Chi-town Foodie in NY for 5 nights
Hello Chowhounds - I am visiting NY solo for a conference Feb 12-17 and am looking for suggestions on places that are not to be missed. I've already got a reservation at Jungsik on 2/13 and am hoping to call Atera to get a seat another evening. Besides those two am fairly open to suggestions, with the caveat of no cult of celebrity places, and no Italian (I know, I know, sorry). I am stuck fairly close to midtown for lunches but otherwise willing to move around for dinners. And if anyone has an open seat at Brooklyn Fare I would be willing to make the trip.
In Midtown, you might consider Yakitori Totto. I haven't been there yet, but my Japanese sister-in-law and other Japanese people I know like it a good deal (they consider it good yakitori by Japanese standards). If you like Thai food, also consider Wondee Siam. Depending on what end of Midtown you'll be in, there are two branches of the delicious Szechuan Gourmet at 39th St. between 5th and 6th and 56th St. between Broadway and 8th.
Kathryn's suggestions are (as usual) really good - I'd put Momofuku Ssam up near the top of the list, as they're a good spot for dining solo. They might actually be a good choice for the 14th, a night when lots of restaurants are doing special V-Day menus - Ssam might be a little less busy what with people out doing more romanticy stuff. I don't think they're doing any special V-day menu, at least.
Some of the Asian places work better for groups - you could dine at Mission Chinese solo, certainly, but most everything on the menu (at least all the entrees) are served
family-style. That said, you could make a fine, fine meal out of a selection of apps to get a more wide-ranging tasting.
Zabb Elee is a great choice if you like heat. Also Kin Shop (even if the chef was on TV once!) - Xi'an Famous I might skip if you can't do noodles, though.
Tapas places are obvious choices for solo dining where you want to try a lot of different things - kathryn mentioned Txikito, I'll also toss in Salinas and Casa Mono / Bar Jamon as good options. Empellon Cocina is Mexican, but many of the dishes are more tapas-sized. (Granted, you live in Bayless Country, so maybe upscale Mexican isn't something you'd be seeking out when in NYC...)
We do have more Scandinavian cuisine than you guys do, though, for another cuisine option. Recently Michelin-starred Aquavit is the obvious standard-bearer for "New Nordic" here, and they're up in Midtown. Their lunch is decent - Nordic bistro food like meatballs, salmonburgers, etc - but the real kitchen magic is at dinner, where the chef really stretches out. They also offer 30% discounts via Savored.com on some nights - they're a good deal to start with ($85 / four courses) but with the discount (bringing it down to $60) it's a veritable steal for the quality of what they're putting out in the PM hours.
For another kind of Nordic experience, Aska in Williamsburg could be your Brooklyn sojourn (sorry to break it to you... probably not going to get into Brooklyn Fare this trip!) - they're putting out some really interesting stuff right now if you're feeling adventurous. They actually have some single seats available on the 12th - check the website, http://askanyc.com/reservations/ - but I'm thinking if you emailed them they'd be cool with serving you the tasting menu at the bar (which usually has a different menu) on one of the other nights. They're super-friendly, very accommodating.
WD-50 is always fun for dining at the bar, and their cocktails are fantastic - you can go the full tasting menu route or simply graze options a la carte.
If you're feeling something Japanese other than sushi, Soto is a great solo dining option - though it can get very pricey, as dishes are small and add up quickly.
As a side note, I'll mention - if you're a fan of brown liquors, pop into The Brandy Library before - or maybe better, after - your meal at Jungsik. They're two blocks away, and have one of the more astounding selections of not just brandies (obviously) but also whiskies in the city, if not the country, and they're great at putting together tasting flights if that's your thing.
Thanks, the insight into places with good bar seating in tremendously helpful, particularly for V-day. I also hadn't looked into anything "nordic" even though it does seem to be having a moment.
As far as tapas go is there a strong opinion on the places mentioned vs Degustation, which I've also heard good things about?
Best restaurants to sit at the bar and eat?
Degustation went through a chef change a little while ago. And I wouldn't really call it tapas, more like Spanish inspired small plates. Depends what you are looking for. Txikito is Basque style. Casa Mono is more non-traditional and serves raciones (bigger than tapas).
Degustation I've only been to once since the chef change - it was fine, but... well, I've only been once, if that tells you what you need to know. The new chef was just getting her feet wet at the time - I might go back at some point, see how things have developed.
Of the places listed thus far, Salinas is probably my favorite - it's not as well-known as the others, seems to be more of a place in-the-know to West Villagers that's s-l-o-w-l-y becoming more of a destination restaurant, even though the chef has quite the record of critical accolades. I find Chef Bollo's cooking at Salinas a bit more interesting, personally - the menu is pretty wide-ranging, with one foot in the door of the very traditional, simple two-ingredient tapas, and another in the more modernist style of his hometown, San Sebastian. (Though the flavors are more Mallorcan / Mediterranean)
There's also - how could we forget? - Tertulia, which I like but occasionally find a bit one-note. It's a good place to gorge on pork, as it can be difficult to find a dish that DOESN'T have ham in it. Mullen is a very gutsy chef, and Spanish food is very gutsy and bold to begin with - both Bollo and Chef Rajj (of Txikito) are more nuanced, I find. But there are times when a fistful of Ibérico hits the spot, for sure.
You've got very good Italian out there, and of course Mexican, and there's haute French in every major metropolis it seems. And while I hate to call modernist cuisine a... well, a cuisine, even, since it says nothing of flavor profiles or whatnot, if you're looking to be wowed by fun techniques you've got Achatz, Cantu, Carlson, even more casual places playing with technique like Trencherman and such. But yeah, Nordic seems to be one of the cuisines that NYC is doing particularly well with versus Chicago. I know there's that local chain - Ann Something? - doing very casual Swedish fare, but I'm not sure you have any higher end that could be classified as Scandinavian at all - which is odd, because Chicago was once the epicenter of Swedish expats in the US. I remember reading somewhere that in the early 20th Century, Chicago actually had the second-largest number of Swedes in the world, second only to Stockholm. Guess they all moved west to Minnesota to join their Norwegian neighbors at some point...
Sounds like you are mainly interested on upscale dining? What about pizza, smoked salmon, pastrami/deli, or maybe some cuisines you can't get back in Chicago? Cuisines that NYC happens to be stronger in? Zabb Elee, Xian Foods, Mission Chinese, Txikito, Motorino, Ippudo, Momofuku Ssam? Or some of our patisseries?
You could probably it squeeze lunch at Jean Georges, Le Bernardin, The Modern, as well as Per Se (lunch is only Fri-Sun), staying only in Midtown. That's a lot of heavy hitters in one week! Le Bern serves the full menu in its lounge/bar. Per Se serves a la carte in their lounge.
Here are some more "moderate" recommendations in Midtown for a Chicago hound:
However I don't quite understand your requirement regarding "cult of celebrity places"? Eric Ripert, JGV, Thomas Keller, do they count as celebrity chefs to you? I was under the impression that Jung Sik Kim was fairly well known in his home country of Korea. And the press for Atera started well before Matthew Lightner opened the restaurant... Discounting any sort of celebrity aspect to a chef means you'll miss out on some great places.
Looks like it would probably help to clarify. On cult of celebrity I mean of the TV notoriety variety. Examples being Graham Eliot or Stephanie Izard. I have no problem with chefs that have won acclaim and recognition based on their restaurants first.
It would also probably help to note that as much as I would like to indulge, I have to avoid the breads, bagels and pizza that NY is known for. For that reason I'm also more inclined to go to restaurants that are more meal orientated. Certainly not limited to high end places, our favorite places here are Longman & Eagle, Ada Street and Big Star, but I've found its fairly difficult to tease these types of places out from the reviews on Tasting Table, Eater, etc.