Every New York parent knows, roughly, which new restaurants might be appropriate for tots and which are simply out of the question. There’s no way I’d let my 2-year-old daughter Charlie disrupt the tranquillity of, say, Ai Fiori or Ciano with her endless (though cute!) stream of toddler chatter. But I would happily sic her on a handful of buzzy, critically praised, moderately priced new restaurants around town, starting with these.
5. At Sara Jenkins’s East Village pasta house Porsena (21 E. 7th St., nr. Cooper Sq.; 212-228-4923), the main draw for kids is a choice of unfancy-tasting pastas and a mozzarella-topped crostini that’s basically a haute grilled cheese. The drawbacks: no high chairs or booster seats, meaning that ragù-smeared Charlie had to sit on my lap.
4. Seersucker (329 Smith St., nr. President St.; 718-422-0444), the southern-fried Carroll Gardens restaurant and bar made good with a booster seat, a set of virgin Crayolas, and Charlie’s new favorite dish: chicken with gooey, stewy dumplings. However, the romantic lighting made us feel like mood-killing breeders.
3. Another Brooklyn restaurant, Dean Street (755 Dean St., at Underhill Ave., Prospect Heights; 718-783-3326), offered a spare corner for strollers, an open kitchen for distraction, and a menu of toddler-enticing comfort foods. But again: no high chairs. (“We haven’t gotten our shit together yet,” a staffer told me when I phoned ahead to ask.)
2. The best for our entertainment buck was gourmet soup kitchen Hung Ry (55 Bond St., nr. Bowery; 212-677-4864). The clincher, as with Dean Street, was the open kitchen: Charlie was thoroughly transfixed by the guy hand-pulling dough into three-foot-long noodles.
1. The unexpected champion of our experiment, was Peels (325 Bowery, nr. 2nd St.; 646-602-7015), the tastefully modern diner from Freeman’s owner Taavo Somer. We arrived an hour before the 11 a.m. Sunday-brunch rush, and were sat upstairs in a huge booth crowned with a high chair—major points for that. The atmosphere was buoyant and the servers welcoming. Then came the food: a mix of meaty grown-up pleasers and Seussian specialties—notably the Greens & Eggs, with collards so rich and creamy, even a two-year-old wouldn’t reject them.
What Is This?
Each year, everything you see in “Best of New York” has been rigorously tested by a small army of discriminating critics. That’s a given. What you don’t typically see is so much as a glimpse of the process by which we reach our conclusions. To provide a taste of that (and to sneak in a few more picks), we’ve invented the Scratchpad, a brief look at the paths our testers followed in six categories.