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The Simpler Pleasures

Chefs all over town are replacing foie gras and truffles with comfort food, fresh local ingredients, and bargains. Happily, modesty can be delicious.


Illustration by Serge Bloch  

Oh, dear God, not another cheeseburger,” my friend the Food Aristocrat said with a sigh, as we sat examining the menu at one of the new restaurants in town. In soothing professional tones, I told her to get used to it. Opulent Parisian-style cuisine was on the ropes even before the investment houses and hedge funds began toppling. Now the trickle of upmarket hamburger joints, careering food trucks, and twee downtown dessert bars has turned into a veritable flood. In the corporate dining halls of midtown, bread pudding has replaced molten chocolate cake as the iconic power dessert. Among the city’s community of snooty Japanese-food freaks, simple bowls of soba and ramen noodles are all the rage, and in Italian-dining circles, the recent obsession with tuxedos and overpriced finger foods has mercifully disappeared, replaced by a return to good old-fashioned simplicity and largesse. On the stylistic front, so-called “speakeasy chic” has become the dominant theme of the trendiest joints downtown, and in a truly bizarre twist, the city’s hottest new dining neighborhood isn’t Nolita, or Fort Greene, or even Tribeca; it’s that perennial culinary wasteland, the Upper West Side.

Are foie gras and truffles gone forever? Of course not. We’d argue, in fact, that for the serious New York eater, the opportunities for a first-class dinner have never been better. Top chefs are feverishly reinventing their menus, bargains are plentiful even in the most august establishments, and in outlier culinary regions like Williamsburg and Central Park West, new dining establishments are proliferating like rabbits.

On the following pages, you will find our annual guide to the best new restaurants in New York. As usual, our recommendations are the product of countless hours spent ingesting heart-stopping delicacies at grandiose expense-account establishments, peering at menus in dimly lit noodle bars, and swilling cocktails with antic strangers in clamorous downtown gin joints. Also as usual, we’ve broken down our survey into a hodgepodge of sections designed to reflect everything that’s current and new in this trend-obsessed restaurant town. Read on, and you will discover where to procure the best artisanal steak in town, the best reasonably priced Sichuan feast, and the best English-style treacle pudding. You’ll also find our usual highly subjective compilations of the ten best new restaurants in New York, the best new young chefs, the most elaborately lethal cocktails with which to addle yourself during these anxious times, a few trends we’ve seen enough of, and, last but not least, the single best dishes in the city for a deliciously economical ten bucks.

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