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Please help fill in details for trip this week: chocolate, pretzels, Vietnamese and more

  • k

Thanking you all in advance for any advice and suggestions you are able to tender. This is long, so thanks for bearing with me.

My beloved aunt and I have decided, at the last minute, that we need a winter getaway. Warmth tempted us, but she chose culture instead, so we are New York bound!

My aunt (60-ish) and I (younger) will be arriving this Thursday for a five-night stay, departing next Tuesday. Our hotel is in the vicinity of 7th Ave and W 55th. Much of our time will be spent viewing art, mainly at the Met, but also MOMA and possibly some other museums. I have hopes of theatre but since I couldn't get tickets for Twelfth Night, we will probably take our chances at the booth, plus there is always Lincoln Center and basically too many good choices. We haven't decided on other activities yet.

I currently live in Columbus, Ohio, and my aunt in Cincinnati. I visit Manhattan about once a year but my aunt hasn't been at least five years, and this will be only her third trip there total. I made two trips last year but haven't been since April, 2013. We are both adventurous eaters. I'm looking for a mix of convenience and food I can't get at home. While I am willing to go anywhere for a meal, we will be spending a lot of time in Midtown and the Upper East Side and my aunt is not as comfortable with a long travel time combined with a long wait for dinner, so we need some options near our hotel, in the Theatre District/Hell's Kitchen, on the UES, and/or that are easy to get to. Public transit and/or taxis are fine. We are a bit limited with long walks outdoors, especially if it's cold and damp, due to health issues, but up to 15 minutes or so should be fine.

She has no budget limits, but alas, I do. An occasional splurge won't break the bank but mostly I'd prefer not to spend more than $75 per person for dinner, without alcohol and before tax and tip. In an ideal world, lunch would be $20 or less per person, without alcohol and before tax and tip, but I'm open to spending more. Neither of us is much of a breakfast person; she likes tea and maybe a pastry and I want eggs and toast or steel-cut oatmeal. I don't do sweet first thing in the morning, and dislike brunch menus that are all sweet.

Neither of us have huge appetites and sharing small plates is my favorite way to dine, so I can taste more without getting full. We have no food allergies or dietary restrictions. She loves chocolate. If I can't get a reservation, I'm happy to sit at the bar, unless I've got a curtain to make. My aunt does prefer a chair or a stool with a back on it (not comfortable for her to sit without support) and really loud locations are not pleasant either.

I hope that's enough information to get started and give you some ideas. On to specifics:

1) Meals near the Met. I have seen the threads that discuss this. My go-to for lunch is Le Pain Quotidien on Madison Ave and I think 84th, and also Cafe Sabarsky in the Neue Gallerie (I love their Linzertorte). I would also consider Luke's Lobster, Untitled at the Whitney, the UES Shake Shack, maybe Payard, and the UES Salumeria Rosi (I enjoyed dinner at the other location). I'd take any advice or suggestions, especially about someplace new in the past ten months I may have missed.

2) My aunt loves chocolate, in whatever form. In cold weather she sometimes craves hot chocolate. Possibilities include: Jacques Torres, La Maison du Chocolate, Payard, Wafels & Dinges, and Grom. Feedback?

3) My aunt loves Vietnamese food. I'm not finding lots of recommendations but did locate a place called Cha Pa. Thoughts?

4) Afternoon tea might be on the schedule. I'm looking at the Mandarin Oriental, the Plaza, the Lowell, Lady Mendl, the St. Regis, and the Ritz-Carlton. The Mandarin Oriental may be able to combine a view with good food, if the reviews I've read are accurate. Price is not an issue here, but the food must be tasty.

5) I'm intrigued by regional Thai and Larb Ubol and Pure Thai pop up often. Thoughts?

6) I can get plenty of Korean food at home, but Danji looks different, like Korean meets small plates. Feedback?

7) I don't love brunch but we will be in town over a Saturday and Sunday and I know it's popular. Any thoughts? A brunch that will change my mind? Just forget it and eat lunch?

8) I love pretzels and my favorite to date is one I got from the Sigmund's pretzel cart in front of the Met, before the renovations started. I know they have a bricks-and-mortar location but don't know if I will get there. It looks like a place called The Jeffrey serves Sigmund's pretzels; anyone been there? I have an inquiry in to Sigmund's to see if there are other options, but does anyone have a pretzel they love that I should try?

9) I love food markets (the Boqueria!) and farmers' markets of all descriptions. If I can manage to get to the Union Square Greenmarket on this trip, I will. I'd enjoy trying the Union Square Cafe; do they serve food in the bar between lunch and dinner? Or is there someplace else nearby that would be worth a meal or a snack? (I haven't researched this, so apologies for not asking this more intelligently.)

10) I hope this isn't too off-topic but my aunt would enjoy someplace with a view of the city, but she would not enjoy the Empire State Building. The Top of the Rock was recommended to me; I've never been. Ideally I would combine a view with food or at least a drink. If we do tea or a drink in the Lobby Bar at the Mandarin Oriental, it might work. Another suggestion I garnered was a place called Robert in the Museum of Art and Design, although I feel unsure of the food there. Thoughts?

11) I'm considering a prix-fixe lunch menu at a place we won't otherwise visit for dinner. (This way I get to try a restaurant where I'd really like to dine, but without tying up an evening my aunt wants to do something else.) I was looking at Aquavit, maybe Seasonal, Jean-Georges, and Bouloud Sud. My aunt would be put off by a dress code and I can't quite decipher the Jean-Georges requirements; would jeans be okay at J-G or maybe Nougatine? Or maybe you have other suggestions? I'm not worried about price unless it's over $100 pp.

I realise that was long and thank anyone who had the patience to wade through it! Your feedback is appreciated.

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  1. Vietnamese food is weak in NYC, I'd skip it. Certainly go to Larb Ubol if you like Thai.

    1. 2) I'd highly recommend you visit Kee's Chocolate. I'd swap out Jacques Torres which is IMO mediocre.

      9) Union Square Cafe shuts down service between lunch and dinner. You would be close to Lady Mendl's Tea Salon which does serve food starting at either 12pm W,F,S, SN or 3pm M, T,TR

      3 Replies
      1. re: Pookipichu

        I'm also visiting Manhattan the end of this month and was wondering, which Jacques Torres have the hot chocolate? We'll be in the Times Square area. Thanks!

        1. re: littlecmad

          Pretty sure they all do, year round. I'd call and ask.

          1. re: littlecmad

            If you go to Jacques Torres,I wouldn't waste money on the actual chocolates, I know that may sound a little harsh but they're barely better than Russell Stovers and 10 times more expensive, bleh.

        2. 2) Grom has excellent hot chocolate. Also this month is city bakery's hot chocolate month, they have various daily flavors plus their classic- it is very thick and rich:
          http://www.thecitybakery.com/hot-choc...
          +1 for Kee's and i agree to skip jaques torres

          7) brunch at NoMad has a selection of breakfast and lunch items, their ever popular chicken sandwich is part of the brunch menu

          9) gramercy tavern is open continuously from lunch to close and is near union square:
          http://www.gramercytavern.com/menu/

          10) i often take visitors to the lobby bar at mandarin oriental for a drink and they always enjoy it, i have not been to the robert.

          11) this thread has a great list of pre-fixe lunch options:
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/924788
          I do think you would feel under dressed at JG in jeans/casual, but jeans plus a nice jacket, heels and lipstick would work if you know what i mean.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Ttrockwood

            Gramercy Tavern's Tavern Room (front area with the bar) is open continuously throughout the day and would be a nice choice, except they don't take reservations. Hopefully the wait would not be too long.

            1. re: Ttrockwood

              Has the Lobby Bar at the Mandarin changed their policy? Only bona fide hotel guests are seated near the windows.

              1. re: scoopG

                In fact only hotel guests are allowed to sit at any of their tables. Visitors are shown to the bar where they can order a drink.

                1. re: scoopG

                  Really?? This must be new- i have been with non hotel guests and we had a table with a great view.....

                  1. re: Ttrockwood

                    Hotel guests receive priority - any non guest walking in is subject to availability - if they are full get shunted to the bar. This is a slightly loosened policy from when they first opened.

            2. Larb Ubol is definitely worth it and easy to get to.

              For high-quality small plates I would take bus or subway to Recette in the West Village.

              Aquavit is wonderful. I have not had lunch there but dinner is out of this world so I'd expect good things. The lunch menu looks very appealing, though it is more traditional than dinner. Tocqueville has a great prix-fixe lunch for $29.

              Vietnamese friends have told me that Thai Son in Chinatown is very good, though I have not tried it yet. I like O Mai in Chelsea.

              5 Replies
              1. re: rrems

                Recette is fairly cramped and loud.

                1. re: kathryn

                  Yes, it's a very loud room. That's (unfortunately) the only reason why I haven't taken my aunts (similar in age to the OP's) to dine there.

                  1. re: kathryn

                    Have you been there recently? Last time we went (recently) it was quiet and not crowded at all.

                    1. re: rrems

                      What day of the week and time? Where did you sit?

                      1. re: kathryn

                        Mid-week, 8:30. Sat right in the middle of the room. They don't seem to get as busy as they used to (notice the availability on Opentable on short notice). No reflection on the food, I think it may just be that the trendoids have gone on to the next hot spot.

                2. 1) Haven't been to the UES Salumeria Rossi, but the UWS one is excellent.

                  2) No need to go to Wafels & Dinges. Mostly, I think, it serves people in need of a quick fix of fried dough with something sweet on top, but it isn't particularly well done. Plus, who wants to eat outside in this weather?

                  6) and 10) You can combine a nice view with good Korean food at Gaonuri

                  7) If you don't like brunch, avoid it, especially on weekends.

                  1. I second the notion to skip Vietnamese food. If you must, my favorite is Pho Grand or Ninh Kieu.

                    I would highly recommend Ma Peche for one of your dinners one night. It won't break the bank, it's close to where you're staying, and my equally hip aunts around the same age love it. You can share plates and the room, while cavernous and dramatic, is not at all loud.

                    I will also strongly second hot chocolate at City Bakery!

                    1. > I would also consider Luke's Lobster, Untitled at the Whitney, the UES Shake Shack, maybe Payard, and the UES Salumeria Rosi (I enjoyed dinner at the other location).

                      Not sure how well your aunt gets around but do keep in mind that the UES one of the few places in Manhattan that gets hilly. So while the UES Shake Shack & the UES Luke's Lobster don't look too far from the Met on paper, they might feel really far walking uphill after a long day, in the cold.

                      > In cold weather she sometimes craves hot chocolate. Possibilities include: Jacques Torres, La Maison du Chocolate, Payard, Wafels & Dinges, and Grom. Feedback?

                      If you like thick, European style hot chocolate, do not miss La Maison du Chocolat or Grom. Jacques Torres' is too thin for me. Shake Shack usually has a good one, too. And if you find yourself in Nolita, La Churreria does a great one with fresh churros (Spanish style, no cinnamon). Also second City Bakery.

                      For chocolate confections/truffles/filled chocolates, Kee's or La Maison are both excellent. Jacques Torres is good for gifts like hot chocolate kits, chocolate covered chips, malt balls, etc.

                      See also:
                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/922470

                      > I can get plenty of Korean food at home, but Danji looks different, like Korean meets small plates. Feedback?

                      No reservations, but excellent food, not sure if the waits would be too long for you... Maybe for weekday lunch if you make it over there.

                      > If I can manage to get to the Union Square Greenmarket on this trip, I will.

                      Manage your expectations of Un Sq Greenmarket in winter, though. Apples, potatoes, root vegetables, apple cider, but not the cornucopia of fruits and vegetables we have in the summer / late fall.

                      > 10) I hope this isn't too off-topic but my aunt would enjoy someplace with a view of the city, but she would not enjoy the Empire State Building. The Top of the Rock was recommended to me; I've never been. Ideally I would combine a view with food or at least a drink. If we do tea or a drink in the Lobby Bar at the Mandarin Oriental, it might work. Another suggestion I garnered was a place called Robert in the Museum of Art and Design, although I feel unsure of the food there. Thoughts?

                      Top of the Rock does not have food/drink available but it is in Rockefeller Center, right by Bouchon Bakery, La Maison, Jacques Torres, etc.

                      1. Thank you all so much for your responses. I'll try to respond individually later. I will forget about Vietnamese and concentrate on other things; the Ma Peche suggestion is genius (and a head-slapper once you mentioned it); I would love to eat at a David Chang restaurant and will definitely put it on the list. City Bakery was on my list anyway (pretzel croissants are intriguing) and now I know to check out their hot chocolate. I do like the thick, European kind so thanks, kathryn, for the feedback on that. My aunt worries about weather, but the forecast is warmer than Columbus, and now I know what sort of chocolate to entice her with.

                        Hope you're all enjoying better weather than Columbus, Ohio is today!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: kyra1

                          Perfect. I think you will very much enjoy Ma Peche. I know it has a number of fans (me included!) on this board.

                          You might have a little snow on Saturday and Sunday, but I think other than that, it's just supposed to be clear and cold. Today is completely gross, so be glad you're not here yet.

                        2. For a casual dinner near the Met try Heidi's House (78th/2nd)

                          For Korean, consider JungSik.

                          1. 1. A sweet and savory canele shop opened up on the UES called Canele by Celine. I love caneles, but am rarely on the UES. But if I was to visit the Met, this would be a good excuse for me to stop by and check it out (even though it's a bit of a walk).

                            https://canelebyceline.com/

                            3. Vietnamese food isn't very strong in NYC. My favorite place is Bunker in Ridgewood, Queens. In the middle of nowhere, far from public transportation, it's probably not going to be in the cards for your trip. The suggestion of Ma Peche is a good one.

                            5. Haven't been to Pure Thai but went to Larb Ubol recently. I loved it. Everything was really well executed. Best khao soi I've had outside of Chiang Mai.

                            6. I really like Danji a lot. I love their rendition of the pajun. It's more like a Japanese kakiage (tempura vegetable cake) where it's very crunchy as there are a lot of nooks and crannies.

                            7. I hear you on the brunch (and on eating sweets for breakfast). I generally just do lunch or dim sum on the weekends. But you may be interested in Shopsins as the menu is huge and there are a lot of other things to choose from in addition to "brunchy" items. Not my favorite place personally, but many people love it and it is an interesting experience.

                            http://www.shopsins.com/wp-content/up...

                            9. Just wanted to mention that there aren't going to be a ton of things available at the greenmarket this time of the year. While it's disgustingly crowded on the weekends and kind of touristy/Disney-like, you'll probably find more to see at Eataly (and it will be warm). Chelsea Market is also a possibility.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Miss Needle

                              5. Oops! I was wrong about Larb Ubol. I meant Uncle Boon's. Larb Ubol is pretty good as well but I don't think they have khao soi. Larb Ubol's pad ped moo krob is wonderful.

                            2. I am a big fan of Vermicelli - a Vietnamese restaurant at 78th and Second Ave. - great service, very tasty food

                              http://www.yelp.com/biz/vermicelli-ne...

                              The weather here is NYC has been terrible. Bring an umbrella and rubber boots.

                              You might give some thought to heading downtown to the wonderful indoor complex Chelsea Market. Plenty of casual places to eat and shop and avoid the winter elements.
                              http://www.chelseamarket.com

                              1. Another vote for Chelsea Market. Food is interesting but it's also fun architecturally and in a great food neighborhood.

                                Other food markets: Eataly is in Chelsea and quite upscale. There is also a new food market far west around 42nd St. though probably not worth a visit unless you're nearby anyhow.

                                Are you willing to go to Brooklyn or other boroughs? I hear a lot about Smorgasburg, though haven't been. Maybe check the Outer Boroughs board for other markets, etc.