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Jul 19, 2012 04:36 PM

"Game Changer" restaurants for an NYC trip

Hi, there.

We're two SF 'hounds who are coming to NY for 5 nights. We have a decent budget and are looking for "game changer" restaurants that are doing exciting, delicious food, interesting presentation, or something that's unique to the NY scene.

Neither of us have been to NY in many years, and definitely not on someone else's (big) dime.

One thing that's important to me is that we don't have dinner at places where we could be having the same dishes in SF or LA. (eg., I looked at Spotted Pig's menu, and it looks a lot like what's going on here, but maybe I'm wrong?).

Here's the list we're working from. Thoughts? And advice on which could be as good of an experience at lunch?

Eleven Madison
Momofuku Ko
Le Bernardin
Red Rooster
Del Posto

Thanks so much--

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  1. Others may disagree, but I would suggest skipping wd~50 and Le Bernardin. The Bay Area has a number of restaurants that deliver more exciting and more delicious food: Coi, benu, Atelier Crenn, Meadowood etc.

    There's nothing like EMP on either coast, so whether it's for lunch or dinner, it should be a treat (though I prefer lunch given the lighting and $70 markdown on the tasting menu).

    3 Replies
    1. re: degustingdiary

      Super interesting points, thanks. Really glad for the confirmation on EMP, though--

      1. re: degustingdiary

        Meadowood is more exciting than wd~50? I clearly ate at a different restaurant.

        1. re: degustingdiary

          I've been a long-time lurker here, but I made an account just to say please please don't skip WD~50. It's not just molecular/modernist gastronomy, it's really Dufresne's genius you're experiencing, and there's no other restaurant like it.

        2. EMP is amazing but you MUST book at 9am Eastern 28 days (4 weeks including the current day) in advance. Be prepared to get only an early or late time for dinner, especially on a Fri or Sat. They only do lunch on weekdays not weekends, and are closed Sundays.

          If you're into molecular gastronomy, WD-50 is basically the only game in town. So it depends how much you like modernist cuisine and how often you might visit Chicago or DC or Europe.

          I like Ko but I think for a visitor already doing so much high end dining, maybe do Ssam Bar instead for a change of pace.

          Le Bernardin IMO is quite subtle and you really need to love fish and all seafood to appreciate it. It's not like you'll have a bad meal there but if you're into game changers, and bold flavors, and experimental cuisines, maybe it's not the best choice. They only do lunch on weekdays, and are closed Sundays.

          Similarly for Del Posto, I think an upscale rustic place like Locanda Verde or Babbo better represents the spirit of NYC. Their weekday lunch prix fixe, however, is a good value, given the amuse and petit fours that you receive.

          There's also a lot of exciting, delicious, interesting food happening below the high end--many chefs are now doing creative stuff without being formal. Momofuku Ssam Bar, Empellon Cocina, Minetta Tavern, Fatty Cue, Recette, Txikito, Public, etc.

          Shopsin's, Russ & Daughters, Katz's Deli, Gray's Papaya, Sigmund's Pretzel are also only in NY experiences/foods.

          See also:

          10 Replies
          1. re: kathryn

            You always post such great stuff, but why do you mention Gray's Papaya? Do you like their stuff much? I don't, and it therefore doesn't matter to me that it's a "real New York place."

            That's my only demurral on your post.

            1. re: Pan

              Their hot dogs are OK, I like their juices, and yes, it's an "only in NY" type of experience.

              1. re: kathryn

                I thought the trend started in Florida.

                1. re: kathryn

                  I find their hotdogs nothing special and don't like their papaya drink.

                  1. re: Pan

                    That douche Bourdain is always talking Gray's. I lived in the Village for years and ate at the 8th street location once, and that was more than enough.

                    1. re: Worldwide Diner

                      I thought Bourdain loved Papaya King on 86th Street & Third Ave.

                      1. re: ellenost

                        Maybe it's Papaya King. Not sure if there's much difference.

                        1. re: ellenost

                          When he lived in the Village, it was Greys, now he's on the Upper West Side I believe it's now Papaya King.
                          Basically the same thing except for the onions.

                      2. re: Pan

                        I worked across the street from Gray's for years and have consumed scores of their "recession beater specials" and while there's nothing particularly special about them,they sure came in handy after a night drinking before I hit the trains.

                2. To say that WD-50 is similar to Coi, Benu, etc, because they all use modern techniques and have playful presentation is a bit like saying that Manresa and Del Posto are similar because they both use ovens and saute pans. Is there anything in Crenn's flavor profile that hews too close to Dufresne's? No. Both chefs are, in a sense, non-regional. They embrace - flavor-wise - many different influences. They're completely different experiences in the mouth, even if both make foams out of liver or turn halibut into lightbulbs or whatever.

                  Wylie is quite unique - as are Crenn and the rest. Each perhaps tips the hat to certain traditions (in Wylie's case, often the flavors of NYC - bagels, pastrami on rye, eggs benedict, Chinese, etc) but each has their own voice, moreso than you could say for, say, two Italian chefs from opposite coasts.


                  The rest of the list:

                  EMP: a keeper. One of the best in NYC.

                  Ko: a keeper, if you can get a rez. If not, take a night to go to Momofuku Ssam Bar. You'll have a wait for a table, more than likely, but you can have a drink at their new bar (Booker & Dax) next door while you wait. The food is excellent, the vibe is fun.

                  Le Bernardin: I'm a little less-than-enthused with Le B. It's certainly not BAD by anyone's metric, though I find the service a bit stuffy - but hey, that's Midtown. With all respect to Ripert and the kitchen, who do as good a job as is humanly possible at what they do - I just don't find what they do terribly interesting. I'm just a little (personally) bored by Haute French is all, I think. That said, of the "big three" French names (along with Daniel & Jean-Georges) I suppose they're the best. Maybe. It's not Daniel, at least.

                  Red Rooster - good, not great. Honestly, I'd go to Samuelsson's old haunt, Aquavit, which has become - and I know this is sacrilege to some to say - better than when he was there. I don't know if you have and high-end Nordic food out there, but they've been excellent of late. They definitely had a "down" period after Samuelsson left and before Jernmark, the current chef, found his personal groove, and sadly that's the period when Sifton at the NYT revisited them. The room is a little stiff (those Scandinavians love their right angles for some reason...) but better than it used to be. (It used to be in the back, with no windows...)

                  Another Nordic options is ACME - very buzzy, hot place right now, especially on the weekends - ex-chef from Noma in the kitchen. Simpler, more rustic food, but pretty damn excellent.

                  Del Posto: It's great, but I'm of the opinion that if you can get a rez at Babbo, they're the standard-bearer. DP is a more "refined" experience, yes, but Babbo is a NYC treasure. And I just like the food more.

                  You also might want to consider Corton and Bouley as possible alternates to any of the above.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: sgordon

                    Agreed on the Del Posto/Babbo point, espeically now that you can get lunch at Babbo (and reservations are not hard to come by).

                  2. If you like light and pristine seafood preps. Le Bernardin would be a great choice. Try the lounge for lunch. They serve the full menu there as well as the bar menu and the City Harvest three course special for $45. It's also less formal than the main dining room and you can pretty much walk in at any time and get a seat at the bar or one of the lounge tables.

                    Del Posto is good too. Momofuku Ko is interesting but I think you have a lot of high end asian-influenced restaurants in the Bay Area.

                    For something unique try Corton. Picholine is also wonderful, especially if you like cheese.

                    I'd skip Red Rooster.

                    1. Forgive me but I see no "Game Changers" in the restaurant line up , just more admittedly excellent but safe dining.
                      Game Changers? Fatty Que,Minetta Tavern,ShriPraPhai,Purple Yam,Hill country,Katz, just to name a few.
                      I'm going to take some flack for this, but while the OP's line up{except Red Rooster} is most likely the creme de la creme of NYC dining, they can hardly be considered as contemporary "Game Changers"just more established dining for elderly, affluent, folks who wishes not so much to be out of their comfort zone but experience a Roman Holiday.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Duppie

                        How are Fatty Cue, Minetta Tavern, ShriPraPhai, Purple Yam, Hill Country, Katz game changers? These restaurants serve traditional comfort food for the most part.

                        1. re: Duppie

                          I agree with this.... But, at the same time, I think the NY-SF dining scenes are remarkably similar. I don't think any of the places you named are particularly game-changing either. It's funny that the OP singled out the Spotted Pig as the last time I was in SF, I didn't find much nose-to-tail-style cooking, particularly not on par with Bloomfield's.

                          My overall recommendation: don't look for game changers. Just look for the best in class that the city has to offer. EMP, Ko, Babbo, Spotted Pig, Fatty Cue, Minetta Tavern (not my favorite for food, but very New York), wd-50, Empellon, Pok Pok, Acme, and so on...

                          1. re: loratliff

                            "I didn't find much nose-to-tail-style cooking, particularly not on par with Bloomfield's."

                            Incanto would count. It's Italian, instead of pub influenced, but still known for whole animal dinners. Not my favorite place, but I think Bloomfield is overrated too.