“Brooklyn? I thought you hated Brooklyn,” said Mrs. Platt, as your dutiful critic grabbed his sauce-stained coat and headed out the door to the newest effete tasting room to open in the wilds of Bushwick. Or maybe I was traveling to South Williamsburg that night, or out to Park Slope, or to the latest white-hot dining establishment to pop up in the Gowanus Superfund zone. It used to be fashionable for grizzled, Manhattan-centric food snobs to dismiss the noise emanating from across the river as so much trendy bluster. Well, not anymore. Years from now, food scholars will record (okay, this food scholar will record) that the year of Obama II and Superstorm Sandy was also the year that the Great Brooklyn Restaurant Boom finally lived up to its hype. Of the four restaurants to which I gave a rating of three stars or higher in the past eight months, three are in Brooklyn. With rents sky-high in former culinary hotbeds like Tribeca and the Village, the eating establishments across the river have never been more varied or inventive, and ambitious cooks from around the globe (not to mention Manhattan) are colonizing the borough like never before.
Elsewhere in this sprawling, food-mad metropolis, other longtime fads and boomlets have also morphed into bona fide, mainstream dining trends. This was the year that the Great Asian Hipster Revolution, which began in David Chang’s humble noodle bar many years ago, reached its improbable zenith, and the year that the madcap, insurgent forager movement—once confined to the forests and meadows of distant provincial farming regions—blossomed into its own elaborate form of big-city haute cuisine. After decades in the shadows, the Upper East Side seems to be experiencing an unlikely culinary renaissance, and to the amazement of my long-suffering Francophile friends, old-fashioned French cuisine is suddenly, unaccountably in vogue again.
In the following pages, we decode, analyze, and explain these momentous culinary developments for your reading pleasure. Once again, our annual restaurant issue is not so much a compendium of the best eating establishments in town as it is a list of the city’s finest new (or newish, or at least newly renovated) places to dine. Once again, our judgments here are the product of endless dinners (and luncheons, and breakfasts, and afternoon snacks) spent in more noodle bars, gin joints, and diminutive, no-reservations pasta parlors than we’d care to count. In our dutiful quest to uncover the very best of the best for you, our hungry reader, we’ve gobbled flaps of deep-fried pork katsu in Japanese comfort-food izakayas, devoured legions of trendy breakfast tacos, and endured countless elaborate multicourse menus in the city’s endlessly proliferating tasting bars. And once again, we’ve organized the results by trend, an even ten of them this year.
For your debating pleasure, we’ve also come up with our annual rosters of the very best new restaurants, chefs, and desserts of the year, plus some developments we’ve grown weary of during the course of our gastronomic rounds. As usual, the opinions expressed are ours and ours alone, and we reserve the right to change our mind next year, or even tomorrow. What was at the top of our last overrated list? Why, Brooklyn, of course.
1. Brooklyn’s Ascension Is Official.
Not so long ago, Carlo Mirarchi’s improvised, elaborately inventive tasting menu was a local secret among assorted roustabouts and neighborhood gourmets who frequented a semi-anonymous pizza hall out in Bushwick called Roberta’s. But these days, Roberta’s is an international dining destination, and it’s harder to get a reservation at the restaurant’s new twelve-seat tasting atelier, Blanca, than it is to secure a table at one of the old-line Manhattan dining palaces like Daniel or Per Se. When I dropped in for dinner not long ago, the pleasant little room—in a converted garage in the Roberta’s compound—was filled with eager gourmands who’d flown in for their 27-course dinner from far-off destinations like Montreal, Vienna, and L.A. Mirarchi has long had an underground reputation as a pasta wizard, but pay special attention to his meat dishes, in particular the crunchy, honey-colored slices of roasted duck and the country lamb, which the chefs cut in thin, melting ribbons, and garnish with spoonfuls of gêlée, flavored, in the new haute Brooklyn style, with mint from the communal garden outside.
Food-obsessed Brooklynites used to have to take the L train into Manhattan to get their fix of the latest Asian-fusion or tapas craze. But these days, it’s jaded Manhattanites who are making the long slog out to Talde, in Park Slope, to sample ingenious fusion comfort-food creations like pretzel pork-and-chive pot stickers, smoked char siu pork shoulder, and deliciously sticky, chile-infused Kung Pao chicken wings, which the former Jean-Georges acolyte Dale Talde serves with soothing pots of buttermilk dipping sauce. The best pork dish this Manhattan-centric critic enjoyed last year was a quince-and-rose-glazed cut of suckling pig, which those noted Manhattan tapas aficionados Alex Raij and Eder Montero serve as an occasional special at their new Cobble Hill restaurant, La Vara. And if you crave scrupulously authentic home-style Northern Thai specialties like chopped duck salad or fiery pork laap, there is now no better place to find them in all of New York than at Andy Ricker’s multi-star, no-reservations Thai restaurant Pok Pok Ny, which has been mobbed by a chattering rabble of thrill-seeking food tourists from all over the city since it opened its doors last summer on Columbia Street, down by the lonely docks of Red Hook.
Instead of finding a stylish spot in the West Village to follow up his hit Williamsburg breakfast joint, Egg, George Weld opened Parish Hall down the block, on North 3rd Street, where it’s a pleasure, on a brisk winter’s evening, to sit at the spare, Ikea-style bar with assorted artisanal hemp-weavers and chocolatiers from the neighborhood and dine on Slow Food specialties like grass-fed-lamb tartare, steamy bowls of Cayuga-flour dumplings threaded with turnips and Swiss chard, and wedges of a classic French pear tart for dessert, which the kitchen tops with scoops of vanilla ice cream flavored with the faintest hint of blue cheese. Justin Hilbert trained at Mugaritz in Spain and wd-50 in Manhattan, among other grand international kitchens. To sample this young chef’s polished brand of cooking today, travel out to Gwynnett St., in the eastern stretches of Williamsburg, where the specialties on the sophisticated, modestly priced menu include fresh-baked blocks of whiskey bread, sweet strips of lamb’s breast dabbed with yogurt and caraway seeds, and a delicious house Amish chicken, which Hilbert cooks to a notable tenderness using the latest molecular-gastronomy techniques, then flavors, in elevated farm-to-table style, with a whiff of burned hay.
Kings County now boasts its own Manhattan-style hotel-scene restaurant called Reynard, in the new Wythe Hotel, where the McNally-esque bistro menu features eggs mayonnaise; tubs of rustic, properly grainy duck rillettes; and a surprisingly excellent grass-fed-beef burger, righteously ground by the hotel’s butcher in-house. Even my rabidly anti-Brooklyn friend the Steak Loon concedes that the excellent Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue, on Third Avenue in Gowanus, “is as good a new barbecue restaurant as we’ve seen in New York.” And if you’re looking for a Manhattan-size selection of briny fresh oysters to go with your carefully stirred absinthe cocktail, Maison Premiere, on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, offers 33 varieties, along with an impressive new small-plates menu featuring suckling pig garnished with black trumpet mushrooms and $21 helpings of roast pigeon served by bustling waiters wearing white bistro aprons and bow ties. The $34 top-loin Wagyu-beef coulotte steak on the menu at Roberta’s veteran Angelo Romano’s new restaurant, The Pines, is undoubtedly the grandest cut of beef ever served in the vicinity of the Gowanus Canal, and if you don’t feel like hopping a plane to Norway to experience the great Scandinavian culinary revolution, the next best thing may be to book a seat at Aska, where the former Frej chef, Fredrik Berselius, serves seasonal, sparely constructed dishes of smoked fish, edible seaweed, and tuber root in a Williamsburg design space called Kinfolk Studios. For the ultimate in New Brooklyn dining, however, this critic’s choice is Battersby, which the former Blue Hill and Gramercy Tavern chefs Joseph Ogrodnek and Walker Stern opened a little more than a year ago in a Lilliputian storefront space on Smith Street. The tiny, brick-walled room looks like a parody of the kind of scruffy, self-important restaurant the borough used to be famous for, but don’t let that fool you. Ogrodnek and Stern are equally at home with Asian fusion (the crispy kale salad), elevated comfort cooking (the pork belly Parmesan), and the old-fashioned glories of classic French technique (if you see anything to do with sweetbreads on the menu, order it). At $85 per person, their seven-course “spontaneous” tasting menu is one of the best deals in this entire tasting-menu-saturated town.
2. Asian Hipster Cuisine Has Replaced Asian Fusion Cuisine.
Long ago, Asian fusion was the all the rage in trendy culinary circles, but these days Asian Hipster is the fashionable phrase on many jaded Manhattan chowhounds’ lips. At his eponymous West Village restaurant, Wong, on Cornelia Street, the talented Simpson Wong dresses his light, temperate Southeast Asian creations with sunflower sprouts (on shrimp fritters) and shiitake mushrooms (over rice noodles), but if you’re in the market for a stout Chang-style feast, try the appropriately named typhoon lobster, which Wong and his chefs toss, in grand neo-Cantonese style, with curry leaves, crispy garlic, and industrial amounts of ground pork. Pork, in all its variegated glory, is also the favored ingredient at the new New York branch of San Francisco chef Danny Bowien’s neo-Sichuan restaurant Mission Chinese Food, which has been mobbed by hordes of lumberjack-shirted hipsters since it opened last year in a small, faux-carryout space down on Orchard Street. Because the wait in the evenings can be two hours or more, go at lunchtime, when the toolshed-size room is slightly less raucous and crowded and it’s possible to digest Bowien’s gut-busting, wickedly peppery meat-bomb creations—stir-fried pork jowls, plum-size lamb-cheek dumplings soaked in spoonfuls of chile oil, an inspired riff on Sichuan pork called thrice-cooked bacon—with the benefit of a long afternoon nap.
To the endless, ever-expanding list of noodle joints and neo-Asian dive bars inspired by Mr. Chang, let’s add Top Chef contestant Leah Cohen’s pig-centric Lower East Side establishment, Pig and Khao, Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto’s long-awaited new comfort-food venture, Tribeca Canvas, down on Church Street, and Danji chef Hooni Kim’s new Korean gastropub, Hanjan, which opened last month in the Flatiron district. Gaonnuri, in a panoramic dining room on the 39th floor of an anonymous office tower hovering over Koreatown, is the place my savvy Korean friends go whenever they want to experience the classic pleasures of real Korean barbecue in a modern, Seoul-like setting, and when my brother and I want to relive the glory days of our misspent youth in old Tokyo, we visit the new Manhattan flagship of the popular Japanese restaurant chain,
Café China, in midtown, is the Platt family’s default choice these days for a classic Chinese supper of wafer-thin mainland scallion pancakes and perfectly steamed Shanghai soup dumplings. Whenever we want to sample the latest in New Age dim sum, meanwhile, we visit Ed Schoenfeld’s RedFarm in the West Village, where Joe Ng’s new weekend brunch features an array of flamboyant, rainbow-colored dumplings stuffed with ground lamb, crispy duck and pork, and great golf-ball-size deposits of steamed lobster. For the ultimate Asian Hipster dining experience, however, we like to pile into the car and ride out to Biang!, Jason Wang’s polished new Xi’an-style noodle emporium. Unlike other restaurants along bustling Main Street in Flushing, this one features an upbeat, hip-hop soundtrack and chic young waiters dressed in T-shirts and black high-tops. The Platt girls enjoy slurping down the endless varieties of housemade, “hand ripped” noodles piled with lamb or spicy beef, but for the full-on Xi’an experience, Dad recommends the lamb cheeks, tongue, and eyeballs tossed with hair-curling Sichuan pepper and “proprietary spices,” which you can wash down with glass after glass of cooling chrysanthemum iced tea.
3. Foraging Is Now an Urban Obsession.
Haughty Frenchmen used to be darlings of the food world, but in this age of the relentlessly local, Brooklyn-fueled artisanal delirium, more and more of the grand chefs around town seem to find their culinary inspiration while hiking through meadows, foraging for mushrooms, or curing esoteric tubers in hand-tooled pickle sheds. Exhibit A in this earthy trend is the Danish chef Mads Refslund, who comes to Manhattan via Copenhagen, where he was the founding partner, with René Redzepi, of the world-famous hunter-gatherer restaurant Noma. There is no burger available at Refslund’s stylish new downtown brasserie, Acme, and if you ask for oysters (mainly from Long Island and Connecticut, of course), they’re often served with “winter pickles.” Refslund cures his own salmon in-house and has a fondness for scattering esoteric vegetal foams and oils on his righteous Greenmarket recipes the way the Old Guard cooks used to use oil and butter. The specialties of the house are the clean, Scandinavian-style seafood preparations (e.g., the arctic char) and anything from the “Soil” section of the menu, which includes garden beets dressed with buttermilk and sweet cherries in summertime, and knobby sunchokes in the winter, which Refslund and his cooks have been known to toast like marshmallows on little pyres of burning hay.
Despite the departure of the Michelin-acclaimed Zen cooking master Masato Nishihara, members of the picky Japanese vegivore community are still flocking to Kajitsu, in the East Village, where the new Kyoto chef, Ryota Ueshima, continues to turn out an array of edifying Shojin Buddhist specialties made with delicate seasonal ingredients like mountain yams, hand-plucked spring onions, and bits of lotus root. Ground zero for farm-to-table Italian food these days is the wildly popular new West Village restaurant Rosemary’s, where the impressive, much-publicized roof garden produces enough healthful zucchini, dandelion greens, and fresh basil during the temperate months to feed an army of hungry locavores. The best time to visit the barn-size, often crowded room on Greenwich Avenue is during the more peaceable afternoon hours, when former Babbo chef Wade Moises’s menu includes an assortment of toasty panini filled with roasted peppers and strips of eggplant, ricotta and braised lamb shoulder, or summer tomatoes layered with fresh basil and strings of melted housemade mozzarella.
To experience the ultimate in high-minded, haute forager cuisine, I suggest you take a seat with the rest of the bankers and discreet big-money mushroom geeks around the polished, twelve-seat bar every evening at Matthew Lightner’s refined Tribeca tasting room, Atera. The talented Portland, Oregon, chef comes to New York by way of Noma and Mugaritz, among other famous kitchens, and like many of his mentors, he has a knack for making his recipes delicious in all sorts of unexpected ways. The dishes on the ingenious, sophisticated fifteen-course tasting menu have elemental names like Crunchy (dehydrated sunchokes made to look like tree bark) and Beet Ember (a garden beet made to look like a chunk of coal), and many are presented like found objects on pieces of driftwood and piles of stone. Save room for the wines (poured by the Dutch veteran Scott Cameron) and the end-of-meal petits fours, the best of which is a single walnut-shaped chocolate filled with faintly salty caramel and served, in high forager style, on a bed of freshly plucked moss.
4. Old-School French Food Has Risen From the Dead.
It wasn’t so long ago, in this locavore-crazed town, that assorted gasbag critics (present company included) and Internet pontificators were trumpeting the sad demise of soufflés, foie gras, and all the other delicacies dating back to the glory days of fancy French cuisine. Well, times have changed. These days, some of the most trend-conscious eaters in town are falling all over themselves to book a table in the one of the many dining rooms at Daniel Humm’s popular restaurant The NoMad at the hotel of the same name on the corner of Broadway and 28th Street. The prices aren’t cheap (the asparagus famously cost $24), and your experience can vary wildly depending on which room you’re seated in. But the solid, well-executed menu is the same wherever you sit, and the best things on it tend to be Humm’s interpretations of old Gallic favorites, like the classic beef tartare served with cornichons, and the rosy torchon of foie gras, which is molded around a torchon of tête de cochon. But Humm’s greatest creation is the $79 roast chicken for two, which is prepared in a great, medieval-size wood-burning oven, and served, like in a grand country château, with deposits of buttery foie-gras-and-brioche stuffing inserted under the crackly skin.
Whenever Mrs. Platt and I take in a show at Lincoln Center, we like to drop into Daniel Boulud’s bustling Boulud Sud, on 64th Street, where $60 buys a three-course, pre-theater prix fixe dinner filled with neo-Provençal delicacies like fennel velouté touched with green apples, slips of beautifully seared daurade, and a classic moelleux au chocolat, dabbed with passion fruit, for dessert. For a slightly racier Provençal dinner downtown, our choice is the popular new bistro La Promenade des Anglais, on the ground floor of the London Terrace in Chelsea, where the talented, peripatetic chef Alain Allegretti has found a home serving the kind of classic comfort dishes he used to eat as a boy in Nice. Everything on the menu is good, but take particular note of the blue-plate specials, like coq au vin (Tuesdays), short-rib Bourguignon (Saturdays), and the rust-colored, Marseille-quality soupe de poissons, which Allegretti scatters with shreds of Gruyère and serves with a pot of garlicky, fresh-whipped rouille.
That practiced Francophile and Boulud veteran Andrew Carmellini will be cooking up similar pleasures when he opens his new bistro, Lafayette, in a month or two, down the street from the Public Theater, but until then, the best place to sample the New Wave of French cooking downtown is Ginevra Iverson and Eric Korsh’s deceptively modest East Village mom-and-pop operation, Calliope. With its smoky mirrors and standard-issue café tabletops, this East 4th Street restaurant looks like a thousand other brasseries in town. But there’s nothing standard issue about the housemade terrines (which the kitchen constructs from scratch with tête du porc or cool chunks of lobster and braised leeks) or the nose-to-tail specialties like spicy pots of braised tripe, and tender slabs of beef tongue dabbed with an authentic sauce gribiche. The pastas—eggy rabbit pappardelle, ricotta-and-Swiss-chard dumplings with brown butter—are made from scratch, too, as are the classic French desserts, like the baba rhum, which the waiters soak with a tot of Jamaica rum and crown with a cloud of whipped cream, just like in the snooty, Michelin-starred restaurants along the Côte d’Azur.
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.
6. Tasting Menus Are the New, Well, Menus.
Extravagantly conceived tasting menus have been prevalent in the city’s high-minded culinary circles for several years now, but as ambitious young cooks, like Matthew Lightner at Atera and César Ramirez at Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, compete for the attention of ever-more distracted and discerning eaters, the range of options has never been more profuse. “Buckle in, it’s going to be a long ride,” muttered one of my world-weary gourmet friends as we examined the latest multicourse offerings available at Wylie Dufresne’s influential downtown restaurant wd-50. The city’s most consistently inventive chef recently created a $90 “From the Vault” option of his old classics, and if you have the stamina (and a spare $155), Dufresne is also serving up a new twelve-course tasting menu, which includes tender veal brisket decorated with dehydrated-mustard crisps and a cutting-edge version of Vietnamese phô, which Dufresne and his madcap assistants infuse with foie gras and crown with a weirdly delicious garnish fashioned from frizzled beef tendon.
David Bouley’s quixotic, high-end Japanese joint venture, Brushstroke, is still the best place for harried New Yorkers to sample the leisurely, rarefied joys of an old, imperial-style kaiseki dinner. But for knowledgeable young sushi freaks who don’t feel like paying a king’s ransom for their meal, the latest destination is Neta, which opened last spring among the scruffy bars and shoe parlors on 8th Street in the Village. You can always order the domestically sourced sushi prepared by former Masa Takayama acolytes Nick Kim and Jimmy Lau à la carte. But to experience the full range of the chefs’ talents, do what the New Age sushi high rollers do and plunk down $135 for the elaborate fourteen-course dinner, which, on one recent evening, included maitake-mushroom rolls scattered with truffles; numerous grades of melting, fatty, opulently rich bluefin tuna; and a tart, soothing grapefruit granita for dessert, which is presented the way the master does uptown, in a small cocktail glass with a little wooden spoon.
The most eagerly discussed new multicourse tasting experiment of all is the one under way in the kitchens of Daniel Humm’s celebrated Flatiron-district restaurant Eleven Madison Park. When the talented Swiss chef rolled out his first imaginative, ingredient-based tasting menu a year or so ago, your humble critic was moved to name Eleven Madison the best restaurant in all of New York City. But when I dropped in for lunch a few weeks ago, that concept had been scrapped and replaced with a three-hour, sixteen-course extravaganza. This elaborate culinary performance is still in its preview stage, but the new dishes include a giant iridescent cooked carrot, ground by Humm himself, picnic baskets filled with pretzel baguettes and specially brewed signature Eleven Madison Park wheat beer, and even a card trick performed tableside by a member of the dutiful wait staff.
7. The Comfort Food of the Moment Is Sandwiches.
Forget about custom-blend cheeseburgers, fried-chicken platters, and faux-Neapolitan pizza pies. These days, it’s messy, nourishing, high-end sandwiches that retro-comfort-food freaks get worked up about. There are all sorts of good reasons to visit Gabriel Stulman’s diminutive, recently opened Japanese-themed Chez Sardine, in the West Village, but the best one, at this early stage, is the sinfully delicious foie gras–and–grilled-cheese sandwich that chef Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly constructs with Québécois foie gras and melting slabs of smoked New York Cheddar. If you’re a seafood connoisseur, you won’t be disappointed with the fat, $16 fish sandwich stuffed with Montauk fluke and messy spoonfuls of rémoulade at Back Forty West in Soho. The sandwich my pork-hound friends can’t stop nattering about is the $14 monster that the accomplished Swiss chef Ralf Kuettel sells out of his excellent new pork-centric sandwich stand on West 24th Street, Rocket Pig. And if lamb is your particular addiction, I suggest you book a lunchtime table at Alison Price Becker’s neighborly new Flatiron establishment, Alison Eighteen, where executive chef Juan Carlos Landazuri braises a lamb shoulder for an hour in its own juices, crisp roasts it on a spit, then serves it in fat, melting slices between thick slabs of aïoli-slathered olive-oil bread.
At Mile End Sandwich Shop, the new Noho outlet of Noah Bernamoff, Rae Cohen, and Max Levine’s expanding deli empire, the counters are jammed at lunchtime with a motley assortment of plaid-shirted hipsters and salivating hedge-fund pastrami fiends wolfing down iconic sandwiches, like the play on that Buffalo roast-beef specialty, beef on weck, and the delicious house fried-green-tomato sandwich, which Bernamoff leavens with crunchy pickled vegetables and an elegant schmear of blue cheese. There are all kinds of inspired, postmillennial deli creations on the menu of Jeffrey Chodorow’s improbably polished experiment in nouveau American Jewish cuisine, Kutsher’s Tribeca, but the dish I can’t get out of my head is that old reliable, the Reuben, which the wise deli men in the kitchen build with slabs of thick, decadently fatty deckle-cut pastrami. The chicken parmigiana on a semolina roll is still my favorite sandwich treat at Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone’s seminal haute Italian deli counter, Parm, and whenever I seek a corrective to all the greasy, overpriced, overhyped haute burgers around town, I slip off to The Dutch in Soho for a taste of the uncannily realistic Green Label veggie burger, which Andrew Carmellini makes with mushrooms, black beans, rice, and an edifying mash of purple, improbably beefy-looking fresh garden beets.
8. Breakfast Has Gone Global.
Not so long ago, a runny helping of eggs Benedict washed down with a mimosa or two was the cultivated New Yorker’s idea of the ultimate international breakfast. But these days, the city is awash in so many inventive new brunch-time creations inspired by food from around the globe that it’s hard for even the most diligent breakfast maven to keep track of them all. At the crowded dining counter at Michael White’s rustico downtown pasta palace, Osteria Morini, the canoe-size guanciale-and-egg sandwich is available as an off-the-menu special, if you ask politely, on weekends only. And at Seamus Mullen’s nouveau tapas joint, Tertulia, on Sixth Avenue, the weekend brunch menu includes scrambled eggs dotted with plump ruby-red shrimp, platters of smoked-lamb-and-potato hash, and the chef’s famous ode to the Egg McMuffin, made with a toasted Spanish olive-oil roll, crushed eggs and potatoes, and sticky, deep-red curls of 36-month-old Iberico ham.
The superb fried Yard Bird with mashed potatoes and mace gravy is the thing I always order when I visit Marcus Samuelsson’s perpetually mobbed uptown brasserie, Red Rooster, but if you go at brunch time, you can also sample ribbons of Swedish gravlax dressed with a mustard vinaigrette, and platters of lamb and potato hash, which Samuelsson flavors, Scandinavian style, with chopped beets and sprigs of fresh rosemary. Similar eclectic breakfast pleasures are available down in Battery Park City at Danny Meyer’s latest fine-dining venture, North End Grill, where my daughter Penelope and I like to repair, on brisk Saturday afternoons, to dine on tall stacks of pancakes touched with bourbon and crème fraîche and an inventive version of eggs Benedict, which chef Floyd Cardoz makes with johnnycakes instead of English muffins and spoonfuls of fresh-whipped hollandaise spiced with chipotle.
If you’re in the mood for a proper Montreal-style nose-to-tail breakfast, there’s no more civilized venue than Hugue Dufour and Sarah Obraitis’s M. Wells Dinette, at MoMA’s PS1 in Long Island City, where $24 buys a crock of oats mingled with foie gras and a great hubcap-size tortilla española, flavored with blood sausage and served with half of a toasty French baguette. For the best breakfast tortilla in town, my discerning, breakfast-loving daughter, Jane, suggests you proceed to the East Village to the newest branch of Alex Stupak’s mini Mexican-restaurant empire, Empellón Cocina. The focused brunch menu contains exotic delicacies like slow-poached eggs with challah toast and green-chorizo gravy, and a delicious version of chilaquiles chopped into crunchy little squares and topped with black beans and two sunny-side-up eggs. Most exotic of all, though, is the lobster dish, which Stupak serves as a kind of communal fondue made with chunks of fresh Maine lobster and melted Spanish tetilla cheese, with a stack of warm hand-rolled flour tortillas on the side.
9. All the Good Italian Joints Are Downtown (and Tiny).
Grandiose uptown dining halls used to be the fashion in the ceaselessly popular realm of Italian restaurants, but with the success of closet-size establishments like Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi’s Torrisi Italian Specialties, on Mulberry Street, more and more of the city’s trendy pasta joints seem to be popping up downtown, in smaller and smaller spaces. If you don’t believe me, try getting a table at Gabriel Stulman’s tiny new Village Italian joint Perla, where the garage-size room is jammed, most evenings, with raucous groups of party girls grazing on rustic, peasant delicacies like agnolotti stuffed with roasted beef cheek and slabs of crostini spread with honey and ricotta. There are plenty of pastas to choose from on Stulman’s characteristically bountiful, overstuffed menu, but the real specialty of the house is the world-class bone-in rib eye for two, which the great nose-to-tail cook Michael Toscano chars in his wood-burning oven, and piles, for extra fatso pleasure, with a mountain of borlotti, corona, and cannellini beans splashed with spoonfuls of balsamic vinegar and fat drippings.
The unobtrusive, underrated new Soho restaurant Angolo Soho offers similarly hefty carnivorous specialties (blood sausage, a spicy double-cut pork chop) on its surprisingly accomplished menu, but the establishment’s best dish, to my mind, is the simple fettuccine alla carbonara, which the former Dell’Anima chef Michael Berardino crowns in classic Roman style, with salty nuggets of pancetta and a single, vividly orange, raw egg yolk. There’s something for everyone at Gabe Thompson and Joe Campanale’s latest downtown collaboration, L’Apicio, including numerous artfully composed salads for light eaters, fifteen varieties of pastas and polentas for carb-loving Italian traditionalists, and a delicately gingery, multitiered vanilla semifreddo for those with sweet tooths that tastes like something you’d find during holiday season in one of the more respectable restaurants around old Firenze. But no downtown operation packs more range, variety, and essential Italian goodness into one relatively small space these days than the painstakingly rusticated market-and-restaurant Il Buco Alimentari e Vineria. The dining counters and cramped little communal tables of the wildly popular Il Buco spinoff on Great Jones Street tend to be packed at dinnertime with legions of uptown pasta scholars and clamorous local chowhounds. But at lunch, many of chef Justin Smillie’s grandiose meat dishes (slow-roasted short ribs, golden slabs of porchetta) are served in slightly more manageable (and modestly priced) sandwich form, and it’s possible to sample the impeccably seared polpo à la plancha, and bowl after bowl of faithfully rendered pasta classics—the Sicilian-style swordfish calamaretti; the buttery, peppery bucatini cacio e pepe—without getting elbowed, New York style, in the nose.
10. Uptown Extravagance Isn’t Quite Back, But $55 Steaks Are Gradually Reappearing.
My food-savvy mother used to wait for months between calls from her bilious, downtown-centric restaurant-critic son about a promising new dining spot opening in her uptown neighborhood. Lately, however, her phone has been ringing off the hook. The legions of normally discreet, unflappable Italian-food lovers on the Upper East Side are gleefully counting the days until the great pasta god Michael White opens the doors of his latest haute rustico outlet, Ristorante Morini, in the old former Centilore space on 85th and Madison. Until then, the place to see and be seen, among members of the local pasta cognoscenti, is Cesare Casella’s glossy new Madison Avenue market and restaurant, Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto. Unlike the popular West Side branch of Casella’s mini salumeria empire, this elevated little establishment features a poshly decorated dining room with white leather chairs, linen-covered tables, and frescoes featuring lounging Romans. There are all sorts of elaborate uptown preparations on the menu, but the dishes that work best are the ones that retain a trace of Casella’s trademark Tuscan style, like the plump, rosemary-perfumed pork chop and the pressed country chicken (pollo pressato), which my mother likes to complement with a bowl or two of Tuscan fries tossed with rosemary and cloves of fried garlic.
Until the kitchen at his latest exorbitantly priced, extravagantly renovated neo-speakeasy townhouse restaurant, Bill’s Food & Drink, finds its sea legs, Crown, on 81st Street, across from the Frank E. Campbell funeral chapel on Madison Avenue, remains the best place for uptown swells to sample former Waverly Inn chef John DeLucie’s particular take on ye olde Gilded Age delicacies like $55 cuts of steak Delmonico, smothered with spoonfuls of port-laced Bordelaise sauce, and large platters of roast Muscovy duck, cooked for two. Pork belly, house-smoked beef tongue, and a mug of foamy, gently intoxicating Milko-style pilsner is my dinner of choice whenever I drop into the excellent little gastropub Hospoda in the Bohemian National Hall on East 73rd Street. I’ve also been known to haunt The Penrose, nine blocks north on Second Avenue, where the lethal, jauntily named house cocktails (Jack Rabbit Club, Old Pal Spencer) cost a modest $11 and the menu includes a stout, Irish-style “spiced beef” brisket sandwich and the best custom-blend LaFrieda burger in this otherwise burger-challenged part of town. If you’re prepared to plunk down a small king’s ransom for expertly cooked pastas and an almost perfect rendition of vitello alla Milanese, then the great restaurateur Sirio Maccioni’s posh new brasserie Sirio Ristorante, at the Pierre, is the place for you, and if you’re in search of an old-school, heart-stopping steak dinner while wandering the canyons of midtown, I suggest you enter the scrum at Steve Hanson’s raucous new beefeater outlet Strip House Midtown and call (loudly) for the generously sized, beautifully charred Porterhouse for two, along with several servings of the signature house potatoes, which are shaped in little domes and crisped in flagons of goose fat.