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Fooding itinerary help (yes, another one)

I've been loving chowhound for, god, the past five or six years, but never started a discussion/asked for help before. I've spent hours upon hours reading other people's posts for travel and finding what fits my taste - which is fun, and works well, but also leaves me wanting to eat EVERYTHING, and takes weeks of my time (I tell my partner "I'm researching," and she just rolls her eyes). I'm going to share all my parameters, in my charming prosaic manner (TL/DR is understandable), below.

My partner and I are flying SFO - JFK Sat. 8/16 and leaving Thu. 8/21. We're staying at a Hilton in Midtown-East - not the hotbed of, well, anything really, so suggestions nearby are much appreciated.

At home we have excellent sushi, Chinese, Japanese, Korean... well, it's San Francisco, we're doing okay. Point being I'm always looking for unique experiences. We seek creativitiy, novelty, or a chef who knows how to take something simple and make it sing.

We also love our cocktails, wine, beer (me more than her) and are always looking for things we can't get on the west coast, or that define a locale. I was solo in NY in June and loved 2nd Floor, Black Crescent, Attaboy.

Also had a great time at WD50, sitting at the bar, making friends with the bartenders, enjoying their wares; food was creative and "painterly," I was impressed. Had an okay time at Ssam Bar, thought the drinks and food were passable but not amazing, don't think I'd go back unless instructed as to what menu items are exemplary.

I have one big-ticket dinner ($200 - $250 pp with cocktails/wine/tax/tip) for the trip (Babbo), though I'm easily plied to shell out for unique experiences. I'd rather keep dinner to $100 pp with c/w/t/t. Lunch, $50 pp c/w/t/t; but, again, unique experiences (a Michelin place with lunch tasting menu at a great value) trump.

Here's our general itinerary; I'll enumerate where I'd very much appreciate advice:

Saturday 8/16
1. no plans, dinner near hotel or something comforting after waking at 5am would be nice. Probably will need a good drink.

Sunday 8/17
2. quick lunch/brunch
Matinee of Pippin
3. Theatre district dinner, not Le Bernardin pricey - Toloache, Don Antonio or Ippudo are tops from this list:
http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9685...
- Cocktails after: this might be a good time to fit in Dead Rabbit.

Monday 8/18
4. quick lunch/brunch
Museum time (not specific
)Dinner with fam in Chelsea (Don Giovanni, Dad's choice)
Sleep No More
cocktails after

Tuesday 8/19
Katz's
Museum time (not specific)
Cabaret
Babbo at 11 - wondering if service or kitchen will be rushed at that hour? Could move it to Wednesday.

Wednesday 8/20
Shopsin's
museum time, shopping, et cetera
5. - this is the only night for a longer dinner/cocktail adventure experience; I'd go over my budget a bit if there's something interesting.

Thursday 8/21
6. A bon voyage lunch
Fly out JFK @ 4:45pm

Things I'm thinking about but haven't fit-in:
- Please Don't Tell
- Experimental Cocktail Club
- Pouring Ribbons
- TORST (don't see us getting to Brooklyn)
- Jungsik
- All Good Things
- Contra
- Gramercy Tavern

Thanks in advance!

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  1. On your departure day, you might only have time for a very early lunch.
    Best to schedule a late breakfast.
    Traffic to JFK from midtown will be close to an hour +, getting thru check-in/ security at JFK might be 2+ hours. And who knows what other delays there will be...especially if the weather is bad. You can always grab a bite at the terminal before you board.

    Thursday afternoon traffic has been murder lately...especially during the summer. A lot of people take Friday off and escape the city Thursday afternoon.

    1 Reply
    1. re: pbjluver

      Yeah, I was thinking precisely what you envision. Thank you!

    2. Babbo shouldn't cost nearly that much per person unless you're drinking some mighty fine wines with your meal.

      I ran down a recent meal that came to $330 for 3 people in this thread - http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/984017

      I find the BEST time to dine at Babbo (and many restaurants, frankly) is the final seatings (10:30 or 11:00) - you're the least rushed at that time since there's no need for them to turn the table. Staff expect to be there until 2:00 AM (if you find yourself still there at 3:00 and you're the last people in the place, leave 'em an extra-good tip...

      )

      If you want to fit in a fancy lunch, the lunch tasting menus (which aren't really tastings since you actually get to choose your dishes) at Bouley (5 courses, $55) and Brushstroke (3 courses, $55) are great deals, especially the former. Del Posto many have praised here, and Lincoln has a really solid lunch as well for Italian options (the former more traditional, the latter more modern - either one could make a fun comparison to Babbo)

      Some other thoughts...

      Sunday: dinner in Midtown and drinks at Dead Rabbit don't really mesh, since DR is way, way downtown. Sadly, there aren't many interesting options around DR for dining. Smorgas Chef is perfectly nice, reasonably priced Scandinavian bistro food - nothing modernist, no NOMA influence there. But they're among the better options right in that neighborhood. North End Grill is within walking distance of there too, but I don't know how it's been since Chef Cardoz left. A little further - maybe not -quite- walking distance - is Marc Forgione, which can be great if you stick to his most famous / classic dishes (the Halibut "Proposal", Chili Lobster, BBQ oysters, etc)

      If you want to stick to Midtown, Toloache isn't a bad choice. They don't reinvent the rueda or anything, but the food is solid, bright, and tasty. Lincoln is another good option further North, reasonable prix fixe ($60/three, $75/four courses) and the customizable Negroni bar can be a lot of fun if you're a cocktail fan. There's also Boulud Sud and Bar Boulus near there. Closer to the Theater District there's the "casual" rooms at Jean-George - Nougatine and The Terrace, which are far lower priced than the main dining room. (And I don't think they're jacket-required)

      Dovetail has special deals on Sunday nights - $85 for the six-course tasting menu and $58 for a three-course prix fixe.

      PUBLIC downtown also does a really good Sunday Supper - $55 / 5 course tasting menu.

      Wednesday:
      If you want something a little more "out there" (but certainly going over budget) there are a couple tables open at Atera. Also seeing tables at Brushstroke, Jungsik, Kajitsu (the only Michelin-starred vegan(!) restaurant in NYC - could be nice for a light change of pace from all the heavier food)

      For something a little more casual, Salinas is a great little neighborhoody Spanish place (the fideos negros are fantastic)

      Rosette is a casual place on the Lower East Side I've been digging lately. The new chef is really killing it though the menu is still about half the old chef's (who wasn't bad by any stretch, either) - the lamb for two with rhubarb tzatziki is fantastic (though wicked heavy) and we had a great blackened whole trout special with dill the last time we were there. The roasted avocado is one of the best new dishes I've had this year. Heard great things about their burger too, but haven't tried it yet.

      Cafe Cluny has been really good the last couple years since their new chef took over.

      And you could always give Ssam Bar another whirl with guidance from 'hounds who've been recently. Curious what you had last time you were there that you didn't care for. Some of the "classic" items (i.e. pork buns, rice cakes, etc) are good but not necessarily blow-you-away dishes. I find they shine with the more seasonal stuff.

      7 Replies
      1. re: sgordon

        Thanks so much for putting so much thought into this, Seth! Just read your Aquavit review too; this trip I'm more in the mood for bistro-style haute cuisine, and the sense of fun Batali puts in his food, and spaces.

        - I'm thinking we'll get the chefs/pasta tasting at Babbo, with wine pairing or a few bottles; so I guess $300-ish is just about right. I'm glad to know you agree with my keeping to my west coast body clock, as will the staff.

        - Oh boy, fancy lunch is fancy! Yes, yes, yes... and only two good days to say yes. Bouley and Brushstroke were on my short list for my last trip too. I had an amazing introduction to Kaiseki in Honolulu that I'm still thinking about (Nanzan Giro Giro if you go) and might see what kind of relationship David Bouley creates there.

        - Sunday has its compromises (see my response to Ttrockwood), including price point and though I'm salivating over your suggestions I'm not sure how pushy I can be about locale or price point (Lincoln and Public - also on my short list last trip- though twenty blocks north, sounds like a damned fun time). We shall see. And I've gotta fit-in my cocktailing sometime, even if it means heading way, way downtown and then back to Midtown on the 6 way, way late.

        - Oh man, Atera will be on my list next trip when I can plan to pay for it!

        - Salinas is such a pretty space too! The menu sounds delish. I mean, we do have great tapas here too and some creative chefs who make it sing (Piqueo's in Bernal Heights if you're out this way), but it's always welcome. But, I think Rosette will win our Wednesday night. Might just take my lady to one of the myriad cocktail establishments in the LES after since we're already there.

        - Ssam Bar - I know I had the pork bun (sad to say pork belly is not wowing me like it used to) and... three other things, but I can't remember for the life of me what! Everything was good, seasoning was entertaining and had depth, but it was all so homey, it didn't leave me intellectually titillated, y'know? I felt the same about the cocktails unfortunately.

        1. re: onemorebuddha

          Past reviews of Aquavit are on hiatus since Marcus Jernmark left. I haven't been since Emma Bengtsson (formerly the pastry chef) took over savory duties as well, but I intend to at some point. I didn't want to go while the menu was still mostly his dishes, figured better to give her a fair shake once the old menu has cycled out and it's all hers. Pastry chefs often make very interesting savory chefs, though.

          I don't think I'd do the tastings at Babbo. The pasta tasting seems a bit like carbo overkill, and the chef's tasting - unlike many chef's tastings which are "greatest hits" collections - is all things that aren't on the regular menu. I understand the idea of "this might be the only time we're here, let's do tasting menus" - but really, were you to do, say, three antipasti, two pastas, and two entrees, you'd have just as many dishes between you and be able to choose what you like. Plus with the tastings you'd miss out on some of the justifiable classics of the menu - the octopus (their best-selling dish, and with good reason) and lamb's tongue, the beef cheek ravioli, etc. Just skip the bread - or set it aside for sauce-soppin'. For some reason, they've never had particularly good bread there. It's okay, but just kind of meh.

          Rosette's really good, and yeah - we've got maybe a few good cocktail joints on the LES. Attaboy is fun. If it's early enough, you can hit the bar at wd-50 too. You could even walk over to Apotheke in Chinatown from there, though I haven't been in some time they were always good.

          Ssam has some super-creative and delicious stuff on the menu right now. I think it'd be worth giving another whirl, but shying away from the more straightforward dishes - go for fun stuff like the smoked liver mousse, the creative raw bar concoctions (their uni rocks, whatever the preparation), etc. They've been experimenting with fermentation more, making their own misos and soy sauces but using things like sunflower and pistachio instead of soybeans as the base. A recent great dish was the beet salad with sunflower "hozon" (miso) - with the sweetness of the beets and the nuttiness of the hozon, it becomes this very complex, earthy, adult take on a PB&J. Very Wylie-esque, in its way.

          1. re: sgordon

            Agree--don't get the tasting at Babbo.

            What to order at Babbo:
            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/777258

            1. re: sgordon

              I think Babbos' bread is "meh" because it's made in the traditional Tuscan manner, without salt.

              Meh.

              1. re: Sneakeater

                Agreed. One culinary area where I'll give the French the upper hand - bread.

                Although I've certainly been in Italian restaurants with good bread programs - Scarpetta's bread basket is the bomb. And Falai's was great back in the day.

                1. re: sgordon

                  There was a big debate on eGullet many years ago about whether it was appropriate for Tuscan-leaning restaurants in America to serve "inauthentic" bread with salt in it just because it's much better than the bread you'd get in actual Tuscany.

                  To me, the question answers itself.

                  (As I'm sure you know, the Tuscan theory is that the bread picks up salt from whatever you sop up with it.)

                  1. re: Sneakeater

                    But salt in bread does so much more chemically than give it flavor! Ugh.

        2. Is that the hilton on 42nd and 2nd ave?

          Middle branch is 10blocks south for good cocktails, and lantern's keep is a walk cross town (or take the 42nd st xtown bus). There's terrioir for amazing wine on 3rd ave in the 30s not far from 2nd ave deli if you want to do that the night you get it.
          There's a very good wine shop on the east side of 2nd ave b/w 42nd st and 41st too.

          The first night you get in this thread has lots of ideas for a casual meal
          http://www.menupages.com/restaurants/...

          Zucker's bagels is nearby if you want bagel breakfast, they are smaller and more dense than most- and they will deliver to your hotel as well.
          Fika has the best coffee in the immediate area,way better than starbucks but not destination worthy.

          Gallow green is in the same hotel as sleep no more and they make some very good cocktails, otherwise that could be a good night to do experimental cocktail club and/or pouring ribbons since its a weeknight.

          Skip Toloache- coming from awesome mexican in san francisco you will be not so thrilled and may feel ripped off.... Too many better options that aren't on the left coast.

          +1 for allowing a lot of extra time to get to jkf, just getting out of manhattan can take forever that time on a summer thurs....

          3 Replies
          1. re: Ttrockwood

            The Hilton is at 53rd and 3rd actually; seems to be a good distance from any interesting bars. But, 20 blocks is closer than the Lower East Side!

            You're right about Toloache I'm sure. A family member who works on Broadway suggested some (very sad) places for dinner nearby, and I'm trying to work within her parameters. So, vicinity and price point dictate that meal. I may lean towards Don Antonio.

            I'll definitely stop by Zucker's; I grew up in Englewood and miss a proper bagel (sounds like even THAT is debatable in Manhattan anymore).

            I had a few very nice cocktails at Gallow Green; don't know what their last call is on Monday but I do think drinks on the roof after hanging out in the cabaret a bit are in order.

            Thanks, Ttrockwood!

            1. re: onemorebuddha

              Haha- too many Hiltons here!
              There are more great bagels even closer to your hotel at ees a bagel, 3rd ave b/w 50th and 51st. They often have hot bagels in the mornings :)) different style of bagel from zuckers so it could be fun to try both
              http://www.ess-a-bagel.com

              1. re: Ttrockwood

                Oh, thanks! Ees a Bagel I've read about, but haven't even started looking near the hotel! In Oakland two brothers from Long Island opened up a shop recently; and another woman has a nice place that makes Montreal-style bagels.

          2. Your itinerary looks mostly good to me. I don't know if Ippudo is worth going to since you can get good ramen on the west coast. So I would go with pizza for your pre-theater dinner among your choices.

            I've never gotten the love for Jungsik. Its ok, but for the price point, there's a lot better food in NYC. On the other hand, I think Gramercy Tavern is a bargain for what you get.

            As to getting to JFK, it looks like some are suggesting leaving 3+ hours before your flight. I travel 2-6 times a month and leave regularly from JFK. Did the JFK-SFO flight last week. I would miss every flight if I had to leave that early. I've never left earlier than 2.5 hours to go for a flight from JFK at the middle of the day from mid-town and I've not missed a flight yet. Usually go with 2 hours but maybe I get through the security line quicker as I have priority status. But I would expect you would have time for lunch on your last day.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Bkeats

              Yeah, my partner and I already discounted Ippudo for that reason (and the wait; we're going with family, not sure how they'll respond to standing around).

              I'm heavily weighing GT as a stop now...

              I made the trek from Chelsea to JFK in June in the middle of the day and - though I was saved by the LIRR - it wasn't bad at all, including security. Thanks for your advice on that too!

            2. All Good Things has closed.

              You're probably too late to get a decent dinner time reservation at Gramercy Tavern in the formal dining room. They start to book up 3-4 weeks ahead. The GT Tavern Room is walk ins only so that might work. Especially for lunch one day, but they're not near any museums.

              Best of Midtown East:
              http://newyork.seriouseats.com/2014/0...
              http://newyork.seriouseats.com/2014/0...

              Saturday
              - I would suggest dinner at Sarge's Deli or sandwiches at Num Pang
              - Drinks at Middle Branch...
              - If going to Lantern's Keep, make a reservation, as they are quiet sometimes late on Saturdays (closed Sundays).

              Sunday
              - Quick brunch at Zucker's Bagels
              - Get out of the theatre district for dinner. There's no reason to stick around after the matinee. Go to the East Village.
              - Get to PDT or Death & Co right when they open at 6pm to guarantee a bar seat.
              - Dinner at Ssam, Mighty Quinn's, Luke's Lobster, etc. in the East Village...
              - Empellon Cocina is also excellent & creative, likely you've got nothing like it at home? Excellent cocktails as well.
              - Could also look at what Prune is doing these days.
              - Great items at Ssam right now are the scallop tataki, tomatoes, beans in xo, whole boneless porgy, and quail
              - drinks after at Booker & Dax or Pouring Ribbons or Amor y Amargo, etc.

              Monday
              - we prefer Txikito before SNM
              - For Sleep No More get on line at least half an hour before your designated slot. It takes a while to process everyone and they don't really check time slots. Everyone is basically paying for the same amount of "show" regardless of entry time. Wear proper shoes you can walk, run, and take stairs in. Bag check is mandatory. Bring small bills. You'll probably be warm and sweaty afterwards as the masks can be uncomfortable, especially if you wear glasses (do contacts instead).
              - Gallow Green after is a good call. Is the closest place for cocktails nearby. Make a reservation so you get a table. Hopefully it's not raining that night--the rooftop covering leaks quite a bit. It's part of the "charm," I guess.
              - you could also take a short cab ride for drinks at the new NoMad Bar & try a "cocktail explosion"

              Tuesday
              - before Babbo, hit up Pegu Club for drinks
              - you could also try ZZ's Clam Bar for their excellent/showy/fun/pricey cocktails but it's tiny, call ahead and make a reservation

              Wednesday
              - For interesting, creative, chef-driven but casual cuisine, look at Pearl & Ash, Acme, the Empellon restaurants, Louro, Public, Tertulia, and Danji/Hanjan...
              - Pearl & Ash followed by Attaboy or ECC is a pairing we've done before.

              Thursday
              - maybe Betony?
              - more prix fixe lunch deals:
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9247...

              Museum wise, it's tough to make recs since our museums are so spread out--Natural History on the UWS, MoMA in Midtown, 9/11 Museum all the way downtown, The Met / Guggenheim / Whitney / etc. all on the UES. Not neighborhoods known for a ton of interesting, creative cooking.

              If you find yourself near the 9/11 Museum, Dead Rabbit is a short walk away. Across the street from the 9/11 Museum also is Hudson Eats food hall in Brookfield Place. A few blocks away, north of the 9/11 Museum, is the complex that houses Shake Shack, Blue Smoke, and North End Grill. The new NEG chef is good and trying to bring prices down as well.

              2 Replies
              1. re: kathryn

                Thank you for such a thoughtful response!
                - Sunday: I'm trying! I'm hoping to steer people to Empellon Cocina. There are people working in the same vein, but not so defined; Mexican haute cuisine blends with the general sense of "California Cuisine" to a certain degree (huitlacoche, where have you been all my life?). Drinks before dinner, good call, and good enticement to others.
                - Monday: Gallow Green is closed for a private party! And, as for dinner, my father's in a wheelchair and lives in Chelsea (a masochist, yes) so there are few accessible options on the island in general, let alone Chelsea specific.
                - Tuesday: Pegu Club, brilliant idea; though we'll be running from Cabaret so we'll see if we have time. ZZ's is on my short list too, thank you for the reminder!
                - Wednesday: I'll look further into Pearl & Ash, et cetera, et cetera. I hadn't gotten back to you and wanted to respond sooner than later. I went ahead and made a res at Rosette per Seth's recommendation above, just in case. Have you been, have an opinion?

                Museum-wise, I'm thinking of hitting the MAD, MOMA, Whitney, maybe the City Museum (there aren't a lot of shows calling to me right now, I missed Kara Walker's piece dammit). I might opt on Wednesday to go to Chelsea and do some gallery hopping, which would be more convenient for foodenings. One difficulty is my partner needs destinations, so that's extra planning for me. My partner might be interested in the 9/11, that's a good suggestion. When I went to the MOMA in June around lunch I passed the Halal Guys, so that's a thing that might be nearby (sounds like hype to me, people who don't eat good street/cart/truck food frequently).

                1. re: onemorebuddha

                  You're welcome.

                  - Sunday: I hope you do get to try at least one of our many East Village cocktail bars. Should be a bit quieter since it's a Sunday.

                  - Monday: Darn, well, I also just found out that GG isn't taking reservations for smaller parties any more (they used to be on OpenTable).

                  - Tuesday: If you don't hit up Lantern's Keep on Saturday night, you could make a reservation for a pre-theater drink on this night. It gets pretty popular after work, so a reservation is definitely recommended.

                  - Wednesday: Haven't been to Rosette, sorry.

                  - Thursday: if you are thinking late breakfast/early brunch, maybe Shopsin's goes to your departure day as their dishes can be quite filling.

                  Near the MAD, you could pair that with a "fancy lunch" and go to the aforementioned Jean Georges (daily lunch prix fixe) or Lincoln (Weds-Sun lunch prix fixe).

                  For the MoMA, for something more upscale, The Bar Room at the Modern, if you feel like it. Betony isn't that far either from the MoMA for lunch (weekdays only). The MoMA is open daily (used to be closed Tuesdays but not any more).

                  Don't forget the MAD is closed Mondays, and the Whitney is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. So your only real opportunities to go to the MAD would be Tues or Weds, and your only Whitney opportunity would be Weds.

                  The MoMA is open daily (used to be closed Tuesdays but not any more). MoCNY is open daily as well.