Where to Eat

Churrasco with yuca hash browns at Nuela.Photo: Brian Finke

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.

Grandma’s Italian

MaialinoPhoto: Brian Finke

Forget vats of lavish risottos laced with white truffles from Alba, and those groaning, boom-era food trolleys freighted with giant “bisteccas” for two carved tableside. These days, Nonna’s old-fashioned, home-style cooking is the defining style in Italian food. Exhibit A in this nostalgic, back-to-the-future trend is Osteria Morini, on Lafayette Street, which Michael White has designed as an homage to the rusticated cuisine of Emilia-Romagna, Italy’s breadbasket. Unlike White’s pricey midtown seafood palace, Marea, the menu at this intimate little restaurant is stuffed with stout, earthy delicacies like braised coxcombs, pots of smooth, mushroom-laced egg-custard sformato, and great Frisbee-size wheels of spit-roasted porchetta. As in any self-respecting Italian kitchen, however, the main attractions are the handmade pastas—in particular the plump cappelletti dumplings stuffed with truffled mascarpone, and the tagliatelle, which is the color of egg yolks and smothered in an “antica” veal-and-pork ragù that tastes like it was transported from some intimate backroom kitchen in Bologna.

Similarly authentic rustic treats are available at Danny Meyer’s painstakingly rendered facsimile of a traditional Roman trattoria, Maialino. Unlike their countrymen, Romans don’t generally smother their pastas in rich ragùs. They fold them with eggs or Pecorino and flavor them the way Meyer’s accomplished, non-Roman chef, Nick Anderer, does, with clouds of crushed pepper and bits of guanciale. Some of these classics tend to work better than others (the bucatini all’Amatriciana is beautifully balanced, the carbonara too eggy). But the real treats at this deceptively sophisticated hotel-lobby trattoria are time-honored down-home recipes like frizzled artichokes with anchovy-bread sauce (carciofini fritti); a properly tangy, crackly-skinned version of pollo alla diavola, made with a plump, American barnyard bird; and glisteningly rich, faintly funky servings of trippa alla Trasteverina, which the kitchen folds with sprigs of fresh mint in classic Roman style.

Whenever I’m hungry for the ultimate in throwback Italian cuisine, however, I join the chaotic scrum at Torrisi Italian Specialties, on Mulberry Street, where those two former kitchen slaves Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi have made a reputation turning out ethereal upmarket versions of humble Italian-American deli favorites like pork chops smothered in peppers, and chicken Parm on a roll. My favorite time to drop into this shoebox-size no-reservations establishment is during lunch, when you can purchase the entire antipasti menu, plus a sandwich, for less than half the price of a full tasting-menu dinner at Del Posto. But if you’re looking for an accomplished but cut-rate sit-down feast, join the rabble at dinnertime, when $50 buys squeezy balls of dissolving mozzarella made to order in the kitchen, another good pollo alla diavola, and soft ricotta gnudi scattered with Pecorino. For dessert, there’s a selection of rainbow-colored Italian cookies served the way Little Italy grandmas like to serve them, on tiny plates of floral-patterned china.

Tasting Menus That Taste Good

Chef's Table at Brooklyn FarePhoto: Brian Finke

Bloated, world-weary restaurant critics dislike tasting menus as a rule. They tend to be overwrought, overpriced, and time-consuming, and rarely reflect the true quality of a restaurant’s day-to-day cooking. Not so anymore. In this nouveau-comfort-food era, ambitious chefs are leaving simpler recipes to their regular menus, or even abandoning them, and pouring their creative energies into omakase-style tasting dinners. To experience the leading edge of this mini culinary boom, take the A train across the river to César Ramirez’s quirky eighteen-seat Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, set among the gloomy office blocks of Downtown Brooklyn. The service and attitude at this effete little Michelin-approved establishment can be brusque, and until a liquor license is secured, you have to bring your own bottle of wine. But there is no house corkage fee, and $135 buys a twenty-course extravaganza filled with unexpected Manhattan-style delicacies like frizzled blowfish tails touched with saffron, rose-colored lobster claws paired ingeniously with bits of grapefruit, and little thimblefuls of smoked brandade that the chef buries, in high gourmet style, under drifts of smoky truffles flown in from Italy.

Over at Mario Batali’s newly remodeled, aggressively opulent fine-dining palace Del Posto, the meal that has Italian-food fanatics rhapsodizing is the $125 seven-course tasting menu, which includes a daintily arranged selection of antipasti served tableside; a small, pleasingly dense block of Mark Ladner’s legendary 100-layer lasagne; and strips of pink veal tenderloin placed on polenta. But for a more intimate tasting feast, Ms. Platt and I prefer to repair to Anita Lo’s great West Village restaurant, Annisa. The tiny jewel-box room on Barrow Street burned down two years ago but reopened last spring with a calming new feng shui–approved look and an entirely reworked menu. For a relatively modest $95, you can enjoy a seven-course Asian-fusion feast, which includes escargot sunk in bacon cream, segments of poached lobster and buttery sablefish marinated in miso, and an elegant ricotta-laced strawberry mille-feuille.

You’ll get a similarly cozy, carefully constructed meal at the little hole-in-the-wall West Village restaurant Recette, where Jesse Schenker and his band of tattooed cooks offer two nightly tasting options (five courses for $75, seven for $100). Both are filled with inventive “urban contemporary” versions of ancient French classics like crunchy sweetbreads drizzled with brown butter, squares of arctic char dabbed with beet sorbet, and, for dessert, featherlight beignets stuffed with deposits of cassis-spiked raspberry jam. But the most inspired prix-fixe experiment in town these days is the one being served in the grand vaulted dining room at Danny Meyer’s Eleven Madison Park, where the cutting-edge gourmet wizard Daniel Humm has transformed his entire menu into an inventive Rubik’s Cube of tasting delights. Instead of one standard omakase dinner, Humm offers a choice of several market-driven ingredients (prawns, scallops, lobster, etc.), which you can order in endless unexpected combinations. My recent four-course lunch included a delicate crab roulade wrapped in avocado, lobster knuckles sweetened with figs, and little blocks of pork (belly and loin poured with a guanciale-infused jus) so artfully constructed that I was moved to do what many of the contemporary connoisseurs in the room were doing. I took out my iPhone and snapped a picture of it.

Portuguese Food? Yes, Portuguese Food (and Peruvian, and Basque…)

Not so long ago, the closest thing to imported food that locavore-obsessed, comfort-minded New Yorkers seemed to crave was the latest version of locally made faux -Neapolitan pizza. But to the delight of my beaten-down food-aristocrat friends, the city is awash in inventive new restaurants featuring delicacies from far-off, relatively underrepresented destinations like Bangkok, the Basque Country, and even Lima, Peru. With its impersonal lounge area and flaming-orange color scheme, Nuela feels less like a first-rate dining establishment than like a randomly decorated nightclub in one of the night-owl districts of Caracas or Rio. But Adam Schop’s eclectic, surprisingly accomplished Nuevo Latino menu is crammed with artfully conceived finger foods like delicious New Age arepas stuffed with ribbons of smoked brisket. There are eighteen seviches available, many of them doused, as at the Nobu-inspired sevicherias of Peru, with unexpected fusion ingredients like Asian pear, pickled chiles, or yuzu. And if you’re in the mood for a more robust feast, you can dine on an entire suckling pig or a whole chicken marinated in aji-chile paste and roasted on a spit.

“This is the real thing,” intoned my friend the Thai-food snob as he sniffed an authentically milky and lemony bowl of tom kha hed spicy coconut soup at the newly opened New York outlet of the famous Las Vegas restaurant Lotus of Siam. Thai-food guru Saipan Chutima and her husband, Bill, have set up shop in the old Cru space on lower Fifth Avenue, complete with an impressive array of appropriately sweet Alsatian wines to go with your spicy helpings of kang khiao wan (green curry) and fiery ground-pork larb tossed with clouds of roasted chiles. Thai cooking is also the theme at Harold Dieterle’s new West Village restaurant, Kin Shop. TV’s former Top Chef dutifully grinds all his curries in-house, but his real genius is with hefty Western ingredients like Maine lobster (tossed in a southern-style yellow curry) and lobes of fatty bone marrow, which are split and roasted, dripped with a rich fermented-bean sauce, and designed to be rolled, taco style, inside stacks of buttery roti pancakes.

George Mendes’s elegant little Flatiron establishment, Aldea, remains the best place in the city for Portuguese cuisine, and Seasonal Restaurant & Weinbar, in midtown, is still where my fresser friends like to go when they’re in the mood for flaps of properly melting Austrian Schweinbauch (pork belly) spritzed with honey vinegar. The Mediterranean sampler, or maybe a piece or two of the crackly-skinned, impossibly tender Mediterranean-style chicken “under a brick,” is the meal I order whenever I visit Einat Admony’s Middle Eastern–influenced Nolita restaurant, Balaboosta. And for all things Basque, my establishment of choice these days is Jeffrey Chodorow’s cavernous new place Bar Basque. Sure, the nightclub lounge is overrun with crowds of antic suburban revelers, and the vast glass dining room looks like something you’d see at a megachurch in Texas. But the space has a strange Lost in Translation magic to it, and the kitchen turns out well-executed versions of traditional Basque favorites like crocks of rich bread soup spiced with chorizo, suckling pig laced with truffles, and, for dessert, eggy slabs of French-toast-style torrija flavored with candied lemons and cinnamon.

Beef Is the New Pig…

The Má Pêche beef shank.Photo: Brian Finke

For some time now, pork has been the protein of choice among the city’s most celebrated chefs. But with burger madness in full bloom and boutique butchers popping up all over the culinary landscape, the good old-fashioned New York beefsteak is making a comeback. If you don’t believe me, take a seat with the rest of the starchy expense-account crowd at David Chang’s new midtown outlet Má Pêche. The mood in the Ikea-style dining hall can feel hollow, but there’s no denying the quality of the fusion steak-frites, which executive chef Tien Ho constructs with an expertly seared “Juliet” of Creekstone beef and a carefully arranged stack of crunchy rice-cake fries. The real specialty of the house, however, is the majestic, order-ahead Beef Seven Ways feast, which, on the afternoon I sampled it, included a refined veal-tongue salad tossed in a tangy plum vinaigrette, a trio of deliciously simmered oxtails as big as cannonballs, and a beef shank so large and beautifully cooked that it caused the assembled meat lovers at my table to break out into a round of quiet applause.

If charred cow innards are your particular addiction, there’s no better place to get your fix today than the neighborly Japanese yakiniku grill restaurant Takashi, which opened last summer on a quiet stretch of Hudson Street. My otherwise beef-eating daughters avert their eyes when Daddy orders the more extreme house specialties like beef heart, chuck flap dabbed with fresh uni, and funky, curiously tasty bits of cow stomach, which the kitchen marinates in industrial amounts of miso (cook until charred, the menu advises). But the girls have no problem devouring platter after platter of the excellent Korean-style short ribs, or the signature house dessert, which consists of a twirl of soft-serve ice cream infused with vanilla beans from Madagascar and flecked with bits of fluttering gold leaf.

Mario Batali’s acclaimed new food hall, Eataly, contains all sorts of well-documented gastronomic wonders. But the place my avowed non-vegan friends can’t stop nattering about is Manzo. The only full-service sit-down restaurant in the complex may look like something out of a food court in the Paramus Park Mall, but the menu (executed by former Babbo cook Michael Toscano) reads like a beef lover’s fever dream. Toscano cooks up sophisticated offal-themed mezzalune (try the one stuffed with calf’s brains and ricotta), slices of calf’s tongue dressed with frizzled leeks, and a version of cinnamon-laced cotechino sausage that tastes like it was shipped fresh from one of the better butchers in Modena. If you order the beautifully marbled rib chop ($95 for two), it comes to the table with a little demitasse of beef jus and a side of pommes soufflés, and the perfectly cooked veal chop ($45) is finished, for extra-smoky flavor, in burning hay.

…Or Maybe Vegetables Are the New Meat

Vegetable pot-au-feu at Kaijitsu.Photo: Brian Finke

If you’re among those who prefer a bowl of brightly colored heirloom carrots to, say, a mallet-size veal chop, don’t despair. In the city’s most discerning kitchens, vegetables, in all their properly local and seasonal glory, have never been more celebrated. Nowhere is the phenomenon better represented than at John Fraser’s Mondays-only $42 vegetable-tasting feast at Dovetail, which, the last time we checked, included pumpkin soup scattered with chestnuts, delicately arranged platters of “autumn tempura,” and a little block of “braising-greens lasagne” made with baby carrots and a sprinkling of pine nuts, among other things. Similar plant-based pleasures are available in the chaste East Village vegetable temple Kaijitsu, where I like to repair, whenever I’m feeling bilious or overindulged, to sit in Zen-like silence at the polished wood bar and nibble on the diaphanous specialties of shojin Buddhist cuisine: nibs of tofu carved in the shape of chrysanthemum petals, bits of persimmon touched with sesame cream, and the sticky sweet rice balls called ohagi, which the Michelin-starred chef Masato Nishihara flavors with nutmeg and a hint of citrus.

The last time I dropped into Eataly, the marble-topped bar at the Le Verdure counter was being bull-rushed by assorted food tourists and vegetable geeks clamoring for tastes of the veggie-centric dishes conjured up by vegetable chef Liz Benno. The menu changes with the seasons, but even in the depths of winter you can’t go wrong with Benno’s elegant Ligurian lasagne laced with a basil-rich pesto, and the towering, beautifully cooked fritto misto, which, on the day I sampled it, was tossed with fresh green beans, segments of baby pink radish, and delicate tempura-coated cauliflower florets.

For the ultimate in nouveau-vegivore cuisine, however, the blue ribbon goes to Jean-Georges Vongerichten. At the multitalented Alsatian chef’s new Union Square establishment, ABC Kitchen, he more or less perfects the art of farm-to-table dining. There are meat dishes on the menu here, but the real stars are vegetables like boutique beets (three or four varieties, set over a bed of housemade yogurt), bright-green peas (mashed in an ethereal country-style soup), and fragrant jalapeño-laced Japanese mushrooms, which Vongerichten’s executive chef, Dan Kluger, serves on fat, toasty crostini dripped with olive oil. The pizzas are made with whole-wheat dough and scattered with carefully foraged morels, among other things; the ricotta ravioli are dressed with fresh field greens; and when you’ve finished with your righteous Greenmarket feast, the leftovers aren’t dumped on the sidewalk, in garbage bags; they’re composted, in proper locavore style, and trucked out to the country, to be planted all over again.

Grand Openings and Second Acts

Every new restaurant year has its grand theatrical debuts and expensive high-stakes openings. There’s no more glittering stage in the fine-dining firmament this season than the one inhabited by Thomas Keller’s former chief lieutenant, Jonathan Benno, at the new Lincoln Center showpiece restaurant, Lincoln Ristorante. Unlike the trendy, faux -speakeasy joints downtown, this restaurant has its own $20 million glass pavilion, complete with three separate dining sections, a “roasted oak” bar, and even a carpet of grass on the canted origami-style roof, where you can retire after your meal and gaze up at the stars. At this early stage, Benno’s surprisingly basic Italian-themed menu is unevenly executed and overpriced. But to get a sense of its promise, go at lunchtime; ask for a seat at the bright, eastern end of the pavilion (instead of the darkened tables at the back); and focus on the simpler dishes, like ribbons of San Daniele prosciutto with roasted vegetables, and Benno’s straightforward but delicious rendition of spaghetti pomodoro tossed with cherry tomatoes and flakes of fresh Parmesan.

Whenever my fat-cat banker friends inquire about the latest midtown power-lunch spot, I recommend they take a seat in one of the scarlet banquettes at Geoffrey Zakarian’s newest big-budget production, The Lambs Club, which opened last fall in the Chatwal hotel, on 44th Street. Zakarian (whose credits include L’Arpège in Paris and 44 at the Royalton, in its glitzy nineties heyday) has a knack for producing subtly updated versions of old bull-market classics like steak Delmonico, sizzled in a rich red-wine glaze, wheels of hand-chopped steak tartare speckled with fried capers, and an excellent version of foie gras, which the kitchen serves in a velvety round torchon garnished with brûléed figs. Marcus Samuelsson’s just-opened Red Rooster, a refined ode to southern down-home cooking, is Harlem’s most ambitious high-profile debut in decades. And the most eagerly awaited new opening downtown is Porsena, in the East Village, where the city’s reigning queen of porchetta, Sara Jenkins, is expanding her repertoire to include other gut-busting home-cooked delicacies like crispy-topped squares of lasagne al forno and crocks of nourishing, properly steamy Tuscan bean soup.

The buttery, seafood-rich cortecce is my favorite of all the intricate gourmet pastas at the flashy Flatiron-district restaurant Ciano, where the talented former Cru chef Shea Gallante is currently trying his hand at haute Italian cuisine. Whenever my Francophile friends are feeling nostalgic for an appropriately sturdy pot of cassoulet, they repair to Bistro de la Gare, in the West Village. And if you’re looking for an excellent facsimile of fluffy, old-fashioned fish quenelles—plated the way the famous Parisian chef Jean-Louis Dumonet used to do it, in a pool of rich lobster bisque—you’ll find them at Laurent Manrique’s new seafood brasserie, Millesime, in the Carlton Hotel. The most prominent new seafood venture of all is April Bloomfield’s renamed and retooled The John Dory Oyster Bar, next to her great porkcentric gastropub The Breslin Bar & Dining Room, off the lobby of the Ace Hotel. The John Dory menu is slimmer than at the original meatpacking-district production, but $15 still buys a taste of Bloomfield’s impossibly decadent, umami-rich oyster pan roast, which you can supplement here with rashers of toast piled with anchovies and parsley, and an excellent if abbreviated selection of dessert puddings, like wedges of honey-crisp almond tart and a delicious, currant-filled Eccles cake served, in proper English style, with a slab of Stilton cheese.

The Great Food-Hall Invasion

The butcher shop at Eataly.Photo: Brian Finke

Not so long ago, New York City gastronomes used to have to travel to Tokyo, London, or Milan to experience the sophisticated, endlessly varied joys of a classic international food hall. But lately, warehouse-size specialty-food temples seem to be as common as pizza joints. At Foodparc, Jeffrey Chodorow’s weirdly futuristic new food-hall operation in the fashion district, it’s a pleasure to wander among the dim-sum obsessives at the Red Farm dumpling stand and graze on crunchy-bottomed pot stickers stuffed with ground lamb, properly steamy bowls of wonton soup, and baskets of plump little har gow, which the city’s resident dim-sum genius, Joe Ng, fills with an addictive mash of shrimp, watercress, and bacon. The braised-beef dumplings at Todd English’s new midtown tourist destination, The Plaza Food Hall, are a disappointment by comparison, but the Jeffrey Beers–designed space in the basement of the storied hotel has a glittering midtown polish to it, and if you’re looking for a restorative snack after enduring the shopping stampede along Fifth Avenue, you could do worse than a taste of English’s toppling little prime-rib sliders (three to a plate, piled with caramelized onions and melted Fontina), or the spicy Moroccan-style chermoula prawns, which I devoured, on my last visit, in the company of a friendly couple from Dubai and a portly gentleman straight off the plane from Dallas.

The food hall of food halls, of course, is Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali’s aforementioned Eataly. The sprawling big-top operation, on the bottom floor of the old toy building on lower Fifth Avenue, is routinely jammed with mobs of pasta snobs, salumi experts, and assorted cheese sniffers. And why not? You can amble down the long aisles and ogle the bags of amarelli licorice and glimmering bottles of first-press olive oils, several of which cost more than a bottle of decent single-malt Scotch. If you’re in the mood for a properly charred Neapolitan pizza or a bowl of perfectly al dente cacio e pepe pasta, you’ll find it at the La Pizza and La Pasta counter. On one of my recent sojourns to the seafood station, Il Pesce, the great David Pasternack himself was serving up silvery Portuguese sardines with cool little mounds of peppers and onions, and giant flash-fried branzini on shavings of crunchy roast potatoes. Or, if you don’t feel like battling for space at the thronged dining counters, do what I often do: Buy a tub of milky fresh-made mozzarella and ribbons of salty Parma ham and herb-laced finocchiona salumi, then scarf them down at home.

Southern-Fried Brooklyn

The CommodorePhoto: Brian Finke

Record numbers of style-conscious Manhattanites are trekking dutifully across the river these days to dine at Brooklyn-style scene restaurants like Vinegar Hill House and Prime Meats. But if you want to know what kind of grub the savvy locals are really obsessed with, join the riotous pack of tattoo artists, musicians, and scruffy backyard pit masters who crowd into Zak Pelaccio’s inspired new Asian-fusion barbecue joint, Fatty ’Cue. The best tables at this poky Williamsburg establishment are in the little mezzanine in back, where my daughter Penelope likes to watch the pink Styrofoam pig twirling from the ceiling while taking decorous bites of the excellent heritage-pork ribs, which Pelaccio cooks with a compulsively delicious mix of palm syrup and Vietnamese fish sauce. On Sundays, prizewinning pit master Robbie Richter breaks down an entire hog, smokes it, and serves it, head on, on a platter for $45, complete with steamed rice buns and a supply of latex gloves for proper pork picking.

When I visited, a few weeks back, the new incarnation of Pies-N-Thighs on Driggs Avenue in the shadow of the Williamsburg Bridge, the brightly lit storefront space was so jammed with assorted hipsters and neighborhood southern-food scholars that I had to take delivery of my catfish and the excellent fried-chicken box (three pieces, plus a densely layered biscuit) onto the sidewalk. Southern fried chicken is also the house specialty at the great faux dive bar The Commodore, which opened last May among the increasingly polished, studiously shabby shops along Metropolitan Avenue in Williamsburg. Eleven dollars buys three pieces of golden made-to-order chicken served, in high church-picnic style, with fresh biscuits, a vinegar-based sauce, and a dainty pot of honey-infused butter. Or, if you prefer, try Stephen Tanner’s pork du jour special, which, the last time I dropped by, was a football-size Mexican torta stuffed with a pleasingly messy combination of pulled pork, rich crema sauce, and slices of fresh avocado.

My favorite Brooklyn venue for a leisurely, bourbon-soaked midday meal is the great smokehouse Char No. 4, where the lunchtime menu features toasty sandwiches made with slabs of house-smoked brisket, and bowls of steamy New Orleans jambalaya scattered with a credibly spicy facsimile of real Cajun-style andouille sausage. For the ultimate in nouveau southern-fried dining, however, the place knowledgeable chowhounds are flocking to is Robert Newton’s new restaurant, Seersucker, which you will find among the hat stores and shabby-chic boutiques on Smith Street. Newton grew up in Arkansas and served time in many of the great kitchens in Manhattan, which means the dumplings in his chicken-and-dumplings recipe have a soft, almost gnocchilike quality to them, and the fried catfish (served with a spicy housemade mayonnaise) has an elevated, tempuralike crunch. The prime time to visit is Tuesday evenings, when Newton lays out his gourmet interpretation of a Tennessee fried-chicken dinner, complete with slices of Wonder bread drizzled with pan drippings, and three crunchy fried pieces of “Bo Bo” fried chicken, which the chef soaks in buttermilk and seasons, in racy urban style, with the faintest hint of Sichuan pepper.


The "build a biscuit" breakfast at Peels.Photo: Brian Finke

For Anglophiles, boulevardiers, and various out-of-town grandees, there’s no better place in town to start the day than at Le Caprice, in the Pierre Hotel on Fifth Avenue. At the polished black-marble dining counter, the large, opulent morning menu includes bubbling plates of Welsh rarebit, helpings of kedgeree folded with shreds of smoked haddock and salmon, and a crisp-fried, uptown version of fish and chips made with fresh cod and served with a mound of mint-flavored mashed peas on the side. For an even grander spread, the choice is the newly renovated dining room at The Mark, at the newly renovated Mark Hotel on Madison Avenue, where my mother and I like to settle in for weekend brunch to sip Bellinis flavored with litchis and raspberries at the tables by the bar, and watch the passing scene. Jean-Georges’s lavish brunch menu features $89 servings of caviar with fresh blinis, and wheels of pizza sprinkled with black truffles. But if you’re wise, you’ll spend your cash on expertly updated classics like the croque monsieur, which is layered here with a fluffy, faintly charred topping of Gruyère and slices of country ham from Flying Pigs Farm upstate and crowned with two fried quail eggs.

If you’re in need of a more economical hangover pick-me-up, follow the gangs of bleary-eyed hipsters to Taavo Somer’s East Village dining destination, Peels, and plunk down $3 for one of the thick, impressively flaky house-baked buttermilk biscuits, which you can stuff, for a few dollars more, with scrambled organic farm eggs, strips of smoked bacon, and deposits of melting pepper-jack cheese. My favorite breakfast sandwich in the meatpacking district is the $10 combo of Kentucky bacon, fried eggs, and Cheddar cheese at The Standard Grill, but when it’s a truly substantial, lumberjack-size morning meal I’m after, I head to M. Wells, in Long Island City. The Quebeçois nose-to-tail chef Hugue Dufour and his wife, Sarah Obraitis, have recently occupied an old diner where they specialize in restorative offal classics like fried pickled pork tongue, and great Gulliver-size wedges of meat pie. The lighter, more classic preparations on the inventive, constantly evolving menu—a crispy tortilla Española for $6, a towering smoked-salmon blini topped with healthful mounds of salad—are also worth the trip.

Weekend mornings are the easiest time to gain entrance into Keith McNally’s clamorous, semiprivate Minetta Tavern, where the lavish brunch menu includes old-world breakfast treats like shirred eggs with black truffles, and a rich black-pudding clafoutis garnished with caramelized apples. For a slightly earthier take on trendy weekend brunch, the choice is Marc Forgione, in Tribeca, where the city’s reigning Iron Chef serves up thick waffles with sides of country-fried quail, and an ingenious, fat man’s “Eggs Benny” made with hollowed-out crispy-skinned potatoes instead of English muffins. If you’ve been on a serious weekend bender, there’s no better place to conclude your festivities than Tom Colicchio’s meatpacking-district dining palace, Colicchio & Sons. Sit up front in the casual, sun-splashed Tap Room and order the aptly named Tenth Avenue Hangover, which Colicchio’s young chefs make with wet poached eggs, a well-simmered soffritto folded with stewed tripe, and a soothing topping of creamy, beer-laced sabayon.

The Elevated Sandwich

The smoked-meat sandwich at Mile End.Photo: Brian Finke

Forget about custom-blend cheeseburgers and faux -Neapolitan pizzas. These days, in haute-comfort-food circles, gourmet sandwiches are all the rage. At Locanda Verde, in Tribeca, Andrew Carmellini, that master of casual urban Italian cooking, builds his slow-cooked-lamb sandwich with softly cooked peppers and a spoonful of cumin-spiced Greek yogurt on a squeezy rosemary bun. The best place for a gourmet sandwich fix in midtown is A Voce Columbus, where Missy Robbins serves her nine artfully constructed tramezzini during lunchtime only. The accomplished list includes puffy slabs of focaccia decked with mushroom, prosciutto, and arugula pesto, and fat ciabatta rolls stuffed with fresh figs, ricotta, and ribbons of lardo. But the one I can’t get out of my head is the delicious open-faced construction of grilled country bread layered with the fiery, chile-colored Calabrian sausage called ’nduja, slivers of Pecorino and pickled fennel, and a single delicately fried egg.

If you can’t kick your haute-cheeseburger habit, the bacon-jam-and-caramelized-onion-topped Bash Style Burger, which Josh Capon serves at his cozy new Soho gastropub, Burger & Barrel, is one you ought to try. If bacon is your addiction, I suggest you waddle over to Vandaag, the stylish new Dutch- and Danish-themed restaurant on lower Second Avenue. The young chef Phillip Kirschen-Clark is an acolyte of madcap pyrotechnic cooks like Wylie Dufresne and Paul Liebrandt, and his lunchtime menu features a whole variety of creative open-faced smørrebrød sandwiches, the most satisfying of which is fortified with garden greens, fresh-cut peaches, and thick country slabs of Benton’s bacon from Tennessee. For an even messier, down-to-earth pig out, I like to stand in line with the rest of the salivating fatso wise guys who queue up daily at Francis Garcia, Will Gallagher, and Sal Basille’s inspired East Village sandwich destination, This Little Piggy Had Roast Beef, for a taste of the dirigible-size This Way—a roast-beef classic made with mounds of succulent prime rib and drenched, in the classic Coney Island style, in oceans of Cheez Whiz. And if you’re looking for the ultimate in handcrafted retro deli pleasure, you’ll find it across the river at Noah Bernamoff’s ode to the Montreal delis of his youth, Mile End. All of the aggressively faithful pastrami creations at this little Boerum Hill storefront operation are exceptional, but there’s no better way to end a New York gastronomic ramble than with a late-night taste of the faintly tangy smoked-meat sandwich on rye, served, in classic fresser style, with a perfectly, beautifully proportioned, crisp “Brooklyn-brined” pickle.

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