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Mar 6, 2010 07:53 PM

SF Chef in NY for 35th Birthday

I've been to NY once, with my mom, and it was an eye opening trip...I cannot believe I turned her down for a 16th birthday trip way back when!

Anyhow, we had a blast, saw so much and now it's time for me and my husband. He is a sommelier in Napa Valley and has never been to NY. This is his treat and I'd like for him to eat and drink as much as possible, and to enjoy it! We are staying in Midtown, and are willing to go anywhere for a wonderful experience. We arrive in June on my birthday, and while I loved Babbo, I'd like to have a phenomenal meal that night somewhere else. We aren't talking $$$$$, but know that I love seasonal, organic food...and I have an Italian palette for a Jewish girl. I know we are going to hit Momofuku, and H & H for bagels, but that's about it at this point...excited to map out a few very intense and fun days.

So, my questions and favors for you are:
1. A great birthday dinner, romantic, delicious, and a great time (knowing Babbo was right up my alley).
2. Good food finds for lunch and dinner for 2 more days/nights, any kind of experience.
3. Specialty shops we have to go to (Murray's, etc).

Any info is very welcome..we will go to Brooklyn if that's where the best pizza or Italian or anything is, too.

Thanks in Advance..I try my best to help folks out with wine country info and am hoping for some great suggestions from you all!


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  1. > 1. A great birthday dinner, romantic, delicious, and a great time (knowing Babbo was right up my alley).

    How much are you willing to spend, including tax, tip, and wine/drinks? When are you coming? Seasonal, organic food means a reliance on the local farmer's markets, and it's still WINTER here.

    Also, I'm assuming that SF is pretty strong on "farm to table" restaurants -- why not try something else? You loved Babbo and I don't necessarily think of Babbo as a farm to table type restaurant, although they do use a lot of local ingredients.

    Which Momofuku do you plan to visit? There are multiple ones, so you'll need to be more specific. I assume you want a full meal? Milk Bar is takeout/no seating. Ma Peche is not fully open yet. So realistically your choices are Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Ssam Bar, or Momofuku Ko. Ko is near impossible to get into, just to set your expectations.

    Overall, I find that my friends who are chef-personality-types are most excited by places that are a little more adventurous and unusual and/or meat heavy: Casa Mono, Spotted Pig, Babbo, Jean Georges, Shopsin's, brunch at Locanda Verde, Kee's Chocolates or Bespoke Chocolates, Motorino EV, Katz's Deli, Russ & Daughters, Shake Shack, Death & Co., the chicken and rice cart on 53rd and 6th, Amy Ruth's, Keens Chophouse, Kabab Cafe, Franny's, Di Fara, Scarpetta, Szechuan Gourmet, Prune, Clinton Street Baking Company, Sripraphai in Queens (Outer Boroughs board), Degustation...

    For #2 and #3, check out these threads:

    Don't leave NY without eating these foods

    For cheap eats, try out some street food:

    I highly recommend RGR's self guided Lower East Side Gustatory tour:

    Best brunch:

    Best foodie shopping:

    Best mixology:

    Top Ten Bars for Beer Snobs

    Manhattan for 5 days over New Year

    Other hounds' itineraries/reports:

    3 Replies
    1. re: kathryn are a veritable dictionary of info! I am going to check all this out with my husband. I do realize it's still winter, but I do believe I posted that we are coming in possibly a bit more coming in locally. Also, I love the concept of farm to table, however, great food is great food and quality speaks for you know, Babbo made me smile with every bite. So, I'll check this out and definitely write back with more questions.


      1. re: kathryn

        Oh, and I went to Momofuku Noodle Bar, loved it! One of the best meals we had. Opinions...should we try a different one?

        1. re: Doodleboomer

          Are you into the ramen? Or the other dishes? For ramen, Hakata Ippudo is spoken highly of. If you like the non-ramen dishes, I would try Momofuku Ssam Bar.

      2. Also, for Brooklyn recommendations, you'll need to post to the Outer Boroughs board (the boards are kind of strict about this).

        Regarding PIZZA...

        Really, it depends what you're looking for: gas oven style, coal oven style, Naples style? A slice? A pie? IMO, Grimaldi's is actually not as good as other places in town (too soggy/wet). Takeout? Sit down? Or is standing up OK with you?

        There are a few distinct styles of round pizza found in NYC: New York style (gas-oven), Neopolitan style, and a hybrid style of the two (usually coal oven). And Di Fara is kind of out there, Dom at Di Fara is definitely doing his own thing with the olive oil drizzle and multiple kinds of cheeses and lots of fresh basil. Then to throw another wrench into things, some places are known more for square pies (like Artichoke). Note that lot of famous places like John's of Bleecker, Grimaldi's, and Lombardi's are pies only. John's, Grimaldi's, and Lombardi's are famous, a bit touristy (and most likely suffer from inconsistent oven temperature and oversaucing), and I think some newcomers are kicking their butts lately. Keste has a lot of hype but I found the crust to be too soft and dense. I don't mind a chewy or slightly wet pie, but this was overkill.

        My favorites in Manhattan are:

        Motorino EV(pies only, but they do takeout and delivery now too but only to a very very limited range). Neopolitan style. Tasty, beautifully charred crust. Very flavorful. Light, airy. Really nice service. Love their spicy soppressata pie (what pepperoni aspires to be) as well as the white pie. The sausage with crimini mushrooms is excellent. The brussels sprouts one with pancetta is no slouch either. There's a Brooklyn branch, too.

        Co. aka "Company" (pies only, no takeout). Neopolitan-ish style with nouveau toppings, similar to Mozza in LA but less broad/puffy crust. 7-8 pies to chooses from. Very popular. Lunch and dinner. Lunch is much more chill than dinner. However, my last meal there was only OK, I think they are inconsistent dependent upon when the head chef Lahey is there (he's a baker known for Sullivan Street Bakery and a no-knead bread recipe you may have seen in the New York Times). And I think they try to rush you in and out.

        Patsy's of East Harlem (117th street location only, pies and slices, there is a dining room and takeout area). Coal oven. A NY classic. Their toppings aren't that great but when the crust is good, it's heavenly. It's much less nouveau/hip than the other two options I listed above. SKIP ALL OTHER PATSY'S LOCATIONS.

        Artichoke (I recommend the square slice only, takeout only). Tasty, they are from Staten Island, but I feel like they are kind of doing their own thing since the crust is VERY thick for NY pizza. DON'T get the artichoke slice or regular slice. Repeat: DON'T get the artichoke or regular slice. Please. And they have no seating or atmosphere to speak of. It's a slice joint, really. Lots of drunk fans late at night who eat on the street standing up.

        My favorites outside Manhattan are Di Fara and Totonno's Coney Island. Look them up on the Outer Boroughs board.

        Di Fara is extraordinarily popular/chaotic/there is no line system/also no AC in the summer and who knows if Dom will actually be open over the New Year (he's an old man who makes ALL the pies himself and has sometimes odd hours). IF you go, AND they're open, show up first thing when they open (noon), and guard your place in line.

        Totonno's is more organized as it's a much bigger restaurant with table service, but they tend to close early. What I love about the crust is that you get that classic NY large pie and the crust is both fluffy in the center and crispy on the outside. Really nice texture. But it's pretty far from Manhattan. Skip the other Totonno's locations except the Coney Island one.

        In Brooklyn, Lucali is quite highly (I haven't tried yet). Franny's is good but the crust is a bit too thin sometimes (though that pizza bianca is great), but the flavor of the crust is quite good, but frankly the apps/pastas are better than some of the pies there (no offense to Franny's, I really do like it there, but the appetizers, pastas, and sides can outshine the pies). So I love Franny's but for more of a well-rounded meal. The pie is good but not as good as others. I wasn't impressed by newcomer Veloce either (too heavy/buttery, gets too soggy too quickly). Luzzo's is pretty good, but I always felt it needed to be a little more well-done and needed some more salt/flavor in the crust, but they have a new spot in Chelsea that's supposedly really good. Arturo's is nice but I find their crust a little too thick, and the bottom a bit too charred, but my husband really loves it (I think it's because they put some herbs in the sauce that remind him of his childhood place -- anise, I believe).

        2 Replies
        1. re: kathryn

          Pizza-neapolitan is my favorite, ingredient driven as opposed to cheesy and wet. Crust is a huge factor, salty and sweet, with chew, not too crispy and of course, I like to eat it all. I don't stop at the crust as I've seen many of my co-workers do. I'd like to scream at them when they do!

          1. re: Doodleboomer

            If you're really into that style of crust, I would do Motorino, Co., and Franny's, who all have nice texture and good flavor.

        2. Jean George, and 11 Madison Park are two standard special dining suggestions, but not Italian. Jean George is just about to open a seasonal-local-organic place but you should be warned that Manhattan doesn't entirely grasp the concept just yet.

          (About a month ago, there was a pretty feisty debate over one establishments use of parbaked frozen ingredients, bread, etc. and wether or not there was any harm in it if you couldn't taste it.... that wouldn't have even been a discussion on the SF board)

          That said, Blue Hill, Savoy, and Back Forty are proudly sourcing local seasonal menus.
          Savoy is Italian-ish, and they just got a bit of attention for a video circulating of them salt-baking their ducks with entire boxes of salt.... from what I hear, the food isn't going to change your life though.

          Brooklyn on the other hand is very much embracing the farm to table, and artisinal trend.
          The easiest destination is Diner, or Marlow & Son's in South Williamsburg, followed by a trip to their specialty butcher shop called Marlow and Daughters, a half block away.
          You can post on the other forum for more suggestions.

          What you can bet NY excels at are burgers (molly's, walkers), steaks (strip house), cocktails (pegu lounge, death and company, raines, pdt), hot chocolate (city bakery, dessert stop), and even chinese (lan sheng)......I think these would all have a good influence on a Bay Area chef.

          Specialty shops, Dipalo's, Piemonte Pasta, and the shop next door to it. Not far is a Spanish import store called Despana. Gimme Coffee has an outpost nearby.
          When you go to Murray's, stop into Faiccos pork store, and look for the rice balls.
          Chelsea Market has an Italian imports specialty shop with products you will not see elsewhere.

          4 Replies
          1. re: sugartoof

            How about Daniel? I had a rec for that from a friend yesterday, meal of her/his life!

            1. re: Doodleboomer

              daniel's menu has started to feature the word "farm" wherever possible, but you're talking about one of the last breed in indulgent event restaurants, which fuse deconstructed new techniques with the classic. not sure that's what you want?
              cyrus in healdsburg is a bit similar.

              mas farmhouse and market table are two more local seasonal places to consider.

              1. re: sugartoof

                market table looks fantastic! dinner or lunch!

            2. re: sugartoof

              These are great suggestions, sugartoof.

            3. I would strongly suggest that you consider a meal at Hearth, one of the best Italian style restaurants in NYC, headed by Marco Canora. You could sit at "the pass" there, in front of the open kitchen, which is a lot of fun. The wine list is one of the best and most interesting in the city, and the food is wonderful.

              Take a look at their website and menu:


              3 Replies
              1. re: gutsofsteel

                Hearth reminds me a lot of Bay Area restaurants, which is a great thing, but maybe not the best choice for someone visiting from SF.

                1. re: a_and_w

                  PS: Upon rereading the OP's request, I take that back. Hearth might fit the bill for nice, seasonally inspired, Italian. I just think there are so many places like that in SF.

                  1. re: a_and_w

                    Hearth also looks fantastic!

                    My problem is that I need at least a week..and yet I'd come back about 20 pounds heavier instead of the 5-6 I'll most likely gain from 3 days.


              2. Since you liked Babbo I would suggest you try Convivio. Not exactly romantic, but neither is Babbo IMO. The use of red in the decor and the subdued lighting give Convivio a warm feeling, and the location in Tudor City has an offbeat charm. The food is interesting and delicious.