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Cheap Eats

Spin-off City
With the city's top toques opening cheaper outposts to lure the everyday diner and build a franchise, chef groupies needn't wait for special occasions to indulge their upscale appetites. What's sacrificed in tablecloths, ease of making reservations, and caviar supplements is gained in cut-rate, high-quality cuisine. Below, a baby-bistro Baedeker.

The Original The Affordable
Babbo's seven-course pasta tasting, currently featuring gnocchi with braised spring lamb and mint, will run you $104 with paired wines -- provided you can snag a reservation.

Extravagantly rich, oven-baked gnocchi alla romana, Lupa's Thursday-night special, goes for $15, leaving plenty to spare for a caraffina (quarter-liter) of Ramitello. (170 Thompson Street; 212-982-5089.)
The refined, daily-changing American menu at the minuscule Etats-Unis has its price -- $30, in the case of steamed-to-order lobster salad with baby veggies and poblano pepper.

The Bar @ Etats-Unis shares a kitchen, a wine list, and a pastry chef with the fancy flagship. And the sautéed tiger shrimp with mango and cherry tomatoes sells for $15. (247 East 81st Street; 212-396-9928.)

At Craft, you need an abacus to calculate the cost of your entrée: $26 for the Alaskan king salmon, $7 for roasted fingerlings, $12 for mushrooms. And that's just the main course.

Craftbar's menacingly crisp panino of duck ham, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, and Taleggio costs $1 less than a side dish of said mushrooms next door. Get two. (47 East 19th Street; 212-780-0880.)

Chanterelle's got loads of leg room, a will-you-marry-me? ambience, a signature seafood sausage, and two dinner menus -- one for $84, and the expensive one.

Le Zinc counters with get-to-know-your-neighbor banquettes, a whadja-say? sound system, spicy lamb sausage, and $8.50 duck wings with a black-bean-chili sauce that bites back. (139 Duane Street; 212-513-0001.)
Tabla's Floyd Cardoz fuses Indian flavors and French technique in exquisite dishes like peanut-sesame-crusted tandoori lamb with English peas and mint ($36).

Bread Bar's Floyd Cardoz channels the home-style Indian food of his childhood in dishes like tandoori leg of lamb marinated in black pepper, cardamom, and ginger ($17). (11 Madison Avenue, at 25th Street; 212-889-0667.)
Verbena co-chefs Diane Forley and Michael Otsuka meld their Greenmarket-inspired and quasi-Asian styles in collaborations like spice-lacquered duck with wild huckleberries ($27).

Tasting portions of Verbena appetizers plus sumptuous tidbits like skewered croque monsieur come on tiered trays ($12–$20, for two) at first-date nirvana Bar Demi. Great half-bottle list, too. (125½ East 17th Street; 212-260-0900.)
At Aquavit, Marcus Samuelsson animates his $69 avant-garde Scandinavian prix fixe with Kobe-beef ravioli in truffle-tea broth and "ocean curry" with tuna-duck terrine.

Samuelsson's menu for the cafeteria-style AQ Café features scrumptious Swedish meatballs ($9.50) and herring plates ($7) for a pittance. And you can buy the stylish cutlery and glassware at the gift shop next door. (58 Park Avenue, near 38th Street; 212-847-9745.)

Ninety bucks buys you Gramercy Tavern's eight-course summer tasting menu, including braised fresh bacon with honey-glazed figs and three of Claudia Fleming's sweet treats. Grilled fresh bacon with figs and fingerlings runs $17 on the Tavern Room menu. Sample three-ounce tastes of wine, and split Fleming's incomparable fruit-crisp-of-the-moment. (42 East 20th Street; 212-477-0777.)

With its $30 pastas, $40 tuna tartares, and jet-setting, Bellini-swilling clientele, Harry Cipriani in the Sherry Netherland is the ultimate recessionproof restaurant. Forgo the scene and savor top-notch espresso, rich pastas, and an assortment of sophisticated Italian sandwiches at Cipriani Le Specialità, a café with just three tables. (Be prepared to share yours with a stranger.) (110 East 42nd Street; 212-557-5088.)

Aureole's luxe townhouse setting, extravagant bouquets, and $69 prix fixe appeal to big spenders with a hankering for Charlie Palmer's refined brand of New American fare. At lunch, the public is welcome at Astra, Palmer's fourteenth-floor party space in the D&D Building. First-rate salads, sandwiches, and pastas run $8 to $14, and the terrace views? Priceless. (979 Third Avenue, near 58th Street; 212-644-9394.)