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Manhattan with a strict budget and stricter goal

I've been lurking the boards here for a while in preparation for a trip to NYC in April. I have a unique goal where I'm not necessarily looking for the best "whatever," but moreover I'm looking to weave together a memorable trip with contrasting and varied cuisines representative of NYC on a very limited budget of $200 (for one person) or under. Just as the interplay of courses over a meal can dance together picking up strengths and weaknesses from each other I'm looking to parallel that notion over different dining experiences.

For reference on my tastes: I'm most interested in meals that can bring out the natural wonderfulness of the star ingredient. I'm not against complex or even fusion-y dishes as long as there is a unified vision and robust flavour. But again, this is about overall experience, not a specific detail or even style of cuisine. I enjoyed Shopsin's on my last trip for the show and food. I'm not interested in steak, sushi or heavy seafood during my stay.

Here's what I'm thinking about. I'm interested in hearing how you would spend your $200 to create an experience or a critique of my ideas. Do you have a singular experience that covers the entire budget but blows your mind...or 25 food stands, or something else entirely.

$20 at Clinton St. Baking Co. (blueberry pancakes)
$10 Shake Shack
$20 for a late-night marrow snack at Blue Ribbon
$20 for pizza at Patsy's in East Harlem
$50 Degustation 5-course tasting menu
$50 Convivio Prix Fixe lunch.
$30 Jean-Georges lunch
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~$200

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  1. Dump Convivio and do the prix fixe at Eleven Madison Park. And go to Keste instead of Patsy's. And I have no idea why Shake Shack is on your list. I mean it's a decent hamburger in its type category, but it's not worth one of your NY eating experiences. Why not go to Katz's?

    2 Replies
    1. re: gutsofsteel

      Thanks for the suggestions on EMP and Keste. My mother agrees with you on Shake Shack. I actually discounted Katz because I abhor pastrami but perhaps was a little too harsh overall.

      1. re: gutsofsteel

        Agreed, as much as I love Patsy's I don't think it's the best in NYC or even worth the trek to East Harlem. I'll defer to other hounds regarding best pizza in Manhattan.

        If you want a more ethnically diverse experience, I'd suggest the $25 prix fixe lunch at Momofuku Ssam Bar or even a Szechuan mini-tour (dan dan noodles at Lan Sheng then go across the street for crispy cumin lamb at Szechuan Gourmet).

        Don't forget to explore NYC's unique sweets like Kee's chocolates, Lady M mille crepe cakes or Momofuku Milk Bar.

        This is a fun challenge. I'd be curious to see what you end up doing.

      2. Leave some for momofuku's pork buns. i can't remember how much they are. i would do that instead of shake shack.
        i would go to convivio but skip the pre-fix; it's way too much money for your budget and so much food you can barely walk. have the Linguine con Le Sarde and the side of the pecorino potatoes (in spite of the carb overload) which would save you $20 (so you can go get the pork buns)
        Also, while the blueberry pancakes are indeed very good at Clinton, i don't know that they would be on my list- and i do have a sweet tooth. i would instead go to blue marble hill in brooklyn for ice cream if you wanted to satisfy a desire for sweets.
        I would also add a banh mi, i think.

        where are you coming from?

        1 Reply
        1. re: adamandeve

          Thanks much, especially on the tip for Convivio. I certainly see this as a fun challenge. Not self-created, just dictated out of necessity. I'll share my final plans and thoughts afterwards. I'm coming from Jacksonville, FL.

          A friend took me to get pizza last time I was in NYC, and it was a horrifying experience. I don't even remember the name of the place. I must do better! There's such argumentative craziness surrounding the topic though. haha.

          Momofuku Ssam and the Milk Bar are on my long list and certainly competing for a spot.

        2. For your consideration:

          The uni panini (sic) at El Quinto Pino. Uni, butter and mustard oil. It's $15, and it's amazing. And small, so don't count on it as a full meal.
          http://www.elquintopinonyc.com/

          A bowl of ramen at Ramen Setagaya (where I've been) or Ippudo (where I haven't, but people like it a lot). Unless you live in Tokyo or something. $9.50 - $13, depending.
          http://www.menupages.com/restaurants/...
          http://nymag.com/listings/restaurant/...

          A bagel sandwich from Russ & Daughters. Wonderful lox, and oddly fantastic cream cheese - I have no idea what they do to it to make it so good. $10ish.
          http://www.russanddaughters.com/menu-...

          I would ditch the pancakes and the pizza. It's a personal bias. I like both Clinton St. Baking Company's pancakes and Keste's pizza, but...well, it's pancakes and pizza.

          15 Replies
          1. re: small h

            Awesome awesome! With the exception of Russ & Daughters these places completely were off my radar...the Uni Panini has really piqued my interest.

            1. re: Rensis_Likert

              A bowl of ramen at Ippudo is a great idea. Ssam Bar is good but I don't like Milk Bar at all.

            2. re: small h

              "The uni panini (sic) at El Quinto Pino. Uni, butter and mustard oil. It's $15, and it's amazing. And small, so don't count on it as a full meal."

              It's 3 bites and the last time I went it wasn't particularly distinctive. I'm not saying that the OP shouldn't try it but since he's on a strict budget he may want to postpone El Quinto Pino for a time when money is less of an issue.

              1. re: Bob Martinez

                Here's my updated tentative thinking:

                Note: I'm staying in West Harlem for part of the stay, still undecided on the pizza.

                $25 Momofuku Ssam Bar Prix Fixe Lunch
                $20 for a late-night marrow snack at Blue Ribbon
                $20 for pizza at Patsy's in East Harlem or Keste
                $50 Degustation 5-course tasting menu
                $30 Convivio lunch
                $30 Jean-Georges lunch
                $10 Russ and Daughters
                $20 Ippudo

                ----
                $205 total

                1. re: Rensis_Likert

                  For a nice lunch prix fixe I've been hearing good things about Del Posto and Eleven Madison Park.

                  Motorino also has a lunch prix fixe, I love their pizza and it's similar in style to Keste, but have only been for dinner.

                  Degustation's 5 course tasting menu is amazing, great choice.

                  1. re: kathryn

                    Thanks kathryn, I certainly treasure your opinions! Perhaps replacing Convivio with Del Posto would make sense, seeing as I'm salivating at a few Del Posto items right now. If I went to Motorino (or anywhere for pizza) I'd probably just stick to pizza. Hopefully I can find someone to drag along to share a whole pie...[anyway, I'm still pondering...but pizza is a fun thing to ponder].

                    1. re: Rensis_Likert

                      Keste and Motorino pies are individually sized, so you don't necessarily need to split it with someone.

                      1. re: kathryn

                        Excellent, I totally missed that! Even better (;

                        1. re: Rensis_Likert

                          Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the Motorino lunch prix fixe is strictly at the Brooklyn branch.

                            1. re: kathryn

                              What the hell? I went to the EV locale on Thursday and there was no prix fixe.

                  2. re: Rensis_Likert

                    I'm sure you already thought of this, but it doesn't look like it went into your calculations-the tax and tip. Tax is much higher here than most other cities (I want to say its 8%?). I know you probably already know that but I just wanted to point it out in case you need to rearrange your budget. As a budget option, I just had a delicious lunch at Prosperity Dumpling on Eldridge with 8 veggie dumplings and a veggie & sesame pancake for $3.25! The pork dumplings are even cheaper. Just throwing it out there if you want a reallyyyy cheap meal.

                  3. re: Bob Martinez

                    And that's what makes a horse race - a difference of opinion. I've had the sandwich three time (the last about 3 months ago), and I thought it was terrific all three times. I agree that the cost to fabulous-ness ratio might be less than ideal, but I must take issue with your "3 bites" assessment. The sandwich is served cut in half. Assuming you weren't writing metaphorically, did you eat one half in one bite, and the second half in two bites? Or 1.5 bites per half? Let's take this over to the Serving Size thread!

                    1. re: small h

                      My memory of that night failed me. I was with a group and we were splitting plates. I believe I had half of the uni sandwich. Sorry for the error.

                  4. re: small h

                    keste is delicious. Pizza Fresca Ristorante is also very good.

                    -----
                    La Pizza Fresca
                    31 E 20th St, New York, NY 10003

                    Keste Pizza & Vino
                    271 Bleecker St, New York, NY 10014

                  5. I like this challenge but are you including snacks in your budget? If you are a dessert person, the yuzu coconut macaron at Bouchon is huge and a steal for the price. Plus there's all sorts of amazing bbq pork buns in Chinatown for less than $1.

                    I would skip Shake Shack and Convivio and replace with EMP lunch. Ditto what other hounds said about Patsy's. I haven't been to Keste but Motorino was knock your socks off delicious the first time I went. Not as amazing the second time, but still on my list.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: windycity

                      @jess I was going to mention tax and tipping in the original post, but decided that it would be less convoluted to deal with base prices. It's in my considerations certainly, but I appreciate you reminding me of it so I can calculate that when I work everything out.

                      @windycity I have a definite sweet tooth and will surely consume a cupcake or two (after referring to some earlier threads by kathryn) and welcome your macaroon suggestion. I decided to make $10 the floor on anything for this list, otherwise I would overwhelm myself with an entirely different set of considerations. I have a separate "snack" budget, but it includes snacks, chotchkies, keepsakes, and other misc. items. I'm spending a breakfast-lunch period in Chinatown and hope to try out a few inexpensive snacks whilst there.

                      1. re: Rensis_Likert

                        NYC sales tax is 8.875% (sucks, I know), no tax on shoes and clothing under $110. In most food places in Chinatown, you won't be charged tax unless you pay with a credit card (if they even take it - most places in Chinatown is cash only).

                        Tip is your standard 15%-20%.

                        Another vote for Motorino or Keste over Patsy's. But if you really want a cheap uniquely NYC experience, you should try our street vendors, especially a chicken over rice plate at a Halal cart.

                        1. re: byryn

                          Which food places in Chinatown do you go to where they don't charge tax? Even the cash only places charge tax.

                          1. re: windycity

                            A bunch of places I've been to in Chinatown that are cash only don't appear to charge tax, but that's just because they've included it in the price and rounded it nicely. At least, that's what I assume they've done. Interestingly enough, at the Vanessa's dumplings in Chinatown/LES they don't appear to charge tax, but they do at the location on 14th st.

                    2. I'm not sure how long you're going to be here or where you're coming from, but to truly experience NYC and stay under your $200 goal with tax and tip, I think you should eat out every meal like a wild man and visit all of the cheap NYC staples. It seems like you've been to a lot of the nicer spots in the city based on your local restaurant knowledge so why not give the classics a try...including Katz's. Go for the corned beef since you're opposed to the pastrami. Good luck!

                      www.inbundles.com

                      17 Replies
                      1. re: CantStopEating

                        I think you hit on what I've been pondering and the catalyst for my post. I know of "nicer spots" but I'm not so up on "cheap NYC staples", or the difference between tourist trap and staple. Do you have any suggestions besides Katz's? The Halal cart should probably work it's way into my schedule regardless. Thanks for the message!

                        1. re: Rensis_Likert

                          Saigon Banh Mi Bakery on Mott just south of Grand. Great banh mi, $3.50

                          Prosperity Dumpling on Eldridge. 5 dumplings for a dollar, plus scallion pancakes.

                          Baked pork buns at Mei Li Wah on Bayard, only $.80.

                          I second the halal cart, definitely worth checking out. Go to the SE corner at night and skip the line.

                          I think your list looks pretty good overall though.

                          1. re: Rensis_Likert

                            I like all of the spots that ChiefHDB has suggested below but here are a few other classics: Corner Bistro for the best burger, New Green Bo for soup dumplings, Mitali East for Indian (some would argue this but I think they're the best), Dinosaur BBQ and Momofuku Noodle Bar for perfect Ramen. Hope this helps!

                            www.inbundles.com

                            1. re: CantStopEating

                              Momofuku Noodle Bar does not have perfect ramen. It doesn't even have good ramen.

                              1. re: small h

                                You're right. Nobody's perfect. Do you have any recommendations on who has better ramen in the city than Momofuku Noodle Bar? They're the best for my money.

                                www.inbundles.com

                                1. re: CantStopEating

                                  Yep, scroll up. I recommended Ramen Setagaya and Ippudo. I also like Naruto, but I wouldn't send someone there from out of town, 'cause it's not that special. Just good.

                                  1. re: small h

                                    Not that this is the end all but here's what one chef has to say about the best ramen in the east village: http://bit.ly/snXVn

                                    www.inbundles.com

                                    1. re: CantStopEating

                                      Scarily, I've seen that. And hey, he probably knows more than I do. But I went to Morimoto about 5 years ago and I'm STILL kind of annoyed at the exorbitant amount of money I spent on a meal that was merely very good. So.

                                      1. re: CantStopEating

                                        didn't he say that when david chang was there? that probably swayed his decision lol

                                        1. re: daffyduck

                                          I don't think he necessarily made his decision as DC watched over his shoulder but it may have swayed the decision. Either way, I think Momofuku still makes a great bowl of ramen.

                                          www.inbundles.com

                                          1. re: daffyduck

                                            It says that DC was there to cook and present the dishes. I don't think that Morimoto made the final decision on the spot with Chang looking over his shoulder.

                                            www.inbundles.com

                                    2. re: CantStopEating

                                      Thanks for the suggestions...definitely the kind I was looking for, none of these were on any of my longer lists. Decisions decisions! I actually think I'm canning Jean-Georges.

                                      1. re: Rensis_Likert

                                        Oy, that would be heretical! You should include at least one high end experience to counterbalance the more casual items on your agenda. Just sayin'

                                        1. re: fm1963

                                          I'm leaning towards EMP or Del Postino instead of Jean-Georges in the $30 lunch range.

                                          1. re: Rensis_Likert

                                            Gotcha. "Del Posto" for searching purposes...

                                      2. re: CantStopEating

                                        The ramen at Noodle Bar are one of the weak points there. For good ramen, go to Ippudo.