T he other day I asked one of my increasingly discerning, food-savvy daughters to describe her favorite New York City restaurant meal of the year. She looked at me thoughtfully for a minute or two before giving her carefully considered answer. “That’s basically an impossible question, Dad,” she said. As usual, she’s right. Today, more than ever, the culinary scene in this buzzing, sprawling, restaurant-mad metropolis defies pigeonholing and easy categorization. In the city’s fractious, ever-changing Italian-food circles, fancy, big-ticket dinners used to be in fashion, but now neighborly, old-fashioned home cooking is the thing. In shabby sections of Downtown Brooklyn, the borough’s increasingly vocal community of food snobs are forking over $135 for elaborate multicourse tasting dinners at tiny Michelin-starred “chef’s tables,” while back in Manhattan, formerly effete world-class gourmet cooks are opening farm-to-table restaurants in department stores and peddling boutique pastas and salumi to crowds of eager customers in populist European-style food halls. Beef has begun its inevitable comeback against pork, and in certain trend-conscious food circles, vegivorism has replaced carnivorism altogether. Haute sandwiches have replaced haute burgers as the fix of choice among the city’s legions of comfort-food addicts, and after years in the outer-borough shadows, first-class Thai cuisine—not to mention Peruvian and Portuguese food—is suddenly, unaccountably chic.
We analyze these and other constantly evolving and sometimes contradictory trends and enthusiasms in this, our annual survey of everything you need to know about New York City’s restaurant scene right now. (As usual, your dutiful correspondent has wandered the city in an endless, cholesterol-raising search for the very best of the best.) We also provide, as in years past, lists of our favorite new restaurants of the year, the best new chefs in town, the most enticing new cocktails and desserts, and a few restaurant-world fads we’d like to see disappear. What do these opinions, observations, and bloviations have in common with the ones we propagated with such certainty last year? Nothing. That’s the pleasure of eating in New York.