Week in NYC; Review my line up please
Hi Big Apple eaters!
I'm traveling to New York in the first week of September (right before the Labor Day weekend) for the US Open tournament. I also want to check out some great places to eat, so this is the list I've culled from reading reviews etc. on the Web. I wanted to get your feedback on which places below I should definitely try and places that are overrated and probably could be dropped from my list.
Some things to keep in mind in terms of what I'm looking for in my dining experience in New York:
1) I'm traveling alone, so looking for places that are conducive to solo dining (i.e., has full menu at bar, allows walk-ins, etc.)
2) I hate traveling with a lot of fancy clothes and New York tends to be hot in August, so I'll be wearing comfortable, casual clothes. So definitely don't plan on going to places that require suits or ties. Big plus will be places that have a great environment but don't have the attitude about attire. (BTW, I'm not a slob. I will have a nice pair of slacks and long-sleeve dress shirt with open collar for somewhat fancy places.)
3) I don't really want to make reservations so I can keep my iteniary fluid. So looking for places that I can walk-in. I do plan on trying places more during lunch to avoid the night crowds, or if I dine at night I usually eat on the early side around 6-7 p.m. But I'm not opposed to making reservations for one or two places if you feel they're a must. So let me know if any of the places I noted below are only possible with reservations.
OK, ON TO THE LIST (in alphabetical order, not necessarily places I want to go to first)
Clinton Street Bakery (mostly for breakfast)
Di Fara Pizza
Enoteca at Del Posto
Ippudo (for ramen)
James (in Park Slope, where I used to live briefly so I like going to dinner one night in my old hood)
Momofuku Ssam Bar or Noodle Bar? (which one if you had to choose)
Porchetta (probably just for lunch)
As you can tell, my list is way longer than my opportunity to eat in the 7 days I'll be in New York, so your help in whittling down this list will be greatly appreciated. I know already that two days will be lost to spending all day at the US Open, so won't have time to explore eating then.
Also, I want to spend a day hunting down good Chinese food in Flushing. I read about the "underground" malls with the food courts, but no one ever specifically mentions a favorite food item or food stall to try. If you can steer me to any must-trys, that'll be great!
And a final request, if there's any hot food trends in New York you think I shouldn't miss, please let me know!
Just got back from a weekend trip to NYC, as well, with a few of my buddies. Here was our lineup:
Thursday dinner: Lupa
Thursday after-hours: Halal cart on 53rd and 6th
Friday lunch: Katz's Deli
Friday snack: Doughnut Plant
Friday dinner: No. 28 pizza + Grey Dog Coffee
Friday after-hours: Gahm Mi Oak
Saturday lunch: Momofuku Noodle Bar
Saturday dinner: Minetta Tavern
Saturday after-hours: Famous Original Ray's (whichever one is next to Katz's)
I think the consensus favorite was the pork bun at Momofuku. I could've easily eaten 10 of those by myself, but I wanted to save room for the ramen. I actually liked the ramen a lot but wouldn't really go out of my way to eat it (i.e. it's not something I'd have unhealthy cravings for, like I do for the bucatini at Lupa). A few of my buddies noted that the broth was too heavy, a big reason why they couldn't finish their bowl, but they loved how tender and meaty the pork was. If you've ever had ramen in LA, I felt like the Momofuku pork was almost on par with the pork at Mitsuwa/Santouka.
Everyone loved the pizza at No. 28. We ordered the Reginella and another pie with prosciutto and arugula. The sauce was slightly sweeter than I would've liked, but I loved the crust, which was just right -- chewy, but with just enough crunch -- and the toppings, especially the prosciutto, were excellent.
It's hard to say I was disappointed in Minetta Tavern, because I had a great dinner, but honestly I've had better than the Black Label Burger. I liked the intense flavor of the meat, but found it a little too buttery. At $26, it's just not something I'd see myself eating often unless a friend visits from out of town and really wants to try it. The fries were a huge hit, though. All of my friends said they actually liked the fries better than the burger.
FiveDanFive, Lupa is one of my favorite restaurants that I tried years ago. Wonder if it's still good. I would have definitely checked it out again if I had more time.
I'm jealous that you got to try pizza in NYC. That was one goal of mine that I couldn't fit in.
And I agree with you on Momofuku's pork buns. They are amazing. It's interesting that you tried it and Noodle Bar and I tried it at Ssam Bar and sounds like they're consistently good in either locations.
Minetta Tavern is a place I would have tried if it wasn't for the crowds. How did you get in?
I called 30 days in advance, right at 9am Central, to get the Minetta table for 6. They'll only offer you early or late time slots, though, because they keep the "prime" dinner hours open, presumably for big shots.
I actually wanted to try No. 28 pizza, then slide over to Famous Joe's right after to get a slice there, but my friends were all too stuffed. Lightweights.
A few of the things I'll definitely need to try when I move back to NY -- Ippudo ramen and pork buns, Eleven Madison Park, and the brunch at Clinton St.
I'm back from my week in Manhattan and I thought I'd give people an update post of where I ended up eating!
First off, wow, what a great week of weather in New York. I was lucky to have the week of fall weather, cool days and sunshine! Just perfect!
As for the food, as expected, I didn't get to go to everywhere I wanted to go because of my days heading out to Flushing Meadows for the US Open and just being exhausted from walking and wanting to just go back to my hotel. But there were some food adventures, and overall I really enjoyed the places I checked out. Coming from San Francisco, I'm already pretty particular, but all the Manhattan places really lived up to expectations.
In no particular order, here's where I went:
Boqueria Soho: I arrived Sunday night and after checking in to the hotel, it was 9 p.m. My hotel was near Soho so I did some quick research and Boqueria sounded good because it was open late and on a Sunday night. When I arrived, the dining room was packed but the bar area was totally open. I got a seat at the bar and the bartender was very friendly and helpful with the menu. It was suckling pig night so I ordered that dish, but I also ordered the octopus skewers, which was superb, and the heirloom tomato salad, which was beautifully plated. It was served with watermelon cubes, and the meaty watermelon matched the meaty tomatoes. I also had a nice glass of cava to start and a red wine that my bartender recommended. Everything was fantastic and I loved the vibe of the food and room. It was a great first meal!
Pics and full report: http://singleguychef.blogspot.com/2009/09/travel-dish-boqueria-soho.html
Clinton St. Baking Co. : The next day I went here for breakfast, arriving around 10:30 a.m. and it was already packed but I got the last table. Service is really friendly here but it takes awhile for the plates to arrive. I ordered the famous blueberry pancakes with maple butter syrup. It looked beautiful and was very fluffy and light, but I wanted more taste int he maple syrup. Overall I liked the texture more than the taste. It was a fun spot, but I wouldn't wait for hours for the pancakes.
Full report and pics: http://singleguychef.blogspot.com/2009/09/travel-mini-dish-clinton-street-baking.html
Eleven Madison Park: That evening I went to Eleven Madison Park, which I made reservations. I ended up bringing a jacket with me but I paired it with a nice pair of jeans just so I can stay comfortable. The room was filled with a lot of business types in suits and a lot of older diners, so it did have a formal feel to it, but I have to say all the servers and waiter was super friendly. When they talked with you, they have a real natural ease that wasn't formal at all. I went for the 11-course Gourmand tasting menu (yes, my splurge) and it was a lot of food. Overall, I have to say I liked the creative takes on the menu and everything was beautifully plated, but I felt the flavor profile (at least at the start of the meal) was very similar. Everything was slightly salty. Mid-way through, the dishes coming out started to be more diverse in look and flavor so I started feeling better about the meal. I don't know if I were wowed by anything, but it was an elegant and well-thought-out meal. The highlight for me was an insalata caprese course that were served in liquid globes, and a frog leg saboyon in egg shell. The main course was a halibut with weird dried corn on top and a lamb with goat cheese panna cotta and olive liquid globes. There were also very many nice touches. It was an epic meal that lasted nearly 4 hours. I liked the overall experience but I didn't feel transported to something amazing. It was just solid. Again, the service was spot on.
Full report and pics: http://singleguychef.blogspot.com/2009/09/travel-dish-eleven-madison-park.html
Momofuku Ssam Bar: I came here for lunch and it was totally quiet when I arrived. I really liked the $25 prix fixe lunch special, a real good value. I started with the pork buns, of course, and they were amazing, the best I've ever had. They were so tender and fatty. I generally don't like eating fat, but they made it so luxurious in texture that it didn't taste like anything oily or fatty. And the hoi sin sauce had a milder taste so it didn't overpower the pork belly compared to store-bought hoi sin. The second course I had braised beef noodles and there were a lot of beef in this dish. It was very filling. The noodles and broth were nice, but my only criticism is I wanted more noodles. The proportion of protein to the starch seemed a bit lopsided. Dessert I got a thai iced tea parfait that was nice and refreshing. Overall I really liked the quality of the food and the vibe of the bar.
Full report and pics: http://singleguychef.blogspot.com/2009/09/travel-dish-momofuku-ssam-bar.html
The Spotted Pig: This wasn't on my list but was a suggestion from a friend. I was so tired at this point of making decisions and the Eleven Madison meal was a bit rich that I was losing my eating powers, so my friend suggested this spot. I had heard of it and knew it was around for awhile, so I wasn't expecting much and thought of this as a throwaway meal and mostly time for me to hangout with my friend. But I was impressed by the menu, which was very creative and tasty. My friend and I shared this dish called gnudi, which is like a cross between a gnocchi and ravioli. It's stuffed pasta balls that's been pan fried. It was amazing with this fresh milk cheese inside. I loved it. Then I had the squid salad, which was also very good, and the pork cheeks which was very tasty and tender. Nicely prepared. After eating here, I was excited again about going out to eat.
Full report and pics: http://singleguychef.blogspot.com/2009/09/travel-dish-spotted-pig.html
Porchetta: One night I wanted something quick and easy and I decided to check this out for dinner. It is kind out on the edge, huh? Because I had to do a lot of walking from the subway stop. No matters, it's a cute place with a nice outdoor seating which was great for the weather I was having. I got the porchetta plate and it was a nice serving of porchetta and beans with cooked greens. The porchetta, like I think someone else mentioned, is a bit dry even though it felt tender. I didn't like the beans at all, but the cooked green which were swiss chard and brocolli rabe was tasty. Overall this is a nice neighborhood spot but not sure why it's so popular.
Full report and pics: http://singleguychef.blogspot.com/2009/09/travel-mini-dish-porchetta.html
DBGB Kitchen and Bar: I made reservations for Friday night here because of some of your recommendations and I loved this place. It had a great decor and feel, the service is efficient and the food is wonderful. I got the cucumber soup which I loved because it was perfect for warm weather, very refreshing. Cucumbers came be bland but the soup had tapioca pearls and the smoked salmon grissini on the side. I also had the roasted figs and prosciutto di parma and that was beautifully plated. The prosciutto was a very nice quality. The figs were a lot but nothing spectacular. I also ordered the duck duo which was duck breast and duck confit leg. The breast pieces were plentiful and nicely cooked and the confit leg was amazing. It had an interesting flavor that I couldn't pin hand on, it just was complex and tasty. The only downside to the dish was the added green of baby bok choy that was overcooked and stringy. For dessert, I had the grand marnier souffle and it was so beautiful and tasted so nice, light and fluffy. It came with a side of creme anglaise that was slightly thick, but overall I liked it.
Full report and pics: http://singleguychef.blogspot.com/200...
I also wanted to note that I tried Crumbs Bakery's cupcakes and they were great. Had the peanut butter reeses and it was so good. It's also a much bigger cupcake than the ones I get in the Bay Area. I wish I could say this was the best cupcake, but I went to D.C. and had an even better experience at Georgetown Cupcakes.
Overall, I had a great time eating out in Manhattan. The beautiful weather might have played into my overall good mood but the food definitely was spot on. (The only one thing I noticed about dining out in Manhattan is that your drinks are super expensive! That really added to my bills.)
Thanks again everyone for your suggestions! I had a very memorable epicurean week in New York!
re: steve h.
I liked it, too. I'm guessing the reason why you didn't taste the maple syrup enough at Clinton St. is that they used light Grade A, rather than either a dark Grade A or my favorite: Industrial strength Grade B. Does anyone know if that's right?
I'm glad you liked the duck at DBGB. I liked it very much when I went there.
Thanks so much for taking the time to write up this excellent detailed review! I'm particularly pleased that you did go to EMP since you and I had a back-and-forth about it when you were making your plans. Though the 11-course Gourmand didn't completely wow you, I'm glad that, overall, you enjoyed it.
RGR, it's funny, looking back at my dinner after some time, it seems more special now because it seems every detail was given to the progression of the meal. During the actual eating of it, I may have been affected by the long periods between courses because I was dining alone. I think if I was chatting with someone, it wouldn't have affected me as much. And also, as I mentioned, the salty flavoring in the first few courses threw me off. But really, the service is amazing and the plating is beautiful. I'm glad I tried the gourmand menu. thanks again for recommending it!
I'd highly recommend Shopsin's for breakfast. A unique NYC breakfast/lunch spot. Note: Closed on Sunday and Monday's. You will not be disappointed. Recommended pancakes: Slutty Cakes, the bacon and egg or the mac and cheese. Egg Dishes: Blisters on my Sisters or the Castles.
Here's a few chow links from recent converations about Shopsins:
I also chime in with the rest of the gang and add EMP.
I would also look into Degustation. Especially since you eat on the earlier side. Whenever I have gone for a 6pm seating, it's only half full.
And hit up El Quinto Pinofor the Uni Panini - assuming you like uni?
Hi everyone, so my trip is next week and I'm really looking forward to it. But like I said, two days are already out because I'll be at the US Open and not sure how industrious I'll be about going out for dinner after spending all day at the open. So we'll see how many places I do end up trying.
I have to say, given everyone's feedback, I did go ahead and make reservations at Eleven Madison and DGBG. Those were the only two places I wanted to make sure I tried. So looking forward to eating there. The other places I'm going to wing it and see if I can just walk in. I'll post where I end up after my trip. Thanks again for all the great feedback!
You've gotten a lot of replies, so I'll just comment on Di Fara: I'd skip it. Yeah, it's delicious pizza, but it's $5 a slice now, and I see no reason to wait a couple of hours for a couple of slices when you can get delicious pizza in the Village at Keste. Some hounds don't like it, because it's Neapolitan style and not New York style. But I think it's great.
No, New York style is not the same as Neapolitan. Look at some of these Google image results for "le vera pizza napoletana" (the real Neapolitan pizza):
Now, look at image results for Keste, a Neapolitan-style pizzeria in New York:
Here are results for Ray's Pizza, a run-of-the-mill New York pizzeria chain (or, rather, several), representing a mediocre gas-fired pizza style:
Here are results for DiFara Pizza, a great, thinner-crust (but not as thin as Neapolitan-style) gas-fired New York-style pizza:
Here are results for Patsy's East Harlem, a classic New York coal-fired pizza:
Notice the greater amount of char on the circumference of the pizza.
I only commented on what I know ....
Bar Americain (EH...I would not make this one of my stops)
Bar Boulud ( would try the new DBGB instead)
Clinton Street Bakery (mostly for breakfast) ( I agree on the non-weekend visit. Also I absolutely love 202 for breakfast/brunch)
Co. (Co. Pizzeria? I would try Keste' instead)
Di Fara Pizza (It's good but FAR from Manhattan. If you're willing to go to Brooklyn try Motorino in Williamsberg - it is MUCH closer and, in my opinion, MUCH better)
Enoteca at Del Posto ( I would skip this - especially with the attire preference. I think Otto is great for a casual meal - the pasta is always good. Eating at the bar is great)
Morandi -( I actually like Morandi - the brunch and dinner. pastas are always well made and al dente and there is a good bar where you can dine alone. Always a scene - for better or worse)
Thalia- again, EHH
Have only been to a few places on your list:
Aldea - one of the best meals I have had in a long time. Go and be sure to get the duck paella. Also do a search of this Board for other suggestions. Soon, if not already, this place will be impossible to get a reservation for.
Perilla - duck meatballs, a few other interesting dishes. To be fair, have only been once but would go again.
Both have bar seating which is great for the single diner who also wants flexibility. Read a post below that Perilla does not serve dinner at the bar. Might want to check on that.
Also been to Clinton Street (long lines for pancakes) and Convivio. No plans to return.
Ditto Shopsin's rec.
Strongly suggest you do RGR's LES tour if you have not already done it.
I just ate at Del Posto...and between Del posto and Scarpetta, i would definitely choose Scarpetta. The food at Del Posto was good but it's definitely for a older dining crowd. Scarpetta's food is not only better but much easier to diner solo.
Agreed on Perilla...totally worth going for! :)
Aldea - Heard great things from most friends I trust
Bar Americain - Ok- I've only gone because I used to live near by - Pleasant.
Bar Boulud - Awesome.
Clinton Street Bakery (mostly for breakfast) - Very good!
Co. - Not worth the hype, but nothing can be with the amount of hype it has.
Convivio - Very good.
Di Fara Pizza - Disappointing.
Enoteca at Del Posto - Good deal.
Ippudo (for ramen) - Sick! Only get ramen, rest of the food is terrible.
James (in Park Slope, where I used to live briefly so I like going to dinner one night in my old hood) - Have no idea.
Matsugen - Stick with ippudo and save some $$.
Momofuku Ssam Bar or Noodle Bar? (which one if you had to choose) Ssam is probably your "must go" on this list. You'll have a great time by yourself and try lots of great food.
Morandi - No.
Perilla - Ok.
Porchetta (probably just for lunch) - Great for lunch.
Scarpetta - Very, very good. Great for solo dining at bar.
Taboon - No.
Thalia - Same as bar americain. Agree with other poster, only good for a proper martini pre/post theater.
Thanks CocHoliday and everyone else! So far I've dropped Bar Americain, Taboon and thalia from my list and added Eleven Madison. Still have to do some more research to decide if DiFara and Co. is worth the trip. We've been getting some good pizza here in San Francisco although I know New Yorkers love their pizzas.
The great thing about this city is they are very accomodating to solo diners. Also, I would advise you make reservations on opentable.com, it is a great site and you will be assured a table.
From your list I would say Clinton St is awesome. Gotta go there for breakfast on a weekday...the great thing about them is they serve their pancakes all day long.
Momofuku is very conduscive to solo dining with bar seating, however I think it is a bit over-hyped and I find solo diners to get neglected by the servers.
Di Fara's is also incredible. True you WILL wait and you WILL pay dearly but it is SO worth it, at least for me.
If you like a great burger (who doesn't) Rare Bar and Grill is a great spot.
Finally, it wouldn't be a steakrules post without the suggestion of eating at a steakhouse. For me, the steakhouse provides the ultimate in solo dining. Again, most can be found on opentable. You will feel extremely comfortable dining solo at any steakhouse in the city and they all accept walk-ins. Some great ones are Keens, Strip House, Old Homestead, Craft, BLT Prime, Smith and Wollensky, Del Frisco's.
AVOID DEL FRISCO's- big time rip off.
Here are my thoughts re: the restaurants on your list I've been to.
Aldea: Absolutely! Chef/Owner George Medes' Portuguese-inspired cuisine is seriously delicious. The regular menu is served at the bar. It faces directly onto the kitchen, so you can interact with the staff as you watch your food being prepared.
Bar Americain: The one meal we had there was mediocre at best. Skip it!
Bar Boulud: A must if you love charcuterie. In a word: Superb! You can sit at the bar or at semi-circular community table.
Convivio: Excellent food. There is a small, separate bar room, but I'm not sure the menu -- or any food, for that matter -- is served there.
DiFara - If you want to take the time to shlep out there, do it so that you are there around 1:30 - 2 p.m. on a Wednesday or Thursday when it's least likely to be jammed. Forget the weekend. They are closed Monday and Tuesday.
I'd add the following possibilties:
Eleven Madison Park: If you are comfortable dining solo at a table, I strongly urge you to do it there. You will be treated very cordially by one of the best service staffs in the city. However, if you still prefer to dine at the bar, even though the bar menu is different from the main dining room's, it s still worth it to experience Chef Daniel Humm's extraordinary French-inspired cuisine, the excellent wine list, and the gorgeous space.
Allegretti: Wonderful Provencal-style cuisine. The full menu is served at the bar.
You definitely do not need to dress up at EMP for either lunch or dinner. A jacket is not required, and you can even wear a nice pair of jeans. There are only three items that are verboten. The website states: "We ask that you wear proper attire. No shorts, t-shirts, or sneakers are allowed."
While I love having lunch -- the 5-course Gourmand for $68 is an exceptional value -- dinner is where you get the full treatment. If you go for dinner and your wallet can bear it, I strongly recommend the 11-course Gourmand. Several hours of sheer bliss! :)
RGR is right you do not need to dress up at EMP. I wore a dress hirt, nice jeans, and nice shoes and was fine. And if you can secure a rezzy I assure you that it will be one of the best meals of your life. Definitely go if you can. The staff and food are incredible and among the tops I have ever had.
thats a good list so far...here's some notes:
Aldea - i havent been but ive heard nothing but solid praise here.
Bar Americain - this is a throwaway...midtown and bobby flay...its boring...you can do better elsewhere.
Clinton Street Bakery (mostly for breakfast) - weekday breakfast is quite nice, the weekends are just nuts. its not that big and you may feel a bit out of place eating alone.
Convivio - i just had dinner here. i didnt get to view the whole layout but i think this would be fine for solo dining...everyone seems to be focused on their party. the pastas are insane...id skip entrees here. i had the veal tongue appetizer and the fusilli with pork shoulder ragu...both were excellent. the cavatelli with fava beans were also out of this world but the food is a bit on the heavy side.
Di Fara Pizza - i grew up in brooklyn but i wont deal with difara again. the pizza is the best but the wait is too much. i suggest you get a square slice or 4 at artichoke pizza on 14th off 1st ave...a very close second.
Ippudo (for ramen) - ippudo rules...they should have space for singles in the main area. the akaramaru (sp?) ramen with extra pork belly is insanely delicious. get an order of pork hirata buns to start. if i recall, ippudo does not let you take food home.
James - i lived in park slope as well. ive heard ok things about james but i keep going back to applewood on 11th street...probably my favorite brooklyn restaurant. the chef does wonders with veal and pork and goat.
Matsugen - a new favorite. i think eating alone at the bar here on a weeknight would be fantastic. the 'recession special' just happens to be their best item. i very much recommend this place. i sometimes order some extra sushi with my meal however.
Momofuku Ssam Bar or Noodle Bar? - ssam bar...but im not a super fan like everyone else. its ok...their lunch prix fixe was a good way to sample it. $25 for pork buns and spicy pork rice cakes and their peanut butter jelly dessert was great.
Morandi - this place sucks. i just dont get it. if you want italian near there, try da andrea on 13th and 6th ave or gradisca on 13th.
Perilla - another favorite. great place for solo dining. the food is excellent and its comfortable at the same time. the duck entree is particularly good.
Porchetta (probably just for lunch) - absolute travesty how this place is popular. i think its the biggest ripoff in nyc. avoid. very dry meat, small servings, high prices.
Aldea just got reviewed in the NYT a short while ago -- I'd try to reserve. I haven't been. Maybe Casa Mono or Degustation as a backup, although for Degu. I'd reserve (dinner service only) whereas Casa Mono is open all day.
Bar Americain -- I think most hounds would tell you to skip.
Bar Boulud and Clinton Street Baking Co. both have some counter seating. Clinton St's counter is tiny though. 2 seats at a window, 3 seats by the bar, IIRC.
Bar Boulud will probably be mobbed right before a show, so it's better to dine at "normal" dinner hours there.
Clinton Street will be mobbed on the weekends. Do a weekday. What about Shopsin's?
Co. might be awkward for a solo diner if they put you at the communal table. Lunches are more chill than dinners here.
Di Fara = seek wisdom on the Outer Boroughs board but my general advice is to show up at 11:45am on a weekday (not Monday or Tuesday though) and be patient. Don't move out of Dom's immediate line of sight.
Enoteca at Del Posto - I think you need to reserve for this one. Why Del Posto, though? Otto or Babbo are both quite well suited for solo dining as you can eat at the bar there.
Hakata Ippudo - go for lunch or go RIGHT when they open for dinner service at 5ish, the crowds are insane. Nearly as bad as Clinton St. Baking so.
Momofuku Ssam Bar and Noodle Bar are both extremely conducive to solo dining since the majority is counter service. Both are typically less crowded at lunch. However, they have quick turnaround, so your wait for a dinner seat will most likely be short.
Perilla -- make a reservation, it's not a huge restaurant. I don't think you can eat at the bar.
Can't really comment about the others.
> I read about the "underground" malls with the food courts, but no one ever specifically mentions a favorite food item or food stall to try. If you can steer me to any must-trys, that'll be great!
Your impression is the exact opposite of what I've seen on the Outer Boroughs board. Search for "flushing mall" or "golden mall" or "golden shopping mall"...
Here is my guide to Flushing Main Street:
Don't Leave NY Without Eating...
NYC for visitors:
I highly recommend RGR's self guided Lower East Side Gustatory tour:
Best pizza in NY:
I think these trip reports/itinerary might help:
Excellent, good to know that about Perilla.
Del Posto doesn't offer a tasting, but rather some prix fixe deals (one for lunch, two for dinner--a 4 course and a 5 course).
But if you're coming to NY from far away, might as well go to the original: Babbo.
Yeah, I'm with kathryn (as I often am): dining solo at the bar at Babbo is one of the best NY dining experiences one can have. I also like doing so at Veritas. Others have had good experiences doing so at Scarpetta, but on the one occassion I went there (on July 4 of all days and and I sat in the dining room) I was underwhelmed.
I was also underwhelmed by Perilla, but I am definitely in the minority on that one; there are many posters here who I respect a lot who like it.
As for the rest of your list, I would agree with others to skip Del Posto, Bar Americain, Morandi and Taboon and Thalia.
Aldea, Convivio, and Clinto St Baking Co will require getting there at the right time (early) but each is well worth it. Go to Clinton St during the week, not weekend.
I think you are smart to through DiFara on to your list, and, as kathryn suggested, search the Outer Boroughs boards for Flushing recs. I love the underground mall food court. I'd add Sripraphai and either Spicy Meena or Deshi Biryani to your list of outer borough musts.
Ssam bar is awesome. Highly recommend. Dinner is fine there on a weeknight. Co and Porchetta are nice lunch recs. I'd hit Veloce Pizzeria for a sausage slice and Despana for good Spanish sandwiches and, of course, Banh Mi Sau Voi on Lafayette for banh mi, as other lunch recs. And you'll save $ for dinner.
Cuisine-wise, your list is all over the place. Could you name a couple of your favorite cuisines so we can focus on the best in each category?
Here are my initial thoughts:
Bar Americain - ARE YOU A BIG FLAY FAN?
Clinton Street Bakery (mostly for breakfast)
Di Fara Pizza
Enoteca at Del Posto - WHY DEL POSTO?
Ippudo (for ramen)
James (in Park Slope, where I used to live briefly so I like going to dinner one night in my old hood)
Momofuku Ssam Bar or Noodle Bar? (which one if you had to choose) - SSAM BAR
Morandi - GREAT FOR BRUNCH; HAVEN'T HEARD GOOD THINGS ABOUT DINNER
Porchetta (probably just for lunch)
Taboon - HAVEN'T HEARD THIS PLACE MENTIONED IN YEARS
Thalia - MEH...PROBABLY GOOD FOR A GLASS OF WINE PRE-THEATER
Leah, the cuisine is all over the place because I do like trying a variety of cuisines and styles. So I'm not stuck on one thing, but did want to know which is good for what it serves.
I am a Bobby Flay fan but I was just interested in checking out the place to see if a TV chef can also put out a good restaurant. I ate at Mesa Grill years ago and was somewhat interested to see what his new place would be like, but from people's feedback it sounds like it might be better to skip.
I think the major reason Mesa Grill was as good as it eas years ago (which is when we last ate there) is that, back then, it was Flay's only restaurant, and he was actually in the kitchen most of the time. Once he became famous, that changed. In addition to opening more restaurants, he's also busy doing his various t.v. gigs. Btw, I'm not a Flay basher. I also liked the food at his second restaurant, Bolo, which closed a couple of years ago. (The building was bought by a real estate developer.) There are Hounds who like Bar Americain, but our meal there sucked big time!