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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

      Thanks...you 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 June...so 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 itself...as 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.


                  1. re: a_and_w

                    PS: Substitute Murray's (or Ess-A-Bagel) for H&H.

                  2. For the farm to table meal, Blue Hill is an obvious choice- especially in June, where they source much of their ingredients from their own farm. I know Eleven Madison Park also gets a lot from local markets as well and it seems to be the "most popular" in NYC on Chowhound

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: wreckers00

                      I think Blue Hill and EMP are both excellent suggestions.

                      1. re: a_and_w

                        Le Bernardin was amazing when we dined there this past Nov. We also enjoyed excellent meals at The Boathouse in Central Park, Esca and Cafe Boulud. :)

                        1. re: syrahgirl

                          We are definitely planning on Blue Hill and it may or may not be for my birthday night. I chose not to hit it last time I was in town as I wanted to do something out of my realm and my mom and I ended up at Parilla which we both really liked.

                          Hearth sounds great, will look to see if they are open for lunch as that might be a good option, too.

                          Daniel looks fancy and French, which wouldn't necessarily be my style, but it's my bday and I guess I am just looking for the best restaurant experience possible. Great food, fun environment, and it doesn't have to be a bank breaker.

                          More specifics:
                          Bday dinner spending around $300 would be high, but doable.
                          Lunch spots that are great finds...we are definitely going to hit Momofuku..

                          Essentially, we are in it to win it! The best places to grab specialty items, great bar for wine and beer, lunch, dinner, and breakfast (if there is a do not miss!). We have 3 nights and 3 days to play!


                          1. re: Doodleboomer

                            Cafe Boloud is a less stuffy alternative to Daniel. Another good lunch place, as I recall.

                            1. re: Doodleboomer

                              You should think about EMP for lunch, since the price is so reasonable. Also, I would not go to Murray's (often the cheese is not ripened well -- too often, in fact) and go to Saxelby's in the Essex Street Market. Anne Saxelby is wonderful and her cheese is divine.

                              1. re: Nancy S.

                                Great suggestion.... but Murray's is worth visiting, even for their non-cheese products alone. Their bagged house made granola, is one example.

                                1. re: Doodleboomer

                                  Blue Hill (Manhattan) is not a great choice.

                                  Blue Hill
                                  75 Washington Place, New York, NY 10011

                                2. re: syrahgirl

                                  Le Bernadin is great, and my folks, who live in SF, loved it when I recommended it to them on their last trip. So much so that they went twice! The only reason I hesitated to recommend it is that I remember SF Jamie from Top Chef pooh poohing Ripert's cooking as kind of the antithesis of seasonal market-driven cuisine, which it sounds like the OP seeks. Still, I can't imagine any chef not wanting to try Ripert's food at least once!

                                  PS: Le Bernadin would be a great lunch choice.

                            2. Thank you to all of the contributors to this topic. My husband and I just returned from our trip and couldn't have been happier with the results. While we took all of the info into consideration, we ultimately let only a few reservations guide us, and we did a ton of walking, eating, and drinking.

                              Here's what we did:
                              Arrived in NYC at Hilton midtown and went to the Modern for drinks and apps. The bartenders were great, rec'd a few places, and in time also delivered us a complimentary gazpacho and cocktail. We enjoyed all the food, especially the gazpacho, the tartare (if a little plain, fresh and delicious), and the drinks. We headed to Marea for dinner and started with a dozen oysters and a bottle of champagne. We had the four course tasting. I loved my morels stuffed with squid and lardo, finished with wild watercress and parsley root. My husband had the smoked yellowtail which was quite smoky and left a bit to be desired. I had the fusilli for my pasta, it was fantastic. Rich, murky, perfectly cooked. My husband had the agnolotti and we also loved that. I was so absolutely decadent and perfect. I had the scallops for my main. The dish was fairly one note. The scallops were perfectly cooked, but underseasoned. The favas had been cooked and to me that is sacrelidge as they dry out. The garlic scape was beautiful and sweet, but there was only one and it was used more as decoration than anything else. My husband had the halibut and the dish was fun to eat, sweet peas, well-cooked halibut, and warm going down. The desert my husband had was the affogato which was just amazing. It had amaro, vanilla gelato, and the espresso...a notch above any other we've had. My dessert was a hazelnut mousse, delicious.

                              The next day we headed out to Stumptown Coffee for a wake-up much needed. On our way to meet our friend for lunch we stopped by City Bakery for a few pastries. We had the pretzel croissant (we have a baker here in the Bay Area who also does one, so we needed to compare), a pull-apart muffin, and a peanut butter cookie (that took the prize). After that we walked thru the greenmarket to Momofuku Ssam. The three of us shared a number of dishes. The bread and butter, the soft shell crab (deep friend with pickled asparagus), the beef carpaccio (in a apple dashi broth), the pork buns (perfection), the market greens, and one other thing. We had a good meal, I love Momofuku Noodle, so this was a nice way to start our day. We walked from there thru the Village to Brinkley's for a drink. B's old work buddy opened it and the World Cup was playing, so a pint it was. We walked further into the Village towards Tribeca and hit Magnolia for cupcakes (no idea why anyone actually likes these) and to the Standard. We had drinks at the bar, with a fantastic soft pretzel, and then walked the Highline and ended up at Cookshop. We wanted to check out the breakfast menu and ended up going inside to ask to see it. One thing led to another, the wine guy knew our friend, he bought us a glass of bubbly rose, and then we took a taxi home, all to get ready for dinner. We ate dinner that night at Hearth as was demanded of us by our friend who used to cook in NYC. As you can imagine, I had no appetite. My husband, however did and we ordered a few firsts to share, and one pasta. Well, what happens in the restaurant industry is disgusting. We got our firsts, followed by a pasta, followed by two other pastas, followed by meatballs. Followed by dessert. I couldn't look, I felt disgusting, but only because I pretty much loved everything that came out. We ordered the quail w/farro, tomato and quail egg; the rock shrimp with gnocchi, morels, and peas, and the calamari. My fave was the shrimp, so tender, buttery and perfect. They also sent out the fava and pecorino salad which was spot on...fresh, salty, sweet, earthy. Then we had a pappardelle with rabbit, so happy that they sent it as it was my favorite. They also sent out the cavatelli with pork and braised greens. Great! The meatballs were also good, not the highlight. I felt that they lacked seasoning, though they were quite tender. We opted out of dessert, smartest thing we ever did and then went to Death and Co. for a refreshing drink. This place is awesome. The number of ingredients that go into each drink, the types of ice they use and why, and the staff are all reasons to go there. The drinks rocked and it wasn't an especially busy night so we had no wait, sat at the bar, and met Lane...great bartender who moved from SF two weeks earlier! Love it.

                              More to follow...I am in recovery mode and need some sleep!

                              Momofuku Ssam Bar
                              207 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                              City Bakery
                              3 W 18th St, New York, NY 10011

                              Momofuku Noodle Bar
                              171 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003

                              240 Central Park South, New York, NY 10019

                              18 W 29th Street, New York, NY 10001

                              1. Day 2: We woke up and walked thru Central Park up to H & H Bagels, and of course, a tour of Zabar's. Hubby was so overwhelmed. We dropped the stash off at the hotel and headed down to Grammercy Tavern for lunch. We both loved it. It was much more rustic than I had imagined. We each had a cocktail (it's already so long ago, I forgot which ones) but they were supremely good. We shared a number of firsts as we were both dreading the fullness factor. The warm veg salad with black lentils was fantastic, the smoked trout as well. Our waiter steered us to split an app portion of the braised rabbit parpardelle. So happy he did. It was perfectly al dente, the rabbit succulent, and the sauce was amazing. We really appreciated our waiter, the service was fantastic, and a very decadent lunch was had. We walked back to our hotel to try and get rid of some of the calories, but not until we stopped by Shake Shack, entering the blue line for a quick single vanilla custard for me, chocolate and vanilla for my hubby. Yum! We stopped by Salon de Ning at the Peninsula Hotel. It sits atop the roof, looks out over Manhattan, and the Hudson River. For $50 we had two drinks and enjoyed the view. Let's be serious, this was a spendy vacation, we did it right! That night we went to see American Idiot (loved it), and then headed down to the LES for Minetta Tavern. We originally had a ressie at Babbo, but cancelled it knowing that we would be at Hearth the night before. Minetta was so perfect. We ended up there on the advice from our server from Grammercy. He said sexy, old-school, and best burger he's had in NY. He was right. Dusty, dim, and wooden atmostphere at the bar. We ate earlier than our ressie because the opportunity came available. Good cocktails with a shitty attitude. Our waitress was good, the tables are tight, but it's kinda fun. We had the marrow with toast, and the shrimp salad. Both were great, but c'mon, marrow was rockin'. I had the Black Label Burger, and my husband had the NY. The burger is where it's at. The best burger I've ever had! We ended the night with a trio of creme brulee, and the best was the coffee, chocolate, and then vanilla.

                                Last morning...woke-up late, and got outta dodge. Headed back to Stumptown for coffee and a muffin and then straight over to Momofuku Noodle for lunch. We loved it. Had the MMF Ramen, shitake buns (amazing), pan-fried rice cakes, and the asparagus salad. Loved it, possibly my favorite meal of the trip, though it's truly hard to decide. My hubby had to have a pastrami sandwich from Katz's that we ate on the plane.

                                Thanks, friends! It was an amazing trip and now I spend at least 1.5 hours everyday working it off!

                                110 Waverly Pl, New York, NY 10011

                                Shake Shack
                                Madison Ave and E 23rd St, New York, NY 10010

                                Minetta Tavern
                                113 MacDougal St, New York, NY 10012

                                Momofuku Noodle Bar
                                171 1st Ave, New York, NY 10003

                                Salon de Ning
                                700 5th Ave, New York, NY 10019

                                Hudson River Cafe
                                697 W 133rd St, New York, NY 10027

                                18 W 29th Street, New York, NY 10001

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Doodleboomer

                                  great report...im full just reading it.

                                  smart move skipping babbo for minetta...babbo is just plain boring to me...has been for years. you did well...im proud of you.

                                  1. re: Doodleboomer

                                    great reviews - thanks for sharing - sounds like a fun time was had by all!

                                    On a separate note - I think it is funny how much time and effort is put into finding the perfect experience when a foodie is searching. It is my birthday this weekend - and, albeit late in the reservation making, combining the difficulties of Sunday closings, I am still on the fence where I wish to end up. Cafe Boulud, Union Square Cafe, Degustation, Gramercy Tavern --- even thinking of The Boathouse! Hmmmm -- my husband says I get caught up in analysis paralysis! lol