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Aug 14, 2009 01:06 PM

Visiting Angeleno seeking NYC Chowhounder Recommendations for Food & Wine

I'm not really looking for super high end i.e. Per Se, etc. but love interesting & inventive food w/ good atmosphere, convivial setting/crowd i.e. not stuffy and some comfortable for dining solo. I do my own research too but wanted to see what the CHders suggest.

To give you an idea - past/usual/fave stops include: Momofuku, Balthazar, Spotted Pig, love Jean-George's cooking/flavors (i.e. Spice Market when it was more solid, Mercer Kitchen), Frankie's Spuntino (LES), Blue Ribbon (the original - often), City Bakery...
And, also for reference, in LA my go-to faves include Animal, Mozza, Ita-Cho.

Thank you!

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  1. Seriously? Not one comment, suggestion or otherwise? Did I miss something here? Have I been a bad chowhounder or something? I've certainly offered suggestions to visiting New York CH'ers. What the?

    1. Hmm, I found your original query a little hard to scan. Even with the constraints you have listed (inventive food, convivial setting, comfortable for solo dining), that leaves a LOT of restaurants in NYC. How much are you willing to pay? Cuisine preferences?

      Which Momofuku are you talking about, there are now four! :) If you haven't been to Noodle Bar or Ssam Bar lately, you could always sneak in a stop off there.

      If you're looking for something similar to Momofuku Noodle Bar, there's Hakata Ippudo for ramen. For something similar to Momofuku Ssam Bar, can't think of anything off the top of my head. For something similar to Momofuku Ko where there's counter seating, delicious food, but maybe a little more liveliness, I might do Spanish: Txikito, Casa Mono, Degustation, or Aldea. You can also dine at the bar at the Bar Room at the Modern, Babbo, Scarpetta, the Tavern Room at Gramercy Tavern.

      For something along the lines of Blue Ribbon Brasserie, maybe the pass at Hearth, Perilla, trying to squeeze into the busy/tiny bar at Little Owl?

      Best bar/solo dining in Manhattan:

      2 Replies
      1. re: kathryn

        thank you so much especially for all of the links!! Was planning on a return to the noodle bar but will also try the ssam bar this go around. And Hearth, Perilla and either Little Owl or the sister restaurant were catching my eye, Market something? And Babbo as well.
        Sorry the net on my initial query was too wide!

        1. re: cinzia

          I would personally pick Perilla out of those. I think a lot of people also believe Little Owl is not worth the fuss, and actually, now that I think about it, Hearth is kind of "Craft-lite" and Craft is now in LA. So I'd do Perilla.

          Ssam Bar is very different from Noodle Bar, so I think you're in for a treat.

          Babbo is a must go in my book!

          Have a great trip.

      2. Looks like your request got lost in the shuffle. The NYC board has much more traffic than the other regional boards and posts can easily fall off the first page. It would be helpful to provide more concrete information, such as your budget per meal, cuisine preferences etc. since you have a rather wide-ranging list of favorites. To start off:

        Jean Georges for lunch is a must if you like JGV (the main dining room, not Nougatine) and should be the first reservation you make. $29 for two courses and $14.50 per additional course is a steal for a Michelin 3* restaurant (dinner would be at least $120 pp). Three courses is generally enough for a full meal, especially with the array of amuse bouches and mignardises that come along with it. Current highlights on the menu include the foie gras brulee, skate with chateau chalon sauce, and the parmesan chicken confit among others. There's no bar seating in the main dining room so you'll have to take a table, but I'm sure you'll be treated very well as a solo diner. I believe jackets are only required for dinner and not at lunch. If you'd like a more casual JG alternative, Perry St is the next best choice and they also have a great lunch deal: $24 for two courses and dessert. Skip Spice Market and Mercer Kitchen, there are much better places in NYC.

        If you like sushi, omakase at the bar at Sushi Yasuda is one of the best sushi experiences the city has to offer and ideal for solo dining. It's expensive though (around $100 pp, but can easily be more depending on your appetite), and there are less expensive options that are also good if you don't want to spend that much. Searching the board for sushi should bring up a lot of alternatives.

        If you're looking for an izakaya (which is what Itacho looks like), Sakagura is considered to be the best with an immense sake menu, but is on the pricier side as izakayas go. Aburiya Kinnosuke may be a good alternative. A great yakitori place, like Tori Shin or Yakitori Totto/Torys should deliver the atmosphere you're looking for as well, with an obvious focus on chicken.

        Babbo/Lupa - If you'd like to hit up a Batali place, both of these are well-suited for bar dining. Babbo is pretty much in the exact same price range as Osteria Mozza, while Lupa is significantly less expensive.

        Scarpetta - Another Italian standout, this is a great (and stylish) bar dining spot. The spaghetti with tomato and basil here is a must-order dish. They have a great bread basket and very strong food across the board.

        Degustation - Excellent Spanish-inspired counter dining. The $75 ten course menu is one of the best deals in NYC, along with lunch at Jean Georges and the Gray Papaya recession special.

        The Momofukus are pretty unique. I don't know which one you visited but the menus have likely changed, so Ssam Bar would definitely be worth a (re)visit. Momofuku Ko is the best (and most expensive) among them, but you'll have to deal with their online reservation system to have a chance to dine there.

        For something like Blue Ribbon and possibly better, Prune or Hearth could fit the bill.

        Levain Bakery - Their chocolate chip walnut cookies are definitely worth the trip. There are a lot of other worthy bakeries in the city, depending on what you like.

        That's all I have for now.

        8 Replies
        1. re: hcbk0702

          hcbk0702 - thank you!!! Also spot on and greatly appreciated!

          I've been to the original Momofuku a few times now but plan to check out the Milkbar and maybe the Ssam too. Love them and can't not go. Not enough time (or patience) for the Ko reservation system.

          Spice Market & Mercer were long ago & just given for reference - I just really love his asian flavor combinations. Used to go to Vong in Chicago when it first opened there.

          I really appreciate the recession specials too so thank you for that!

          1. re: cinzia

            If you have to choose one Momofuku, I'd go to Ssam Bar over Noodle Bar. While it's true that Noodle Bar came first chronologically, Ssam Bar is probably considered "the" Momofuku as it is the restaurant that is largely responsible for building David Chang's immense fame. Additionally, the Milk Bar is attached to the Ssam Bar, so it's no effort to visit both. There's also a fourth Momofuku restaurant opening in Midtown sometime later this year, perhaps in the next several weeks. It's been described as French-Vietnamese, but not much else is known about it. Undoubtedly, it will be very popular.

            Both Spice Market and Vong used to be great restaurants, at least right after they opened. Unfortunately, as JGV's restaurant portfolio started getting larger (~20 at last count), the quality has slipped at a lot of his other outposts. Spice Market received three stars from the New York Times when it opened; now it is down to one. No one even talks about Vong any more. On the other hand, Jean Georges has remained stellar throughout the years (four NYT stars since 1997) and has only improved, and Perry St, one of his newer NYC restaurants, has been very strong as well, though admittedly not as consistent as the flagship. No matter how thin he stretches himself, I think JGV will make every effort to make sure that Jean Georges stays at the top of its game.

            If you really love that type of Asian-French interplay, then you would love Le Bernardin as well. I'd suggest lunch ($68 prix fixe) at the bar, but the atmosphere is definitely more formal and traditional (jackets required), so I'm not sure if that's what you're looking for. Eric Ripert is able to do near-magical things with white miso, ginger, shiso, shittake mushrooms etc. that effortlessly supports and elevates the seafood.

            1. re: hcbk0702


              I've been to the noodle bar since the first location and love going except am always solo; so to beat that I've decided to go early this trip and just bring home leftovers - from either or both!

              As for spice market, etc. yeah, I read that more recent review in the NYT - ouch! But it's true and, unfortunately, I fear that it's becoming more and more the norm for all of the celeb chefs w/ the numerous outposts. I had one of the worst meals of my life including horrific service at a Batali restaurant in Las Vegas after having one of the best meals of my life at Osteria Mozza here in LA. It's crazy. That being said, have never been to Babbo and think this trip might be the one.

              Very excited - and it looks like the heat/humidity are about to break - yay!

              Thanks again all!!!

              1. re: cinzia

                For whatever it is worth, I recently ate solo at both Babbo (bar area) and Del Posto (in the less formal seating area, not in the bar which only serves nibbles). It was definitely Del Posto, not Babbo, that blew me away.

                Check out Frank Bruni's parting column and accompanying blog post in today's New York Times for a lot of intriguing restaurant suggestions.

                I too loved Vong back in the day, although Spice Market bored me even when it was allegedly a three-star restaurant.

              2. re: hcbk0702

                Actually Chang got famous off of the Noodle Bar's pork buns, so when people say Momofuku they typically mean the Noodle Bar, especially if they've been living in NYC for a while.

                Ssam Bar was a burrito joint when it first opened, remember? IIRC, lots of people were disappointed when he opened a 2nd restaurant, because it wasn't Noodle Bar part 2, with more pork buns.

                And technically the Momofuku in midtown will be the 5th venture (dependent upon if you call Milk Bar a restaurant...)

                1. re: kathryn

                  True, Noodle Bar was the earlier success, but it was quickly eclipsed when Ssam Bar completely revamped its menu and moved away from the burritos. I remember them, they weren't that great, and Ssam Bar wasn't that impressive in the beginning until they started introducing an eclectic mix of small plate items. That's when I remember the whole Momofuku thing becoming a phenomenon, and Ssam Bar seemed to attract considerably more buzz and press than Noddle Bar. Usually when I hear people say Momofuku, they mean Ssam Bar (or Ko), but that just may be my experience.

                  And I guess I consider Milk Bar more of an extension of Ssam Bar rather than a separate restaurant.

                  1. re: hcbk0702

                    I guess my friends were obsessed with the pork buns from Noodle Bar very early on, and it kept getting written up over and over again, so that's what I remember more.

                    As for when people just write Momofuku if they typically mean Noodle Bar, well see sam1's post below! :)

            2. re: hcbk0702

              Correct about the dress code at Jean Georges at lunch: You can go there with jeans, no-one will bat an eye, and you'll get excellent service. I sometimes dress up, but only because I want to.

            3. yeah, i wouldve replied if i caught this apologies on behalf of nyc.

              animal happens to be a favorite of mine as well. you wont find anything like that here but i have an inkling what you may enjoy.

              definitely check out perilla...its excellent, comfortable, and balances between being a neighborhood spot and a destination quite well. get a duck entree if you see one.

              if you like jean georges' style, check out matsugen, his take on japanese. their 'recession special' happens to be their best menu option in my opinion. i crave their cold ramen with duck broth. id consider ordering some extra sushi if you are particularly hungry.

              8 Replies
              1. re: sam1

                JGV only runs the FoH at Matsugen; the kitchen is run by the Matsushita brothers. It is really their restaurant. Soba is their specialty and it is the best in the city, and there's even a mill on premises to grind fresh buckwheat flour for the handmade soba.

                1. re: sam1

                  Hey sam1-
                  Thank you for your suggestions and apologies, though the latter is not necessary!
                  so you've been to animal, eh? It's walking distance from my apartment and highly dangerous! Just took my Mom there while she was visiting last week and she loved it. In fact, come to think of it, there were a group of NYers sitting behind/next to us - I always sit at the bar, my favorite spot there. Perilla is on my short list for sure as I'm seeing friends in "Our Town" on Sunday nite and may go early before. Staying in the West Village so it's perfect.

                  1. re: cinzia

                    well, if yr in the west village, yr in my neck of the woods.

                    some other area favorites:
                    moustache for their merguez sandwich on bedford, ino for their quattro panini and truffled egg toast also on bedford, perilla once again, tavern on jane for a late night drink or bar food, marys fish camp for a lobster roll at their bar, ushiwakamaru for omakase on houston, grey dog cafe on carmine for their club sandwich, da andrea for their warm octopus salad and paparadelle on 13th street, and barbuto for their roast chicken and their bucatini a la carbonara.

                    also...i think you'll like redhead on 13th off 1st ave...its probably the only real 'gastro-pub' we have in nyc...good bar with a solid and inventive kitchen. also, ippudo for their akiamaru ramen (sp?)...insane pork broth just going to wait for the cold weather before i go again. get their pork buns as well. this place is miles better for ramen than momofuku. also pick up a square pizza at artichoke on 14th.

                    as for animal...the place shouldnt work...the food is too rich...but me and my girlfriend and her sister polished off 10 dishes on our visit. the pork belly with kimchi, the foie gras with maple syrup...the poutine with oxtail gravy...insanely great. my last trip there, i went to sushi zo, hatfields, langers, and a bunch of others...all fantastic.

                    stick to the smallish places on yr visit and youll leave quite happy.

                    1. re: sam1

                      Ushi is currently on vacation, isn't it? It reopens later this week, IIRC, so don't be dismayed if you call to make a reservation and they're not open. Reservations highly recommended, especially for the bar.

                      Redhead is a good neighborhood restaurant but they just got one star in the NYT so let's see if it gets more crowded....

                      1. re: kathryn

                        ok, I can't figure out how to respond directly, this is crazy! ; ) Kathryn, thank you for all your insight and follow up as well!

                      2. re: sam1

                        the pork belly w/ kimchi is one of my all time faves and, as for the poutine, friends & I have dubbed it either 'hangover' or 'pms' food of the gods. I try to balance it out w/ salad or something somewhat lighter. what did you think of hatfield's? i went in the spring and talk about food being too rich, it was crazy. they are in the process of moving closer to mozza, in the old red pearl kitchen space.

                        thanks again for all the great recs, esp. the w. village focused ones - staying at perry & w. 4th so right in it and very excited.

                        what about spotted pig - is that not considered a 'gastropub'? I went last summer and really enjoyed it. again, decadent, but deelish. had some wine at turks & frogs first which was lovely to stumble upon.

                        1. re: cinzia

                          im just not a fan of spotted pig. way too crowded to be enjoyable, inconsistent kitchen, the starf%cking...its not for me.

                          turks and frogs is great but like most wine bars, they have huge mark-ups.

                          hatfields...i thought it was rather perfect. small, intimate, inventive food and very enjoyable evening.

                          1. re: cinzia

                            the pig is good.
                            babbo, at the bar, is pretty good, too.
                            maybe consider a meal at esca. sit at the tiny bar, grab a table, whatever. the crudo is very good as is the pasta. share a sea bass (baked in salt) with a friend. desserts will surprise you. the grappa is what you would expect.
                            yasuda goes without saying.
                            oh, grab a steak and a scotch at keens.

                    2. I think you might like Soto, esp. since you're staying in the W. Village.

                      They're lovely with solo diners; the compositions are interesting and beautiful. And they're particularly strong on uni dishes, if you like those.