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2 days in Manhattan, decisions decisions

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Here is my meal itinerary for two days staying in Grammercy area:

Thursday, Day 1 late August:

Breakfast: Ess-a-Bagel, everything bagel w/nova
Lunch: Balthazar, must try the french fries (is it worth it?)
Dinner: Might go to Mets game, so dinner is questionable. Suggestions? Perhaps Totonos pizza early?

Friday day 2:
Ess-a-Bagel repeat
Lunch (prix fixe specials): 11 Madison Park, Gotham Bar and Grille, Grammercy Tavern, or is it worth shlepping up to Jean-George Nougatine in the August heat (your votes please)
Dinner: Carnegie Deli (you cannot talk me out of this one)

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  1. If you are thinking of Gramercy Tavern's formal dining room, for a prix-fixe lunch deal, you can remove it from consideration because they don't offer one. Eleven Madison Park is our favorite NYC restaurant, and the 2 for $28 lunch menu is excellent!

    The one time we tried Totonno's on 2nd & 26th, the pizza was very disappointing. We prefer the excellent thin crust pizza at Posto, on the corner of 2nd & 18th.

    http://www.postothincrust.com

    2 Replies
    1. re: RGR

      The only good Totonno's seems to be the one out in Coney Island and they are recovering from a fire still, and may not be open by the time you get here in August.

      1. re: RGR

        There really isn't any crust to speak of on the cracker thin Posto pizza.

        Just wanted to note that for the out of towner, since it's not for everyone... but it is something different, and they have multiple locations that are usually hopping with fans.

      2. Re: dinner at/before Mets game. There are plenty of posts on the Outerboroughs Board about the eats at the new Citi Field. In short, they are greatly improved and really quite good. Shake Shack, Blue Smoke, a taqueria, box frites, Mama's of Corona, and a bunch of other places. I'd recommend checking out those posts before deciding whether to skip food at the stadium.

        2 Replies
        1. re: LNG212

          Agree with LNG212 -- I'd eat AT the Mets game, it's one of the few stadiums where there is a lot of thought put into the food. And there's a branch of the Shake Shack!

          Or go to somewhere on the 7 train -- so much great food in Queens on the 7 line, especially one stop away in Flushing!

          1. re: kathryn

            I agree with LNG and Kathryn about eating at the Mets game. I was unwilling to brave the Shake Shack line, but the food at the Taqueria was really good both times I tried it.

            Also, I had the two course lunch at EMP in May, and really enjoyed it. I think it would be a good place to check out.

        2. "Balthazar, must try the french fries (is it worth it?)"

          IMO - No - . I was underwhelmed by Balthazar.
          It was good...nothing awful (except that our red wine was served ICE cold -bleh!)..frites were ok - good but certainly not great.
          But I think you could do much better elsewhere!
          If I were you I would seek out more "New York"ish food for lunch that day

          1. If you go to Jean Georges for a prix fixe lunch, I'd go for the formal dining room, not the Nougatine Room. Otherwise, EMP is your best bet.

            11 Replies
            1. re: kathryn

              Agreed--I think it is worth the schlep up to Jean George for your prix fixe lunch, but not to Nougatine. The lunch in the formal dining room is the an amazing deal.

              1. re: prdct

                I thought that the deal was only for Nougatine and didn't apply to the formal dining room, am I wrong? If so, what is the prix fix price in the formal dining room? Jacket is required yes?

                1. re: OC Mutt

                  This question actually comes up a lot! For the JG lunch deal, it is offered Monday through Saturday. You get 2 courses for $28 + $14 for each additional course. Dessert is not included but can be added on for $8. There is a long list of options to choose from and the list includes many of the signature dishes (some for a small supplement).

                  As a bonus, they offer you a trio of amuse to begin as well as complimentary marshmallows, petit fours, and bon bons to finish. And these are the very same amuses-bouches and petits-fours served at dinner!

                  See:
                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/620098

                  As for dress code: in the main dining room, jackets are required for dinner only. For lunch, they simply ask no jeans and no tennis shoes. (I've called and confirmed this!)

                  1. re: kathryn

                    I'm assuming no shorts either, which of course brings the brutal August heat into the equation. Would reservations be required? I can't believe that they offer it on Saturday AND at JG (not Nougatine)! This is wonderful news, thank you so much!

                    1. re: OC Mutt

                      Definitely make reservations. Jean Georges recently joined OpenTable.com which makes it even easier to book! And the Saturday lunch offering in the formal dining room is fairly new.

                      Not really sure about the shorts question -- I would call and ask?

                      1. re: kathryn

                        Ok, one more question. JG or EMP - which is more comfortable dining alone?

                        1. re: OC Mutt

                          On their website, EMP states specfically "No shorts." And my guess is that J.G. would not find them acceptable either.

                          Presuming you mean to be seated at a table at EMP (there is bar dining), we've been there countless times -- lunch and dinner -- and I've often seen solo patrons at a table. They are always treated very graciously. I've only had lunch once at J.G. and didn't notice any solo diners, but I'm sure they are treated with the utmost courtesy.

                          P.S. Considering that the weather in these parts has been like early April in June and May in July, who knows if there will be a steamy August?

                          1. re: RGR

                            Thank you for the heads up. I believe that bar dining would be my preference so EMP might be my best choice for this day.

                            1. re: OC Mutt

                              Just FYI EMP has a separate bar menu. However, you should be OK since you can order from the regular lunch menu at the bar during lunch hours. At some point in the late afternoon/evening, they switch over to the bar menu. For dinner, you can't order from the regular dining room's menu at the bar. At least that is what they told me when I called a month or so ago.

                              1. re: kathryn

                                Thanks Kathryn, you are amazing! I really appreciate your advice!

                          2. re: OC Mutt

                            I've seen people dining solo for lunch at JG, and the staff didn't seem to mind.
                            If it's a matter of reservation, I for one think Nougatine is perfectly fine, very much worth going for, and every bit as enjoyable. I can't compare it to EMP however.

              2. l love the breadbasket and coffee at Balthazar's
                Barney Greengrass for the other breakfast
                Pizza l like Co, on 9th Ave.
                Ate at Gramercy for dinner @ a month ago, and while place ,wine, and service was very nice, food was way below acceptable. Ate with two chefs and we all agreed, very low level, boring, and rarely served at correct temp.
                Will not talk you out of Carnegie, but there are better, much better. While at B Greengrass, try their pastrami.

                4 Replies
                1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                  I agree with you about Gramercy Tavern's dining room. When we had dinner there several months ago, the dishes I ordered were ill-conceived and had little or poor flavor. My husband's were better conceptually but very unexciting. Desserts were above average though certainly not extraordinary. The only outstanding item was the pre-dessert. Overall, a real disappointment.

                  1. re: RGR

                    Agree completely on the desserts. After Claudia Jennings left to open Northfork Table & Inn, was afraid of desserts no longer being as l like, not sweet and very intense. The desserts now at Gramercy are still wonderful. Should have eaten a entire dinner of desserts

                    1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                      That was Claudia *Flemming*, and right after she left G.T., she actually hooked up with the Prêt à Manger chain for some time. Then she worked with her chef husband, Gary Hayden, at a restaurant in Chelsea that didn't last too long. The North Fork venture, also with Hayden, is her most recent. I agree that Nancy Olson, G.T.'s current pastry chef, is doing a very good job.

                      1. re: RGR

                        Thanks for correction.

                2. while i don't think so much of the cooked food at Balthazar, the raw oysters and the salads (particularly the Balthazar salad) are great, as is the wine selection...i'm no fry expert, but people seem to love those too...

                  16 Replies
                  1. re: Simon

                    the fries are good. further, the bartenders can build a decent drink.
                    i prefer the bar over a table, small plates over a fancy meal. the tab can get large so choose wisely.

                    1. re: steve h.

                      I was thinking about a lunch of fries and Onion Soup, or Moules Frites.

                      1. re: OC Mutt

                        that makes a ton of sense to me.

                        1. re: OC Mutt

                          Okay OC if you insist - but don't say I didn't warn you!
                          Balthazar is average! I have been twice - and didn't have anything there that wowed me.
                          With so much incredible food to be had in NYC - I simply don't understand why you would go for French food....Don't you have good fries and mussels in LA??

                          1. re: NellyNel

                            OK, so then how about another suggestion for that side of town? I have no particular preference for French food, unless you count french fries ;-).

                            1. re: OC Mutt

                              Hmmmm......let me think - I'll get bac to ya on that one!!

                              1. re: OC Mutt

                                l have been to Balthazar over 100 times over the years, even benefitting from the special phone number, and for what l get, the way l am treated, and the environment of the place will hopefully go 100 more times. You might want to try to get into another McNally restaurant, newer and a much tougher ticket, being Minetta Tavern.

                                1. re: OC Mutt

                                  It seems to me your list is missing some good New York Italian food.

                                  Have you decided on the Met game/dinner that night?

                                  1. re: NellyNel

                                    Yes, but I plan on having Italian outside city when I'm upstate. I have some favorites I cannot wait to return to, therefore the Italian takes a back seat while I'm in Manhattan. As for dinner on Mets game day, no decision yet. Stadium food just doesn't sound great to me even if it is good, mainly because I despise waiting in long lines and avoid them like the plague.

                                    1. re: OC Mutt

                                      Take the 7 train one stop past Citi Field to get to downtown Flushing.

                                      Here is a very recent Flushing Main Street thread:
                                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/636409

                                      1. re: OC Mutt

                                        Oh Okay

                                        It's hard to recommend a specific place when I don't know your tastes - although from your list I'd say you have varied tastes! (as most Ch'ers do)

                                        Since you are having a refined lunch the 2nd day, and should be going to the Met game that night.....My suggestion would be for a hearty comfort food type meal, and then grabbing a good hero and a few snacks to take to the game with you.

                                        What kinds of ethnic foods are you lacking for in LA?

                                        1. re: NellyNel

                                          LA has an unpleasant lack of decent Italian red sauce (but I'm scratching that itch in my travels upstate), NY style pizza (but our gourmet pizzas are awesome), good bread, and bagels (handled). Other than that, LA doesn't really have a lack for any particular ethnic food, and in general has a wide selection of top food, second only to NYC, which IMHO has the best Hound Chow in the world.

                                          1. re: OC Mutt

                                            You should check out some Indian while in NYC -- much better than LA unless you're in Artesia. There's some great Indian in Queens, so that is something to consider before the Mets game. In Manhattan, I'd try either a Kati roll or a Roomali roll at the restaurants of the same names. Another weakness of LA is middle eastern -- check out Azuri Cafe or Olympic Pita in Manhattan. For baked goods, I highly recommend Grandaisy in Soho. Try some of their Roman-style pizza and a chocolate torte.

                                            1. re: a_and_w

                                              Olympic Pita has changed their name, and tried to go upscale. I think you can still get a sandwich for take out in the front, but they may have switched to the lavash entirely. It's also hard to get anyone's attention in that front area.

                                              Last time I went at night, the restaurant had an extremely pricey menu, loud trance music playing in the background, and they were pushing mixed drinks, and their sushi bar. Time Out NY still listed it as a cheap eat, but I wouldn't bother going back.

                                              1. re: sugartoof

                                                Sadness...I wish Azuri and Pick-A-Pita were open later. Another middle eastern place to try is Taim, though it's vegetarian only. I was pleased to see the owner featured on Chopped this season.

                                2. re: OC Mutt

                                  I really like the fries there, and usually have the steak tartare as well. The plateau de fruits de mer (sp?) is wonderful - there are two sizes. The wines by the carafe are quite reasonable and decent by the way.

                            2. Lol, are you going to bring a baker's dozen of Ess-a-bagel home with you on the plane? They actually freeze alright if you do.

                              I can understand the Ess-a-bagel repeat. but there are lots of tasty brunch places like Penelope's.

                              As for JG, even if you don't get dessert, you can leave pleasantly full, and they provide 4 chocolates and 3 flavors of fluffy marshmellows for dessert. But I really urge getting dessert on top :)

                              I wish we could talk you out of Carnegie for 2nd Ave Deli. The last time I went there, well, it's pretty unmentionable. Suffice it to say, I was nearly burned by the plate and one of the other people I was dining with missed out on the rest of her trip due to food poisoning.

                              29 Replies
                              1. re: windycity

                                As for Ess-A-Bagel, I keep meaning to have them overnight shipped but never do. I should do it once a year as a treat. Anyone think Russ and Daughters is worth the trip? As for delis, I tried them all, including Katz's, and 2nd ave. deli (where I loved the crusty pushy waitress, but was not wowed by the food), and I like Carnegie the best. Particularly the cheesecake, which is my favorite from all the delis. Just personal preference - I LOVE their pastrami and chopped liver sandwich, which to me is the best around. They have awesome chopped liver. Thanks for the JG advice. I'm really torn over that vs. 11 Madison Park.

                                1. re: OC Mutt

                                  Is there pastrami/chopped liver combo? I'm a fan of the roast beef/chopped liver with onion sandwich but I usually get a separate pastrami to go along with it too.

                                  1. re: OC Mutt

                                    "Anyone think Russ and Daughters is worth the trip?"

                                    Are you kidding? Best appetizing on the planet! It's a shop, not a restaurant, so take-out only. Btw, they ship.

                                    http://www.russanddaughters.com

                                    1. re: OC Mutt

                                      Are you more into bagels or into smoked salmon, etc? If you like smoked salmon, Russ & Daughters is amazing.

                                      1. re: kathryn

                                        well therein lies the rub! I love bagels and love smoked salmon. I cannot have smoked salmon without some sort of "delivery device", my overwhelming favorite is of course a bagel. I can however enjoy a bagel without smoked salmon, but the ultimate is the combination of the two.

                                        1. re: OC Mutt

                                          Not to worry: R&D also has very good bagels.

                                          1. re: OC Mutt

                                            of course you can't have smoked salmon without a "deliver device." i believe i read a paper once that speculated that the evolution of fingers was in response to the need to consume smoked fish when not in the presence of bagels, but i cant seem to remember the citation.

                                            RGRs "are you kidding" sums it up - go, and order any and every type of smoked fish you can see. for me, the sable is unparalleled.

                                            1. re: OC Mutt

                                              The bagels are OK at Russ & Daughters. The salmon is UNREAL. Here's a suggestion: Bring a couple bagels from Essa. Get your salmon at R&D. Pair them together. Voila! Problem solved.

                                              1. re: Slob

                                                Imo, you are all forgetting another key ingredient: cream cheese. And a slice of onion couldn't hurt either. :)

                                                I actually prefer my smoked salmon -- and cream cheese -- on pumpernickel bread. Locating a good loaf of that these days is, I think, more difficult than finding a good bagel.

                                                1. re: RGR

                                                  R&D uses Ben's cream cheese, also sold at many cheese stores, it is just cream and a little salt, very little if any stabilizers. Tough to go back to Philly brand after Ben's.

                                                2. re: Slob

                                                  Opinions of bagels vary widely here, and while I am not a fan of Ess-a-Bagel, I realize many are. But Russ & Daughter's are the real thing and true to their Eastern European roots: not inflated ballons, nice crust and chewy. I find that I can barely open my mouth wide enough for Essa's, enormous and bready. Trust R&D: their bagels are perfect and will not overpower the smoked fish = perfect delivery vehicle!

                                                  1. re: City Kid

                                                    I asked one of the countermen where Russ gets their bagels, and he told me they're specially made for them in Brooklyn. The bialys, of course, come from Kossar's.

                                                    Re: cream cheese. In addition to plain, they have cream cheese combined with other ingredients, for example, scallions.

                                                    1. re: RGR

                                                      Thanks to all! I will in fact then make the trip to R&D, BUT, one question, this may seem silly but as I've never been there, here it is. Can I order a bagel w/cream cheese and smoked salmon there and have them prepare it for me? Or do I have to just order the ingredients and attempt to put them together on my own? I know, I know, but I HAD to ask. I once went to H&H (on advice of the hounds) near Zabars and ended up attempting to cut, cream cheese and eat the bagel on a bench outside.

                                                      1. re: OC Mutt

                                                        Russ & Daughters will make you a bagel sandwich with the bagel and cream cheese and smoked salmon at the counter! They even have a menu of different sandwiches on their site.

                                                        http://www.russanddaughters.com/menu-...

                                                        H&H is weird in that it's one of the few places that won't make you a sandwich.

                                                        1. re: kathryn

                                                          My 2 cents worth... it's just as well that H&H wont make sandwiches, since their bagels have way too much sugar in them and this destroys the taste of the sandwich.. Russ & Daughters is a great sandwich (and great raw materials for a do it yourself, if that's what you wind up doing).

                                                          1. re: Steve R

                                                            Oh, I'm with you on that one. I'm not a fan of H&H. Now I cannot wait for R&D.

                                                            1. re: OC Mutt

                                                              Just a reminder, OC, that Russ is take-out only. There are two benches outside right in front of the store. Imo, not such a great place to enjoy your sandwich. If you don't feel like shlepping to one of Manhattan's many parks, there are two playgrounds with benches nearby: west of the store, on the corner of 1st Av. & 1st St., and a few blocks east, on the corner of Houston & Norfolk.

                                                              1. re: RGR

                                                                They can also go around the corner on Orchard, or Ludlow that doesn't and find an air conditioned bar, or cafe type place (that doesn't have their own menu, of course), to sit and enjoy a cold beverage while snacking. There are also benches outside the American Apparel store at the corner of Orchard.

                                                                1. re: sugartoof

                                                                  Great tips - Thanks! Anyone think that Donut Plant is worth the trek? I've been hearing about it for years.

                                                                  1. re: OC Mutt

                                                                    I love Doughnut Plant, but we have much better doughnuts in LA.

                                                        2. re: OC Mutt

                                                          Yeah I had that experience once but it was later at night and I was kinda drunk. Plastic knives, no cutting surface, in wobbly hands make for an amusing spectacle.

                                                  2. re: OC Mutt

                                                    Depending on what day you go, I'll try to fit in a short trip over to Kossar's Bialeys.

                                                    Russ & Daughters is a must visit kind of place.

                                                    With Ess a Bagel, I've been finding that you have to go with whatever is still hot. They're not sitting well, and even by the end of the day, I've had trouble chewing through one. I don't think anyone else here has reported similarly, but I've found this to be the case at both locations.

                                                    1. re: OC Mutt

                                                      If you're going to do a second bagel shop, I recommend Murray's, which I personally prefer to both Ess-A-Bagel and Russ & Daughters, though I'm not a lox guy. Skip H&H, which is only a small step above the mediocre puffy Noah's Bagels we have in LA.

                                                      1. re: a_and_w

                                                        any recommendations?

                                                        1. re: OC Mutt

                                                          For...?

                                                          1. re: a_and_w

                                                            Sorry, someone had mentioned that I should try Middle Eastern cuisine, which I absolutely love (despite the generally nasty service I've gotten while eating at places all over the world), so I was asking for recommendations for some good M.E. eats, hopefully with service minus the scowl.

                                                            1. re: OC Mutt

                                                              LOL! Unfortunately, my favorite middle eastern places in NYC tend to be a little unfriendly. Azuri Cafe (51st and 10th) is hands down the best falafel, shawarma, and hummus I've ever had. The owner Ezra is a legendary grump but has apparently mellowed a LOT in the last few years. If at all possible, I urge you to go there for a small falafel combo plate. Just keep in mind they close early (around 8pm) and are closed sundown Friday through sundown Saturday.

                                                              For a much friendlier experience, I suggest Taim on Waverly Place. It's vegetarian-only and a tiny step below Azuri, but still spectacular. One of the few places in NYC that serves Sabich, a sandwich made with fried eggplant and hard-boiled eggs. Another friendly place is Pick-A-Pita (38th btw 7th and 8th) but they are only open for lunch.

                                                              Another place I've often recommended is Olympic Pita on 38th, but they recently changed their name and owner. If there's still an Olympic Pita Express on E12th, that might be worth a try. Be sure to get the laffa bread. Rainbow and Mamoun's are two other possibilities, but I strongly believe they're a step below the other places I've mentioned.

                                                              1. re: a_and_w

                                                                Just to add a footnote, Taim has kind of their own fancied up, healthy, approach. It was less traditional than I expected. If you like hot sauce condiments, they make their own, and I suspect they really help give their food the flavor I found it lacked. I'm not so big on adding hot sauce, peppers, pickles or any of that to my pita, so I found it a little flat, personally. I also get the feeling it's better on days when the owner is popping in. I really just it's own thing.

                                                  3. re: OC Mutt

                                                    When we return to NoCal from NYC we bring two dozen bagels, either carryon or checked. We wrap each one tightly in plastic wrap and then put four into a one gallong zipping bag. They last for months (we ration them). They need to be toasted but they're wonderful.