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May 10, 2009 09:44 AM

LA foodies need advice

We are foodies from LA and are looking forward to some really great meals in NYC. We haven't been to New York for 10 years so we need some help picking restaurants, both lunch and dinner. We aren't fans of heavy cream/butter dishes (we are from California after all) , no japanese, chinese or thai (we have enough of those out here) or Indian (husband doesn't like) and while money isn't an issue, we're not looking for every meal to be over the top. Looking for yummy, fun, interesting, from downtown to uptown and lunch in Brooklyn and Soho for sure. One night is my husband's birthday. Also opinions of Scarpetta, The Modern, John Dory, Babbo, Rouge Tomate, Dovetail, (recommendations from concierge). all suggesstions apperciated!

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  1. One word describes the cuisine in the formal dining room at The Modern: Outstanding! Chef Gabriel Kreuther richly deserves the James Beard Award he just won for Best Chef NY. From those on your list, it would be an excellent place to celebrate your husband's birthday. There's a fine wine list, service is friendly and attentive, and the dining room looks out on the museum's lovely Sculpture Garden.

    Another great option for the birthday dinner is Eleven Madison Park, one of The Modern's sister restaurants (Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group). EMP's French-inspired cuisine, via Chef Daniel Humm, is equisite! The wine program is first-rate, service is very cordial and polished, and the grand space is gorgeous! Note that EMP offers great bargains at lunch: 2 courses for $28, as well as a 5-course Gourmand tasting menu for $68.

    If you're looking for "interesting" cuisine, you might want to consider going to Corton, where Chef Paul Liebrandt is creating food that is complex and delicious.

    I can definitely recommend The John Dory since we were just there for the first time. The fish and seafood is expertly prepared, service is friendly and efficient, and the space has very eye-catching decor.

    Like EMP, many other upscale restaurants offer bargain lunch deals. Jean Georges's 2 for $28 is among the best.

    Tocqueville tends to travel under the culinary radar, which is unfortunate because the cuisine is superb. In addition to the a la carte menu, at lunch, there's a 3-course prix-fixe for $24. At dinner, that same prix-fixe option is $35. Ridiculously inexpensive for food of such high caliber. No teensy portions, either. And the space is one of the most beautiful and elegant in the city.

    Shake Shack, in Madison Square Park, serves delicious burgers, fries, soft custard, etc., etc. No indoor seating, but there are plenty of tables where you can enjoy your food al fresco. In order to avoid the lines which can mean a 45-min to an hour wait, it's best to get there a few minutes before the 11 a.m. opening.

    No trip to NYC would be complete without a visit to Katz's, where it's all about the pastrami. You might want to consider taking my (in)famous, self-guided Lower East Side noshing tour, which begins at Katz's. Here's the link:

    For suggestions in Brooklyn, it's best to post on the Outer Boroughs Board

    6 Replies
    1. re: RGR

      RGR - this is a super list - only one comment since this is advice for Angelinos - the Shake Shack is no place to send anyone from L.A. No offense, they are OK, and I don't want to start anything, but compared to what we get here in town they just aren't that great. (Incoming!!!) Anyone visiting NYC from the land of La should be so busy eating so much good food we DON'T and CAN'T do better here that a burger should be out of the question. My additional suggestions for Brentwood follow . . . never let it be said I wouldn't help a Westsider! :-)

      1. re: Pigeage

        AMEN!!! Couldn't agree more on your view of Shake Shack. They don't suck, but they just aren't all that.

        1. re: Pigeage


          No incoming brickbats from me, as you are certainly entitled to your opinion. :-) As I have not been to LA since 1972, I have no personal experience with the current dining scene there, including burgers.

          Now, would I stand on line for 45 minutes to an hour in order to eat a Shake Shack burger. Not a chance! I think it's a good burger, but imo, no burger, no matter how good it may be, is worth that kind of wait. However, Shake Shack has quickly become something of a NYC institution; therefore, on a warm, sunny day, I do think it's worth a less than 15-minute wait and the opportunity to enjoy a casual meal sitting in lovely Madison Square Park with the city swirling around outside.

          1. re: RGR

            Yes, I agree with you, RGR. If the line were less than 15 min's long and I was in the area, I would absolutely stop by the Shack. However, it's not a destination spot for me.


            1. re: LeahBaila


              I am always stupified that people are willing to wait as long as an hour for a burger. Frankly, I'm not willing to wait for *any* food for more than a few minutes, let alone an hour. No food, no matter how good it might be, is worth that kind of wait to me. That's also the reason we rarely go to restaurants that don't take reservations.

          2. re: Pigeage

            I live in LA, and I miss Shake Shack and Burger Joint. Neither is worth waiting in line for an hour, but I don't think a burger is out of the question.

        2. Scarpetta is fantastic (both yummy and fun), and I recommend it without reservation. There are a number of recent threads about it (including my own "unhinged" review).

          1. I do recommend Babbo. You could also consider Degustation, a small restaurant that consists of a counter at an open kitchen, which serves wonderfully delicious and inventive modern tapas and excellent wines. I agree with RGR that Katz's is a really good idea, if you like pastrami. How long are you going to be in New York?

            13 Replies
            1. re: Pan

              Babbo's pasta tasting is a great option, and at (I think?) around $60/person for the pasta tasting menu, it is one of the better deals on a price fixe you will find. Atmosphere lacks, but an incredible Italian wine list, attentive servers, value and delicious takes on Italian food make up for it

              I went to Degustation with my fiance for the first time the other night. While the food was decent, I wouldn't suggest it as the best of Manhattan. I did the 5 course tasting, with wine pairings and an extra course. While there were some highlights, a couple of the courses were simply just okay - a few fell short as way oversalted. I found the wine pairings uninspiring and the sous chef we had didn't do so much as smile, despite our repeated attempts to show interest in the food. While the meal had its highlights (squid ink risotto, a fantastic quail with ginger and beet salad, caramel tortija, ), the trout and lamb dishes were inexcusable for this caliber of a restaurant. I'm hoping it was just an off night; we are hoping to try it again sometime later this year.

              1. re: gwh912

                When you try it again, consider the possibility of going for the 10-course tasting menu. My meal at Degustation was the best I'd had in several years, but even so, there were a couple of courses I didn't love. The thing is, 8/10 (or 8/11) is a much better ratio than 3/5 (or 3/6).

                1. re: Pan

                  I think that may be the better way to go- again, it wasn't horrible, but I enjoyed only as much as I disliked...

                2. re: gwh912

                  Both Degustation and Falai sous chefs have an intensity about the food preparation/presentation that I enjoy observing. I'm less concerned about the smiles then the deliciousness of the food. I agree while Degustation is very good it's not the best of Manhattan.

                  Sorry your experience at Degustation was not as good as some of mine have been. I must get back again.

                  1. re: financialdistrictresident

                    To be fair, it's also not the most expensive dinner in Manhattan; far from it, though it IS expensive, from my standpoint.

                    What would get your vote for "best of Manhattan"?

                    1. re: Pan

                      Pan, that's a challenging question because I enjoy Big Wong, Noodletown, Kossar's, the fried scallions at Belcourt, pierogi/potato pancake at Ukranian National Home, etc. as much as Falai. . .

                      My most memorable meals have been at The Modern Dining Room, Robuchon and Falai. There are many restaurants that have disappointed (maybe my expectations were too high? maybe they were overrated?) and many I have not even tried.

                3. re: Pan

                  We'll be in town for 4 nights. What's the word on Daniel? Someone told me EMP is "old". Any thoughts on a restaurant in or near the theatre district? Also need lunch in Soho So far the only place we're set on is The Modern. Want to go to Scarpetta but can't get a reservation when we need it.

                  1. re: Brentwood90049

                    Soho is kind of tough. If you really want excellence I would move lunch.

                    Look into the Washington Square Blue Hill for dinner, they use great produce and the cooking is not dependent on cream at all. It's more modern than the menu makes it out to be.

                    1. re: Brentwood90049

                      For lunch in Soho, Balthazar is a possibility, but given what you said about butter and cream, you may not want to go to what's essentially a fairly traditional French brasserie. You can always check out their menu online if you like (

                      I just about never have upscale food in the Theater District, so I doubt I could help you there.

                      Keep in mind that if you want recommendations for Brooklyn, you should post to the Outer Boroughs board, lest the non-Manhattan-centric part of this thread is deleted.

                      1. re: Brentwood90049

                        Our last visit to Daniel was in the Oct. '07. The food was excellent. However, service was an entirely different matter. There were several serious problems which we considered totally unacceptable for a restaurant of Daniel's caliber. Ironically, Daniel just won the James Beard Award for Best Service. To be fair, we had had good service on two previous visits, so it's not as though they aren't capable of deserving the award. But you certainly couldn't tell it from our last experience.

                        For Italian, you might want to consider Convivio or its more upscale sister restaurant, Alto. Chef Michael White is in charge of both kitchens, and his food is delicious. Convivio has eye-catching decor and the name best describes the vibe there -- convivial. Alto's vibe is more sedate but not stuffy, and the space, divided into several dining areas, has understated elegance.


                        Re: EMP. What exactly did that someone mean by "old"?

                        1. re: RGR

                          I wonder about that, too. Who cares whether a restaurant is old or new, as long as the food and service are up to standards? My feeling is that whoever cares deeply about what's new, rather than old, per se, isn't really a chowhound. Chowhounds care above all about deliciousness - isn't that what the Chowhound Credo that used to be on the home page said?

                          1. re: RGR

                            I'm not sure -- I guess cause it's not the "newest and the latest".

                            1. re: Brentwood90049

                              Obviously, EMP is not the "newest and the latest" on the restaurant scene. However, Chef Humm is always creating interesting ways to entice and excite diners, and his new Suckling Pig Tastng Menu does exactly that! You can see a discussion about it here: .

                              Also, the 11-course Gourmand Tasting is not a published menu, but rather, at the whim of Chef Humm on any particular day. Thus, you can sit back, relax for 3 or 4 hours, and enjoy the surprises he has in store.

                      2. I think as far as having fresh, not-heavy dishes, Rouge Tomate would be up your alley. If you like inovative cocktails, they do have a neat list. I have found Perilla to have fantastic, interesting while not over-the-top combinations, also done without too heavy a hand.
                        BTW-you found a concierge with a good finger on the pulse of the good resturants, not just touristy ones. The ones you mention are definitely among the faves mentioned on the board.

                        1. Hi Brentwood - Do yourselves a favor and make it to Grand Central Station: you need to see the place in action it is a quintessential New York experience: take a gander at the food hall there and weep for us here in L.A.; dare I suggest a slice of Junior's cheesecake on the lower level? How about a plate of oysters at The Grand Central Oyster Bar? (You won't ever walk into Santa Monica Seafood again.) Beyond that - there are so many things to see and do and this thread is full of great options - I really liked John Dory last time I was there but it is very new New York (as opposed to my old school suggestions) and feels almost like something from the east coast version of the Patina Restaurant Group - not sure it stands out like the Modern (hell, even the 2nd floor Meyer MOMA eatery is superb in every way!). Have a great trip!