West Village. Must try their Lemon Poppy Seed Bread Pudding.
Wallse--great Austrian food
Sfoglia--I was thrilled to find my favorite Italian dish, Vitello Tonnato, at this tiny UES Italian place. Great pasta, although sauce could be on the salty side. Reservation is a must.
So, what are you eating today????
fdb, thanks! It's awesome getting a fellow LA hound's perspective, knowing what we have in LA and how it compares to what's here in NYC.
I'll probably wait 'til later today to post an account of our eats today, but so far I've been VERY happy. We'll see about tonight, since we're winging it, but I have high hopes there, too.
I just secured a res at Jean Georges for lunch next Saturday, and I got one for Babbo tomorrow night (dunno how you feel, but I've very much enjoyed both Mozzas) and Degustation Wednesday night.
We are definitely going to hit Per Se (if possible); but I am one of the few people either dumb enough or brave enough, depending on your viewpoint, to admit that my meal at The French Laundry was really underwhelming, especially when compared with my expectations going in. But I will definitely try the "First Come, First Serve" a la carte at Per Se, or maybe even the more formal dining room.
Thanks for the head's up on wd-50! I just made a reservation there for not next Wednesday, but the one after ... and I am hoping also to stick around and do the dessert tasting -- ESPECIALLY because Alinea was the single greatest meal I've had (to date).
Thanks for all the dessert recs ... I LOVE a good rice pudding, and am certainly going to throw that into the mix, along with many of the other places.
Whew ... I'm going to be a big fat FATTY by the time this is over. But it's certainly worth it.
Jean Georges, Babbo, and Degustation are some of my favorite restaurants in NYC. I hope you have a fantastic time.
I loved Alinea when I went, and, frankly, I think Alinea is much better than WD-50. Although the dessert tasting at WD-50 is very good. But I loved the savory dishes at Alinea much more than at WD-50. Dufresne pushes the envelope a bit too far in terms of "tastiness" whereas I never felt that way during my Tour at Alinea.
You may also be interested in Tailor. Fabulous cocktails by Eben Freeman (solid cocktails, walnut-infused cognac, brown butter-infused rum, etc), great food in the same molecular gastronomy genre by Sam Mason. Mason is ex-WD-50. In fact, he used to be the pastry chef there. I've actually enjoyed Mason's stuff more. Oh, and they also do dessert tastings.
Rice to Riches: I would skip because I think the Kyotofu rice pudding is better.
Amai: You'd better hurry! Amai will be closing. Sunday, April 19th will be the last day.
Momofuku: Ssam Bar is the one with the kimchi apples but given that spring is on the horizon, they will probably not have this dish for much longer.
Chocolate: I would go to La Maison for hot chocolate. Vosges for spicy hot chocolate. Kee's and Bespoke for truffles/bonbons/whatever you call them. Jacques Torres is good but chocolate covered pretzels, orange peel, malt balls, cookies, chocolate bark. But for filled chocolates, I'd do Kee's or Bespoke. Mariebelle is OK. Vosges is kind of hit or miss; reads well on paper, not executed as well as you'd hope. Martine's is nice if you like more milky, creamy stuff, but very expensive for what you get.
Personally, I think the dessert tofu is kinda weird, but I do really love the warm miso chocolate cake and the cookies. The rice pudding is sweet but not cloyingly so. Maybe the more Western-ish desserts are on the sweeter side? Not super-sweet, but just a touch. The potato-tofu cheesecake sounds kinda odd.
I agree on the Amy's cookies recommendation, but instead of buying them at Dean and DeLuca get them fresher either near you at her original Hell's Kitchen location on 9th Avenue and about 46th Street, or go to the big location at Chelsea Market where there are many other foodie options worth checking out.
Another one item place to check out near enough you is Bisco Latte. A biscotti bakery with dozen of different flavors on 10th Avenue at 46th.
Also agree on the Rice to Riches recommendation. I love the cherry flavor, but they will let you taste before you commit
re: Stuffed Monkey
I'm glad someone other than me also likes Rice to Riches. I never get to taste cherry flavor because it's seasonal but I can imagine it being sweet and tangy and yummy! umm....
I'm not aware of Amy's Cookies being sold at Chelsea Market, which by the way is one of my favorite destination in NY. There is an Amy's Bread there that I adore.
You said you are open to lunches - definitely give Jean Georges' lunch a try. It's a good deal and spectacular food! $28 for two dishes, $12 for each additional. Comes with amuse bouche and cute little desserts at the end. You won't even need the additional plates other than the first 2 to be full.
Definitely try and make your way to Momofuku Milk bar and bakery. Their desserts are delicious and their cookies are just "wow!" You can also get their famous pork buns there as well. Chikalicious has very delicious and different cupcakes and it's not far from Momofuku. For delicious ramen, you must go to Ippudo. There will be a wait, but well worth it. As far as Italian is concerned, if you want "red sauce" italian, not fancy but v. good try John's on 12th street in the East Village. Very old School. While you're there, you can go around the block to Veniero's for some cannoli and Italian cookies.
John's is controversial on this board. I went with a group of 13 last summer and had a good experience. However, I don't recommend Veniero's. There was a time when it was good and reliable, but now, you're likely to get dry, stale, or/and tasteless stuff there. I'd suggest staying away from there.
My recs to satisfy your sweet teeth:
Sugar Sweet Sunshine (located just a few short blocks from Katz's). Their dreamy cupcakes will permanently wipe out that Magnolia nightmare.
ChikaLicious. Sit at the counter at Chika's flagship and watch her create tiny, artful, seriously delicious upscale-style desserts.
Dessert Club Chikalicious is directly across the street from the flagship. Wonderful puddings, cupcakes, cookies, etc. Take-out, though there are a few seats.
Madeleine Patisserie has sensational macarons, pastries, fruit tarts, and croissants. On the savory side, all the quiches are excellent. There is also a menu of sandwiches, but I haven't tried them. Seating at the rear of this charming shop. Menu on menupages.com.
I'd give Mitzy's macarons a leg up on Madeleine, but Madeleine does have a very large selection. Mitzy only does 6 flavors and changes them up monthly. I think I've complained about it before, but I think Madeleine's are too cold/moist. Mitzy's are sometimes on the too moist side, but she's been doing better over the last few months.
For cakes I really like Two little red hens and Financier.
Pizza has got to be Di Fara... Best pizza ever.
Italian also try Crispo.. Del Posto is a rip off.
Steaks (my expertise)- Peter Luger, Strip House, Keens, Old Homestead, BLT Prime, Del Frisco's, Uncle Jack's, Smith and Wollensky, Quality Meats all great.
Breakfast- Clinton street bakery and Sarabeth's- these two have great pancakes for someone who has a sweet tooth.
Definitely try to get to Craft and EMP.... two of my favorites
Steak, thanks for the head's up.
I've done Peter Luger before and thoroughly loved it, but would probably try something different this time just because ... well, just because that's how I am, always looking for the new. Same reason I would pass on Craft; I love the one in LA (and Craftsteak in Vegas), but am primarily looking for pretty much "quintessential NY" type places.
As for Pizza, I'll give you a sneak peak -- we made it out to Di Fara today for lunch, and the review will come later tonight (or tomorrow morning). I definitely wasn't disappointed.
Thanks for the other recs; hopefully I can check them out!