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Best of the 'Non-Michelin Star' restaurant - Please help me to choose one!

Charles Yu Jul 28, 2013 08:34 PM

My planned trip to NYC in September is fast approaching. Planning for the 'eating itinerary' is almost complete. Will be eating hopefully at Atera, Aquavit, Oceana...etc.
However, with room for one more interesting meal, I am hoping to give a good 'Non-Michelin star' establishment a try, just to compare the difference.
My choices are Esca, Tertulia, Toqueville and Craft... to name a few. ( been to Lincoln already ).

Please kindly help me in picking just one!! Best tasting food is the only selection criteria. Nothing over in Brooklyn though! Thanks in advance!!

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  1. sgordon RE: Charles Yu Jul 29, 2013 08:22 AM

    Tertulia will "feel" the most different than the ones you have booked, as it's the most casual. Of the four, I probably like Esca and Craft the best - for different reasons. Though I'd try to book Babbo over Esca, if you can get a rez.

    Atera & Aquavit are both really at the forefront right now (though Atera gets more press) - good choices. But I'd consider swapping Oceana for something else... they're solid, just not terribly exciting or creative anymore. To me, they're kind of a place to take the parents if your parents like a "nice meal" but aren't really foodies. (Luckily, mine are...)

    Also: Michelin means nothing, at least in terms of any "differences" between places, or who has the best tasting food. Any good restaurant is going to have a unique identity of it's own. There'll be just as many differences between Atera and Aquavit as there are between Atera and Esca, or between Esca and Craft...

    5 Replies
    1. re: sgordon
      kathryn RE: sgordon Jul 29, 2013 08:38 AM

      He's already been to Babbo and wasn't impressed:

      1. re: kathryn
        sgordon RE: kathryn Jul 29, 2013 09:19 AM

        I think you have the most remarkable memory I've ever encountered, kathryn.

        1. re: kathryn
          Charles Yu RE: kathryn Jul 29, 2013 10:17 AM

          WoW! kathryn, What great memory! I am MOST IMPRESSED!!!!
          Reason I picked Oceana was based on feed back from uhockey who told me some foodie friends of his found the seafood preparation more tasty than Le Bernadin!

          1. re: Charles Yu
            UES Mayor RE: Charles Yu Jul 30, 2013 03:56 AM

            Well you both have the same last name! How could she forget yu? I mean you!

          2. re: kathryn
            scoopG RE: kathryn Jul 30, 2013 03:44 AM

            Also, I believe the "negative" experience at Babbo had as much to do misleading the restaurant on the total number in the dining party, no?

        2. d
          darren425 RE: Charles Yu Jul 29, 2013 12:15 PM


          1. loratliff RE: Charles Yu Jul 29, 2013 01:53 PM

            What do you really want though? There are countless excellent restaurants with no Michelin stars that are better than their Michelin-starred counterparts.

            Do you want a more casual experience? Tertulia is certainly the most casual among the other restaurants you've listed. You might enjoy Joseph Leonard, Chez Sardine, Mission Chinese Food, the Spotted Pig (Michelin-starred, but not white tablecloth dining), Maialino, Pig and Khao, Miller's Near and Far, Recette, and Momofuku Ssam—that would round out my very incomplete list of non-Michelin starred restaurants with excellent food, at the moment.

            24 Replies
            1. re: loratliff
              Charles Yu RE: loratliff Jul 29, 2013 03:04 PM

              As I eluded to in my opening post, I am looking for 'great food' only. Price, atmosphere, ambiance, wine....etc are all irrelevant!.
              This search is more like an experiment on my part since for example, during my last visit, I actually found a few similar dishes in a non-star restaurant like Lincoln more delicious than the 2* Marea!! The Italian seafood soup was such a case!
              Furthermore, FYI, since my eating partner will be a fellow chowhounder from S'pore and travels to star studded culinary destination such as Hong Kong, Japan, Korea and China quite a few times a year, we would like to take a pass on all Asian food. So no Sushi Yasuda, Mission Chinese or Momofuku...etc.
              May be I'll give Tertulia a try since I can then compare the food with one of my favorite, the 1* Casa Mono. Or may be Craft ( compare to Gramercy Tavern) or Toqueville ( compare to say The Modern? ).
              However, since I only have time to insert one extra meal, I (we) would like the best ( and consistent) tasting food!

              1. re: Charles Yu
                sgordon RE: Charles Yu Jul 29, 2013 03:35 PM

                Michelin in NYC is notoriously bad about Italian (and many other) cuisines.

                Other than the name, pork buns, and rice cakes, I would not call Momofuku Ssam "Asian" even remotely. Maybe 30% of the dishes have an Asian element in them, but you could honestly say that about almost any New American restaurant. There's nothing Asian about, say, veal head terrine with sardines and oregano - or duck hearts with ricotta and rhubarb - or any number of other items on the menu. The name and color of the owner's skin make people call it Asian. Honestly, I think I see more Asian ingredients on the WD-50 menu right now, and no one's calling them Asian.

                That aside... I like Tertulia, but for Spanish/Tapas I like Txikito and Salinas both a bit more. Just personal taste.

                Craft and Gramercy Tavern are VERY different, culinarily. The Modern is in a completely different league than Tocqueville.

                1. re: sgordon
                  loratliff RE: sgordon Jul 29, 2013 03:56 PM

                  Yes, I think discounting Momofuku Ssam because it has a remotely Asian name and a few vaguely Asian items on the menu is an incredible disservice. (Of course, I also think basing one's NYC dining experiences solely off of Michelin is as well, but I digress.)

                  1. re: loratliff
                    Charles Yu RE: loratliff Jul 29, 2013 06:51 PM

                    Ummmm! Looks like I haven't made myself clear?!!! Sorry!!

                    First off, just be clear, I have nothing against Asian influenced food, David Chang and his Momofuku's or Brooklyn!! I have my (our) valid reasons for not considering them during this 'short' visit!

                    Here are some of the facts and reasons:

                    1) Both Fourseason and I traveled to and around the Orient quite a lot. In our humble opinion, we believe better 'Asian influenced fusion cuisine' can be had in places like Hong Kong, Singapore, Shanghai and Tokyo. We have experienced how Jean George did with his Asian influenced fusion cuisine and was only partially impressed. As a seasoned hound, of course I realize one cannot escape the impact of Asian ingredients and approaches in modern cuisine. Nowadays, one can even find Asian ingredients, spices and herbs used in places like San Sebastian's 3* 'Spanish' restaurants!
                    However, if we can find and experience something less commonly found in our places of residence, of course we would like to opt for that?! Hence Spanish tapas or Seafood restaurants featuring more North American seafood varietals...etc....( even great Southern fried chicken! Ha!). Lastly, here in Toronto, we have our fair share of great Asian influenced fusion cuisine from Susur Lee, one of the best in the business!

                    2) In the past year or two, David Chang has opened up 4 different eateries here in Toronto! Momofuku 'Shoto' which is similar to your Ko. Daisho which is like your Ssam, Noodle bar and milk bar. So I guess you will appreciate my reason for not considering one of 'Anthony Bourdain's favorite chef'!!

                    3) We will both be staying in Manhattan hotels, either close to Central Park or Times Square. As such, we would prefer something more accessible than Brooklyn for our possible late night dining option, Besides, Brooklyn is a totally unfamiliar territory for us. One false move or bad luck and our cab fare might be more than our meal! Ha!!

                    Lastly, in response to Kathryn's last remark. If I'm eating alone and have the time, of course I am willing to try 'OUTSIDE the box'. However, since I am also planning for fourseason, who will be traveling over 12,000km for this chowmeet, and does not have a lot of spare time or opportunity to compensate or adjust for 'mistakes', I have to 'play it kind of safe!!'

                    So, back to square one! I guess I'll put a bunch of names on the wall, close my eyes and throw a dart against them! :D

                    PS: @sgordon "Just personal taste." definitely applies when comes to food!! My daughter went to Txikito and had a really bad experience! On the other hand, Casa Mono, which a lot of hounds find it less impressive, she just LOVED it!!....?????

                    1. re: Charles Yu
                      loratliff RE: Charles Yu Jul 29, 2013 07:12 PM

                      So you say you're back to square one, but you've been given a whole list of excellent recommendations that meet your criteria: "'great food' only. Price, atmosphere, ambiance, wine," as you wrote.

                      And you've had an objection to every one. Why even ask if your mind was made up? Atera, Aquavit, Oceana are great, but they are all so BORING. Add that to the list of places you've mentioned going on your past trips, and you've only done the rounds of safe, white tablecloth dining... all in Manhattan nonetheless. That's not the true essence of New York.

                      You will not have a bad meal at any of the places the wise CHers on this board recommend so fondly and frequently. Why does an anonymous Michelin inspectors opinion bear more weight than multiple NYers?

                      1. re: loratliff
                        Charles Yu RE: loratliff Jul 29, 2013 07:25 PM

                        I don't believe I have expressed "an objection to every one" in my response??!!

                        On the contrary, I only asked for 'one choice' but ended up having soooo many choices by helpful fellow hounds!! Now, I am having information overload! The thing is, so far there's not a single 'overlap'! That's why I was joking about placing all the single choices on the wall and just throw a dart at them!!

                        As for Atera - BORING???!!! Interesting!!
                        I have heard so many rave reviews from friends who had tried it!!

                        1. re: Charles Yu
                          loratliff RE: Charles Yu Jul 29, 2013 07:31 PM

                          "Boring" as in an expensive place with a lot of good money behind PR. I'm sure it's great, just as EMP and Per Se are, but it is not an accurate representation of the most interesting things happening in NYC dining.

                          P.S. Have you ever looked at the Eater Manhattan Heat Map? http://ny.eater.com/archives/2013/07/... While not a comprehensive list, it's a good start of some of the newer, more interesting restaurants in Manhattan.

                          1. re: loratliff
                            Charles Yu RE: loratliff Jul 29, 2013 08:14 PM

                            Thanks for the info!!

                          2. re: Charles Yu
                            ellenost RE: Charles Yu Jul 29, 2013 07:36 PM

                            Atera is one of the most creative restaurants in NYC. I've loved my 3 dinners there; my most recent meal at Atera was about a month ago. It has recently increased its price to $195 which is the same as EMP.

                          3. re: loratliff
                            sgordon RE: loratliff Jul 29, 2013 10:58 PM

                            I'll have to disagree on the "boring" sentiment. Aquavit had a boring phase towards the end of Samuelsson's run, and into Nils Noren's brief tenure. But in the last few years they've been anything but. Chef Jernmark is putting out some of the more exciting food in the city right now. And Atera? I don't know anyone who found it boring. (Oceana, on the other hand... okay, I'm with you...)

                            I would also add that David Chang is not the chef at Momofuku Ssam, nor is he the chef at any of the restaurants he owns, though he is involved with menu development of course. Each has it's own identity. Ssam is one of THE great NYC restaurants. Go, order only dishes without Asian elements, and you'll still have an amazing, fun, creative meal.

                            I won't even start on the Brooklyn issue - some people are just borough phobic, that's fine. (though Aska could be a fascinating counterpoint to Aquavit...)

                          4. re: Charles Yu
                            Ricky RE: Charles Yu Jul 29, 2013 08:35 PM

                            Times Sq to Brooklyn is 4 stops on the Q, a 15 minute train ride.

                            1. re: Charles Yu
                              Sneakeater RE: Charles Yu Jul 29, 2013 09:20 PM

                              Charles, I travel a lot, too.

                              God help me if I should ever decline to go to an interesting district because I'm afraid of getting lost.

                              The answer is easy: be intelligent, and don't get lost.

                              (And if you DO get lost, maybe that'll be it's own adventure.)

                              1. re: Charles Yu
                                Sneakeater RE: Charles Yu Jul 29, 2013 09:25 PM

                                One other thing from someone who is probably a more experienced traveler than you (just because I hope for your sake you're younger than me):

                                When you start thinking in terms of, "one of us is traveling 12,000 km so everything has got to be GREAT," you're ruining your experience. You stick yourself with "sure things" that are going to be safe and boring. The ONLY way to have a truly first-rate travel experience is to forget that kind of thinking and just try to have a normal good time.

                                As an example, if you go to Oceana -- a perfectly fine but also perfectly ordinary "upscale" restaurant that is no better or worse, and no more distintinctive, than any number of similar restaurants throughout the world-- you are proving my point.

                                1. re: Sneakeater
                                  Charles Yu RE: Sneakeater Jul 30, 2013 08:14 AM

                                  Great point,Sneakeater!! I'll have a chat with my S'pore chowhound friend and see whether we would like to become 'Foodie Indiana Jones' on this trip.

                                  @ scoopG After living and working in Europe for half of my life especially a long span in Paris, I guess I have grown dependent on both Michelin and Gault Millau as handy and mostly reliable guides!
                                  I must admit, besides Timeout, Zagat ot Yelp, I am not that familiar with NYC food guides. If there are better, more comprehensive and "reliable' reference guides and sources, I'm all ears!
                                  ( Unlike say in Hong Kong where there is openrice.com or Japan where there is tablog.com. Both regarded as super reliable, comprehensive and with continuous up to the second up-dates! )

                                  However, since food is such a personal thing, I guess one can never find consensus on an open forum like ours!! 'Babbo' is a great example! Ha!!

                                  1. re: Charles Yu
                                    prima RE: Charles Yu Jul 30, 2013 08:54 AM

                                    Maybe consider Annisa, Charles. I remember reading abt a spicy tasting menu.

                                    1. re: prima
                                      ellenost RE: prima Jul 30, 2013 08:56 AM

                                      Never thought of Annisa as having Italian food.

                                      1. re: ellenost
                                        Sneakeater RE: ellenost Jul 30, 2013 09:01 AM

                                        It's what Italian food would be if it looked and tasted like French food with strong Asian accents.

                                        1. re: ellenost
                                          prima RE: ellenost Jul 30, 2013 09:02 AM

                                          Not sure what I was thinking. ;) I've corrected the error.
                                          Chef Anita Lo considers the food at Annisa to be Contemporary American:

                                      2. re: Charles Yu
                                        Monica RE: Charles Yu Jul 30, 2013 09:32 AM

                                        I will know who to ask about restaurants if I book my trip to Paris next time.

                                      3. re: Sneakeater
                                        Uncle Yabai RE: Sneakeater Oct 11, 2013 09:00 PM

                                        The probability that Charles is younger than you are is very small, purely from an age distribution curve...

                                2. re: Charles Yu
                                  kathryn RE: Charles Yu Jul 29, 2013 04:38 PM

                                  In a previous thread you wrote:

                                  "Last September, Singapore Hound Fourseasons and myself had a mini chowmeet at your great city. We ate at Casa Mono, the Modern and Jean George. Just a few months before, during a few short visits, I ate at Marea, EMP, Daniel, Lincoln.... to name a few. Others we have tried before included Per Se, Sushi Yasuda, Babbo, Le Bernadin...etc. We will be meeting up in NYC again in a few months time."

                                  But now you write the following:
                                  "As I eluded to in my opening post, I am looking for 'great food' only. Price, atmosphere, ambiance, wine....etc are all irrelevant!"

                                  By systematically refusing to consider any Asian-influenced restaurants, and relying only on Michelin stars as your starting point, you are missing out on what makes New York City's dining scene interesting.

                                  If you want great food, let go of your reliance on Michelin. It's like relying on the printed TV guide in the age of Netflix.

                                  You say that price, atmosphere, ambiance, wine are irrelevant, but your choices are all stuck in the same genres and styles.

                                  If you care ONLY about amazingly delicious food, and nothing else, Michelin stars aren't worth a damn in NYC.

                                  Go to Momofuku Ssam, Pearl & Ash, Montmartre, Louro, Acme, Empellon Cocina, Mission Chinese, Minetta Tavern, Momofuku Ssam Bar, Takashi, The Breslin. etc.

                                  You seem like a sophisticated, repeat visitor to NYC. It seems like you've been here more than a few times already, but your reports imply you always stay within the same, safe zone of restaurants.

                                  Break out of the box.

                                  1. re: kathryn
                                    Sneakeater RE: kathryn Jul 29, 2013 05:16 PM

                                    Also, if you have any interest in restaurants at all, you can't refuse to go to Brooklyn, which like it or not is at least A, if not THE, center of the current New York dining scene. You cannot claim to have experienced the current New York dining scene if you haven't. (If I'm allowed to say this on the Manhattan board.)

                                    1. re: kathryn
                                      Sneakeater RE: kathryn Jul 29, 2013 05:19 PM

                                      Also, add Alder to Kathryn's list.

                                      1. re: kathryn
                                        scoopG RE: kathryn Jul 30, 2013 03:45 AM

                                        It seems clear the OP is obsessed with Michelin ratings.

                                  2. w
                                    wewwew RE: Charles Yu Jul 29, 2013 02:17 PM

                                    Down the market a bit maybe just a fish sandwich at Pearl's.
                                    How much were the flower crabs at Aberdeen Market, as OT as possible, but I'm in the mood for a nose bleed?

                                    1. Charles Yu RE: Charles Yu Jul 30, 2013 02:39 PM

                                      Well! Fellow hounds! Hope my final choices ( pending on reservation success ) will satisfy the nay sayers and venture outside the box enough?!!
                                      Atera, Blanca, Aquavit, Kappo and Tertulia

                                      11 Replies
                                      1. re: Charles Yu
                                        Sneakeater RE: Charles Yu Jul 30, 2013 03:33 PM

                                        I can't wait to hear you think of Blanca!

                                        1. re: Charles Yu
                                          sgordon RE: Charles Yu Jul 30, 2013 05:36 PM

                                          That's going to be a lot of eating! Four tasting menus! I'm jealous of your week.

                                          Glad you're going to brave Brooklyn! It's really not THAT bad out there... Good luck on the reservations - especially on Blanca (VERY tough to get) and Kappo.

                                          If Blanca doesn't work out, maybe read some of the reviews of Aska and see what you think - as I'd said, they might be an interesting counterpoint to Aquavit. Both "New Nordic" but taking very different approaches.

                                          Now, the next subject: what are you doing for LUNCH each day?

                                          1. re: sgordon
                                            Charles Yu RE: sgordon Jul 30, 2013 05:58 PM

                                            Yup!! I was told luck has to be on my side for this eating trip!!

                                            As for lunch??!! Great question!! Cronuts, Shake Shack burger, Charles' Southern Fried Chicken and a few oysters from Grand Central...???!! Right now, too exhausted after battling through dinner choices! Ha!!

                                            1. re: Charles Yu
                                              loratliff RE: Charles Yu Jul 30, 2013 09:16 PM

                                              I think you've made a good list. If you don't get in at Blanca, you can still dine at Roberta's next door. I don't think you will be disappointed at either. Roberta's was selected Bib Gourmand by Michelin last year, but me and many of my friends in the industry were quite disappointed and surprised it didn't get a star—just one example of how the guide here can be unreliable.

                                              Don't expect to get a cronut unless you want to get up at 5:45 a.m... Might be hard to do after a tasting menu dinner!

                                              1. re: loratliff
                                                Charles Yu RE: loratliff Jul 30, 2013 09:44 PM

                                                Ah!! Looks like Roberta's is the kind of restaurant i was initially searching for! Great hidden gem, under-rated and ignored

                                                1. re: Charles Yu
                                                  Sneakeater RE: Charles Yu Jul 30, 2013 10:08 PM

                                                  If you think Roberta's is underrated and ignored, that shows you're not plugged into the NY food scene (not meant as an insult: why should you be if you don't live here?). It's hard to think of a place more highly touted. That's why we've all been telling you to get yourself out of the Michelin rut.

                                                  1. re: Sneakeater
                                                    thegforceny RE: Sneakeater Jul 31, 2013 05:01 AM

                                                    Opening line of its NYT review in Aug 2011:
                                                    "Aug 23, 2011 - What began as a pizzeria in Bushwick, Brooklyn, is now one of the more extraordinary restaurants in the United States."

                                                    1. re: Sneakeater
                                                      loratliff RE: Sneakeater Jul 31, 2013 06:41 AM

                                                      I'm also curious as to how one could discover Blanca, but NOT find out about Roberta's in the process, seeing as they are from the same blood.

                                                      Charles, Roberta's used to serve a very highly-regarded tasting menu. Then, the chef opened Blanca, an adjacent (but separate restaurant) that ONLY serves a tasting menu.

                                                      1. re: loratliff
                                                        Charles Yu RE: loratliff Jul 31, 2013 07:12 AM

                                                        Blanca was recommended by fellow Toronto Hound ' Estufarian'. One of the most highly regarded ' fine dining' expert' on our board. Very discriminating palette and extremely knowledgeable in both food and wine. Only person I know who has eaten in ALL of the 3* in San Sebastian, NYC, Paris, El Bulli, Noma, Alinea, FL.......etc.
                                                        Following is an example of one of the chowmeet he put together for a few of us 'closer chowhound friends'.

                                                        1. re: Charles Yu
                                                          ellenost RE: Charles Yu Jul 31, 2013 07:36 AM

                                                          Sounds wonderful Charles; thanks for sharing. I'm a big German Riesling fan, but tend to like my Rieslings a bit younger (2001/2005), but will be open to the older vintages in the future.

                                                          1. re: ellenost
                                                            Charles Yu RE: ellenost Jul 31, 2013 08:05 AM

                                                            You are most welcome!
                                                            I too love my Riesling young! More flowery and fruity with the petrol component less pronounce. Love to pair Kabinett and Spatlese with Cantonese food.

                                          2. k
                                            kathryn RE: Charles Yu Oct 11, 2013 03:45 PM

                                            Charles -- it is now October, how was your trip?

                                            7 Replies
                                            1. re: kathryn
                                              Charles Yu RE: kathryn Oct 11, 2013 09:10 PM

                                              Fellow S'pore chowhounder cancelled his trip!! Sigh!! As such did not come. Will be heading out to Chicago instead!!

                                              1. re: Charles Yu
                                                Sneakeater RE: Charles Yu Oct 11, 2013 10:01 PM

                                                You may have no idea how much some of us were looking forward to reading your thoughts. I hope you get back here soon!

                                                1. re: Charles Yu
                                                  kathryn RE: Charles Yu Oct 12, 2013 05:04 AM

                                                  Darn!! Maybe some other time?

                                                  Have a wonderful time in Chicago. I hope you have your Alinea tickets already (though they didn't put Dec up yet), as well as reservations at Frontera/Topolobampo (they book 3 months ahead) and Girl & the Goat (6 months out via phone only). You'll also find that many upscale or buzzy Chicago restaurants don't do lunch.

                                                  1. re: Charles Yu
                                                    Dave Feldman RE: Charles Yu Oct 12, 2013 08:53 PM

                                                    You are nuts if you don't have some Thai and Mexican food when you are in Chicago.

                                                    1. re: Dave Feldman
                                                      villainx RE: Dave Feldman Oct 12, 2013 09:04 PM

                                                      Particular place? I didn't know that Chicago was renown for Thai or Mexican.

                                                      1. re: villainx
                                                        Dave Feldman RE: villainx Oct 12, 2013 09:16 PM

                                                        This isn't the Chicago board, but let me give you this link: http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?... It's a great place to start. I've been to all the Thai restaurants but Elephant and I think they are each (arguably) better than anything in NYC. Next to Los Angeles, Chicago has the deepest field of terrific Thai. Arun is the most famous Thai restaurant in Chicago, but I don't recommend it at all. A little research is needed -- for example, Aroy has a "traditional" menu that contains its best dishes. It's not a secret menu, but sometimes they forget to give it to you. I wouldn't order anything off the regular menu.

                                                        Rick Bayless does a pretty good job with upscale Mexican, but I prefer the neighborhood restaurants, and this is a good list. I have a special fondness for Birreria Zaragoza, given the limitations stated on the list.

                                                        1. re: Dave Feldman
                                                          villainx RE: Dave Feldman Oct 13, 2013 07:01 PM

                                                          Thanks! Invaluable.

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