Help me make a list of restaurants
August 26, 2011 5:59 PM   Subscribe

Bay area foodie goes to NY for a week--which restaurants do I need to visit?

I'm heading to NY for a week (actually five days) and don't have too much time to scour the internet to find all of the NYC greats. I have a fairly generous budget, but don't just want to eat at restaurants vying for michelin stars--I want to visit some of the trendy/cheap-but-awesome/innovative/pretentious that excite foodies on the east coast. I'm looking for suggestions all over the place: great tasting menu, life-changing sandwiches, molecular gastronomy, superlative bars, mom-and-pop, etc, etc.

Do you have some recommendations? A set of blogs or websites that you enjoy? What places would I be sorry to miss?

I'm hoping for an attempt at a definitive list in lieu of one or two recommendations.
posted by Suciu to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I'm hoping for an attempt at a definitive list in lieu of one or two recommendations.

There's probably too many restaurants in NYC for this to be possible.

Could you narrow it down? How much are you willing to pay and are you willing to travel to the outer boroughs?
posted by Jahaza at 6:05 PM on August 26, 2011

Best answer: I've had good luck with the Chowhound boards (specifically "Outer Boroughs" for Queens.)
posted by Jahaza at 6:07 PM on August 26, 2011

The Eater 38 is a good list.
posted by sixacross at 6:32 PM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I recently had an incredible meal at Recette. No misses. The Italian food at I Sodi is superb. Scarpetta is also fucking delectable, with some brilliant moment, but pretty pretentious and pricey. The black cod at Nobu is not just hype, it is ridiculous verging on ridonculous. I am not giving you the definitive list you asked for because I am certain no such list exists. I have decent luck with NY Mag's restaurant recommendations. Azul is a terrific Argentinian steakhouse on the LES. wd 50 is really hit or miss, but the hits are legitimately exciting. There are infinite gelato options but Cones is a personal favorite, or you could get gelato on a stick down the street near Father Demo Square - it's like a fudgesicle for adults. Patisserie Claude is the shit, get a chocolate eclair and a chocolate croissant. I know it's cliche, but the banana pudding at Magnolia is so good I suspect it's infused with heroin.
posted by prefpara at 6:49 PM on August 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

For fantastic, creative dishes with excellent ingredients, check out Blue Hill and Eleven Madison Park. Both are on the pricey side, but really, really special.

For hip, casual (and ridiculously delicious) fare-- Momofuku and the Spotted Pig.

Brunch at Diner in Williamsburg is one of my favorite go-to spots, if you feel like venturing into Brooklyn.
posted by cymru_j at 7:00 PM on August 26, 2011

Oops, I see you're more interested in lists than separate recs. You might do well to check out Sam Sifton's reviews; he's got his finger on the pulse of edgier places:
posted by cymru_j at 7:05 PM on August 26, 2011

I was poor the only time I have been to NY, so we lived off bagels and ridiculously large slices of pizza, but this list looks tasty and varied.
posted by Cheese Monster at 7:29 PM on August 26, 2011

NYT's Sifty Fifty, with emphasis on Momofuku Ssam bar, and Recette is amazing.
posted by weaponsgradecarp at 7:55 PM on August 26, 2011

You may want to try Smorgasburg.
wd-50 is an experience.
And, of course, Porchetta.
Death + Company is an expensive pseudo-speakeasy, but I found it worth it the time I went.
posted by mlle valentine at 8:00 PM on August 26, 2011

I had a frightfully good brunch at Brick Cafe. Apparently they have a devilishly good risotto, as well.

Stop by if you find yourself in Astoria.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 10:00 PM on August 26, 2011

As an ex-restaurant biz person from NYC who now makes wine here in Sonoma, Trust that I want you to have the best food you can possibly have, with incredible wine lists to accompany. In no particular order:

Torrisi Italian Specialties
--this is a fixed menu, no substitutions, truly authentic italian beauty. I know SF does italian, but not like nyc. (just different!)

--this is SOSOSO much more than a pizza place. it is beautiful, beautiful, top level food...bushwick style. (i hear they make pretty good pizza too)

Momofuku Ssam Bar
--if you don't eat either here or at the noodle bar, or have breakfast at the milkbar...than you are officially insane. There is a new diagnosis, actually, for folks who visit nyc and don't do momofuku. you could literally do milkbar breakfast, noodle bar lunch ssam bar dinner and not eat anywhere else in nyc and leave astoundingly well fed and happy.

Gramercy Tavern
--don't make a reservation in the dining room. It's incredibly good, but the bar/tavern is also wonderful and you can drop in whenever. Have a cheese plate, possibly the best curated selection in the country. And the bartenders are magicians.

Sushi Yasuda
--best sushi outside of Japan or L.A.

My list wil make you REALLY really happy. Promise.
posted by metasav at 10:06 PM on August 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Patisserie Claude is the shit, get a chocolate eclair and a chocolate croissant.

Patisserie Claude has gone a bit downhill since Claude left for South America, IMO. I love Mille-Feuille's croissants instead.

For fantastic, creative dishes with excellent ingredients, check out Blue Hill and Eleven Madison Park. Both are on the pricey side, but really, really special.

Personally I'd skip Blue Hill in Manhattan unless you can make it out to the Stone Barns location, which is wonderful and picturesque.

Each New Yorker has their own "greatest hits" of NYC. Since you seem to be an adventurous eater and have a flexible budget, I'll give you mine below. (Note: popular NYC restaurants book up about a month in advance. You've been warned.)

* WD-50 for molecular gastronomy and excellent cocktails. Order a la carte for the best experience. Try the cold fried chicken or the eggs benedict. And the aerated foie gras. And whatever cocktail has "suspension of disbelief" in it.

* Txikito for Basque tapas. Don't miss the suckling pig, miss the sofrito/chorizo/quail egg pintxo, croquettas, padron peppers, suckling pig, torreja dessert or whatever is on the daily specials board, like this oyster mushroom carpaccio I had once where the mushrooms were sliced incredibly thin.

* Zabb Elee for Issan (Thai) food, especially their excellent larb, sauteed Chinese broccoli with crispy pork, and more obscure dishes. No pad thai. No curries.

* Takashi for local/sustainable Japanese yakiniku. Awesome high-tech electric grills. Try the uni/shiso/wagyu dish, beef belly, short ribs, heart, liver, sweetbreads, first stomach, third stomach, four stomach, tendon, or whatever is good that day. I'm partial to the chuck roll sukiyaki they have Monday through Wednesday.

* Xi'an Famous Foods for food from Shaanxi province in China. Cumin lamb hand pulled noodles!

* Brunch at Minetta Tavern, The Breslin, or Shopsin's (note weird hours/crazy menu/cursing at Shopsin's).

Shopsin's is probably the most "innovative" breakfast place/diner in town. Breakfast sliders, mac and cheese pancakes, slutty cakes, sandwiches with the "bread" made out of french toast or pancakes, made-up soups from around the world (i.e., "this is what I think Kenya soup would taste like" not "this is the soup they eat in Kenya").

* Bagel sandwiches with smoked salmon, capers, red onion, cream cheese at Russ & Daughters. Excellent smoked salmon. Try a few before you settle on one. You can get a mini-sized bagel sandwich here, too, if you wish. Takeout only.

* A steak and/or a scotch at Keens (lots of history here, too). Say hi to Ms Keens in the bar.

* Katz's Deli (famous for great pastrami on rye, no mayo). Or 2nd Ave Deli for chicken in a pot, matzoh ball soup, I've heard their knoblewurst is good, too.

* Pizza at John's of Bleecker (coal oven style) or Motorino (Naples inspired). Motorino is probably the more hip one. Try the Cremini & Sweet Sausage, Soppressata Piccante with fior de latte, or Brussels Sprouts & Pancetta (white) pie. Bask in the glory of their oven.

* A pretzel from Sigmund Pretzelshop (the street ones are crap). They have a cart in front of the Met Museum as well.

* Hot dogs at Papaya Dog/Gray's Papaya (not gourmet but cheap and satisfying, and an oddly NY thing).

* Halal Guys cart at 53rd and 6th. Eat street meat! Stand in line. It's worth it. Make sure you go to the southEAST corner before 8pm, and the southWEST corner after 8pm. They have yellow bags with a red circular logo that says Halal Guys: We Are Different. Don't use too much red sauce. Chicken and/or lamb with rice and a creamy white sauce.

* Shake Shack (multiple locations). A high-end fast food burger, get the Shack burger, which has the Shack sauce on it. Contentious. Debated. Delicious. Sitting in Madison Square Park on a nice day has its own particular charms. Arrive at 11:45am to beat the lunch rush.

* Babbo, Locanda Verde, or Scarpetta. High end Italian, which is really buzzy in NYC right now, book a month in advance. Babbo books one month in advance to the calendar day, i.e., call on August 28th for September 28th. Scarpetta has LA, Miami, and Toronto branches now, though, so if you visit those cities, it may not be such a draw.

* Eleven Madison Park for a really splurgy meal, if you are going all out. Reserve 4 weeks in advance. Have a drink at the bar beforehand as they won Best Restaurant Bar at Tales of the Cocktail 2011. Try not to eat all of the housemade chips or the honey peanuts, or those fruity green French olives. For your meal, you are presented with a grid of ingredients like "pork" or "lobster" for a menu. It's definitely a bit mysterious what you're going to actually get, also the service is incredible.

* Defonte's. You know that "sandwich day" episode of 30 Rock? That's this place.

* Lobster rolls at Luke's, Red Hook Lobster Pound's truck, or Pearl Oyster Bar (I'm assuming you can't get them in the Bay Area). Luke's is more minimal, served cold in a warmed up bun. Pearl's is mayo-heavy, served room temperature. Red Hook Lobster Pound gives you choices of mayo or butter.

* For unusual sweets, Doughnut Plant (cake doughnuts only) has flavors like tres leches, blueberry, green tea, and more.

I am a big fan of the pretzel croissant and/or the baker's (leftovers) muffin at City Bakery.

Victory Garden has goat milk soft serve (don't miss the salted caramel if they have it) and frozen yogurt, with unusual toppings like sungold tomato, honey comb candy, maple marshmallows, havlah.

The Joyride Truck has caffeinated frozen yogurt.

You might also look into Spot Dessert Bar (Pichet Ong) or Chikalicious Dessert Bar for creative, plated desserts served outside your normal dinner setting.

* Momofuku Ssam Bar.

BTW, sometimes people just write "Momofuku" but there's not just one Momofuku:

- Momofuku Ko is an upscale fine dining experience w/ a tasting menu, takes reservations only 6 days in advance, and only online. Excellent, not white tablecloth, counter seating only.
- Ma Peche, the newest one, is located in Midtown and serves sophisticated French-Vietnamese food, and pricey. Takes some reservations, but only online.
- Momofuku Bakery & Milk Bar is takeout/counter-service only, but it's not a place to sit and have a meal as they have no seats, and very few savory items. There's one in the East Village and one in Midtown as well as Williamsburg, Brooklyn. I love the cake balls, grasshopper pie, milkshakes, and cookies. Big, bold, sweet, and over-the-top.
- Momofuku Ssam Bar is a small plates restaurant. Korean-Japanese-French-Southern if you have to put a label on it. Go for dinner, not lunch as the lunch menu is very different. No reservations unless you reserve a large group meal, either the group duck meal or the Bo Ssam meal. You can have the fabled pork buns, some pickles, spicy pork sausage and rice cakes, some country ham sliced thin like prosciutto. One of my favorite restaurants of all time.
- Momofuku Noodle Bar is a ramen focused restaurant, that also has some other small plates. BUT a lot of ramen-o-philes don't think highly of Noodle Bar's ramen. No reservations unless you reserve a large group meal of their signature fried chicken.

* Cocktails at Pegu Club, PDT (speakeasy inside of Crif Dogs and takes reservations at 3pm on the day of), or Death & Co.

Note that PDT is the tiniest, so arrive at 6pm if you don't have a reservation. Cocktails are $15 here but $13-14 at other comparable places. Death & Co. is slightly bigger. Neither allows standing, so you might be left with a 1-2 hr. wait if you arrive at a popular time. Pegu Club allows standing, but it also gets really loud and crowded. Prime cocktail hour at any of these places is 6pm on Sunday-Wednesday.

At Pegu Club, don't miss the Gin Gin Mule, Pisco Punch, or French Pearl. Hell, half of Audrey's menu is a classic that's already been copied to death. At PDT, the Benton's Old Fashioned has basically never left the menu; it has bacon fat-washed bourbon that tastes deliciously smoky (don't worry, all the fat has been strained out). I also really like the pisco sour variation on the menu now (Macchu Chicha) and the Mezcal Mule (mezcal, lime, passionfruit, ginger beer, cucumber, cayenne). At Death & Co., the Conference, Hispaniola, and the Fresa Brava are all part of their "greatest hits," and I really like the drinks with their Sichuan peppercorn-infused gin now (there's a nice one right now with that gin and watermelon).

* Torrisi Italian Specialties for upscale American-Italian with global influences (Jamaican, Chinese, Jewish). No reservations. Show up at 5:45pm to put your name down. There's a nightly prix fixe menu for dinner based upon what's local and fresh.

* Lots of high end Japanese if you are into that. Soto for creative uni/sushi dishes, Kyo Ya for kaiseki cuisine that changes with what's in season (they once served me edamame still attached to the branch), or Kajitsu for Shojin cuisine. I'm assuming these are hard to find in your hometown.

* If you have time, try to get to Brooklyn and/or Queens. For Queens, it's especially easy if you're staying near Times Square/Penn Station. The LIRR has stops in Woodside and Flushing. It's only about 20 minutes. There's even a discount on weekends under the CityTicket program. Destinations:

Mile End for poutine, pastrami, Montreal bagels. Note that they sell out early much of the time.

Kabab Cafe for Egyptian food and offal (brains, sweetbreads, liver, tongue, testicles), cooked by one charming Ali.

Red Hook Ballfields for a series of food trucks serving arepas, huraches, ceviche, elote, agua fresca, and more.

It's a shame M. Wells in LIC is closing, as it would have been perfect for your creative/buzzy/hipster request. Foie gras grilled cheese, a Westernized bibimbap, a 2.4lb burger with housemade ketchup, bone marrow served with escargot, fried brains in Grenobloise sauce.

Di Fara.

While I like Sifton, he sometimes tries to be too clever and I think he's been giving overly high marks in his reviews, compared to Bruni, his predecessor. (I found Roberta's to be very uneven for cooked dishes. Fantastic pizzas, not so much everything else.) I like the Sifty Fifty but I'm not sure Veselka is destination-worthy for tourists, M. Wells is closing, Shun Lee is overpriced/tired, and Vandaag just lost its chef so should probably be removed.
posted by kathryn at 10:15 PM on August 26, 2011 [17 favorites]

@metasav Do you believe that Sushi Yasuda is still just as good now that Yasuda-san is no longer in NYC?
posted by kathryn at 10:16 PM on August 26, 2011

Oh kathryn, I must say I do. As I am no longer in NYC, I am unable to verify this. However, I have been blown away by meals created by his second and even third in command, depending on the day and how busy they were. His art must pass to new hands, and I believe he has done a wonderful job of passing down the position to someone who not only spent years by his side, but is an inspired chef.

But I am in California now, so I could be wrong.

And yes, Roberta's isn't always consistent. But it was around the corner from my home, and after many nights managing a fine dining room...for years the smile Roberta's food often left me with reminded me why I got into that biz in the first place. So maybe just nostalgia, but I think it's inspired.

And, hey OP---Listen to Kathryn. She ain't messin'.
posted by metasav at 11:16 PM on August 26, 2011

When we went to NYC last in March, our highlight meal of the trip was far and away at Ko.

Eleven Madison Park was great, too - their cocktails are indeed spectacular - and we had some delicious pizza at Motorino.
posted by joshuaconner at 12:57 AM on August 27, 2011

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