11 Madison Park
It took 11 Madison, the largest and arguable most highbrow of Danny Meyer’s New York restaurants, which also include Gramercy Tavern and The Modern, a while to find its groove. Opened in 1998, the restaurant was not an instant hit, rather it tried on several incarnations before fully growing into its potential. Foodies fully attribute this transformation to the immense talent of chef Daniel Humm, who arrived at 11 Madison in 2006 and has won every accolade since. Frank Bruni awarded the restaurant four stars in one of his final reviews for the New York Times (www.nytimes.com), acclaimed food writer Alan Richman wrote his final pieces for GQ about the restaurant (www.gq.com), and Humm took home the James Beard Award for Best New York City Chef in 2010.
11 Madison is the perfect combination for gourmets who are looking for a big-night-out (or a big lunch out) in a grand setting that is not in Midtown, as Le Bernardin or Per Se are. Strictly speaking, the food is French-inspired, but Humm also dips into molecular gastronomy and in the course of a meal, diners are in for many culinary surprises, especially in the slew of creative amuses that amaze and overwhelm in technique, flavor combination and taste. The wine list is well-edited and service is among the best in the city. The staff at 11 Madison is professional but warm and everyone speaks about food and wine with knowledge and passion that cannot be faked.
When it comes to the ultimate meal in New York City, 11 Madison used to barely register among gourmets. Now, Humm’s restaurant tops the list of many. Reservations are crucial.
Dine with the good-old boys at this speakeasy turned classic New York haunt, always a favorite for special occasions like birthdays and Christmas Eve dinners, when the entire dining room carols with the Salvation Army. Musts on the menu are the ‘21’ Caesar salad and ‘speakeasy’ steak tartare (both prepared table-side) and the Club is known for its chilled Senegalese Soup and ‘21’ Burger.
UPDATE: After closing due to a severe fire in 2009, Annisa completed a full overhaul, though the new dining room retains its minimalist aesthetic as well as its relaxed and intimate atmosphere. The updated menu mixes some old favorites (seared fois gras with soup dumplings) with new items inspired by Lo’s recent travels to Egypt and Southern Africa. The restaurant has also added a proper bar menu, offering delicacies such as fried squid and crispy pig’s feet with mustard.
Even with the world-class cooking of co-owner and chef Anita Lo and the savvy of Jennifer Scism, her business partner and sommelier, who runs (and designed) the place; even with its radiant reviews and devoted regulars, Annisa remains something of an insider’s secret. Tucked away on a charming street in the Village and glowing from within, Annisa (which means “women” in Arabic) has a beckoning bar in the window leading to an elegant, creamy contemporary interior with just forty-five seats.
Anita Lo is an American chef whose menu deftly channels her Chinese heritage and classic French training. For an appetizer of quail three ways, Lo piles confit legs on a microgreen salad; next, combines tortellini of quail and foie gras in a quail broth with caramelized quince; and last, layers grilled breasts on quince purée. What more do you need to know? Miso-marinated sablefish is a signature dish; a crispy stack of sautéed trout fillets arrives with a rösti potato cake; tenderloin of Australian lamb is made spicy with Szechuan pepper. And always, always (hate to spoil the surprise here), after dessert come minute chocolate-covered ice creams and teeny fruit pops.
Celebrity American chef Charlie Palmer established Aureole as one of New York’s premier dining establishments when he opened it in a two-story Upper East Side brownstone. The interior, well-known for its elaborate floral arrangements, was designed by the legendary Adam D. Tihany and regulars included moguls and foodies. Now it’s located in a less intimate space on West 42nd Street just steps from the Condé Nast building and now convenient for theater-goers to grab a bite before or after Broadway shows.
Whereas the old Aureole had a hushed environment that was perfect for intimate business talks or romantic dinners, the new one feels much more like the uptown Nobu with a boisterous after-work crowd in the wine bar and enormous glass walls displaying the impressive wine collection. The food, however, remains focused on farm fresh and sophisticated. Appetizers include foie gras with wild strawberries, anise hyssop, pistachio and brioche and a diver sea scallop “sandwich.” For a main course, you will be torn between choices like Alaskan halibut with fruits de mer, baby carrots and beans in a saffron mussel sauce and Canadian lobster tail versus Berkshire pork belly—a new twist on surf and turf that is played up with summer squash, chanterelle mushrooms, Cape gooseberries and almond emulsion. Among our favorite desserts: sweet corn soufflé, milk chocolate pudding pie and dark chocolate tore with ricotta sorbet, butterscotch and malt.
While some will prefer the old Aureole, which had a more formal and refined atmosphere, others will love this more modern and young incarnation. What matters, though, is that the magic of the food remains.
Don’t miss ordering the papas fritas with chorizo and manchego cheese from the Snack Menu. They are really divine french fries served with grated chorizo and cheese sprinkled on top.
Read a postcard from an Indagare member who took a cooking class at Aureole
Open since 1906 and a favorite location for Woody Allen movies, this old-world restaurant is decorated with 18th-century Piemontese furniture and antiques. The staff is well-accustomed to the theater crowd: diners receive a ten percent discount with a Broadway show ticket (mention when making a reservation).
This Greenwich Village restaurant is where to go for an elegant variation on the standard meat and potatoes meal. The heavily seasonal menu depends almost entirely on local products, and the 55-seat dining room is a cozy place for a quiet dinner. The service is exemplary. Another bonus for date night: men seem to love Blue Hill.
In 2008, famed New York City restaurateur Drew Nieporent (the man behind Nobu and Tribeca Grill, among others) transformed his Montrachet restaurant into Corton—to critical acclaim. Frank Bruni, writing for the New York Times, gave it three stars, raving: “Corton is for the most part superb, and joins the constantly improving Eleven Madison Park as a restaurant hovering just below the very summit of fine dining in New York.” Overseeing the kitchen is Paul Liebrandt, a l’enfant terrible in the restaurant world, who is known equally well for his temper and eccentric cuisine, which both mesmerized and scandalized diners at his previous posts: Atlas and Gilt. At Corton—named after a Burgundy wine region—he seems to have found his groove, turning out an expertly prepared, well-focused menu that heavily features seasonal ingredients. It changes often but recent winning dishes included foie gras served with a hibiscus-beet gelée and blood orange; pheasant cassoulet of coco beans served with red cabbage; and butter-poached turbot. The restaurant is located in the old Montrachet space (that had three smaller dining rooms) but the interior has been utterly transformed into a single sleek and elegant—if somewhat neutral—space. The kitchen can be seen behind a narrow slit of a window, but the behind-the-scenes bustle doesn’t disturb the muted, serene ambiance here. Corton is easily one of the best restaurants to open in NYC in 2008.
One of New York’s most celebrated culinary temples, headed by star-chef Daniel Boulud, this restaurant reopened last week after a serious make-over by designer Adam Tihany (of Per Se and Le Cirque fame). Reportedly, everyone—including Boulud himself—was relieved that the arrival of the construction crews at the elegant Upper East Side townhouse coincided with the chef overseeing the opening of his newest restaurant, Maison Boulud, in Beijing.
Chef Boulud need not have worried: the new dining room and bar area have emerged looking fresh and inspired, while also preserving such beautiful original details as eighteen-foot coffered ceiling, balustrades and arches. Original new touches include large modern chandeliers with handmade Limoges tiles, as series of large contemporary art works by Spanish artist Manolo Valdés, and circular banquettes that help create intimate dining spaces. Longtime fans who miss the old-school, red-velvet banquettes will find some of them at new hot spot Aphoteke in Chinatown (Boulud, who is friendly with the owner, donated them for the space); some of the other furniture will be auctioned off at Christie’s in January.
The French menus are as inspired as ever and include often-changing, three- or six-course prix fixes and à la carte dining. The sleek, new bar area, complete with comfortable sitting areas and a gleaming bar, is a great spot to order a night cap and dessert, though one insider avowed that at Daniel, sticking to one course requires a lot of discipline. Tip: You can make reservations for Daniel at www.opentable.com. Closed Sunday.
As far as tasting menus go, Dovetail is more along the lines of Telepan than Eleven Madison Park it’s a comparatively casual fine-dining experience, with spectacular food in a clean, elegant interior. Helmed by chef John Fraser, who previously worked at Napa’s famed French Laundry, the Michelin-starred Dovetail opened in 2007. Housed in a chic brownstone just minutes from the Museum of Natural History and Central Park, Dovetail focuses on seasonal, farm-to-table dishes and has an excellent wine list.
This Midtown Mediterranean joint specializes in simple, fresh fish, as evidenced by the sprawling display of just-caught seafood, from which diners can select their meal. To maintain the purity of the fish, Estiatorio Milos goes light on sauces, serving most dishes in the traditional Greek style: grilled, with olive oil, capers and herbs. The stark white dining room with billowy cream-colored curtains pairs well with the Greek cuisine, which is priced by the pound and can get quite expensive.
This was the first collaboration of “dream team” famed restaurateur Danny Meyer and chef Tom Colicchio (it opened to huge fanfare in 1994), and it remains top of foodies lists for very good reason.
Some of its appeal is easy to nail down. First, there’s the ambiance: an American tavern with the collegial hospitality implied in that tradition but raised to a serious level of sophistication. The wood floors resemble those that were once covered with sawdust but heavy velvet curtains add a rich touch, and the antique sidetables groan with luscious floral arrangements, even in winter. Antiques and a great collection of paintings bring warmth and whimsy to each of the dining rooms. Second, of course, the food consistently elevates market bounty to masterful heights, even though Tom has moved on. Last week, I had the carrot soup with cashews, followed by butternut squash risotto with brussels sprouts and the tastes of harvest and whispers of oak resurrected memories of autumns past with each bite. When my companion and I asked to share a tarte tatin for dessert, the waitress brought a second plate with two extra scoops of apple and sour cream ice cream, so we could split the tarte in two but have our own ice cream. Danny Meyer’s philosophy of hospitality spawned a best-selling book on the topic, but it’s the final ingredient in the magic mix.
As I waited in the foyer for my friend to get his coat, I noticed a stunning landscape painting of trees. When I looked at the right corner and noticed it was signed by a painter that I admire greatly, Stephen Hannock, I exclaimed to the maitre d’, “Oh, you have a Stephen Hannock.” She smiled, “Yes,” she said. “Actually, he’s having lunch in the dining room right now.” My eyes opened wide, “Really?” She offered to show me another one of his works in the private dining room and then brought me to his table. I got to tell him what a fan I am, and as she had assured me, he was such a nice guy that he didn’t seem to mind the interruption. Walking out the door, I felt as much appreciation to the maitre d’ for making the moment happen as I did for the moment itself.
Tip: The front room, known as the Tavern, which is where the bar is, takes walk-ins so if you can’t get a reservation, try snagging one of these tables.
L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
When you click on Robuchon’s Web site, it automatically switches into Japanese, which signals two things: this chef’s world-wide popularity and his affinity for the rigor and style of Japanese cuisine. That information helps you prepare for the experience of L’Atelier, in the lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel. Seated high at a slick counter, you’re served from behind the bar where the choreographed kitchen staff moves seamlessly and in constant view.
Prepare to order many little dishes, each more complicated than the last: you’re to eat the amuse of foie gras mousse with Parmesan and port from a parfait glass with a tiny spoon; then you consume another mousse in a glass—cold sea urchin in lobster gelée. A morsel of poached lobster nestles under the thin squares of turnip that turn it into ravioli; three tiny frogs’ legs sit like so many Hershey’s kisses on a rectangular tray. The baguettes, which reduce the essence of crunch to a sublime four inches, are superb, as is a minuscule burger topped with foie gras in a brioche bun, and a healthy slab of Kobe beef. All this takes time. And patience. It’s an experience.
With a modern Italian menu, a pedigreed chef leaving the nest and a $20 million dollar space, Lincoln has naturally generated a buzz throughout the city among foodies, fashionistas and many of the city’s specially invited top chefs. After years of honing his elite kitchen skills at Per Se, Jonathon Benno opens his own restaurant at Lincoln Center. Everyone from the Times to the WSJ is reporting the space is beautiful and the food divine, and time will tell whether this hyped addition to Manhattan’s high-end food scene earns a spot among the best.
Architect Andre Kikoski, whose projects include the Wright restaurant at the Guggenheim Museum, counts Marea as one of his favorites in New York, saying: “Marea is just stunningly beautiful food, and the design updates familiar Art Deco themes and materials gracefully.” Chef Michael White and his partner, Chris Cannon are veterans of restaurants that perfectly balance lofty ambitions in the kitchen with refined dining spaces (they also oversaw Midtown favorites Alto and Convivio). Housed in the space that was occupied by San Domenico for many years, right across the street from Central Park, Marea is heavily focused on seafood (marea means tide in Italian) and vegetarians and carnivores will be limited in their choices. All is expertly prepared and Marea has garnered rave reviews since opening in 2009. The New York Times gave it a three-star review.
Mark by Jean-Georges
Since opening in the Mark hotel, the Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant has been packed and design mavens like Richard Meier have been spotted hanging out in the chic bar area. French uber-decorator Jacques Grange (who also oversaw the renovation of the hotel) envisioned a warm space with a bar area that boasts bright Venetian glass columns and cowhide-covered chairs and an elegant dining room with seating alcoves and a skylight. Vongerichten, who took his wife (then girlfriend) on a second date to the Mark bar ten years ago, said that his menu was inspired by the rustic dishes of his childhood. In fact, his favorite is a dressed-up version of a French classic: ” Perhaps my favorite new dish is my Croque M. It’s a cross between a croque monsieur and croque madame. The secret to my decadent version? I make a Mornay sauce with gruyere and comte, then spread it on slices of fresh pain de mie. I do a triple-decker version with Flying Pig Farm ham, comte, and gruyere, then broil it with a quail egg on top. Delicious.”
With a $125 tasting menu and patrons clogging the reservation line, it’s no surprise that Momofuko Ko is one of the most exclusive spots in the city. With two Michelin stars since opening in 2008, the restaurant only serves twelve diners per seating, all seated along a long kitchen table facing the open kitchen. The diminutive storefront is no indication of the meal to come, which is a thrilling two-hour-long, ten-course culinary adventure (the three-hour-long $175 lunch menu has sixteen courses). The other Momofuko restaurants Momofuko Noodle Bar, Ssäm Bar, Ma Pêche, and cocktail club Booker and Dax (momofuku.com) are worth seeking out as well, but Ko is the best for a celebration dinner. Lunch and dinner reservations accepted fourteen and ten days in advance, respectively.
Many foodies consider Thomas Keller’s restaurant in the Time Warner Center the pinnacle of fine dining in New York City. Indeed, a meal in the intimate, Adam Tihany–designed dining rom, with views of Columbus Circle and Central Park beyond, will not disappoint. A dinner here is a multi-hour experience with a parade of dishes, one more beautifully conceived, prepared and presented than the next.
Diners considering this restaurant should know that the entrance of Per Se is on the fourth floor of the Time Warner Center, New York’s very expensive version of a mall that also hosts A Voce, Masa and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Keller’s exquisite cuisine and the hushed ambience in the restaurant enchant the second you set foot into the dining room, but after the meal, you will be passing by J. Crew and William Sonoma on your way out of the building. Prix-fixe dinner at $295 per person. Reservations are essential.
Mid-town foodies have an airy new option in the neighborhood. In the same building (different space) that formerly housed Alain Ducasse’s first New York gourmet restaurant, South Gate takes a decidely more modern, more American approach. While I am a fan of Ducasse’s food, I always disliked the gloomy, glitzy decor at his Essex House outpost; it reminded me of the Addams family gone Vegas. Thankfully, South Gate is a lighter experience all the way around. Located in a soaring space facing Central Park South, the new restaurant will appeal to those who like the modern, refined atmosphere of places like Brasserie 8 1/2 or the Lever House (but blessed with natural sunlight). Designer Tony Chi, who lives in the neighborhood, evokes the kind of communal dining room that you might find if one were being added to the city’s best new buildings. There’s a fireplace framed by bookshelves, an impressive glass wall of wine and leather swivel chairs that ease you into a casual slouch. If the menu, with dishes like lobster and leek vinaigrette with cardamom and dill seeds and Arctic char with grapefruit, olives and thyme, reminds you of Eleven Madison Park that may be because the chef, Kerry Heffernan, comes from there. At South Gate, he has been able to elevate a market menu without getting fussy. When he came out of the kitchen recently at lunch and greeted diners in his whites, he had the friendly air of a passionate snowboarder (which he is in his off-time) but the confidence of a super successful entrepreneur, the kind who would feel right at home in such sleek, yet laid-back surroundings. If Grenouille upholds the kind of elegant dining of years past, South Gate points to the future. I just hope that New York is ready to embrace it.
Your first experience at Sushi Yasuda is like an initiation to a private club. An authentic sushi bar with a reputation for the freshest fish in the city, Yasuda has highly trained chefs who practice a tradition, rather than just prepare sushi. This is not a place where you’ll find Americanized rolls slathered with cream cheese, instead expect certain pieces to come with strict rules regarding use of soy sauce. The austere but chic, blond wooden-paneled dining room creates a calm setting, allowing diners to focus purely on the food. Sushi Yasuda attracts foodies, business people, and regulars like Martha Stewart. Reservations are highly recommended for both the popular lunchtime set menu, and dinner. For a sublime experience, order the omakase set and request to sit at the sushi bar with Yasuda himself. Closed Sundays.
Housed in a chic brownstone, this Upper West Side establishment features a seasonal à la carte menu as well as a wonderful four-course tasting menu. On a recent visit, the burrata mezzaluna was the star of the meal, perfectly light and creamy, with veal meatballs and tomato and parmigiano broth. Like any uptown restaurant, the décor could be a touch more eclectic, but the simple green walls and leafy interior are a nice nod to the fresh ingredients that tie each dish together. Chef and owner Bill Telepan often greets diners at the front of the house, and frequently checks in with tables to see how the meal is progressing. Telepan is perfect for a big night out for those who want something a little more laid-back than Per Se or Eleven Madison Park.
Thanks to architect Yoshio Taniguchi’s brilliant retrofit of the Museum of Modern Art into the urban fabric of the West 50s, and the equally inspired restaurateur Danny Meyer, MoMA has become the consummate repository not just of modern art but of modern eating, too. Book a table in the Modern’s formal dining room for the end of the day and get a New York view never before possible: the sun setting on the museum’s renovated sculpture garden, Picasso’s She-Goat peeking in at your table. The Modern’s masterful Alsatian chef, Gabriel Kreuther, delivers refinements of hearty ideas: terrine of cider apples, chorizo-crusted cod, Gewürztraminer poached foie gras, organic pork tenderloin marinated in wheat beer, fallow venison loin.
The same kitchen serves the Modern’s Bar Room, which has become New York’s stylish new meeting place (even on Sunday), a big easy space with a long stretch of bar and dishes served tapas-like from a well-edited menu of three courses to mix and match: the chef’s Modern liverwurst, wild mushroom soup, homemade Alsatian sausage with turnip choucroute, arctic-char tartare, roasted garlic gnocchi.
The Modern’s designers Bentel & Bentel, are responsible for MoMA’s great surprise, Cafe 2: Meyer’s reimagining of a Roman trattoria. While the Modern’s entrance is on 53rd Street, you reach the informal Cafe 2 by going to the second floor of the museum (you’ll need a membership card or day pass). The set up is smart: a wall-sized menu allows people waiting in line to make decisions in advance. Beyond the block-long counter of antipasti and panini, cured meats have their own station, starring a venerable Ferrari-red meat cutter (a machine not a man). Each order has a number; post it on a stand at your table (I like the high metal ones), then wait as servers in long patterned aprons deliver.