Best Prepared Food
The Vinegar Factory
431 East 91st Street

Eli’s Manhattan
1411 Third Avenue

There are times when the prospect of having a few friends over for dinner can overwhelm even the best cook. What to do? Assure your guests in advance that you’ll be slaving over a hot stove for most of the day. Then head to Eli’s Manhattan, or the Vinegar Factory. Start with one of Eli’s 38 hot and 9 cold freshly made soups — including gazpacho, New England clam chowder, and butternut squash ($10–$13.50 per quart). Follow with the Asian-marinated salmon with a crispy topping ($22.95 per pound), or the hearty veal osso buco ($19.95 per pound). The grand finale should be a little fruit tart ($12.95–$17.95) or the impressive lemon-meringue layer cake ($65 whole).

Alternatively, the European-style food hall in Grand Central Terminal offers Westchester commuters an easy way out. A tempting selection of gourmet entrées is offered from the many stalls operated by individual merchants — we love the seared sesame tuna from Wild Edibles (212-687-4255).