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Family visiting in 11 days—help vet my plan!

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My parents and aunt are visiting next week, and I'd like to plan an itinerary that out-does their previous visit! They are from the West Coast, and Hong Kong, respectively, so for them NYC is very much a different mecca of food, filled with unknowns and possibilities. They love to eat and discuss food, so I think with some tasteful (haha) planning they could easily return with many happy memories.

Below, the categories with ?-marks are in the most need of advice. Stay duration is 5–6 days, so it's cool that we don't get around to everything. Mainly I'd appreciate a lookover any blindspots that I might be exhibiting. As a reference, I've included at the end places where we've been. Here goes:

1. Special occasion dinner:
• Per Se - I am so looking forward to this, be still my heart. I might keep this a surprise, and tell them we're dressing up to see a ballet, opera…

2. Something special to pair with the above:
• Sushi Yasuda || 15 East || Kyo-Ya - either traditional sushi, or traditional kaiseki. No reservation yet.

2.5. (skip) More fine dining: I've decided to save these for future occasions. Unless they insist on more, and are footing the bill!
• ruled out: The Modern || Jean Georges - awesome prix fixe lunches.
• ruled out: Corton || Atera - two of my favorites, and so unique.

3. "European-American" restaurants:
• Aldea - lunch, the arroz de pato, amongst other dishes. I like this place.
• ruled out: The Modern Bar Room, The NoMad - both very very good, but would rather avoid the museum/hotel-food pricing.
• optional: Acme - never been, sounds like *I* might like it.

4. • Momofuku Ssam Bar - great cooking, decent prices, paragon of eclecticism. Fun setting, I just hope the crowd noise isn't too overwhelming…

?5. Chinese:
• Xi'an Famous Foods - I hope they'll love this!
• (?) Fuleen? - Looking for any regional cooking that is NYC's strength. Not too expensive. (alternative: visit Flushing)

?6. American food:
• unsure: Luke's Lobster || Pearl Oyster Bar - Lobster roll, or oysters. Are they good deals? Brooklyn may have better offerings. Come to think of it, Vancouver probably has great oysters already.
• hamburgers: done that (see below)
•? What else represents Americana? I feel culturally ignorant in this department. (They're not that keen on steakhouses or bbq, though.)

7. • Zaab Elee - regional Thai food. We love Southeast Asian cuisine.

8. Japanese—noodles: we swoon for noodles.
• Ippudo || Ramen Totto || Onya || Hide-chan - choose one, only Hide-chan would be new.

?9. Italian: Aunt has previously expressed interest in Italian cuisine, but in all my time, nothing has leapt out at me, until now. I'm thinking:
• Babbo - lunch sounds good! Expecting $60-80 total pp. Holding a Saturday reservation.
• alternative: Torrisi Italian Specialties - dinner prix fixe sounds great. So, this, or Babbo? Online reservation is looking full.
alternative: Eataly - Adam Platt ranks this one higher than Babbo. Um, okay.
alternative: Dell'anima || Da Andrea - slightly more budget friendly?
ruled out: Lincoln - lunch p.f. looks like a nice treat. for backup.
<I have been to the following>
ruled out: Lupa - Great pastas. for backup.
ruled out: Novità - Excellent pasta, but no lunch on weekends.
ruled out: Ai Fiori, Maialino, L'Artusi, Hearth. They were very nice dishes, but I didn't fall in love.

?10. Small eats - sweet:
<gelato>
• il laboratorio || L'Arte - This is sufficient to make their day.
<patisserie>
• (?) Where to find fine pastries? Or do only restaurants have that caliber of dessert?
• La Bergamote - good tarts, epic Napoleon, but would prefer a nicer setting for tea/coffee.
• Balthazar Bakery - often excellent pastries, no seating.
• Dominique Ansel Bakery - never been, looks really nice.
• ruled out: Laduree - Mom dislikes macarons, too sugary.
<afternoon tea>
• The NoMad || Ai Fiori || The Dutch - great desserts, bar seating
• Nougatine || ?… - table seating, more relaxed

??11. Small eats - savory:
• Russ & Daughters || Katz's - nuff said.
• Ni Japanese Delicacies - East meets West, profile sounds homey & delightful. Curious about more shops like this.
• (?) what else??

12. Food shopping:
• Jacques Torres - how did we miss this one the first time?
• Myers of Keswick - for the Anglophilia
• Eataly - no comment.

??13. Bakeries: both aunt and mom like to bake! Something that piques their interest would be nice.
• Clinton St. Baking Co. - I see this name over and over again. But afraid of long lines.
• Levain? || Sullivan Street?

Some places we've done together:
Eleven Madison Park (collective wow)
Kajitsu, Bouley
Casa Mono, Prune
Bouchon Bakery (nice setting, desserts were *mostly* hits)
La Maison du Chocolat, Minamoto Kitchoan, La Maison du Macaron
2nd Ave Deli, H&H Bagels, Zabars (<- would go again)
Shake Shack, 5 Napkin, Junior's
Cafe Zaiya, Aburiya kinnosuke, Robataya, Soba-ya, Mitsuwa Marketplace, …
Marseille (nice brunch, and we were walk-ins)
Wu Liang Ye, Grand Sichuan, Lang Sheng, Congee Village, Joe's Shanghai, etc. (these Chinese restaurants were just ok for them)

Whew!

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  1. Missing from your itinerary are Spanish, Mexican, pizza, Southern, or any New American or farm-to-table.

    > 1. Special occasion dinner:
    > Per Se - I am so looking forward to this, be still my heart. I might keep this a surprise, and tell
    > them we're dressing up to see a ballet, opera…

    > 2. Something special to pair with the above:
    > Sushi Yasuda || 15 East || Kyo-Ya - either traditional sushi, or traditional kaiseki. No reservation yet.

    Since you'll be a party of 4 (?) try to get a reservation at Kyo Ya ASAP (maybe for the tatami room) because sushi is best experienced at the chef's counter. Kyo Ya is excellent.

    > 4. Momofuku Ssam Bar - great cooking, decent prices, paragon of eclecticism. Fun setting, I just hope the crowd noise isn't too overwhelming…

    Ma Peche is less noisy.

    Ssam Bar may be OK if you go early.

    > ?5. Chinese:
    Xi'an Famous Foods - I hope they'll love this!
    (?) Fuleen? - Looking for any regional cooking that is NYC's strength. Not too expensive. (alternative: visit Flushing)

    I would go Chinese fusion maybe, and take them to Mission Chinese for a lunch. Do they eat spicy food? The cooking there is unusual and bold.

    Frankly, for the person from Hong Kong, the standards there are so high that traditional Chinese HERE may end up being a disappointment.

    > ?6. American food:
    > unsure: Luke's Lobster || Pearl Oyster Bar - Lobster roll, or oysters. Are they good deals? Brooklyn > may have better offerings. Come to think of it, Vancouver probably has great oysters already.
    > hamburgers: done that (see below)

    Good seafood is not cheap, and cheap seafood is not good.

    A lobster roll can be hard to get on the West Coast. Do Pearl if you want the cute atmosphere and sit down service. Would be good for lunch on a weekday.

    > [?] what else represents Americana? I feel culturally ignorant in this department. (They're not that keen on steakhouses or bbq, though.)

    Take them also to lunch at the Dutch, especially for the fried chicken, cornbread, and pastries since they are into baking.

    There's also "New York" types of foods: halal cart, pretzels, pizza, black and white cookies, egg creams, that I don't see on your list (I do see Katz's and R&D).

    And I don't see any farm-to-table restaurants on your list, i.e. Craft, ABC Kitchen, etc.

    Actually, ABC Kitchen might work really well. And you can browse ABC Carpet & Home afterwards.

    Maybe also take them to brunch/lunch at Minetta Tavern to have a burger and see the room.

    > ?9. Italian: Aunt has previously expressed interest in Italian cuisine, but in all my time, nothing has leapt out at me, until now. I'm thinking:
    > Babbo - lunch sounds good! Expecting $60-80 total pp. Holding a Saturday reservation.
    > Torrisi Italian Specialties - dinner prix fixe sounds great. So, this, or Babbo? Online reservation is looking full.

    I'd go with Babbo. Plus, the desserts there are usually very good. (The other big ones you are missing is Locanda Verde and Scarpetta.)

    > ?10. Small eats - sweet:
    <gelato>
    il laboratorio || L'Arte - This is sufficient to make their day.

    I'd also throw Grom into the mix, or Victory Garden. Or Big Gay Ice Cream for something fun but less gourmet.

    For bakeries, depends what you're looking for. American style or French. Sounds like Mom doesn't like American style? Or does she, since you mentioned Clinton St?

    Off the top of my head, you might to look into:
    Cafe Sabarsky - Viennese pastries
    City Bakery - scones, muffins, bakers muffin, pretzel croissant
    Two Little Red Hens - cupcakes, cake, pies, cheesecake
    First Prize Pies - pies
    Amy's Bread - sticky buns, cake, cupcakes, twists
    Bosie Tea Parlor - macarons, scones, cookies
    Dominique Ansel - DKA, Paris-New York
    Mille-Feuille - great croissants
    Doughnut Plant - cake doughnuts only
    Magnolia - ice box cake
    Rocco's - freshly filled cannoli
    Butter Lane - cupcakes
    Momofuku Milk Bar - cookies (chocolate chocolate, corn, or cornflake marshmallow), cake truffles, candy bar pie, all VERY sweet however

    This place also opened recently:
    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/862772

    > ??11. Small eats - savory:

    A halal cart. A pretzel from Sigmund. A slice of pizza from South Brooklyn Pizza.

    You might also like Hester St Fair and the New Amsterdam Market, as well as Smorgasburg in Brooklyn. For eating AND food shopping AND baked goods.

    > 12. Food shopping:
    >Jacques Torres - how did we miss this one the first time?

    I prefer the chocolates at Kee's better, however. It also feels less corporate.

    Otherwise, I like Chelsea Market, Despana, Union Sq Greenmarket, Kalustyan's, Epicurie Boulud, Murray's.

    For Eataly try to visit on a weekday. Mornings are best. Some people like Buon Italia in Chelsea Market or Di Palo more.

    > ??13. Bakeries: both aunt and mom like to bake! Something that piques their interest would be nice.
    > Clinton St. Baking Co. - I see this name over and over again. But afraid of long lines.

    This is a full service restaurant that is VERY popular for brunch. Clinton St Baking Co has a takeout counter but it the same as the takeout/counter service bakeries you have listed.

    As for bakeries -- it depends. Are you looking for bread? Or sweets (what kind)? If so, see my response above. We have tons of bakeries but they are not all good at the same things... So more specifics would help (cookies, cakes, pies, etc).

    4 Replies
    1. re: kathryn

      Oh my god, brilliant response! I will get back to you.

      1. re: calf

        To respond to your comments:

        "Missing from your itinerary"
        I know… I haven't really researched these genres. I love Mexican and Spanish, but they don't yet. I'm interested in Txikito and La Vara, so I'll try to gauge their interest. / Southern: Haha, way out of my depth. Thanks for raising attention to this. / New American: Absolutely, Craft would be a good choice. / Farm-to-table: They've seen Chez Panisse, twice. I figured that's enough for now! / New York: (halal, pretzel, b&w cookie, egg cream, pizza) Agree. Pizza in particular would make a great low-fuss meal.

        "Since you'll be a party of 4 (?) try to get a reservation at Kyo Ya ASAP (maybe for the tatami room) because sushi is best experienced at the chef's counter. Kyo Ya is excellent."
        Mkay, first thing tomorrow morning! Actually, since they arrive/leave on slightly different days, theoretically I could arrange a sushi omakase for 2 + 2 or 2 + 3 people, i.e. split over two days. Yet alternatively it won't be the end of the world if we merely do a 4-top at 15 East, because it'll still be decent, right? I should decide on this.

        "Ssam Bar may be OK if you go early."—My thinking as well.

        Mission Chinese was the alternative I didn't look into. I think I will show them the menus for both Xi'an and Mission.
        "Frankly, for the person from Hong Kong, the standards there are so high that traditional Chinese HERE may end up being a disappointment."
        Haha, that's how I generally feel, but I think they also value food familiarity, and perhaps more importantly, the social connection to local Chinese. My dad is quite happy to boldly stumble around Chinatown looking for a dimsum place; and he knows what "good" tastes like, so, more power to him.

        "Good seafood is not cheap, and cheap seafood is not good."
        Well, I made a category for Classic American Food, with the thinking that lobster rolls fit under that. And Luke's should do. I just skimmed through the nytimes database, and the only two "good" Western seafood that ring any bells are Le Bernardin and Esca. But they hew more formal and Eurocentric. Anyways, I'm not particularly looking for a seafood restaurant at this time.

        Lunch at The Dutch / ABC Kitchen / Minetta Tavern, I've not been to the last one, but they all sound like potentially good visits.

        "I'd go with Babbo. The other big ones you are missing is Locanda Verde and Scarpetta.
        I know, I know… Locanda Verde's menu looked fine, but I was too easily swayed by negative commenters. Scarpetta, I have a purely irrational bias against, not interested in it just yet. I am excited about Babbo; I've never gone there. What are your opinions on Torrisi?

        "Grom, Victory Garden… Big Gay Ice Cream"—Cool, bookmarked.

        Yes, I wanted to have one category for bread bakeries, and another for desserts/patisseries:
        Mom is really into healthy whole wheat breads, and thus a place with olive bread, walnuts, raisins, etc, would be heaven. We actually went by Amy's or Poseidon (Hell's Kitchen?) last time, and bought various items for breakfast.
        I was totally confused about Clinton St. Baking Co., thanks for the correction.
        Mom and Dad recently became fans of the Napoleon, which was why I thought of La Bergamote. We all enjoy sweet stuff, especially the kind of fancy pastries at Bouchon Bakery, Épicerie Boulud, Balthazar Bakery. Their/our interests are wide ranging—mochi, pies, flans/custards, tiramisu, cheesecake, bubble tea, brittles, any/all. I should just do a search for each kind later.

        "Hester St Fair,… New Amsterdam Market,… Smorgasburg…."
        Cool info! We'll have lots to do. Thanks. Will also look into Despana and Murray's. The remaining foodie zones, they've seen 'em all, and they *love* them all. Will check Buon Italia & Di Palo.

        Thanks again, the advice has been very helpful! Other than the sushi-kaiseki decision, I feel ready.

        1. re: calf

          If you've never gone to Babbo and already have a res, definitely go there. IMO Torrisi is not in Babbo's league. Also because it's a prix fixe, you'll probably be much more limited and not be able to try as many things as you might at Babbo. At Torrisi, on the prix fixe, looking at this week's menu, the only thing you get to choose is your entree, for example.

          For bread, I bet you'll love Serious Eats' Good Bread column.
          http://newyork.seriouseats.com/good_b...

          1. re: calf

            I've been to Despana, Murray and DiPalo and each one is terrific. But, IMO, DiPalo is in a league of its own. Just waiting in line is enjoyable listening to all the back and forth about the cheese and window shopping the shelves. And their gorgonzola dolce is THE best I've ever had. Gosh, I wish I was your visiting relative :) Good kid.

      2. As usual, Kathryn wrote a great reply. So only a few comments from me:

        I don't think someone from the West Coast or, still less, Hong Kong would be impressed with Zabb Elee. It's good for Manhattan, and that's the limit of it.

        I also would question going from Hong Kong to New York for Chinese food. It doesn't make sense to me. The West Coast also has great Chinese food. So your best bet, if you do want to take your family to Chinese restaurants here, is to concentrate on regional cuisines that may be uncommon where they come from. And yes, Flushing has the greatest variety of those, so if that's something you want to do, post on the Outer Boroughs board.

        Depending on how much or which wines you have at Babbo, you may be underestimating your expense per person, inclusive of tax and tip. When I went with my brother several years ago, we paid $90/person, including tip.

        About Mission Chinese: I haven't been to their New York location but did go with my brother, who lives in San Francisco, to their original location, and while the food was tasty, I don't understand the frenzy about the place here. Unless the New York location is very different from the original. Perhaps it's some kind of novelty to some of the posters on this board? I'll say this: If it's pretty much the same as the original, I see no reason whatsoever to wait for an hour or more to eat there, when there are so many other good Chinese restaurants I can go to (good for New York, that is - not good for Hong Kong).

        2 Replies
        1. re: Pan

          You can make reservations for Mission Chinese over email. I really like their creative Sichuan influenced style of cooking. Who else in NYC is making kung pao pastrami?

          1. re: kathryn

            Re kung pao pastrami, EXACTLY, kathryn. Didn't get that last time. Will next time.

        2. for Italian, I"ve had stellar meals at

          Supper and Lavagna (and the atmosphere at both is fantastic)

          I also had an amazing seafood experience at The Mermaid Oyster Bar in the Village (not the east village location), get there when it opens and get a seat at the bar, amazing happy hour specials.

          Are you open to exploring Brooklyn? If so, check out Frankies 457 (for Italian).

          And Romans in Ft Greene for farm-to-table.

          12 Replies
          1. re: iriedesign

            Supper is in my regular rotation. It is dependable, good, honest food and a good value. However, with the possible exception of their roast chicken, which at its best is some of the best roast chicken I've had in a restaurant, it's not a place that ever wows me, just a place I'm really glad is in my neighborhood.

            Lavagna finally got a visit from me recently, as part of a party of I believe 6, after several years' hiatus. It is a very good restaurant, and I would rate it at least one if not two levels of deliciousness above Supper, but with prices to match.

            Frankie's 457 was the original location of which Frankie's Spuntino, which used to be on Clinton St. near Houston, was a branch. I haven't been to the original location but found the former Clinton St. location quite unimpressive.

            1. re: Pan

              Interesting to read your take on these places ... I'm new to this list and while I know these places aren't reknowned, I thought they could fit a certain part of the experience you were looking for. But I see I have a lot to learn about food in NYC.

              I will be saving your original post and refering back it ...

              1. re: iriedesign

                I'm not the original poster. All three of those are/were neighborhood restaurants for me (I live in the East Village).

                1. re: Pan

                  No, you're not ;)

                  Actually I think there's a good point to be made. For each hot/trendy/starred restaurant, there are hundreds of lesser-known but great value businesses. At the end of the day we have to eat something, and the shared experience ultimately isn't contingent on having the "best" food all the time. I just went through the nytimes list of Critic's Picks within the $-$$ bracket, and the one restaurant that stood out, for me, was Risotteria. Cheap eats (for NYC) and adorable concept, I think my parents will love it.

                  1. re: calf

                    I don't care about trendiness and don't seek Michelin stars here. If you want a list of places that are great values, we can make one for you, if you specify which neighborhoods you're particularly interested in. Supper would be on that list. But given that your family is in New York for a limited amount of time, I don't think I would suggest it for them. But that's up to you.

                    1. re: Pan

                      Isn't that a little disingenuous? EMP is the darling of this forum. Trends and stars aren't necessarily a bad thing; they are information conveyed in a certain form. Chowhound certainly has its own internal trends and biases.

                      The problem has always been that the lower price brackets are harder to talk about, because there's an exponentially larger set of choices, and opinions diverge--for valid reasons due to different experiences and preferences. At this bracket, the nytimes database was pretty much useless, other than uncovering Risotteria. It's almost more a game of what to avoid, rather than what to try and find.

                      Supper is 4 stars on Yelp, and has plenty of pictures. I actually planned 2 empty slots for meals; I only have some inkling of where we'll be at those times, but thankfully it shouldn't be too hard to find a nice lunch/dinner via smartphone. Low-key food has its way of impressing. Besides, gambling is exciting.

                      1. re: calf

                        I actually think it would be really intersting to read a thread about "supper-level" restaurants, both to try and avoid.

                        1. re: iriedesign

                          Do a search for neighborhood gem or neighborhood restaurant.
                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/838483

                        2. re: calf

                          Do I represent this forum? I told you what I do and don't care about. If you'd rather hear only from everyone who's constantly raving about EMP, that's up to you. The one meal I had there since Humm has been there as Chef was disappointing. And if you'd rather take Yelp's word than mine, I won't be insulted. I like Supper, in any case, so I think 4 stars is about right, as price is also a consideration.

                          1. re: Pan

                            Sorry, but you've used the pronoun "we", and I found that extremely hard to interpret. I'm also detecting a lot of "you" language in the posts above. I don't understand what is causing that, but if the anger was provoked by something I said (or didn't say), I'm sorry.

                            1. re: calf

                              No, I'm not angry, though I was a bit irritated at being called "disingenuous" for no reason. But I used "you" for no reason other than the fact that I'm addressing you! :-)

                              What I said is (a) what I do and don't care about and (b) we (meaning anyone who posts) can make a list for you. I know the list wouldn't be just my list.

              2. for Italian I'd take them to Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto on the UWS. for lunch. It's a restaurant and a salumeria, and the porchetta is FABulous. so is owner Cesare Casella.

                OTOH, the pasta at Babbo is delicious. all of it!

                I agree with those who like DiPalo better than Eataly. Also like Chelsea Market better.

                3 Replies
                1. re: ChefJune

                  Salumeria Rosi is very good. Given a choice between them and Supper, assuming limited time in New York and no important advantage of one location over another, I'd choose Salumeria Rosi. But they're very different types of restaurants.

                  1. re: ChefJune

                    Salumeria Rosi just opened a branch on Madison Avenue with an expanded menu.
                    http://www.scribd.com/doc/106492306/S...

                    1. re: Riverman500

                      At a glance, it seems more expensive.