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Londoners Seeking Top Restaurants in New York in June

We are Londoners and are coming to New York on 19 June and leaving 24 June. I am bringing my two16 year-old daughters as a reward after their exams. We are all looking forward enormously to the food. The trip is about sightseeing, shopping (this higher on my daughters' priority list than mine) and food and so as a rule we won't be going for long lunches and usually we will be looking at fancier meals in the evening.
Our hotel is in Times Square and we will happily go anywhere in Manhattan
I have been reading the posts avidly, and people are so knowledgeable (and giving of that knowledge). I don’t want to spend a fortune, but probably will, not because I have more money than sense, simply because I have no sense. I really fancy Per Se one evening (I realise I will need to get my booking in soon because of the 2 month booking period (how is the high-end restaurant scene holding up in New York?)) and the lunch time deal at Jean Georges sounds like a great opportunity to sample a great restaurant at a bargain price (but will I be able to restrict myself to just 2 or 3 courses?).
We have 5 evenings altogether in New York and I fancy Keens and/or Peter Luger for 1 or 2 evenings, Per Se for another and possibly Le Bernardin (I know the $$$ are adding up). What else would you recommend? – Degustation, WD-50, Babbo, 11 Madison Park or something else? (I have already been to Daniel, and whilst the meal was great I want to try something new this time.) We like tasting menus and I like the paired wine accompaniments as a rule, but are there any dishes I must try at Jean Georges or the other restaurants. (We tend not to be quite so bothered about desserts, but would be very willing to brave the “not-to-be-missed” puddings.)
The plan so far for lunch is Jean Georges, Katz, Crif Dogs and Shake Shack, but I’m not sure that we will be able to eat out 5 evenings and 5 lunches so I might have to be less ambitious. Will we have to make reservations for everywhere before we go and is there anything that I should specify when reserving (such as the main room at Jean Georges and not Nougatine)?

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  1. I think with 2 sixteen year old daughters you may want to hit some of the more hipper places in the East Village...such as WD-50 and Degustion. Your lunch options sound good but make sure not to fill up too much before dinner. My favorite desserts in the city are cookies from Levain, chocolate bread pudding from the Dessert truck and various sweets from the Treats Truck. I also see you don't really have any Italian on your list so you may want to try a pizza place in Brooklyn or Manhattan or do something more upscale like Babbo.

    7 Replies
    1. re: ukitali

      Thanks Ukitali. You're right I will have to be careful at lunch, the only problem is that I have no self-restraint when it comes to food, perhaps my daughters can rein me in. They are much more sensible than me, but they also will not be used to big American portions and might fill up at lunch time, and thanks for your other comments. I think I'm going to have to restrict myself to one steakhouse.

      1. re: walshey

        My SO just went to Degustation and it remains a favorite. Only caveat is that it's counter/bar seating and better for two. Not on opentable, no website, a bit under the radar screen. If the 16 year olds are adventuress eaters it's in a great neighborhood, EV, for walking around later . . .

        Second the Dessert Truck - only in NY and fun - www.desserttruck.com for hours.

        We really like Falai on LES. If you do a search of this Board there are some reports.

        1. re: financialdistrictresident

          I went to the Dessert Truck and had the bread pudding and was less than impressed. Very very small portion for the price. It was OK in taste but far from delicious. I will not return unless they have something else that is a must taste.

          1. re: Slob

            Thanks, Slob. I usually go with anything chocolate . . . since they moved their location I go less. I wonder if they are skimping on quality ingredients to save costs? At $5 it's worth a try.

            1. re: Slob

              I don't understand the level of hype about the Dessert Truck here. I think their desserts (or the ones I like - chiefly the chocolate bread pudding that didn't impress you) are good, and it's a fun, novel thing to do to buy moderately high-end-style desserts on the street. The portions aren't huge, but at $5, I'm guessing they'd have trouble making a profit if they served large portions. But that's all beside the point for me, because nothing there is a "must," and I never wait on a long line to get anything from them. The items I get are merely good to very good, not fantastic.

              1. re: Pan

                I think their chocolate desserts are good but last time I got the donuts and some panna cotta and both were very mediocre. I actually had one bite of the donut and threw it out.

                1. re: lanadai

                  I've never tried their donuts.

      2. You could say that Per Se is not doing as well as it used to because it recently started serving an a la carte menu in its "salon" -- the lounge that previously was the waiting area for patrons before they sat down at a table in the dining room.

        For Jean Georges, if you are bringing your daughters, I assume you'll get to share plates and try different items? I understand your frustration, though, the menu has a number of wonderful items. More than most people have stomach space!

        If you are looking to keep costs down Degustation is a fantastic choice. Babbo is also very good for its quality. EMP and WD-50 are not quite so good on the value scale, comparatively. The portions at WD-50 tend to be on the smaller side, and if you dislike your dish (which happens with some frequency on these boards), you may be very disappointed.

        For the upscale restaurants, definitely make reservations in advance, especially if you wish to dine on a Friday or Saturday night, at 8pm (the most desirable time/days). Of the ones you listed, only Babbo requires the most persistence (calling right when the lines open for the day that you want). Jean Georges and Le Bernardin also book up rather quickly but not as much as Babbo. Do make a reservation for JG for lunch. The dining room is not huge. For Per Se, you might want to consider having a glass of wine and dining in the lounge; note, however, that the prices are not exactly "cheap" for what you get.

        Checkout opentable.com for free online reservations -- WD-50, 11 Madison, Keens, Jean Georges are all on there. Babbo is not and takes reservations only over the phone and in person. Degustation also is not and only takes reservations over the phone. Note also that Degustation does not have a web site, either.

        1 Reply
        1. re: kathryn

          A reply from the legendary Kathryn! Fantastic. Many of my choices were based on your posts and your referrals to other posts, Degustation and Babbo are current favourites for our 4th and 5th evenings. Thank you for your extremely helpful additional information.

        2. I think you would enjoy the Boathouse in Central Park and River Cafe across the river. I'm English and there always seem to be alot of people at the latter.

          1 Reply
          1. re: bronwen

            I would absolutely second the Boathouse! We took our 15 year old daughter last week and it was utterly charming.

          2. Well first let me say that I wish I was your daughter! Wonderful trip and very high end palate! I definitely suggest you make your lunches lighter/shorter so that you can properly sightsee, shop and save up for those dinners. Jean-Georges is an exception simply because lunch is such a nice bargain and it's a lovely space in the daytime.

            Some affordable/quicker yet good lunch ideas:

            Artisinal on 32nd and Park. French bistro specializing in cheeses. Grab a fondue with the gals or a cheese plate. Reservaions are advised. If you will have a computer here, a lot of restaurants use opentable.com where you can reserve online.

            Oscar Cafe in SoHo on Macdougal - After some power shopping in SoHo, pop into this tiny spot for some appetizers and wine. Very European.

            Now, if you can't get enough ot JG, you can always try his other places Vong and Spice Market (in the interesting Meatpacking District).

            Other dinner spots (slightly less posh) to consider:

            Buddakan in the Meatpacking - ask for the gorgeous downstairs dining room.
            Felidia - beautiful, yet casual Italian (Lidia Bastianich's place)
            Scarpetta - newer lovely Italian on West 14th. Foie gras pasta to die for!

            If you crave spicy - hit the fantastic (if not terribly attractive) Sichuan Gourmet on West 39th near Bryant Park. It's the best Chinese north of Chinatown.

            Have fun!

            2 Replies
            1. re: LBNJNY

              BTW, it is Artisanal not Artisinal, and it is Szechuan Gourmet not Sichuan Gourmet (be warned that the best dishes are the Sichuan dishes and they are quite spicy)...

              1. re: kathryn

                Thanks for the spell check. I was rushing.

            2. I join LBNJNY in saying that you are a great dad! But you don't have to go to so many high-end places if you don't want to. You can make some decisions about how much money you're willing to spend on food per day or for the whole trip, and base some of your meal choices around those. Keep in mind that New York isn't known only for high-end restaurants and pastrami. (I notice the very appropriate inclusion of Katz's, but if that's your lunch, look out! It's heavy if each one of you has a whole sandwich!) It's also known for pizza. Do you all like pizza? Would your daughters like to have lunch or perhaps a dinner at a New York-style pizzeria with real old-time (for New York) character (for example, Pasty's East Harlem, Arturo's in the Village)? If so, it'll be a lot cheaper than most of the places you've mentioned.

              Another thing to keep in mind is that many high-end restaurants have much less expensive lunches than dinners. Jean Georges has been mentioned, and it is a good value for lunch, but it's not the only high-end place that's significantly cheaper for lunch. Might you consider some days having a cheaper prix fixe lunch in an upscale place and having dinner someplace less upscale? I mean, hey, if you really want to reward your daughters on a grand scale, that's fantastic! But if you're concerned about hemorrhaging your wallet too much, think about it; we can help you avoid that, if you so choose. Believe me, a lot of us have practice in maximizing our dollars.

              3 Replies
              1. re: Pan

                Chinatown is a good lunch (Big Wong's) or dim sum (if you don't want to go to Flushing) option if you are sightseeing downtown.

                1. re: financialdistrictresident

                  The only reason I didn't mention Chinatown is that I believe (having never been there) that London has some excellent Cantonese food. But I could be wrong.

                  1. re: Pan

                    Thanks, Pan. The Chinatown in London seemed smaller. That said, it has been a lonjg time since I've been and I only ate there once and I have no idea where. I'd rather eat Indian food in London . . .

              2. walshey, if you haven't done it already RGR's Lower East Side tour is a MUST. But not on a Saturday.

                Have fun and congrats to your daughters on successful exams!

                1 Reply
                1. re: financialdistrictresident

                  Another thought - Train Bleu in Bloomingdale's after some serious retail therapy!

                2. Thanks everybody for advice and your input of good sense as well. I realise that my evening choices were rather on the expensive side, but I’ll explain my logic:

                  Per Se – If I had to choose 1 restaurant for our stay, this would be it I think – A Michelin 3-star restaurant, just voted top restaurant in the Americas and 6th best in the World in Restaurant Magazine’s list (I am a sucker for this sort of thing, I admit) and the reviews and comments on Chowhound are invariably good. This will be the culinary highlight of the trip I hope. I have booked this for the Friday night we arrive (we arrive at midday), (I wanted to try and book as soon as the 2 month window for reservations opened on our holiday and struck gold on the first attempt.). If you are there and can see a very content looking man with 2 six-foot good-looking young girls come and say Hi.

                  Jean-Georges, a legendary name, all the reviews are good, and the lunch-time menu is a bargain. So this I think is another must, especially as its not going to break the bank.

                  Le Bernardin – Another world-class restaurant, all the reviews on chowhound are good, but most of them also mention how expensive it is. I really like the look of the $180 tasting menu, especially with wine, which brings it up to $320, and I don’t think this is too bad a price if this was going to be our sole splurge, but I am having serious second thoughts and I may very well save Le Bernardin for another trip.

                  Degustation, recommended (so far) in this thread by ukitali, financialdistrictresident and Kathryn as being hip, very good and reasonable, and also in a good area for walking around. (Thanks, also, for the extra info, financialdistrictresident, that it is counter-service, which is not perfect for 3 of us, but I guess we’ll have to live with it).

                  I think everyone will agree that these are all really good restaurants taking each on its own merits, but putting them all together, they might be a bit samey, with 3 tasting menus in the evening. Also after a full day of sightseeing and a little bit of shopping the girls might not always be in the mood for a 3 or 4 hour tasting menu.

                  I guess if I was to drop one of the above, Le Bernardin would be favourite. We could also drop Degustation, but as it is good and reasonable and cool I would like to keep it unless my mind is changed.

                  Another choice for the evening is Babbo, not a restaurant that I had heard of before looking at chowhound, a real New York institution and also introducing a bit of variety from the above French/American restaurants.

                  We must go to a steakhouse while we are in America, (we don’t really have the same type of restaurant in England) and I think we are going to go to Peter Luger one evening and Keens on our last lunchtime before going to the airport.

                  Lunchtimes are much more of a problem, because of fitting the food around the sightseeing. We roughly intend to start the sightseeing early (to avoid the lines) and catch lunch as early as possible (to leave as big a gap as possible before dinner), then a bit more sightseeing and then some shopping. Hopefully this should leave most of the evening free. So the plans are for leisurely evening meals, but for quick lunches, which unfortunately means that apart from Jean Georges we won’t be taking advantage of any prix fixe menus.

                  Unfortunately we arrive on a Friday and I would have preferred to avoid the weekends because of lines for the restaurants and the sights.

                  We have to go to Katz’s, otherwise I don’t think we will be allowed back on the board or even allowed to come to New York again and we have to do RGR’s LES gustatory tour. Thanks to RGR for all the detail, and to financialdistrictresident and Kathryn (in another thread) for referring to it. We don’t really have delis in the same way in England and whilst I know what pastrami is I ‘m sure it is at a completely different level in New York. I am also very excited because I don’t know what a knish is, nor a chocolate egg cream (although I can guess at least some of the ingredients), nor a bialy. (No need to tell me, I’ll keep the mystery.) Is Sunday a good day for this? I see Saturday is a no-no.

                  The logic for my lunchtime choices was:

                  Shake Shack – We must have a burger while we are in America and looking at the boards this looks like a very good choice and reasonably priced

                  Crif Dogs – Again, not something we really get in England (we can get them in cans and can get them from stands outside football stadia or in cinemas, but haute cuisine they are not or even moyenne cuisine - the reviews for Crif Dogs are very good and it shouldn’t break the bank, but also the secret bar next door sounds cool.

                  We will share dishes (one pastrami on rye between 3 at Katz’s or 2 between 3 or 1 pastrami on rye and something else?) in order to try as many different things as possible and also of course not to fill up and blow the evenings.

                  We only have 5 evenings and 5 lunches and have left out pizza and Chinese and other oriental styles, not for any real reason it’s just that we were running out of meal slots. You are right by the way, Pan, we do have good Chinese restaurants in London, but we would still be willing to try Chinese in New York to see how it’s done there.

                  One more question – Should we try a barbecue restaurant or is this just crazy talk – it is something different to England, but the threads don’t seem to have much good to say.

                  Thanks slob, lanadai, bronwen, MarlaPR, and LBNJNY for your extra suggestions and comments for venues. Things will have to remain fluid especially for lunch as we may be in one part of town for the sightseeing and would therefore want to go to a restaurant nearby, and it is good to have alternatives.

                  P.S. I am quite a good dad, but my daughters are good too, and I’m not sure that my reasons are entirely selfless, after all I get to have the food too.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: walshey

                    Good point on the P.S. :-)

                    New York is not a strong city for barbecue, as any Southerner would tell you. I'm under the impression that the barbecue place that seems to receive the largest number of positive mentions on this board is Blue Smoke, which is also associated with Jazz Standard, a very well-regarded jazz club. But I doubt you'll want to eliminate one of your high-end choices for that.

                    I loved my outstanding meal at Degustation, but I by no means whatsoever consider the place cheap in any sense at all. I thought my meal was quite expensive, but worth it. Paying something like $240 including tip for 2 people is quite a lot of money, from my standpoint. Clearly, one can pay a lot more, but the charges there are "reasonable" only in a relative sense, or a sense of just how good the food is vs. the money (and some hounds have posted reports less glowing than those I and several others have posted).

                    I should caution you that there is no restaurant in New York that there is 100% Chowhound consensus on. If you look at other threads, you will see criticisms of every one of these restaurants. For example, it's clear to me that there are detractors of Le Bernardin on this board. (I'm not one of them, not having eaten there for so long - and at least one chef ago - that it's irrelevant.) That said, your high end choices are popular ones here.

                    If you do decide to try a Chinese restaurant in Manhattan, my favorite (also recommended by LBNJNY above) is Szechuan Gourmet, 39th St. between 5th and 6th. It's fairly informal but does have white tablecloths. Consider going, particularly if Sichuan-style food is not a strong point of Chinese food in London. There are some delicious dishes there. Stick with their spicy dishes (except for the smoked tea duck) if you do go. It could be one of your inexpensive lunch spots.

                    At Katz's, if you want to get anything other than pastrami (with a complementary side of pickles - ask for tomato pickles as well as sours and half-sours from the counterman), try a brisket sandwich. Make sure to ask for your sandwiches to be juicy (=fatty), because they will simply taste best that way. 2 sandwiches between 3 people will still be substantial, but not so crushing. Have that lunch early and get dinner later than usual that night. Have some Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray (celery seed soda) or Cream Soda with your sandwiches. It's an old New York tradition, so give it a try. Don't get things like knishes, french fries (fine but empty stomach space), or hotdogs at Katz's. When I get a side, I get cole slaw, but you don't want to fill up too much, with a big dinner planned for later.

                    I'm not sure Saturday is a no-no at Katz's. Although some of the establishments on RGR's Lower East Side tour are run by observant Jews, and therefore closed on Friday nights and Saturdays, Katz's is neither kosher nor shomer Shabbos (ergo, it's open on Saturdays). There may be somewhat long lines of tourists on a Saturday afternoon, but the lines tend to go quickly. Since I live in the neighborhood, I probably wouldn't go Saturday afternoon, but if that's what works out best for you, I think you should probably go anyway.

                    It seems a shame not to have one meal at a good pizzeria, but I'm not sure I also wouldn't pass that up if I had a chance to do so much high-end dining. I guess if I had to eliminate anything from your proposed dining itinerary, it might be the 2nd steakhouse, but my feeling that "one is enough" may emanate from a lack of captivation with non-Argentinian steakhouses (i.e., I prefer marinated steak with some kind of tasty sauce - anathema to purist steak-lovers - whereas, a temple of steak like Peter Luger is wasted on me). All that said, whatever you miss this time is an excellent motivation to come back, isn't it? :-)

                    1. re: Pan

                      Dear Pan thank you for latest and your earlier posts. They are full of good advice. Sichuan is indeed a type of cuisine missing from London although I believe a few restaurants have opened fairly recently but I have not tried any of them yet.. I will definitely bear in mind yours and LBNJNY's suggestion of Szechuan Gourmet.

                      You mention the 2 steakhouses at the expense of high end dining, the thing is that for a European, American steakhouses are very different, but high end dining can be sampled in quite a few places in Europe and it is relatively convenient for me to go Paris or San Sebastian or Copenhagen, etc, but places like Peter Luger or Keens just don't exist in Europe and both places have very passionate advocates on chowhound.

                      It is a shame to miss out on a pizzeria and I know the girls would like it but it is down to Pizza, oriental or degustation (2 out of the 3, unless my maths has gone wrong).

                      Thank you for the extra info on Katz's and I will have try the exotic drinks,

                      From what you say barbecue was crazy talk.

                      Thanks again

                      1. re: walshey

                        I don't think barbecue is crazy talk; you can have some on your next visit to New York, unless you go to to South or Midwest, which are the real homes of barbecue.

                        Your argument in favor of patronizing steakhouses in New York is very persuasive, and I fully agree with your reasoning.

                        1. re: walshey

                          Definitely get some pizza. And don't drop Degustation. If I had to choose between pizza and Chinese in NYC I'd get the pizza for SURE.

                          1. re: Slob

                            As someone who probably has more Chinese food than any other kind, I'm going to agree with you. On the same basis that it makes sense for a Brit to patronize a steakhouse or two while in New York, due to a lack of steakhouses in Europe, it makes sense to reason that because it's possible to get even better Sichuan-style food elsewhere, but New York pizza is not obtainable in most other parts of the world, you should get some really good New York pizza while you're here.

                    2. Dear Slob and Pan

                      Pizza it is for our last lunch-time slot. Thank you for your advice

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: walshey

                        Enjoy!