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Aug 2, 2009 06:59 PM

Help a Londoner eat her way through Manhattan

Hello everyone.

I'm going to be in Manhattan for a few days at the end of September and I've been doing some research about the best places to eat, and I'm now really confused by the enormous choice!

For reference, I'm not particularly interested in eating European food in New York, for obvious reasons, but I will make an exception for Italian. I can get great Indian at home. So what I'm really interested in is American, new American/fusion, Korean, Japanese, Chinese (in fact all things Asian, especially Bahn Mi, which is hard to find in the UK) and Mexican (I know NYC isn't the best place in America for this, but there's not much good Mexican in London). We will already have visited DC and the South (Staunton/Charleston/Savannah) so will probably have had enough soul food by then. In fact, lighter food might be a good idea!

Anyway, on the long (long) list.....

Katz's for pastrami (a must, I think)
Baougette / Saigon Grill / Bahn Mi San Voi
Peter Luger ( for the burger)
Russ and Daughters
Shake Shack
Clinton Street Bakery
Sushi Yasuda / Sushi Azabu
Ippudo (for ramen)
Taco Taco
Di Fara (I'm not sure I want to waste time on this when I live near a place that serves the best pizza in London but can't help but think that you need to have a "slice" while in NY. On my previous visit eons ago I went to Lombardis I think but wasn't overly impressed - too much cheese).

Babbo / Lupa
Szechuan Gourmet
Cabrito / El Paso
Gramercy Tavern
Balthazar (I know I said no French!)
Eleven Madison Park
Spotted Pig (although I come from the land of the gastropub, I'm quite interested in the American take on it. But maybe not that interested).

I'd love some input on this. If it helps we'll be staying in Greenwich Village. I'm willing to spend $$$ on one blow-out meal, but as this is the end of an expensive 2.5 week trip, the more moderately priced would be good! Thank you.

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  1. Going down your lists, here's my take on the places I've been to.

    Katz's for pastrami (a must, I think) - Yes, a definite must! I've had deli in London at Bloom's. Not even on the same deli planet as Katz's.

    Baougette - I've tried only one banh mi at the Lex location. Not impressed.

    Peter Luger ( for the burger) - I wouldn't shlep all the way to Brooklyn to have a burger when there are excellent burgers to be had in Manhattan.

    Russ and Daughters - Absolutely! But keep in mind that it's take-out only.

    Shake Shack - Yes! To avoid the hideously long lines, get there just before they open at 11 a.m.

    Di Fara - I've been to London several times but have never had pizza there, so I have no idea what it's like. In any case, again, with excellent pizza available in Manhattan, I wouldn't bother going to Brooklyn and especially now that Di Fara has raised the price of a slice to $5. Imo, no pizza is worth paying that much.

    Gramercy Tavern - Yes, to the casual Tavern Room (no reservations accepted), but I cannot recommend the formal dining room since we had a very disappointing dinner there a few months ago.

    Eleven Madison Park - Regulars on this board know that this is our #1 favorite NYC restaurant. You did say no Europeon/French, and Chef Humm's cuisine is French-inspired. However, it is the most upscale, blow-out worthy restaurant on your list, and it does have the whole package: stellar cuisine, an excellent wine program, one of the best service staffs in the city, and a gorgeous space.

    Aldea - Excellent! If you're fine with Portuguese-inspired New American, I highly recommend it.

    For modern Mexican with an emphasis on fish and seafood, I would suggest Pampano.

    You might want to consider taking my famous self-guided eating tour of the Lower East Side. Both Katz's and Russ & Daughters are on it. Here's the link:

    1. A lot of good ideas here, I'll chime in:

      Katz's - Definitely a must. For the first trip, don't deviate from the classic: pastrami on rye with mustard. Ask the slicer for a juicy cut if you like it moist and fatty.

      Peter Luger - The burger here is among the best in NYC and is a good value, but the porterhouse is why the place is famous. I don't think I could resist the urge to order steak, even at lunch time. Minetta Tavern may be a suitable alternative; they have arguably better burgers, including the (in)famous dry-aged $26 Black Label burger. Many people consider it the best burger in NYC, bar none.

      Russ and Daughters - It's just down the block from Katz's, so it would be very easy to visit. The herring in cream sauce is probably their most iconic item, along with many types of smoked fish.

      Shake Shack - A very tasty fast-food style burger that deserves the praise it gets, but it is not worth braving the insane lines during peak times (easily over an hour). Try to get there right before opening (11 AM) or try their Upper West Side location.

      Clinton Street Bakery - Weekdays are better as the waits can be long on weekends. Their pancakes with maple butter are great (I assume you're going for breakfast).

      Matsugen - The best soba in town since Honmura An closed. I'd ignore the rest of the menu and go straight for the unadorned cold soba, without the distractions of duck, eggs, natto etc. I find that the simplest version is the most sublime.

      Sushi Yasuda - Yasuda is a couple tiers above Azabu both in quality and cost. Omakaze at the bar at Yasuda will be pricey, but it is one of the very top sushi meals you can have in NYC, only rivaled by Kurumazushi and Masa. For much less money, you can have a chirashi entree at a table and order a few nigiri/other items a la carte.

      Ippudo - Probably the best ramen in town, especially their akamaru modern if you like rich pork broths. Unfortunately, the wait during dinner time is usually long, so I'd suggest going for lunch or right at the beginning of dinner service.

      Di Fara - Be ready for a trek. It's a rather long subway ride away and Dom DeMarco takes his blessed sweet time making each pizza himself. You have to be assertive when ordering and keep close watch, because people will take your slices/pies if you're not careful. If you're unlucky, you may end up waiting nearly 2 hours to get your pizza, especially if Dom loses your order in the shuffle. Now at $5 a slice, I honestly can't tell you if it's worth the money, time, or aggravation. But what emerges from that plain, beat-up looking conventional gas oven is the best pizza of this style in the country. Old school Brooklyn through and through, it is undoubtedly a cheese-heavy, New York style slice. But that's ok when the cheese is top-shelf fior di latte mozzarella, mozzarella di bufala, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Together in the right proportions and topped with olive oil and freshly-snipped basil, it is absolutely amazing. Your mileage may vary. Tips: Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Going early is best to avoid the prolonged waits. It is also much cheaper to get a pie, which is $25 I believe (works out to just over $3 a slice), rather than individual slices.
      If you're looking for Neapolitan style pizza, Motorino and Keste are good options, and easier than getting a slice from Di Fara. And Lombardi's wouldn't even make it in a top 30 NYC list IMO, it hasn't been relevant for a while.

      Babbo / Lupa - Both are board favorites and well worth going to if you manage to snag a reservation. I've been to Lupa fairly recently and enjoyed eating there.

      Scarpetta - There's some really excellent food here, but the standout for me is what looks like the simplest item on the menu: spaghetti with tomato and basil. Humble ingredients elevated into a region-defining dish; who knew that tomatoes could be that decadent?

      Degustation - I've heard nothing but good things, so I think I'll be checking it out very soon.

      Gramercy Tavern - It has been a NYC fine dining institution for many years and was a forerunner in the fresh, seasonal ingredient movement. Either the casual Tavern or main dining room would be good choices. It is also interesting to note that GT is one of the very few high-end restaurants that takes beer seriously. They have a carefully chosen selection of beers on tap, a list of relatively hard-to-find bottles, and several vintage ales, all served in proper glassware. Just like any beverage though, it seems like large mark-ups are part of the game, with Rochefort Trappists 8 going for $16.25 (EMP charges $19 for the same bottle). I bet the Rochefort 10 would go for well over $20 if they had it...oh well, still not nearly as painful as wine mark-ups.

      Balthazar - Pass. Good French bistro fare, but I think there are more interesting options.

      Eleven Madison Park - This would be a great choice for your blow-out meal. Searching "EMP" on the boards will bring up many recent reports.

      Aldea - Haven't been, but I've heard nothing but glowing reports.

      Spotted Pig - Pass. Not much reason to go here, especially as a Londoner.

      I'd also recommend Jean Georges for lunch. It isn't strictly French as there are strong Asian influences in the flavor combinations of many dishes, often involving the interplay between fleeting heat, acidity, and sweetness. The lunch menu features many of the items on the dinner menu and is priced at $29 for 2 courses, $14.50 per additional course. The best items on the menu are wonderful, and I can't complain about JG lunch being the most inexpensive Michelin 3* meal on the planet.

      Another possibility for your one blow-out meal would be Le Bernardin. If you like seafood, there are dishes here that would make you swoon. I think Eric Ripert's best dishes are the best NYC has to offer in any capacity. I also think the experience is unique to New York, as there is no other restaurant in the world singularly devoted to preparing seafood at this level (though L2O in Chicago is trying). For vegetables, there's l'Arpège; for offal, there's St. John; and for seafood; there's Le Bernardin.

      9 Replies
      1. re: hcbk0702

        $25 for a pizza! I'm in shock. ;-) My local (which does Neapolitan style sourdough pizza which is raved about is only a fiver and uses the finest organic ingredients. And the queues are only really bad on a Saturday. I'm intrigued, and maybe if I was in New York for longer, I'd give it a go. But I honestly think my OH will balk at spending half a day queuing for pizza.

        1. re: greedygirl

          Di Fara isn't Neapolitan style, it's a New York style pie. So that $25 pie isn't individually sized; it consists of 8 large slices and would feed about 3-4 people. But if you bought 8 slices ($5 each) piece by piece instead, it would be $40. Just pointing out that buying the pie is cheaper if you're going to have enough people to eat it.

          A standard Margherita Neapolitan pie would generally be $10-12, and a couple dollars more if mozzarella di bufala is used.

          1. re: hcbk0702

            I wouldn't really say Di Fara is really NY style (gas oven) either. He's got a gas oven but also that crazy blend of cheeses which includes parmesan, and with the drizzle of olive oil and the fresh basil, it's his own creation. I can't think of anywhere else in the city using a gas over that does those three things. I prefer to call it Dom-DeMarco-style!

            Distinct styles of pizza found in NY are typically Neopolitan, NY-Neopolitan (coal over mostly), New York style (gas oven).


            Di Fara FAQ


            1. re: kathryn

              If I had to live on a desert Island, I would take a Difara pie over any neopolitan pie on earth, bar none...however, it is a long trek out to midwood and will take up most of your day ...I didn't see any Momofuku's on your list, David Chang is the most decorated young chef in the states and arguable the most influential and relevant chef in NYC right now, do a search, you'll see..

              1. re: Cpalms

                I will add Momofuku to the list, thank you. Maybe Ssam for the pork buns, as MMRuth suggests.

                1. re: Cpalms

                  Seconded. I went to Ssam Bar late at night to meet a couple of friends, got a glass of good sake, and tasted their dishes. They were great, especially a fish filet with an almost indescribably complex and delicious sauce that included ground fennel seeds.

              2. re: hcbk0702

                I obviously need educating about New York style pizza! $25 for 3-4 isn't too bad.

                1. re: greedygirl

                  Actually - there are about 8 slices to a pie at DiFara - so it works out, as the poster above said, to about $3.00 a slice.

            2. re: hcbk0702

              Pass on Balthazar, and I have been rearranging itinerary to try and get there. What other Brasserie do you recommend with loud, raucous atmosphere>

            3. Go to Peter Luger for the porterhouse- The best steak you will ever have.

              Clinton Street Bakery- A definite for the bluberry pancakes.

              Di Fara's- Yes, a hassle but the best pizza I have ever had.

              Eleven Madison Park- One of the best restaurants I have ever eaten bar none.

              Babbo- Still think it is the best Italian in the city, despite what people may say.

              5 Replies
              1. re: steakrules85

                I don't wish to offend you, steakrules85, but I rarely order steak in a restaurant. Always something more interesting on the menu! Mr GG, on the other hand.....

                1. re: steakrules85

                  I've just been looking at the website for Eleven Madison Park. It looks seriously amazing and not too bad for the food but the wine list is scary expensive! I'm used to European prices for wine and even a three-star Michelin restaurant like Gordon Ramsay will have much more moderately priced bottles than that. However, I have yet to spend the £200 my granny left me which I have put aside for a special treat (she liked to have fun, my granny) and maybe this will be the place. Will a meal here cost much more than $300 for two, do you think?

                  1. re: greedygirl


                    As I mentioned in my post upthread, EMP is our favorite NYC restaurant, so we've been there countless times. If you do the 3-course prix fixe @ $88pp, keeping in mind that in addition to wine, you will have to include tax (9%) and tip (20%), you should be able to get out for $300 - $325, depending on what you drink.

                    EMP's wine program is headed by John Ragan, one of the best sommeliers in the city. He will help you choose the perfect wine to go with your meal at a price that you feel comfortable with. Also, don't dismiss the idea of wine pairings. John is an absolute master at this and, again, he will select wines that suit your budget.

                    Btw, I strongly urge you to have Chef Humm's signature duck for two. Sensational! One of the best duck preparations on the planet, it is carved tableside.

                    1. re: RGR

                      I'd love to do the wine pairings but can't really afford it at the moment. I forgot about the tax and tip as well - this "hidden" charge is something that drives me mad about US restaurants but that's for another thread. The other option is to go for the Tasting lunch with wine pairing. Is that a better option than the prix fixe dinner with wine, do you think?

                      PS My other hope is that the pound continues to climb against the dollar!

                      1. re: greedygirl

                        If you want to economize, the $68pp 5-course lunch Gourmand is an excellent way to go. We have done lots of those, and they are always superb! You don't get quite the full treatment as at dinner, i.e., you do get an amuse, but no hors d'oeuvres and mignardises. If you don't care for the dessert, you can request the tart trolley instead. Also, you can add on a cheese course and still come in well under your budget.

                        Since I drink very little -- some sweet wine with foie gras -- my husband always does the wine pairings and regularly comments about how smashing they are.

                        I love going to EMP for lunch. Sitting in that grand, gorgeous space with the light (hopefully sunshine) streaming through the huge windows facing Madison Square Park, it's truly magical!

                2. I would definitely make time for Momofuku Ssam - if only to stop by for the pork buns. You can get them at the Milk Bar next door as well.

                  Banh Mi - I'm thinking maybe you mean Saigon Bakery in Chinatown? Excellent Banh Mi - haven't tried the other places.

                  Since you are staying in the Village, this list might be of interest to you:


                  If you are interested in a "take on" Mexican food, I'd highly recommend Bistro Itzocan - Mexican ingredients combined with French technique.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: MMRuth

                    I do mean Saigon Bakery, thank you. And Bistro Itzocan sounds great.

                    1. re: greedygirl

                      Very definitely Saigon Bakery over Baoguette. And if you're walking around Chinatown sampling here and there (pork buns, soup dumplings, pork and chive dumplings, etc., etc.), note that one Banh Mi can easily satisfy two people.

                      And I'll be perhaps the lone voice in favor of the Luger burger--especially if you get a side of bacon along with it. It's a damned good burger, a fun way to experience the place without the crowds, and the bacon is killer. You do the burger, let hubbie do the steak. Betcha he won't be able to resist anyway.

                    2. re: MMRuth

                      I tried Itzocan a couple of summers ago and had a very good meal there.

                      1. re: Pan

                        I was there with a visiting hound and her husband earlier this summer and thought it was just as good as ever.

                    3. Lunch
                      Katz's - I am not by any means a fan of Katz's pastrami, but that puts me in a distinct minority in these boards. Were it me, I would not bother.
                      Banh mi - I am not a fan of Baoguette, especially in comparison to authentic banh mi in Chinatown. I have not yet tried Sau Voi, though I did just get their menu last week, but having tried everything else, I would heartily recommed going to Saigon Bakery and trying their roast pork or banh mi dac biet. You will not be disappointed.
                      Russ and Daughters - A definite must unless you choose to visit Barney Greengrass, which makes my favorite nova in the city.
                      Taco Taco - I haven't been to Taco Taco. My personal preference is for holes in the wall where I am forced to attempt Spanish if I want to eat well.