On my last visit to Graydon Carter’s revival of Monkey Bar in midtown, the oysters Rockefeller were only marginally less watery than I remembered (though $5 more expensive), and a chunk of undercharred New York strip cost $48 (plus an extra $12 for the frites). But who cares? Unlike the Waverly Inn & Garden, Mr. Carter’s new semi-private dining club doesn’t feel troll-size or oppressively loud, and instead of being relegated to some grim, unseen Siberia in the back of the building, nonconnected voyeurs can observe the passing scene from a kind of bullpen in the center of the polished little dining room. The menu is still a work-in-progress, so stick to the old staples, like the golden-fried, properly crispy fish and chips, and the rib-eye-rich MB Burger, which was enlivened, on the evening I enjoyed it, by the sight of Ivana Trump picking at her salad in a distant banquette.
Members of the city’s dining glitterati are also rushing into André Balazs’s The Standard Grill and The Standard Biergarten, in the shadow of the High Line. This sprawling, glitzy fine-dining operation includes a cacophonous café area as well as an outdoor beer garden, where hipsters mingle together over games of Ping-Pong while feasting on platters of griddle-cooked weisswurst and fresh-baked pretzels as big as hubcaps. But what separates this tricked-out meatpacking-district destination from other new faux-bistro operations in town is the elevated quality of Dan Silverman’s cooking. Many of the best dishes have a Spanish flavor, like the smooth, tangy “white” almond gazpacho and the little packets of seared squid, which Silverman stuffs with merguez sausage. But if you want to treat your skinny model friends to a truly lavish feast, call for the opulently fatty, dry-aged “demi-vache” rib eye for two, plus a rasher or two of “smashed” potatoes, which the kitchen sizzles in sinful amounts of duck fat.
The main dining room in Keith McNally’s white-hot West Village celebrity saloon, Minetta Tavern, is overrun most evenings with assorted fashion nabobs, movie stars, and special friends. But anyone can belly up to the crowded, caboose-size bar just inside the door, where the bartenders serve up old-fashioned Champagne cocktails mixed with real cane sugar, and a potent concoction called Ginger in the Rye, made with Michter’s whiskey, absinthe, ginger beer, and hints of lime. If you’re still standing when your table clears after midnight, focus on the hearty dishes, like the vaunted $26 Black Label burger, and the classic pied de porc pané, or pig’s trotter, which the kitchen debones, simmers, and serves the way Parisian brasseries do, in a delicately crunchy crust. But the real delicacies reside in the “Grillades” section of the menu, in particular the opulent $104 côte de boeuf, which my hipster friends like to supplement with helpings of crispy pommes Anna, and the exquisitely charred bone-in New York strip, which doesn’t require any supplements at all.