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SF Chowhounder in NYC. A little help?

Ok, so I'm in town w/ friends starting this Thursday night and then up to a concert upstate (ATP) on Friday and back with friends Mon/Tues. and then very recently got to change my flight and will be here on business until the following Friday night. Thus, a lot of opportunities. Unfortunately, I haven't done a lot of planning and the planning I did do, I backed out on...

I just cancelled reservations for Blue Hill at SB on Thursday night after reading so many subpar reviews on the other list. If I spend $200-$300 on a meal and it's not absolutely spectacular, then it really upsets me for at least a day or two. Seemed like I'd be taking a chance at BH, so I bagged it. After reading all the EMP reports on this list, I feel like I that was the reservation I should have made (I'll be back later this year and won't miss it though). Oh well.

OK, on to my list. Please feel free to comment on anything on here. Rate the top choices and by all means suggest alternates.

Diner (Williamsburg). I know it's officially not covered on this board, but since everything else is, I thought I'd ask anyway. I LOVE burgers and this looks like a good place for a great bloody med-rare burger. Other great burger places would be nice to know about, but if they can't properly cook one on the rare side of med-rare, I'm not interested. For additional context, I went to Spotted Pig last year and loved their burger. I'd like to have a great burger this trip and right now, this is my pick.

Pearl. Love fried oysters. Love lobster rolls. I'm almost definitely going here unless someone convinces me not to.

Perilla. Is the tasting menu good? $70 for six courses and an amuse seems like a steal.

Prune. Seems similar to Perilla. I'd probably go to one or the other. Do I need reservations for either?

Soccarat or Tia Pol? I've heard good things about both. While I've kind of had my fill of Spanish food lately, my friend really likes it and I'm ultimately up for whatever.

Ippudo. Worth the wait? I went to Setagaya last year and enjoyed it. Is this substantially better?

Sobaya. I know it's not ramen, but is it comparable to Ippudo in terms of quality?

EMP. I know dinner's not an option, but do I have a chance of walking in next Tuesday for lunch with a group of four? What if i try for a res now? Finally - $28 for a prixe fixe seems like a steal for food of this quality. Is the five course lunch worth the extra $40?

Kellari. Any thoughts?

Balthazar or Bar Breton? Or something similar? In case there's a time during the trip where I need some comforting, solid bistro fare.

Sushi Yasuda - too late? If not please tell me your thoughts on Lunch vs Dinner? I know eating at the bar is preferred, but assuming I can only get a table, should I still go? What should I expect to spend?

Momofuku. I've been to Ssam bar twice and loved it. While I'd like to try other things, I'm afraid I've raved about it so much that my friends are really pushing for it. How do the other Momofuku branches compare?

Also, any really good weeday breakfast places you can recommend would be appreciated.

Clearly I won't make it to most of these places, but your thoughts and recommendations can help me pick between them. Some very cheap, but delicious places (food carts, falafel, great pizza slices, etc) would be nice as I'd like to keep my food expenditures somewhat within reason.

Thanks in advance for your help.

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  1. Pearl Oyster Bar - A yes vote here.

    Perilla - Haven't been, but reports are usually favorable. At a similar price point (5 courses for $75), Aldea is excellent and usually gets very enthusiastic reviews.

    Ippudo - Most people consider this the best ramen in NYC. It's very different from Setagaya's, featuring an obscenely rich pork broth instead of a seafood-based broth.

    Soba-ya - Actually, Matsugen has the best soba in NYC so I'd go there instead. I think soba would be considered more rarefied food than ramen, as the craft required to make great soba noodles is much more exacting than ramen. Matsugen is certainly at a higher price point than Ippudo.

    EMP - Lunch reservations shouldn't be as difficult as dinner, so I'd call or book on Opentable immediately. I've heard the Gourmand lunch is substantially better than the prix fixe. An alternative is Jean Georges, which also has a lunch prix fixe deal ($29 for two courses), but it's considerably more popular than EMP's. At the EMP Gourmand lunch price point, Le Bernardin lunch is also an option. Again, that would be more difficult to book, as LB tends to have a steady business clientèle at lunchtime and is in high demand.

    French bistro - I'd go with Balthazar.

    Sushi Yasuda - Try calling. Either lunch or dinner would be fine I think, and there's nothing wrong with table dining (though definitely go for bar seating if you can get it). You can spend relatively little if you just get a chirashi or something like that, even with a couple of extra items (less than $50 pp), while ordering sushi at the bar can get pricey (~$100 pp, though it can be less or much more depending on your appetite and whether you gorge on nothing but uni and otoro).

    Momofuku - I assume Ko is out, so it's mostly between Ssam Bar and Noodle Bar. Both are great, so I don't think you can go wrong with either of them. At Noodle Bar though, I'd just ignore the ramen as there are far better and more interesting dishes on the menu.

    6 Replies
    1. re: hcbk0702

      EDIT: Oops, these comments were directed to dickie d, the OP, not hcbk0702.

      You canceled your reservations for Blue Hill Stone Barns? What subpar reviews did you read? Also, why are you schlepping out to Williamsburg for a burger? Diner is great, but not exactly destination dining imo. For a rare burger, I'd go to Burger Joint in the Parker Meridien.

      I also second the rec of Le Bernadin. Sent my folks there a few weeks ago for dinner, and they loved it so much they went back for lunch. According to them, lunch was not at all crowded.

      1. re: a_and_w

        We had a very disappointing dinner at Blue Hill Stone Barns in May, especially so since our first dinner there about two years ago was brilliant. I posted about it on this thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/628155

        1. re: RGR

          Bummer but good to know -- I was thinking of giving a gift certificate as a wedding gift.

          1. re: a_and_w

            I wouldn't give up on BHSB as a gift certificate spot--I had a stunning meal there, and the spot itself is amazing.

      2. re: hcbk0702

        Thank you so much for the Aldea recommendation. I just looked at their site. The menu, although small, looks really well thought out with a lot of seemingly well conceived dishes. Also, the interior looks great (for me, food is the highest consideration, but I appreciate good design too). Looks like we can get a late reservation on Thursday and am going to book it. Do you think there is any chance we can walk in earlier? The earliest we can reserve is 9:30.

        1. re: dickie d.

          dickie d.,

          Aldea is a wonderful restaurant. Chef/owner George Mendes is extremely talented (he was previously chef de cuisine at the excellent Tocqueville, one of our favorites) and, indeed, his Portuguese-inspired cuisine is superb! Also, he's one of the nicest guys around. You could take a chance and walk in earlier. If there's no table available, you can sit at the capacious bar in the front area until your original reservation time.

      3. "EMP. I know dinner's not an option, but do I have a chance of walking in next Tuesday for lunch with a group of four? What if i try for a res now? Finally - $28 for a prixe fixe seems like a steal for food of this quality. Is the five course lunch worth the extra $40?"

        I'm an EMP regular. Have you called directly? They have a wait list, and there can be cancelations. Re: lunch. It used to be easy to call at the last minute or walk in and get a table in the dining room, but not anymore. When I was there for lunch last week, they were fully booked and turned away a party of four who walked in. No reservations are accepted for the bar, so you can walk in and eat there. At lunch, same 2 for $28 menu. And, yes, it is a steal for food of such superb quality. We have had many Gourmand menus at lunch. They are always spectacular and well worth the price.

        "Kellari. Any thoughts?"

        Kellari's Parea is our current "go to" for Greek food. They do a superb job with fish, but the moussaka is not too shabby either. Two warnings: Avoid the 24-hour lamb because it can be inconsistent (sometimes too dry). And on Friday evenings, they have live Greek music starting around 9 p.m. It is LOUD!

        "Balthazar or Bar Breton? Or something similar? In case there's a time during the trip where I need some comforting, solid bistro fare."

        I like both. Balthazar's food is traditional French brasserie, while the cuisine Chef Cyril Renaud is serving at Bar Breton, though fairly rustic, still has many traces of the haute style he offered at the late Fleur de Sel. Seating at Balthazar is way more close than at Bar Breton, which has both booths and tables. Bar Breton also has a capacious bar where can have drinks and dine. Finally, Balthazar is more bustling though Bar Breton, when busy, is far from funereal.

        2 Replies
        1. re: RGR

          Thanks for the tips RGR, I got a lunch res at EMP next Tuesday and will consider it a prelude to a dinner on my following NY trip (assuming all goes well).

          1. re: dickie d.

            Glad to hear that, dickie d. I hope you will report back. :)

        2. i dont think you need to go to diner for a great burger. not exactly an 'event' sort of place, but i love the burgers at tavern on jane in the west village. very chill place, solid bar, great food. walkers in tribeca is another option.

          im more of a mary's fish camp fan than pearls. pearls puts too much mayo in their roll. i also find the service rather rushed. sitting at the bar at marys with a pint of beer, a bowl of steamers, and a lobster roll is quite a nice meal.

          perilla is a favorite of mine. half neighborhoody, half worthy of being a destination spot. id probably go a la carte here as whatever tasting menu seems a bit out of place. its more casual than you may think. dieterle does well with duck btw. yr right, prune is too similar and not as good as perilla...probably best to skip it. perilla takes reservations and youll need them. theyre on opentable.

          as for ippudo, they take reservations in person day of...so you can walk by and come back in 2-3 hours if youd like. yes, it is miles better than setagaya and any other ramen in nyc. the akiamaru ramen with extra pork belly is the way to go...along with pork buns.

          for comforting bistro, try minetta tavern...also with a $26 burger that surprisingly knocks my socks off. very hyped up but delivers. great service once you get seated. id recommend you go early...6-7ish and get a beer across the street at 124 rabbit hole.

          yasuda...the best sushi in nyc for the money in my opinion. sit at the bar only. ask for hiro, he's super friendly and a great chef. dont go unless you can get a bar seat. if you cant, i recommend going to ushiwakamaru on houston, my main sushi place. at yasuda, expect to pay $80-130 depending on how much you eat. $80 for maybe 12-14 pieces. get the peace passage oyster no matter what.

          i find the momofukus too filled with hype but the ssam bar is the best in my opinion. havent been to ko, nor am i interested in it.

          for a fine dining experience...see if corton has some openings.

          3 Replies
          1. re: sam1

            A few thoughts:
            On Diner: nice place, fun concept, but not even the best burger in Williamsburg as far as I'm concerned. Dumont Burger sits atop my shortlist for all 5 boroughs, and they get my rare order correct 9 out of 10 times, though you might want to consider going to Peter Luger for lunch to try the no-frills burger there instead if you're dead-set on heading out to Williamsburg. As mentioned before, Minetta Tavern is an excellent alternative if you'd prefer to stay in Manhattan, and even their more sanely-priced standard burger is memorable enough in its own right. I wouldn't go to Burger Joint at Le Parker Meridien for the burgers themselves as much as for the clandestine setting and cozy atmospheric contrast it offers.

            I'd eschew Soccarat and Tia Pol in favor of Degustation, unless you have some sort of prior aversion to the place. The kitchen is much more consistent, the flavors more daring, and the setting considerably more comfortable. The 10-course tasting menu for $75 might be the best deal in the city at that price point.

            Perilla seems to be the consensus within this thread, though I don't consider it particularly destination-worthy. Prune's menu can feel a bit limited at times, but some find its quirkiness charming. I think Aldea would be an excellent substitute for either place.

            Ippudo is the best ramen in town; there is no current comparison as far as I'm concerned. Follow the instructions above for best results.

            It's hard to go wrong at any of the Momofukus, despite the backlash they invariably receive at this point. I'd choose Ssam Bar given your party size and planning constraints - the menu always skews a bit bolder there than it does at noodle bar. I'll attest that Ko is well worthwhile if you can score a reservation, but you' seem aware of the hassle that involves.

            For eats on the cheaper side of the spectrum, a walking tour of chinatown dumpling houses is always a great way to go, and stands out somewhat from what you'll find out west. Prosperity Dumpling, Dumpling House, and 144 E. Broadway provide a nice survey of the different styles, but there are a handful of other joints that operate within the 5-for-$1 paradigm - search this board for more options.

            Joe's Pizza in the West Village is my go-to by-the-slice standby, and I think it offers the best approximation of a thin-crust NY slice without wandering too far into artisan-piemaker territory.

            Not to stray off-island again, but I highly recommend Egg in Williamsburg for all your weekday budget breakfast needs, though be forewarned that eggs benedict is not an option, strangely.

            Enjoy your trip!

            1. re: CalJack

              Thanks CalJack, I'm sold on Minetta Burger and definitely sold on Degustation based on your rec and reading other reports. It kinda flew under my radar given that there is no website. Actually managed to get a reservation for four next Monday and am very much looking forward to it. Tasting menu is on!

              I'll go to Minetta later that week. What is the difference between the two burgers? Dry aging? Not sure that I've ever had a dry aged burger. Seems sort of odd to dry age and then ground a beef cut. I'm intrigued though.

              I'm starting to get really excited and the posters have definitely provided invaluable help and I very much appreciate it.

              1. re: dickie d.

                yasuda, at the bar, is solid experience. in fact, all of your choices are very solid. i'm looking forward to your writeup.

          2. Comparing ramen and soba is really apples and oranges. I'll say this: You will have a quality meal at either Soba-Ya or Soba Koh. Most hounds have a strong preference for Soba Koh - and others say Soba Totto is better than both (it may well be; I haven't tried it), but I find Soba Koh and Soba-Ya different but equally good. You are very unlikely to wait on line for a table at Soba Koh, though, so I recommend that you go there.