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Jan 13, 2010 08:16 PM

New York State of Mind - (mid December 2009, visit to NYC)

Recently I spent a week in New York City. We dined at some pretty fantastic spots, both high end and low, all were a delight. If you're planning a trip, I thought perhaps you could benefit from our experiences.

First up, the diner next to the hotel. Tired, still-packed and fresh off the plane, we were hungry and on California time. The Viand Cafe, which was the diner on the corner next door to our hotel (the Beacon at 75th & Broadway). Hot ravioli, chicken soup, home made cake. Simple food, decent wine. Cheap for NYC. Nothing special, but good hearty food that kept us from going to bed hungry.

Next day we were off to dinner with friends. They'd made reservations for us at a lovely spot,
Gramercy Tavern. I didn't write anything down during the meal, since I was on vacation, and our hosts had generously purchased a great bottle of wine, which I consumed a good deal of, so the memory here is sketchy. But I can certainly say that the entire tasting menu was oustanding. I found the ambience and the food here pretty much absolute perfection. The look of the restaurant itself is high-end rustic, white tablecloths, wood beams, I think there's a big fireplace and a large old-fashioned sort of bar. To me it felt a bit like Cibreo, in Florence, with much more traditional food offerings. All in all, a big hit with us both.

We were in town visiting our daughter, so we allowed her to select some of the places we visited. She took us to a little place called Vynl, a lovely little gimmick of a place that is all about music. Forty-five discs are everywhere on the walls, the menus are album covers, and the bathrooms are kitchy. They are each themed for a particular icon (Elvis, Cher, Dolly) and play the music of that icon when you enter. Cute. But this place isn't just about the cute, it's got great drinks, and good food. We had appetizers there, like nachos and fries, and something a bit less pedantic that I can't remember the name of, and washed it all down with some great refreshing Island-style cocktails. I would definitely say this is a fun place to hang out (we were in the Chelsea location, I think) and visit with friends to soak up local color.

At one point in our visit, it was mid-day and we were running down the coldest street (yeah I know, who's idea was it to visit New York in December again?) in the world to check out our theater for a show the next night, and when our faces began to chip off, and my nose bounced off the sidewalk, I suggested we duck into this nice restaurant for a bite. When we hit the doorway, we realized we'd just walked into Sardi's. I'd thought of going to the Russian Tea Room for a bit of "history" on this trip, and immediately decided Sardi's would fit that bill perfectly. We went in, and were surprised at how quiet it was over lunch. Food was really very good, much better than we expected. But the atmosphere was priceless. Guys at the next table were actually talking about some show they wanted to produce about the murder of Brian Jones and how it destroyed the Rolling Stones. A musical called "Wild Horses." The "money guy" says, no no no. "I think we need to do a musical about Sadam Hussein. He's the most hated man in the world. It'll be a big hit" - so yeah, free show with this meal. But as for the food, though not the best I've had, it was well prepared and tasty. If you want to visit an icon, this might just be the place.

We spent a day shopping in Soho, and ate a late lunch at Bar 89 (pictured). We ate gallettes, which are a flatbread affair and were delicious. The drinks were the best I had anywhere in the City for the entire stay, and that is saying a lot. My favorite was the Velvet Mojito. I don't like mojitos generally, but this was a creature of a whole 'nuther breed. Lots o' liquor (it was a vacation after all) and the mint took a back seat to the fruit juices in the thing. This place is also very trendy, particularly in that the doors in the co-ed bathrooms upstairs are translucent. Just a big room of see through stalls. When one enters and closes the door, they slowly become opaque and a lighted "Occupied" sign illuminates the top of the door. We saw many a customer freak out before trying to use them. Cute, but a litle disturbing all at the same time. I highly recommend Bar 89 for a bit of real Soho flavor. As you can see, the ceiling is absolutely gorgeous.

Lastly, we dined at Joel Robuchon's L'Atelier in the Four Seasons. I waited until very late to make reservations, and had originally planned to do Le Bernardin, but had to "settle" for L'Atelier because they had no availability. Poor me. We took our daughter, who we were in NYC to visit, and she's not a practiced foodie, so it was a big occasion for her. She was a little intimidated by the menu at first, and not sure what to order. We walked her through it and she had an amazing time. It was a real highlight to see the look on her face when she tasted her first bite of the white truffle spaghetti. She also ordered the quail, and was brave enough to try many of the more edgy dishes that her father and I had ordered.

Every place was different, but in the Big Apple, adventure is key. We managed one or two other stops, but these were the highlights. It's a place with a great deal to offer, but any one of these places would be a delightful stop on anyone's itinerary.

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  1. Thanks so much for your post. You need to come back when the weather is warmer. There are lots of great restaurants out there.

    1. Sounds like you had a fabulous experience. Great diverse choices too!! Whenever I speak with people who are visiting our great city I ask "Where did you eat?" When they start rattling off some Times Sq chain experiences I get very grouchy!! "get away from Times Square. Find a small place on a side street. If the restaurant is half full go in and take a chance." My motto: It's a great time or it's a great story! Be adventurous.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Motosport

        I must confess. We did eat at Ellen's Stardust Diner, but ONLY because one of my daughtger's friends who moved to NYC with her (both are singers) was working there that night. Food was really "chainy" & cold, so left it out of review.

        1. re: mzscahlett

          I see you went to Cibreo. Did you get the chicken dish where the chicken head is standing up in the plate. I am going to try to attach the photo. BTW: It was the best chicken head I ever ate. I liked Cibreo but Garga and Sustanza were my favorites.

          1. re: Motosport

            So funny! I think my husband would have fainted. As it was, he was violently ill on the train from Venice, and most of our visit in Firenze I dined alone at little street cafes and shopped. Poor dear. I don't remember a lot of specifics about Cibreo, except the nice lady who came and told us of all the very strange traditional peasant foods they served there and the shades of gray on my husband's face upon listening. We did recover though, and thoroughly enjoyed our meal. I think I had sweetbreads (which seemed tame at the time) and he ate a roast chicken. Don't remember the head on his though! Isn't food an adventure?

            Our favorite place in Florence was probably the one recommended by a good friend. The name escapes me, but I'll ask her and post later. I love the chicken head pic. I'm second generation Genovese, so anything Italian reminds me of the homeland.

            1. re: mzscahlett

              My favorite meal in Firenze was lunch at a small place near Sta Maria Novella. I had a veal chop that I still taste everytime I remember the meal. I can not remember the name but I know I will find it when we go back to Firenze and Roma in February. We are taking our kids (late 20's) for our culinary adventure.