Where to Eat

Photo: Hannah Whitaker

“You call this the Great Recession?” said one of my incredulous guests as we waited for a table at yet another newly opened, jam-packed restaurant. The Great Bust of ’09 may have momentarily obliterated the city’s collective appetite for icy canisters of Sevruga caviar and $5,000 magnums of Château Pétrus, but even in the depths of last year’s gloomy winter, it never came close to extinguishing the frantic, theatrical bond between New Yorkers and their food. Now, at the dawn of this new decade, green shoots are sprouting up all over the fine-dining landscape. Posh new Italian joints are proliferating like so many retail-bank outlets. Discerning gourmets are forking over $28 for trendy, high-concept hamburgers in clamorous faux speakeasies downtown, and despite the prognostications of doomsaying pundits (including this one), glittering old-world seafood palaces are back in vogue. In Meatpacking Land, celebrities are eagerly bull-rushing into scene restaurants again, with crowds of voyeurs trailing them. Down in the East Village, hipsters are booking tables months in advance to feast on $100 platters of gourmet fried chicken, and farther uptown, ambitious new restaurants are springing up in the city’s fancy hotels, just like they did during the boom years.

In this, our annual compilation of everything that’s good to imbibe, gobble, and otherwise devour in the booming, buzzing, constantly evolving restaurant galaxy that is New York City, we break down all of those trends and more. Where can you procure the finest gourmet meat-loaf sandwich in the city, and probably anywhere? We have the answer. What’s that dynamite new Northern Italian restaurant on the fringes of Chinatown? We’ll tell you that too. We’ve also singled out the best breakfasts, the best places to eat in Brooklyn, and—because this isn’t, in fact, 2007—the best bargains in town. For your debating pleasure, we’ve also compiled our answers to some of the urgent, Talmudic questions food-mad New Yorkers love to argue about around the table. We give you our lists of the city’s best new restaurants, young chefs, and desserts, plus the eleven stupid restaurant trends we’d like to see disappear. Finally, we offer our take on the most deliriously potent, mind-addling gourmet cocktails to enjoy, while pondering the most important question of all: what to order for your next meal.

Hotel Chic

The Breslin Bar & Dining Room.Photo: Jeff Mermelstein

I f you’ve spent this past, comfort-food-obsessed decade pining for the days when the city’s great restaurants were affiliated with grand hotels instead of dingy backroom speakeasies or glorified shopping malls, you might, at long last, be in luck. After a lavish, $100 million renovation, the Pierre has reopened on Fifth Avenue, complete with an excellent new bistro called Le Caprice. The gilded Noël Coward–style venture is run by Londoners (the original is in St. James), which means you can enjoy a slap-up English breakfast with your morning paper, and a faithful rendering of fish and chips (served with mashed peas tipped with mint) when the dining counter fills up with assorted toffs and swells during lunch. But to rekindle the premillennial, pre-bust era in all its moneyed glory, go at dinnertime, when the little room fills with tinkling sounds of live piano music and the kitchen serves decorous uptown versions of old Continental favorites like Dover sole with Béarnaise sauce.

Later this winter, David Chang introduces the midtown expense-account set to the glories of high-angle Vietnamese-French street food when his first uptown venture, Má Pêche, opens for dinner in the cavernous basement of Chambers hotel, on West 56th Street. Crowds of fatso pork fiends and bearded slacker aristocrats, meanwhile, are converging on the scruffy, dimly lit lobby of the Ace Hotel, in the Flatiron district, where that other downtown culinary superstar, April Bloomfield, and her partner Ken Friedman have opened their latest gastropub outlet, The Breslin Bar and Dining Room. As with their flagship establishment, the Spotted Pig, there’s a signature burger on the menu (made with lamb here, instead of beef), and an array of trencherman delicacies like beef tongue (in a delicious sandwich) and onion soup laced with bone marrow. But the real specialties of the house, not surprisingly, are the Bunyanesque pig dishes, like canoe-size trotters stuffed with sausage, and the delectable, majestically unhealthy smoked pork belly for two, which is best enjoyed with several pints of the patented house Breslin Aberdeen cask ale and a tab, or two, of extra-strength Mylanta.

For the ultimate in 2010 hotel chic, however, the place to be may be Danny Meyer’s painstakingly rendered facsimile of an old-fashioned Roman trattoria, Maialino, which opened recently, off the lobby of the Gramercy Park Hotel. The room is arranged according to the classic Meyer template, with a welcoming bar-café area in front and a casually elegant dining room manned by manically grinning waitstaff in back. But the trattoria menu is choked with uncanny renderings of old classics like steamy stracciatella Romana soup infused with wisps of egg, and classic Roman spaghettis (carbonara, cacio e pepp) vigorously peppered in the classic Roman style. After you’ve polished off your lombatina di vitello piled with turnips, be sure to save room for the simple desserts, particularly creamy sformato di ricotta laced with sweet figs and honey, which tastes like it’s been beamed in from some sun-drenched square in Trastevere.

Celebrity Chic

Minetta Tavern.Photo: Jeff Mermelstein

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.

Seafood Renaissance

Oceana.Photo: Jeff Mermelstein

Not so long ago, assorted gasbag food pundits and jaded old-media restaurant critics were confidently announcing the death of the grand old gourmet seafood restaurant in Manhattan. Well, we were wrong. Just ask that great Italian cooking savant Michael White, whose pricey, unabashedly glittering seafood palace Marea is packed every evening with hordes of well-heeled seafood fanatics clamoring for tastes of cool Nova Scotia lobster paired with pickled eggplant and burrata cheese, lustrous tangles of spaghetti folded with sea-urchin roe and nuggets of blue crab, and delicate slices of wild Dover sole. This upscale fish house lacks the earthy geniality of White’s excellent Tudor City pasta destination, Convivio, or the focused gourmet edge of his great Northern Italian restaurant, Alto. But if you go at lunchtime, the pace is less hectic; the polished room has a bright, jewel-box quality; and it’s possible to enjoy a $34 prix fixe sampling of White’s impressive, ever-expanding seafood repertoire without breaking the bank.

Elsewhere uptown, the mad genius David Burke is packing crowds of loyal customers into his antic new seafood restaurant, Fishtail, where the specialties include seafood tacos stuffed with crab salad, tuna tartare and salmon tartare, and a characteristically baroque version of crab cakes, which here are pretzel-crusted. Meanwhile, in midtown, the elegant, Michelin-decorated seafood mecca Oceana has morphed from a quaint townhouse restaurant to a giant, Wal-Mart-size establishment replete with lobster tanks as big as refrigerators, banquettes lined with fluffy pillows, and rows of white-linen lampshades the size of garbage cans. The trimmed-down menu contains oysters from Skookum Bay, and giant expense-account lobsters trucked in from Maine, but the dish to get is chef Ben Pollinger’s signature pompano, which is wrapped, retro-gourmet style, with a crunchy layer of thinly sliced taro root and enhanced with a bracing, coriander-scented curry poured, with proper ceremony, from a shiny silver pot.

Seafood chowder in various comforting, heart-clogging forms is the theme of Jeffrey Chodorow’s new Upper West Side restaurant, Ed’s Chowder House, and the one we couldn’t stop eating was Ed Brown’s version of Manhattan clam chowder, which the veteran seafood chef supplements with heretical choppings of chorizo. But if you long for the simpler pleasures of seafood dining, head to Brooklyn to Sel de Mer, in the old Italian section of Williamsburg. The restaurant’s clapboard walls are decorated with oil paintings of graybeard sea captains puffing on old weathered pipes, and in the evenings, the communal tables are filled with young tattooed seafood aesthetes from the neighborhood, feasting on fresh-charred sardines with bowls of freshly whipped wasabi mayonnaise, and impressive mounds of golden, brick-size fish and chips fried in an impressively crisp beer batter. But what caught my eye when I wandered in off the street the other evening were the icy, silver-dollar-size Long Island Bluepoints, selling for the outer-borough price of a dollar apiece.

The Haute-Burger Stampede

Bill's Bar & BurgerPhoto: Jeff Mermelstein

My frenetic, grease-stained burger-blogging colleagues have been stumbling over themselves to declare the classic $5.95 “smash” burger at Bill’s Bar & Burger, in the meatpacking district, the best burger in this burger-addled town. Is it better than the original smash burger at Danny Meyer’s hallowed Shake Shack? No. But the plastic green checkered tablecloths at Stephen Hanson’s faux-honky-tonk bar are suitably greasy, and the menu contains several artful variations on the standard roadhouse burger, particularly the Fat Cat, which is garnished with a mound of sweet caramelized onions and served between a toasty English muffin. On the other end of the spectrum, the endlessly hyped $26 Black Label burger at the Minetta Tavern is Mrs. Platt’s favorite haute burger of the year, although when I’m in need of an upscale-burger fix in the middle of the day, my own choice is Txikito, in Chelsea, where it’s a pleasure to sit at the sleek tapas-style bar and gobble down Alex Raij’s beautifully proportioned El Doble, which costs $15 less than McNally’s burger and is dressed, in elegant gourmet style, with a special sauce ingeniously spiked with crème fraîche.

My favorite burger on the Upper West Side is a Cheddar-slathered goliath at Tom Valenti’s West Branch, and if you’re looking for an impressively towering business-lunch hamburger in midtown, you’ll find it among the skyscrapers on 42nd Street at Charlie Palmer’s strangely impersonal new Aureole outlet. Govind Armstrong’s signature L.A.-style 8 Oz. Burger at Table 8, in the modish new Cooper Square Hotel on the Bowery, is another very good burger in a not very good restaurant, although it’s best enjoyed at lunchtime, when the little shoebox-size space in the back of the lobby isn’t so earsplittingly loud. The great French chef Cyril Renaud serves his gourmet burger on a butcher board, with a hunk of melted Cheddar, and it’s worth visiting his Fifth Avenue bistro, Bar Breton, just to get a taste of the perfectly crisped Parisian-style fries. Similar beefy pleasures are also available at Daniel Boulud’s latest experiment in low-end cooking, DBGB Kitchen and Bar. The chef’s much-blogged-about $19 “Piggie” burger is weirdly muffled in jalapeños and too much pork fat, so order the relatively spare Yankee, and garnish it the way my burger-chomping brother likes to do, with several strips of bacon. If you’re wise, you’ll also save room for the fourteen varieties of inspired house sausage, like the plump pork “Beaujolaise” or the richly greasy “Boudin Basque,” concocted by acolytes of the Parisian pâté genius Gilles Vérot, before concluding your old-world banquet in high trencherman style with a taste or two of crispy fried tripe, that great Lyonnais comfort-food delicacy.

Unexpected Gourmet

Sho Shaun Hergatt.Photo: Jeff Mermelstein

Whenever the bedraggled food-snobs I know start to whine about the decline of classic, white-glove gourmet cuisine in New York, I tell them to get a grip. Inventive Continental cooking is still available all over this burger-ravaged metropolis; you just have to work a little harder to find it. If you don’t believe me, follow the rest of the food obsessives to Aldea, on West 17th Street, where the talented young cook George Mendes has created a futuristic home for Iberian cuisine, complete with an open kitchen and glimmering aqua-colored walls. Mendes specializes in spare, deceptively simple Spanish recipes, like crunchy pigs’ ears tossed with apples, and a creation called shrimp Alhinho made with seared shrimp, shreds of pimento, and a delicious shrimp reduction finished with paprika. But the dish the people at my table couldn’t stop nattering about was the densely flavored, paella-style arroz de pato, which Mendes makes with nickels of chorizo, black olives, and duck confit and tops with crunchy, translucent wafers of duck cracklings.

Modern greenmarket Austrian cuisine is the theme at Seäsonal Restaurant & Weinbar in midtown, on an anonymous stretch of 58th Street. This means platters of plump, un-Austrian diver scallops plated with tangles of buttery, beet-flavored tagliatelle, and blocks of soft, crackly, farm-to-table pork belly, which the restaurant’s co-chefs, Wolfgang Ban and Eduard Frauneder, sweeten with Riesling wine. Ban and Frauneder make zwiebelrostbraten (beef and onions), that potentially chewy old Austrian warhorse of a dish, with uncommonly tender strips of Brandt beef from California. And if you crave traditionalist cooking from the old country, try the fluffy, pie-size Wiener schnitzel (with tangy potato salad and housemade lingonberry jam), followed by a spoonful or two of topfennockerl dumplings for dessert, which the chefs fold with stewed raspberries and infused with a sinfully rich injection of farmer’s cheese.

Similarly unexpected pleasures are available at Sho Shaun Hergatt, although if you want to find this curiously named, underpublicized establishment tucked among the gloomy corporate buildings along Broad Street, it helps to have a GPS in your pocket. But you won’t taste a delicately constructed foie gras mille-feuille or classic, peach-sweet lobster poêlé like this anywhere else in the vicinity of the New York Stock Exchange (or farther uptown, for that matter). All sorts of vanished gourmet items make their appearance on Hergatt’s menu (gold leaf, caviar, Urfa spice), but pay special attention to his inspired Asian-fusion creations, like tiny-boned segments of fried quail dredged in cornstarch and glazed with chile-flavored coconut milk, and the delicious modernist interpretation of duck à l’orange, served with red hibiscus gelée.

Southern Comfort

“I f I have to eat another piece of fried chicken, I might go insane,” said my dining companion as she sipped a cup of soothing digestive tea. I told her she better get used to it; southern-fried cooking, in its greasy, queasy glory, is all the rage. To experience the madness firsthand, grab a table at the unassuming, even poky little East Village gastropub The Redhead, where former New Orleans chef Meg Grace has concocted a recession-friendly menu filled with all sorts of artery-clogging, pseudo-southern treats. These include salty, compulsively edible chunks of bacon-laced peanut brittle and puffy housemade pretzels (dunked in deliciously viscous “Kentucky Beer Cheese”) to go with your bottle of beer at the bar, and mountains of properly sloppy Low Country shrimp and grits. The main attraction, though, is the Redhead’s fried chicken, which Grace brines in salt and brown sugar; coats in buttermilk; tosses in flour and cayenne; and deep fries to golden-brown perfection.

Whenever I’m in the mood for a rib-sticking feast in the West Village, I pull up to the small zinc-colored bar at Gabriel Stulman’s new bistro, Joseph Leonard, and call for a platter of the beautifully cooked Anson Mills grits (laced with melted Cheddar, fresh shrimp, and crinkly wheels of andouille), followed by the giant crispy-fried pork hock, which the kitchen flash-fries to a light, golden crunchiness and serves with frizzled capers for an affordable $24. For southern-fried goodness in slightly more salubrious surroundings, the choice is Tipsy Parson, in Chelsea, where the menu includes deliciously unhealthy bar foods like fried pickles served with buttermilk dip and crunchy, curiously smooth fried chicken livers set on wedges of toast. But the dishes I like best are the down-home desserts, like the minty grasshopper pie, and a rendition of the Tipsy Parson itself, a brandy-soaked almond cake with brandied fruit and vanilla custard.

When my fatso southern friends feel nostalgic for the truly grisly foods of their youth, they journey across the East River to The Brooklyn Star, in Williamsburg, where you can get a decent helping of crispy pigs’ tails to go with your stack of crunchy fried green tomatoes, and the excellent $15 country-fried steak is nicely tenderized and served with scoops of mashed potatoes soaked in a drippings-rich, industrial-strength milk gravy. But for the ultimate in faddish, southern-fried largesse, I like to gather a bunch of hefty, iron-stomached feeders and crowd into one of the spare wooden tables at David Chang’s constantly evolving flagship restaurant, Momofuku Noodle Bar. The secret to his much-hyped fried-chicken dinner is the Old Bay seasoning, which Chang’s lieutenant, Kevin Pemoulie, mixes into the crunchy, miraculously ungreasy coating. But the real key to this infectiously enjoyable, gut-busting meal are the Asian-themed trimmings (stacks of mu shu pancakes for wrapping, fresh Bibb lettuce, radishes, and shiso for stuffing, bowls of hoisin, bibim, and ginger-and-scallion sauce for dipping), which combine the communal charms of a church picnic with the elevated of pleasures of Peking duck.

Second Acts

Like errant samurai, armies of cooks and kitchen slaves are always on the move during times of dislocation and upheaval. So it’s no surprise that during the Great Bust of ’09 talented chefs reinvented themselves all over town in a variety of unlikely, imaginative ways. Take that accomplished culinary chameleon Josh DeChellis, who, after stints cooking high-end Japanese fusion and haute Italian, is now turning out elegantly rendered tapas dishes at the swanky midtown revival of the sixties-era Joe Baum classic, La Fonda del Sol. The décor in this new restaurant next to Grand Central Terminal isn’t as feverishly inspired as the original’s, but DeChellis, who was born in Colombia, turns out to have a talent for infusing classic Spanish recipes with upmarket ingredients and impeccable technique. The best things on the menu tend to be the smallest ones (beef empanadas flavored with cinnamon, little tube-shaped croquettes filled with jellied veal terrine, the lunchtime pulled-pork sandwich dressed with pickled fennel), and the place to enjoy them is in the café, at lunchtime, where you can wash everything down with glass after glass of the excellent house sangria, served in little glass jugs brimming with fruit.

“This is the best food I’ve ever tasted at this restaurant,” intoned my elder-statesman father as he sipped a bowl of the velvety, lobster–infused chestnut soup that the new chef, Fabio Trabocchi, has added to the menu at The Grill Room at The Four Seasons Restaurant, that perennial fat-cat hangout. Trabocchi made his reputation as a pyrotechnic chef, first in Washington, D.C., then at the Michelin-starred Fiamma, Steve Hanson’s failed experiment in gourmet Italian cooking. But here, among the staid suits in midtown, his cooking has a mature, even stately feel. If you happen to have $36 in your pocket, my father recommends the elegant new lobster burger (served lunchtime, with pommes soufflés) and the imaginative new pastas, which include spaghetti alla chitarra (mingled with uni, crab, and hints of chile) and a properly decadent version of fusilli all’Amatriciana, which Trabocchi sprinkles with salty shreds of guanciale and rich spoonfuls of melted Pecorino.

Last year’s comeback-of-the-year award went to Paul Liebrandt, that famously temperamental kitchen diva who found redemption at Drew Nieporent’s polished gourmet establishment Corton. This year, former Veritas chef Scott Bryan has found a pleasant new home at the tiny, surprisingly excellent East Village restaurant Apiary, and Craig Hopson seems to have won the approval of the discerning, embattled gourmets at Sirio Maccioni’s polished old-world establishment, Le Cirque. But the 2009 blue ribbon goes to Andrew Carmellini, who, after months of wandering in the wilderness, has returned, in impressive fashion, to Robert De Niro’s raucous new trattoria, Locanda Verde. If you’re dining with a ravenous crowd, the dish to order during the crowded evening service is Carmellini’s bountiful garlic-crusted chicken for two, which is perfectly cooked and hoisted to the table on a platter over mountains of sautéed zucchini and fennel. But my favorite time to visit this mobbed, occasionally uneven restaurant is during lunchtime, when the decibel level drops by half and the menu includes a variety of inspired comfort-food dishes, like Carmellini’s ode to the classic Italian-American hero, which he constructs with roasted sausage, piles of sweet pepper and tangy broccoli rabe, and spoonfuls of housemade ricotta, all tucked in an overstuffed submarine bun.

Bull-Market Italian

Caravaggio.Photo: Jeff Mermelstein

The recession may not have been kind to upscale fusion chefs or vintners from Champagne, but spend time feasting in the numerous new Italian restaurants that have been popping up all over town, and you’d think the Great Bust of ’09 barely happened at all. Take Emma Hearst’s elegant new establishment, Sorella, located, improbably enough, on Allen Street among the jumble of bodegas and ramshackle kitchen-appliance shops on the fringes of Chinatown. When I dropped in not long ago, the swank, high-ceilinged space was jammed with crowds of uptown culinary thrill seekers nibbling at Hearst’s constantly evolving Northern Italian small-plates creations, like curls of agnolotti with beef short ribs and sage butter and tangles of thin, egg-noodle tajarin doused in a delicate lamb ragù sprinkled with crushed pistachios and mint. But maybe the best dish of all is the ethereal, crostini-like pâté de fegato, constructed with whipped chicken-liver mousse, bits of bacon, and a single, perfectly fried egg set on an English muffin griddled in duck fat.

The freshly rolled buckwheat pizzoccheri piled with Brussels sprouts and hot Fontina cheese is my favorite pasta at Gabe Thompson and Joe Campanele’s swank West Village noodle bar, L’Artusi, and whenever I’m in the mood for proper old-world opulence, I’ll drop into Tony May’s showy new downtown restaurant, SD26, for a taste of Odette Fada’s classic “uovo in raviolo,” which the talented chef garnishes with browned truffled butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano. From there, our nostalgic bull-market tour moves up Madison Avenue, to the Bruno brothers’ clubby new Upper East Side venture, Caravaggio. The intimate, brightly lit room is filled, most evenings, with neighborhood plutocrats indulging in Madoff-era delicacies like white truffles over fettuccine ($130) and bottles of extravagantly overpriced Tuscan wine. Many of the butter-and-cream-bombed pastas are a meal in themselves, but the dish I liked best was that sturdy peasant specialty bollito misto, which the kitchen serves as an appetizer, with a bowl of fresh salsa verde on the side.

Until Keith McNally’s eagerly awaited Pulino’s Bar and Pizzeria opens down on the Bowery, Jim Lahey’s spare, pizza-geek mecca, Co., is my favorite place to go to experience the great New York gourmet pizza revolution in all its glory. Jason and Joe Denton’s snug new meatpacking-district venture, Corsino, is the hipster’s choice for a quick midnight snack of meatballs cut with brisket from Heritage Farms, and the crunchy, veal-stuffed saltimbocca panini, and if you’re searching for a good platter of gnocchi (piled with creamy pork shoulder and a touch of lemon zest) late at night on the mean streets of Nolita, you’ll find it on the surprisingly accomplished menu at Travertine, on Kenmare Street. For all other things Italian, however, take a seat at one of the tables overlooking the park at Missy Robbins’s new Time Warner Center outlet, A Voce Columbus. Begin your banquet with a basket of moon-shaped cassoncini fritters stuffed with crescenza cheese and Swiss chard, followed by strips of crispy, chewy pork belly, which the chef decorates with a scattering of crushed pistachios and figs. Robbins’s version of rabbit (stuffed with housemade sausage, over whipped potatoes and fennel) is one of the best you’ll taste in this overrusticated, rabbit-saturated town. And if you have the urge for a little sweetness at the end of your feast, call for the smooth panna cotta, which is served in a glass snifter and dappled with Meyer lemons and thyme.

Breakfast Largesse

10 Downing.Photo: Jeff Mermelstein

Whenever I’m in need of a quick post-hangover pick-me-up, I line up on Saturday mornings with the rest of the bleary-eyed hipsters at David Chang’s Momofuku Ssäm Bar, for a taste of the weekend eggs menu, specifically the notorious eggs-Benedict special, which is constructed with two perfectly orange, perfectly runny eggs topped with foie gras–injected “foiellandaise” sauce. Duck eggs are all the rage in barnyard-breakfast circles these days, and the best ones, in my humble opinion, are served during weekend brunch hours at the West Village restaurant 10 Downing , over a mash of sweet figs and sautéed onions, with strips of duck prosciutto and a crisp of rye toast on the side. You can also get duck gizzards baked into a quaint, Provençal-style breakfast pissaladière at Terrance Brennan’s casual new Tribeca dining outlet, Bar Artisanal, although the dish my pork-obsessed friends like best is the excellent pork-belly hash, which the kitchen serves with sweet potatoes and crowns with two poached eggs and a velvety hollandaise spiced with a dash of smoked chile.

The most refined new brunch on the Upper West Side is the weekend spread at John Fraser’s newly expanded Dovetail, and if you’re in the market for vanished delicacies like kedgeree with poached eggs, or a noble $32 slab of roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, you’ll find them on the lavish Sunday brunch menu at Le Caprice, in the Pierre hotel. My favorite ye olde French-style breakfast treat these days is the crunchy, torpedo-size croque madame at Commerce, in the West Village, where, in addition to standard Bloody Marys, the bar serves a frothy light version of that deadly British libation the sloe-gin fizz. But for a proper English breakfast, my pasty-faced Anglophile friends like to repair to The Breslin Bar & Dining Room, in the Ace Hotel, where April Bloomfield’s rib-sticking morning treats include the imposing, crunchy-fried Three Cheese grilled cheese sandwich stuffed with smoked ham, and a classic morning fry-up composed of baked mushrooms and tomatoes, rashers of bacon and a spicy pork banger sausage, all framed around two perfectly fried sunny-side-up eggs.

Whenever my daughters cry out for bacon, I treat them to helpings of New Braunfels Smokehouse from Comal County, Texas, or crinkly, weirdly sweet strips of Hungarian-smoked Kolozsvari, from the “artisanal bacon bar” at the gimmicky but strangely satisfying East Village breakfast joint Permanent Brunch & Burger. For all things sweet, the choice is Locanda Verde, where the excellent morning menu includes Karen DeMasco’s famous sticky buns laced with Italian hazelnuts instead of pecans, and clouds of deliciously melting sheep’s-milk ricotta drizzled with truffled honey. And for a festive, booze-fueled brunchtime experience, it’s hard to beat the new weekend breakfast spread at Julian Medina’s flashy Nuevo Latino outlet in the West Village, Yerba Buena Perry. Three kinds of sangria grace the drinks list, plus there’s a gimmicky though weirdly effective “Anti Hangover” Bloody Mary made with vitamin B-12 vodka. But don’t let the drinks distract you from the inventive creations issuing from the kitchen, like creamy Baja-style fish tacos served in little flour tortillas, platters of delicious, wet-bottomed corn arepas heaped with scrambled eggs and shreds of salsa-soaked chicken tinga, and the vibrantly spicy Cachapa Benedict, which the talented Mexican chef serves over toasted corn cakes and spikes with a bracing dose of aji amarillo chiles from Peru.

Recession Specials

When my steak-mad friends can’t scrape together the funds for a taste of the côte de boeuf at Minetta Tavern, say, or the opulent, butter-soaked, $88 porterhouse cut available at Franklin Becker’s surprisingly accomplished new meatpacking-district operation, Abe & Arthur’s, they take a seat with the rest of the penurious, Europhile businessfolk at the new midtown outlet of the famous Parisian steakhouse Le Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte. The room looks like some Disney facsimile of a French cafeteria circa 1962, and the friendly waitresses sound less like residents of the 17th Arrondissement than like denizens of some distant neighborhood in the Bronx. But for the relatively modest price of $24, you get an entire dinner, beginning with a simple little salad and followed by a sirloin steak ceremoniously sliced tableside. The meat isn’t exceptional by this city’s lofty beefeater standards, but you won’t notice once you begin spooning it with the ruinously addictive, butter-and-herb-based secret sauce, which also goes well with mountains of the golden, salty, all-you-can-eat house frites.

If you don’t feel like paying $175 for a taste of the exotic new three-hour weekend luncheon menu at David Chang’s rarefied East Village food-geek temple Momofuku Ko, do what my daughters and I do on cold, rainy weekend afternoons and pop into the Japanese ramen joint Ippudo, where the sticky-sweet, pepper-smothered Hirata chicken wings are as compulsively delicious as many of the dishes in Chang’s increasingly expensive repertoire, and the $14 bowl of pork-rich shiro ramen is big enough for a family of three. The Platts’ default choice for fancy weekend dim sum these days is Susur Lee’s underrated Lower East Side fusion joint, Shang , on the second floor of the foreboding, Darth Vader–like Thompson Hotel, on Orchard Street. But for a more casual, reasonably priced Chinese feed, we go to Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles Inc., on Doyers Street, where the girls like to watch the energetic noodle-makers crank out the five varieties of Northern Chinese noodles on the menu, while daddy wolfs down platter after platter of fragrant, freshly made pork-and-vegetable dumplings, which the genial waitstaff serve for $3.50 per ten pieces on clattering plastic plates.

The signature $5 “Baoguette” bánh mì at the new Christopher Street outlet of Michael Huynh’s ever-expanding cheap-eats empire, Baoguette/ Pho Sure, is my favorite Vietnamese sandwich in this bánh mì–mad town, but if pulled pork is your addiction, I suggest you get in line with the rest of the sandwich freaks at Num Pang , on 12th Street, where $7.50 buys the delectable Five Spice pulled-pork special, which the kitchen dresses with cucumber, cilantro, carrots, and sweet slivers of pear doused in just enough vinegar to cut all that pork fat. And if that doesn’t fill you up, then do what I do whenever I don’t feel like eating for the rest of the week, and waddle over to the new Third Avenue branch of the Red Hook chowhound mecca, Defonte’s of Brooklyn sandwich shop. None of the profoundly satisfying calorie bombs on the menu costs over $11, but if you want the maximum bang for your buck, fork over $9.95 for the grandiose Sinatra Special, which contains a mountain of tomato-smothered steak pizzaiola and enough melted mozzarella to feed my diminutive daughters for a month.

Destination, Brooklyn

Vinegar Hill House.Photo: Jeff Mermelstein

Not so long ago, food-obsessed Brooklynites traveled across the river in search of a first-rate meal. But more and more, in this era of dissipated expense accounts and scruffy-chic backyard cooking, it’s the other way around. “Where have all these people come from?” asked my sleepy suburban friend as we elbowed our way through the antic crowd of visiting Manhattanites and bohemians in the their porkpie hats at Vinegar Hill House, a couple blocks from the Navy Yard. The menu at this accomplished little establishment includes rigorously seasonal treats like wood-fired tarts filled with ricotta and kale, and soft little ravioli stuffed with sweet corn in summertime and cauliflower in the fall. But the specialty of the house is the Red Wattle country pork chop, which the kitchen chars to perfection in its wood-burning oven; serves on a butcher board with a cooling mash of potato salad; and slices lengthwise in fat, pinkish strips, just like a fancy, prime-grade rib chop. The best faux-Neapolitan pizza joint in this pizza-mad borough is at Mathieu Palombino’s original Motorino, in Williamsburg, and the best meatloaf sandwich in New York, and possibly the entire world, is the $14 pork-belly-ground-pork-duck-ground-beef-ground-veal-and-short-rib-larded monster served up by former Dressler chef Cal Elliott at the fine new Williamsburg speakeasy Rye. When I want a fix of reasonably priced prime-cut beef, I hop the train to Prime Meats , in Carroll Gardens, where members of the Brooklyn gentry gather in the evenings, at the cozy farm-style tables, to chaw on a variety of old-world nose-to-tail specialties, like sürkrüt garnie piled with slow-cooked pork belly, and slabs of twelve-ounce New York strip from Creekstone Farms, in Kansas, which, at $23 with frites, just might be the best steak bargain in town. With its stark, wood-covered walls and long polished bars, Saul Bolton’s new venture, The Vanderbilt, in Prospect Heights, looks like it’s been beamed in from one of the more stylish precincts of lower Manhattan. So does the food on the eclectic small-plates menu, which includes pickled eggs dressed with Indian chutney, lamb ribs slathered with a sweet red-pepper glaze, and deliciously fried Brussels sprouts spritzed with Sriracha and honey.

Asian barbecue, in all its sticky, lip-smacking glory, is the theme of Zak Pelaccio and Robbie Richter’s long-awaited Williamsburg dining destination, Fatty ’Cue. Until that spot is up and running, my favorite place for a taste of elegant smokehouse cooking remains Char No. 4, on Smith Street, where the assembled bourbon addicts at the bar like to swap tall tales while enjoying platters of spicy hot beef links dusted with shallots, and the famous house BLT, made with braised pork belly instead of bacon. For the ultimate in off-the-beaten-path Brooklyn dining, however, you won’t do better than Roberta’s, set among the loading docks of Bushwick. The ramshackle establishment began life as a pizza joint but has lately morphed into a kind of gastronomic commune, complete with a radio station and rooftop vegetable garden. On a recent windswept afternoon, pilgrims from various boroughs were hunched at tables crafted from old doors, dining on roasted marrow bones for $12 and little crostini piled with pickled green tomatoes, and shreds of lamb’s tongue, which you can supplement, if you’re still hungry from your journey, with the grandiose, football-size calzone stuffed with pools of fresh melted mozzarella and shreds of salty, chewy guanciale.

Where to Eat