5. Change Is the New Stasis.
It used to be that the finest dining establishments in Manhattan lived long and prosperous lives, and if you liked them, you visited them, like churches, again and again. But in order to keep up in today’s fickle, tweet-addled multi-borough culinary landscape, restaurateurs and chefs are adapting the looks, names, and menus of their restaurants at dizzying speed. I’m still not used to the jaunty soundtrack that plays over the sleek, tobacco-colored dining room at the 2.0 version of Eric Ripert and Maguy Le Coze’s great midtown seafood palace, Le Bernardin, and if it were up to my friend the Food Aristocrat, she’d replace the wait staff’s Green Hornet–like Nehru outfits with the old-fashioned tuxedos of long ago. But neither of us have any quibbles with the impeccably reliable old-world service, or the ethereal qualities of the halibut pot-au-feu, which Ripert and his army of attentive cooks garnished, on a recent lunchtime visit, with celeriac, artichoke, and black truffle.
When my office-bound midtown friends ask for tips on where to go for a modestly priced but stylish business lunch these days, I direct them to Amali, off Park Avenue on 60th Street. The space used to be occupied by a demure, white-tablecloth Greek-taverna-style establishment with red-painted rafters and a classic rendition of moussaka on the menu. But the veteran restaurateurs Steve Tzolis and Nicola Kotsoni have ripped out the rafters and replaced them with modish wooden slats. There’s a new dining counter up front, where it’s a pleasure to snack on edifying Pan-Mediterranean farm-to-table creations, like crispy round corn fritters piled with spoonfuls of ricotta, and slices of fresh black-bass crudo that are trucked in from Montauk, where Tzolis and Kotsoni are part owners of a fishing boat. The 400-bottle wine cellar houses one of the better collections of Mediterranean vintages in midtown. And if you’re feeling nostalgic for the restrained elegance of the olden days, save room for the desserts, like honeyed kataifi-pastry cannoli, and creamy Greek yogurt, which is served on a simple white plate and smothered on top with spoonfuls of fresh-made strawberry jam.
If you’re pining for an interesting new take on upscale Peruvian cuisine, the place to find it is at the newly remodeled Pan-Latino dining palace Raymi in the Flatiron district. The latest makeover of the dimly cavernous, feng shui–challenged space on West 24th Street isn’t much to look at (the antic nightclub décor of the Pan-Latin restaurant Nuela has been replaced with a gloomy black-and-white interior), but the new man in the kitchen is the practiced Nuevo Latino chef Richard Sandoval, and he does a better job than his predecessors of translating the dizzying profusion of Peruvian dining styles and flavors into something New Yorkers can appreciate. The lone empanada on the carefully edited menu is filled with unexpected deposits of fresh mozzarella, and the four excellent house ceviches (try the salmon chifa) are served in family-style bowls to promote sharing. The entrées include elevated versions of cod Cau Cau and the classic Peruvian duck dish arroz con pato, and if you’re in the mood for an old-fashioned, big-city steak, there’s a nicely dry-aged prime slab of Pat LaFrieda New York strip served with a tacu-tacu cake made with lima beans and a pot of fresh chimichurri.