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Nov 27, 2013 09:23 AM

First trip to NYC: Arrive Christmas evening, 4 days

My girlfriend and I are visiting New York City for the first time this Christmas, and would love to experience New York as if we were visiting a native New Yorker foodie friend. Except we aren’t. We know no one. While I know you all get these “4-days in New York” requests all the time, I’ll try to make mine more specific, and possibly more interesting.
Things to know:
We arrive (JFK) at 5:30pm Christmas day. Plan on taking a taxi to our hotel. (King & Grove) We are looking for dinner on Christmas.
She is a vegetarian (eats fish and dairy); I am an omnivore.
We love good coffee and would love to find a great place near the hotel.
We are willing to travel anywhere in Manhattan for great food.
We are from south east Florida (if you’re looking for context.)

Looking for:
a splurge celebratory dinner (either on Christmas evening, or not;)
great Indian (I understand our neighborhood may also be known as “Curry Hill?”)
great iconic New York food: pizza, street food, bagels, etc;
a high end restaurant that we might be able to afford if we eat there at lunch;
the best/latest ethnic restaurants of any variety;
fabulous dessert

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  1. King & Grove looks to be around 29th & Madison, so a few blocks away from Curry Hill, which is mostly centered around Lexington Ave. Chote Nawab or Dhaba might be good for Xmas dinner. I'd be wary of making reservations given that you might be delayed due to weather that time of year.

    For coffee near your hotel, there's Eataly, Fika, Birch, and Gregory's, or Stumptown in the Ace if you don't mind the walk or waiting in the occasional line.

    For your splurge meal or fancy lunch, it's difficult to make a recommendation without knowing your budget.

    See my links below for NY classics.

    For ethnic food, what cuisines/sub genres? Even within Chinese, there's Cantonese, Sichuan, Shanghaiese, Fujian, etc. And within Japanese, you could do traditional sushi, non traditional sushi, izakaya, kaiseki, ramen, soba, yakitori...

    4 Replies
    1. re: kathryn

      For the splurge/celebratory, I'd like to keep it under $250 after tip. High-end lunch: under $100.

      1. re: leslieolsonhpo

        For one person? What about sales tax? Alcohol? It's more helpful to give a per person budget for just food.

        1. re: kathryn

          Per person, food only:
          Dinner: 100
          Lunch: 50

          1. re: leslieolsonhpo

            Around $100pp before tax, tip, and wine can still get you a prix fixe (and in some cases a tasting menu) at a very nice restaurant.

            Look at:
            La Grenouille
            The Modern
            Ai Fiori

    2. Here's a guide I've written for other tourists.


      Where are you coming from?

      When are you coming? How long are you here? How many meals do you have available?

      We don't want to recommend food that you might do better at home, but we also may have some cuisines you can't find at home...

      I'd say we are pretty strong in a lot of different cuisines but not equally. Budget will makes big difference in where you can go.

      Are you willing to wait for a table at a no reservations restaurant? If so, for how long?

      How hard are you willing to work for a reservation at a restaurant that's hard to book?

      What is your budget, per person, per meal, BEFORE tax, tip, wine/drinks/etc for your meals? It is much easier for us to help you if you give a pre-tax-and-tip figure.

      Feel free to break out your budget in terms of upscale/fancy meals (and number of them) and cheaper/everyday meals.

      What else are you doing while you are here? Planning around sightseeing, shopping, Broadway shows, etc? Also if you are sightseeing, to make the best use of your time, you should try to find things to eat to/from the tourist destinations or near the tourist destinations. Our tourist destinations are spread out all around town.

      Note that popular places tend to book about a MONTH in advance. Most upscale restaurants serve weekday lunch (but not weekend lunch), and serve dinner Monday through Saturday, and are usually closed Sundays, though there are a few exceptions to the "closed Sundays" rule (ex: Per Se, Eleven Madison Park, Jean Georges).

      Check out some "Only in NY" type foods while you're here: bagels and smoked salmon, pastrami on rye, pizza, hot dogs & papaya juice, black and white cookies, cheesecake, egg creams, pickles, halal carts.

      Russ & Daughters (takeout, busy on weekends), Katz's Deli (from When Harry Met Sally), Papaya King etc. (not gourmet but iconic), William Greenberg's black and whites, Junior's cheesecake, egg creams from Gem Spa or Ray's, Pickle Guys, the Halal Guys (53rd and 6th after sunset), are all iconic "NY" sorts of places that are worth a look.

      If you're interested in some of the places I listed above, you could do a LES food crawl. I highly recommend RGR's self guided Lower East Side Gustatory tour but sub in Pickle Guys for Guss' Pickles and note that Economy Candy's address is incorrect:

      Best NY style pizza:

      We also have some of the harder to find Chinese cuisines: Henan, Shaanxi (Xian Famous Foods) and Fuzhou in Manhattan, and many more in Queens and Brooklyn (Shangdong/Qingdao and Dongbei to name a few). scoopG's Chinatown list (dependent upon where you are coming from these may be exotic or not... most places don't have Henan or Xian style food though):

      You might also want to do a restaurant doing creative takes on Asian, like at Momofuku Ssam Bar, Wong, Fatty Cue, Takashi, RedFarm, Mission Chinese, Jungsik, Kin Shop, or Danji.

      My favorite unique places in NY serve Xian (Chinese) food, Issan (Thai) food, organic/local/sustainable Japanese BBQ, authentic Basque (Spanish) tapas, creative diner food, pretzels, hot dogs, halal food, steak, upscale rustic Italian, Italian subs, creative Italian-American, high end non-sushi Japanese (like kaiseki), creative desserts, molecular gastronomy, mixology/creative cocktails, and creative brunches (sometimes every day of the week).

      Some common tourist inquiries:

      Where to Eat Near Times Square:

      Where to Eat Near MoMA (the museum cafe is actually pretty good, as is the Modern next door):

      Where to Eat Near Museum Mile (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Whitney, Guggenheim, etc) on the UES:

      Where to Eat Near the Museum of Natural History on the UWS:

      Where to Eat Near Macy's/Herald Square/Penn Station/Empire State Building:

      Where to Eat Near Grand Central/Midtown East:

      Where to Eat in Soho:

      Where to Eat near 5th Avenue shopping / Bloomingdale's / Rockefeller Center:

      Where to have dinner before a Broadway show/pre-theatre dining (many of the same Times Square recs also apply):

      Where to Eat Near the 9/11 Memorial:

      Notable food trucks/carts:

      Prix fixe lunch deals:

      Best breakfast/brunch in NYC:
      It is (IMO) at the Breslin, Locanda Verde, Shopsin's, Clinton St Baking Co., or Minetta Tavern.

      Best bagels in NYC:
      Summary: the freshest bagels are the best; bagels don't age well at all. Focus on the smoked salmon instead. Preferably at Russ & Daughters! Featured in shows such as No Reservations and Louie!

      I'm fond of red onion, capers, regular cream cheese, and tomato on mine. Try a few smoked salmons before you settle on one, they're surprisingly different (and lox is not the same as smoked salmon, because lox is salmon cured in salt brine, and most people actually prefer the more modern, Nova-style smoked salmon). You can get a mini-sized bagel sandwich at Russ & Daughters, too, if you wish. Takeout only.

      If you like the idea of RGR's self-guided LES tour above, check these out, too.

      Maybe scoopG's self guided Chinatown tour:

      A West Village food crawl

      East Village:

      2 Replies
      1. re: kathryn

        Many thanks, Katheryn! It will take me some time to get through all these recommendations. So appreciated.

        1. re: kathryn

          this should be posted at the top of the nyc board.


        2. For coffee I would suggest Stumptown at the Ace (worth the walk) or Nice and Sweet Cafe @ Play on 27th which features guest coffees. Both have a pricey assortment of pastries.

          Fika and Gregory's, as mentioned, are also nearby.

          1. Essa Bagels on First Ave at 22nd st. Best Bagels in NY. Try the everything. One feeds two.

            City Crab for Lunch. Lunch menu is moderately priced. Nice seafood salads. Sometimes you might catch a Jazz group on Sunday.

            1. Thanks to you all - big, big thanks to the mountain of great leads, kathryn - I'm getting closer on itinerary.

              So far, I have reservations to Chote Nawab for Christmas dinner, and to The Modern Bar Room for lunch the following day. I think we'll focus on the higher end choices for lunch and ethnic/local places for dinner, as we'll be exhausted by the end of each day and will be looking for a more relaxed atmosphere.

              I'm still on the hunt for a few things:
              1)Brunch on Sunday somewhere Central Park: We leave to fly home early evening and plan to explore Central Park, and venture into both the Upper East Side and Upper West Side.

              2)Excellent, accessible Italian. My vegetarian girlfriend is many wonderful things, but she is not into experimental food. When she wants Italian, she wants it pretty simple. She will bravely face me eating many things that make her squirm on this trip, and I considered Babbo, but I just think she'd lose her appetite watching me eat sheep's tongue and the like. I'd like to find a place for her that does simple italian really well. Doesn't have to be Italian-American.

              3)Lower East/East Village: Good coffee and/or pastries

              4)Given the Chowhound prohibition about non-food questions, may I ask advice about finding the best bars focusing on high-quality mixology? If I need to ask on the "Not About Food" board, just let me know.

              Again: thank you, 'hounds!

              22 Replies
              1. re: leslieolsonhpo

                "but I just think she'd lose her appetite watching me eat sheep's tongue and the like. "

                Maybe it's me but I find guys who can eat exotic stuff(though sheep's tongue isn't that exotic) very attractive and manly.
                Near Central park, try Lincoln for either brunch or excellent high end Italian restaurant that has awsome lunch deal.

                1. re: Monica

                  Ah, the internet. The anonymity (especially with an androgynous name like "leslie") can be so confusing. There is very little "manly" about me besides the fact that I can wire a lighting fixture and install a hot water heater. ;)

                  1. re: Monica

                    ...and thanks for the lead on Lincoln!

                  2. re: leslieolsonhpo

                    Chowhound includes mixology. But you might want to start a new thread.

                    1. re: leslieolsonhpo

                      Chote Nawab on Xmas - It's certainly a step up from a divey Chinatown place, but if there's any part of you hoping for something special for the holiday, you might want to shuffle your schedule. Despite contemporary decor, it's lacking the charm of their sister restaurants. Just a heads up.

                      We give cocktail suggestions here all the time. The options are so numerous that it might help to give us an idea of what you like to drink. Death & Co., Pegu Lounge, PDT, Amor Y Amargo, Little Branch/Middle Branch, Angel's Share, Raine's Law, are some of the standard suggestions.

                      Coffee ... Stumptown, El Ray, Grumpy, Joe's, Abraco, Pushcart, are some that pop into my head for good pastries. You can also work backwards, and pick a pastry...most good bakeries serve decent coffee like La Colombe or Stumptown at this point. Like the cocktails, some guidance over what type of coffee you like (dark roast?) will help. We've also covered the coffee-pastry combo a lot, so you might get better suggestions in past threads.

                      1. re: sugartoof

                        Exactly what I was looking for - thank you! Chote Nawab is within walking distance of our hotel, which was key after flying in at 6:30. I'm open though... Other contenders?

                        1. re: leslieolsonhpo

                          Junoon, which is a few blocks from your hotel on west 24th St. between 5th and 6th Ave., is the best Indian restaurant in Manhattan. Very nice space too.

                          For your high end lunch:

                          Del Posto

                        2. re: sugartoof

                          Note to the OP: Middle branch is very close to your hotel

                        3. re: leslieolsonhpo

                          1)Brunch on Sunday somewhere Central Park: We leave to fly home early evening and plan to explore Central Park, and venture into both the Upper East Side and Upper West Side.

                          Central Park is huge and saying you'll explore both the UES and UWS means a huge spread of blocks...

                          Can you be a little more specific? Maybe the actual attractions within the park you want to see? Zoo, Sheep's Meadow, Skating Rink, etc?

                          2)Excellent, accessible Italian. My vegetarian girlfriend is many wonderful things, but she is not into experimental food. When she wants Italian, she wants it pretty simple. She will bravely face me eating many things that make her squirm on this trip, and I considered Babbo, but I just think she'd lose her appetite watching me eat sheep's tongue and the like. I'd like to find a place for her that does simple italian really well. Doesn't have to be Italian-American.

                          Is Scarpetta "accessible" enough to you? Otto, if you need to go cheaper...?

                          3)Lower East/East Village: Good coffee and/or pastries

                          Tons of great options for coffee in the East Village, including but not limited to Abraco, 9th St Espresso, etc.

                          Download the "Scoop" app from the New York Times for good, vetted recs.

                          West Village/Soho will be stronger on pastries with Mille-Feuille, Payard, Dominique Ansel, Balthazar Bakery, Bosie Tea Parlor, Birdbath, etc all being within a short walk.

                          4)Given the Chowhound prohibition about non-food questions, may I ask advice about finding the best bars focusing on high-quality mixology?

                          We have tons of great mixology bars, especially in the East Village & LES.

                          Most of them do not take reservations. The exceptions are Raines Law Room (only on off nights), Mayahuel (only on off nights), Pegu Club (big groups and early evening only), PDT (a few res taken same day via phone at 3pm, be prepared for a busy signal), Experimental Cocktail Club (they seem pretty flexible, and take them via email), Milk & Honey (only members can make reservations), Lantern's Keep (any one can make, email or phone, probably has the most flexible res policy of them all).

                          So for the smaller, no res places like PDT and Death & Co be prepared for lines and having to put your name down on a list (and that list can grow very long -- so long that you may never get a call back).

                          Some have food (Golden Cadillac, Amor y Amaro, PDT (hot dogs + tater tatots), Death & Co, Pegu Club, some snacks at Pouring Ribbons, Employees Only). But not all our famous cocktail bars have food. I like the food at Pegu & EO best. The food at PDT also scratches that itch if you want cheesy fries and hot dogs...

                          Also it depends what you are looking for... Some bar do a lot of originals based on classic proportions or twists on classics. Others are more experimental with tinctures and infusions. And others do molecular gastronomy / centrifuged and clarified ingredients / setting things on fire. Others are doing more of a "throwback" or "historical" approach.

                          The Lantern's Keep / Milk & Honey / Dutch Kills / Little Branch / Middle Branch family is more about classic cocktails with 4-5 ingredients made very well and less so about infusing liquors; the basis of their cocktail lists really is classic drinks with some modern modifications/variations but most of their cocktails have a very clear lineage that traces back to something from an earlier era.

                          Whereas PDT, Mayahuel, Death & Co., Pouring Ribbons, etc. infuse liquors and use more nouveau ingredients and have more complicated cocktails (sometimes with a LOT more components - like eight or nine). It should be noted that PDT, Mayahuel, and Death & Co all have their lineage from Pegu Club, so, similar philosophies. But they take it to the next level in terms of complex cocktails from Pegu Club.

                          Pegu Club is more of a middle ground in terms of experimentation with tons of ingredients in one drink / making crazy syrups and infusions. Audrey Saunders is a goddess. Her recipes have been copied many times over. If you are a cocktail aficionado, you may have had one of her drinks, made at a different bar. Pegu Club is one of my favorites. AND in the winter, between Xmas and NYE, they usually have house made Tom & Jerry's on the menu! Shhh...

                          Lantern's Keep (open Mon-Sat) is basically a Midtown version of the old Milk & Honey. Go off menu by telling the barkeep what you like (refreshing vs boozy, favorite base spirit, favorite ingredients, etc). An oasis in Midtown. Definitely make a reservation if coming on a weekday as the after work crowd gets thick. Saturday, surprisingly, is their "quiet" night. Very sweet bartenders, great atmosphere, fairly small. It's in the lobby of a hotel.

                          If you are into molecular cocktails, definitely try some at the bar at WD-50, Alder, or visit Booker & Dax (Dave Arnold + Dave Chang). In the winter Booker & Dax will do a lot of hot drinks, and they like setting things on fire. Booker & Dax is excellent and one of the few places doing molecular drinks in town. Turnover is fairly high since a lot of patrons are just waiting for a free table at Momofuku Ssam Bar. The B&D and Ssam Bar combo is one of my favorites ever.

                          Golden Cadillac is taking 70s cocktails and putting a craft cocktail spin on them. It's fairly new. Don't miss the bathroom wallpaper.

                          Dead Rabbit is also great, and totally different from the other bars in terms of atmosphere -- more of a historical approach with a big emphasis on customer service. Their menu is insanely long. Don't miss their Irish coffee. Should hit the spot with this snow we've been getting! The only snag is that it's way downtown in the Financial District, so the neighborhood isn't chock full of great dining destinations.

                          Most of the notable cocktail bars are in the East Village & LES, so you could probably do a drink at each if you wanted to. Kind of a mini cocktail crawl. The only caveat I'd add is to start at the smaller, no standing places, like Death & Co and PDT. PDT is great but it is difficult to get into as it is so small. Your best bet is to show up right at 6pm on an off night. The bar is first come, first served. They only have a small number of booths and tables for larger groups.

                          1. re: kathryn

                            Mini cocktail crawl. Genius. This is the most fabulous post. We may spend all four days walking from bar to bar.

                            1. re: kathryn

                              Re: Scarpettas, it's very close. Menu makes me want to eat there right Now. But doing this research makes me realize just how little my sweetie actually eats. :) Not too much of an issue in the food desert we live in... I'll have her check it out.

                              1. re: leslieolsonhpo

                                Scarpetta is very accomodating for vegetarians- esp since she eats fish. I was going with friends including a strict vegetarian, we mentioned when making the res, and they made her a gorgeous off the menu meal with risotto and braised beans.

                                1. re: Ttrockwood

                                  Scarpetta also has a printed vegetarian menu with lots of selections which is available upon request.

                                  Bear in mind that the bread basket includes a really delicious stromboli which has cured meat rolled into the dough.

                                2. re: leslieolsonhpo

                                  Scarpetta is a great suggestion, and really nice around the holidays.

                                  The prep is very simple, and the signatures like a bone marrow ravioli are far more accessible than they sound. In the case of that dish, it's more sweet than meaty, and there's nothing gamey, or gelatinous about it. Saucing is light, and again errors on the side of sweeter. The table breads include a stromboli, which is essentially a pizza roll, so that's a crowd pleaser. A vegetarian on the other hand isn't going to enjoy any of this. Send them towards the Spaghetti which is in fact specialty of the house that shouldn't be overlooked, made simply with some butter/cream added in.

                                  1. re: leslieolsonhpo

                                    Make sure you show her the separate vegetarian menu as well!

                                    1. re: leslieolsonhpo

                                      I've made reservations for both Scarpetta's and East 12th Osteria. Which one should I keep? :)

                                    1. re: Bob Martinez

                                      I based my res largely on Kathryn's lead and your review. :) So thank you!

                                      1. re: leslieolsonhpo

                                        For a great lunch on the Upper East Side, try Park Avenue Winter. Similarly, go to Betony for great New American food.

                                        Gari is a high end Japanese restaurant on the Upper West Side. The decor is a bit lacking, bu the food compensates for it.