Destination: New York
Opened in 2010, this wine bar and restaurant on Madison Avenue has excellent service, a casual vibe and a menu replete with all the Mediterranean favorites. The original outpost is on second avenue, but this branch is more upscale and refined.
This Nolita mainstay is a great choice for breakfast or brunch. I love their baked eggs and their avocado toast. On nice days you can sit outside on the street and people watch. Mott Street is not overly crowded, but there is a pleasant flow of people. There’s a second branch of Gitane in the Jane Hotel (113 Jane St.) as well.
If you’re in NoLita to shop, fuel up at Café Habana. Its Cuban cuisine is so deliciouso that diners happily sit cheek by jowl. The roast corn on the cob is legendary.
For a relaxed repast and some of Manhattan’s most scrumptious pastries, head to this Francophone-packed hole in the wall.
Dean & DeLuca
If you’re on the run shopping, you might want to grab a coffee at Dean & DeLuca. When it opened its doors in 1977, this SoHo institution brought an entirely fresh and refined aesthetic to food retailing. It probably helped transform the neighborhood’s denizens into the consummate foodies they are today! Now there are branches all over the city.
Whether you’re stopping in for a meal, a glass of wine and charcuterie plate, stocking up for a dinner party or packing a picnic basket, Eataly has officially put every other gourmet market in the city to shame. Corner to corner, Eataly’s staff are rolling balls of fresh mozzarella, slicing strands of fresh squid ink fettuccine, or helping customers decide which restaurant to try (there are six). A year-round beer garden boasts a retractable roof.
Having spent many years living in Europe, I’m always puzzled by the lack of real cafes in New York City—the kind where you can linger over a cup of strong espresso, read the paper, chat with the owners and see the same faces (of course I blame Starbucks). One notable and happy exception is Epistrophy, a bohemian café and wine bar in Nolita that opened in 2005 but has managed to remain somewhat of a secret. Owners Luca Fadda and Giorgia Zedda, an adorable Italian couple from Sardinia, have created a living room-like space that’s hip and laid-back at the same time, with couches and mismatched tables and chairs. Besides coffee and a short list of wines, Epistrophy also serves some light food (mainly salads, paninis and meat-and-cheese platters), making it a wonderful spot for a quick break on a shopping spree in the area. Or you can take your cue from the ex-pat Europeans who bring their computers (there’s free WiFi) and settle in for the afternoon, slowly moving from ordering cappuccinos to the first glass of wine in the early evening. Cash only.
There’s been a pub at this site since 1847, making it the city’s second oldest continuously operated food and drink establishment. After more than a century of being a workingman’s bar, Fanelli’s became a hangout for the artists who moved into SoHo in the 1960s. By the end of the 1990s, the clientele was as much tourist as local. (Today the locals are mostly corporate lawyers and financiers!) Still, I recommend grabbing a beer and a burger in this former speakeasy. With its wood paneling, fleur-de-lis tile floor and old red-and-white-checked tablecloths in the back room, it hasn’t lost its old character. If you’re wondering, the photos of boxers on the walls are of fighters admired by the late owner, Michael Fanelli, himself a former boxer.
John Dory Oyster Bar
Housed in the Ace Hotel, John Dory Oyster Bar is a funky hangout, with eclectic blue and green leather chairs, brass tables and black-tiled walls, not to mention two aquariums and laminated fish punctuating the walls. One aquarium houses fish from the Atlantic Ocean, while the other holds those of the Pacific variety, but oysters from all over mingle at the bar, where diners can sip excellent cocktails and slurp mollusks while they wait for a table. The menu has a raw bar, bar snacks and small plates, and the food is worth the wait. Reservations are only accepted for hotel guests or those in parties of 8-12 wishing to reserve the chef’s table.
Le Pain Quotidien
The casual Belgian bakery and café is better suited for café au lait and croissants than a major meal, but its location on 65th street, right across the street from Lincoln Center, makes it an insider tip for a snack before a performance. Stick to the soups, salads and tartines (open-faced sandwiches) and save room for one of the delicious pastries for dessert.
On the weekends, young hipsters mob the Magnolia Bakery, fabled for its cupcakes, late into the night. The downtown location is the original, made famous by Sex and the City; there are two other outposts, on the Upper West Side and in Midtown. Open until 12:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday evenings and 11:30 p.m. all other nights.
Nespresso Boutique Bar
The cappuccino connoisseur’s favorite “boutique bar” caters to a more fashionable breed of caffeine addict. You can also have a light lunch with paninis and salads there.
Gelato is available on every other corner in Manhattan, so why are we mentioning a new gelataria café in the Lower East Side? Because it’s attached to Sorella, Emma Hearst’s Piedmontese restaurant, which is an Indagare staff favorite. Sorella has quietly been serving some of the best Italian in the city ever since. The dining room is understated and chic, the sharing menu is inventive without being coy, the service is consistently dependable, and the food is absolutely fabulous. And because their dessert was so delicious, their gelato (in flavors like bananimal) is now available on the fly in the attached café, Stellina.
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