When we called to secure a table at Spice Market, the kindly voice on the other end of the line suggested the wait would be five weeks. Next, we joined the great roiling meatpacking-district mob and attempted to batter our way into the joint. After intense negotiation, we secured a couple of seats at the long cantilevered bar, where, to our vast surprise, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s street-food fusion menu lived up to all the outlandish, possibly even insane, hype. Maybe you’ll begin your little gastronomic tour like we did, with chicken wings drizzled in a sticky, sweet chili sauce, followed by white bowls of curried duck or pork vindaloo (laced with long red chilies, cumin, garlic, and cinnamon), before progressing to the short ribs, which are softened in a mass of garlic and green chilies and served, for delicate eaters, with a pair of silver tongs.
My other favorite meatpacking-district destination is the chaotic townhouse dining room at Ninth, where, on select evenings, Zak Pelaccio serves up his ingenious “pork fries” (tender pork strips rolled in bread crumbs, then fried) with a sweet chaser of bourbon. Glittery fusion establishments like Jefferson, and Bao 111 continue to pack in crowds of revelers, but for a slightly more soothing, feng shui–approved brand of trendiness, this year’s choice is Kittichai, where a pod of auspicious goldfish guard the narrow entrance, and lucky coins are taped under many of the tables. The food, by the accomplished Thai chef Ian Chalermkittichai, is generally auspicious, too, particularly the shiny little baby pork ribs lacquered with chocolate, the bowls of cool, peppery beef salad dusted with crunchy rice powder, and the braised loin of lamb tossed with tiny round Thai eggplants and melting, very un-Thai-like cubes of foie gras.
Further uptown, my demure, usually unflappable mother has stopped agitating for her annual luncheons at Swifty’s or The Four Seasons’ Grill Room and demands to be taken instead to the glass-walled dining room at Asiate, high in the sky over Columbus Circle at the new Mandarin Oriental Hotel in the Time Warner Center. If that’s all booked up, we’ll pay our $20 to get into the refurbished MoMA to get a peek at Danny Meyer’s fancy new museum canteen, The Modern, which opens later this month for dinner. After that, we’ll make a beeline for davidburke & donatella, where it’s always amusing to watch the local neighborhood swells chattering in their colorful gowns and dark charcoal suits while fighting for tastes of Mr. Burke’s foie gras terrine (sweetened with kumquats), his bristling “Crisp and Angry Lobster Cocktail” (a whole lobster rolled in Cajun spices and spiked on a flower holder), and the simple baked salmon, which is piled with ginger and sweet Chinese sausages and served with a tall shot glass brimming with the kind of spicy, fishy, freshly made XO sauce you rarely ever see in the vicinity of Bloomingdale’s.