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Oct 14, 2010 09:02 AM

Recs for Smaller, Chef-Driven Restaurants with Great Food

Hi! Hubby and I will visiting New York (from Chicago) next month for the first time in a few years and would appreciate some dinner recommendations. There are so many wonderful threads discussing the best fine dining options.

What we're having trouble with is finding the best smaller restaurants, with up-and-coming chefs working hard in the kitchen nearly every night. We'd greatly appreciate suggestions for where we can get great food from a restaurant with a chef that hasn't been profiled by the NYT and won't be bumping elbows with 200 other diners.

We'll eat any cuisine, although coming from Chicago, we'll probably skip Mexican and Chinese as we have perfectly acceptable options here. If possible, we'd like to find a great snout-to-tail spot, and we also appreciate restaurants with locally-sourced ingredients. Cost isn't a major issue, but what I'm thinking about are spots with $20-30 mains, so not cheap, but not super high-end either.

A friend and food writer just returned from New York and recommended Dell’Anima, Little Owl, and Cafeteria. Any of those good options? Is the Spotted Pig still a great choice, or has it been supplanted by another restaurant?

Thanks so much in advance!

Spotted Pig
314 W 11th St, New York, NY 10014

Little Owl
90 Bedford Street, New York, NY 10014

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  1. Kyo Ya for non-sushi Japanese, Perilla for Asian inflected American, Degustation for Spanish influenced small plates, Aldea for refined Portuguese, Prune for quirky American, Hearth has a lot of nose to tail and local ingredients. Perhaps Annisa as well, but I've not been.

    WD-50 is also very chef driven but Wylie's definitely been in the papers, you're coming from Chicago which trumps our "molecular" cooking, and it's more than your specified price range.

    50 Clinton Street, New York, NY 10002

    9 Jones Street, New York, NY 10014

    13 Barrow Street, New York, NY 10014

    Kyo Ya
    94 E 7th St, New York, NY 10009

    31 West 17th Street, New York, NY 10011

    5 Replies
    1. re: kathryn

      In addition to Perilla, smaller and more casual is the chef's new spot, Kin Shop. Modern version of Thai cuisine. Highly recommend. Our server mentioned several times that "Harold is aiming to do this" or "Harold likes that"-he is clearly very involved in the kitchen and concept. Ironically for the first winner of Top Chef, he actually eschews media attention-the one time I saw him at Perilla, he literally scurried out into the room for a minute before going back into the safe haven of his kitchen!

      9 Jones Street, New York, NY 10014

      1. re: orthorunner

        What does "Modern Thai" mean in New York? Subtract the hot pepper and sort of Frenchify it, or something else?

        1. re: Pan

          Ha, yes, I suppose that could mean many things. It is definitely NOT fusion, and uses traditional Thai flavors. The plates are more composed than other thai places; think about the difference between standard Mexican fare with sides of beans and rice compared with Mexico City high end fare. However, does not feel fussy, just well thought out. I recently posted a full review, feel free to take a look:

          1. re: orthorunner

            Thanks for the link and the review. How spicy is the food, compared to, say, Sripraphai or some of the other really good Thai restaurants in Queens (or, if you prefer, the "Secret Thai" menu at Wondee or the spicy dishes at Pam's Real Thai)?

            1. re: Pan

              Most of the dishes are not particularly spicy; I must admit I have not been to the Thai places in Queens, so cannot directly compare. However, would say it is towards the milder end of the spectrum, other than a couple of dishes: laab salad (did not have, but supposedly their spiciest) and squid ink/hot oil soup, which I would call moderately spicy.

      1. Recette and Aldea both seem to fit what your looking for. Recette has a bustling, yet charming dining room. Jesse Schenker is a young and up-and-coming chef. It features American food but with Spanish and French touches. Otherwise, Aldea, as Kathryn mentioned, would be great choice. It has a sleek dining room and its chef George Mendes is also on the rise.

        31 West 17th Street, New York, NY 10011

        328 West 12th Street, New York, NY 10014

        1. Adding Braeburn and Northern Spy Food Co to the list.

          Little Owl is probably the best of the 3 options your friend recommended, though they pack the houses every night.

          Even though it's not in Manhattan, I would seriously vouch for Traif in So. Williamsburg.

          Little Owl
          90 Bedford Street, New York, NY 10014

          117 Perry Street, New York, NY 10014

          Northern Spy Food Co.
          511 E 12th St, New York, NY 10009

          3 Replies
          1. re: ExFlexitarian

            These are all great suggestions, thank you so much. I will take a look at all the menus.

            And no worries about suggesting Brooklyn ideas - - Traif looks great and we're actually staying with family in Park Slope this trip. (I just thought I should stick to Manhattan on the Manhattan board.) Although, that's raises a good question - - for the type of restaurants we're looking for, does Brooklyn present some better options?


            1. re: RChicago

              The people that run these boards (Chow Team) ask that each board deal with its title - example, this board with Manhattan, Outer Boroughs w/ OB. While occasionally non-organic as here, it keeps better order and manageability. So suggstion to post your same message on Outer Boroughs, just adding anything you know about how long a trip you'll take, where you are staying.

            2. re: ExFlexitarian

              That is the funniest thing I have ever heard.Who exactly eats there? I guess this would come under "only in New York".

            3. The original comment has been removed