Destination: New York
If you want to eat with the art crowd, dine at Bottino. Set in an old Chelsea hardware store that’s been stripped down to its original wooden shelving, it’s stylish but understated, with an L-shaped dining room, outfitted with Eames and Bertoia dining chairs, which encloses a verdant, glassed-in atrium. The seasonal Tuscan fare is reliably good, and occasionally outstanding.
The Midtown power-lunch set, who was disappointed when the acclaimed Lever House closed last year, will be thrilled about this latest incarnation in the modernist dining room. Masterminded by the folk behind popular Sant Ambroeus whose West Village trattoria has is a mecca for models while the Madison Ave location draws Upper East Siders in troves. Casa Lever, decorated with Warhol silkscreens, will boast a seafood-heavy menu overseen by longtime Sant’Ambroeus chef Mario Danieli.
Although Craft outposts have appeared throughout the country, the original location in New York’s Flatiron district deserves a special mention. Celebrity chef Tom Colicchio (now a familiar face thanks to reality TV show Top Chef) opened the restaurant in 2001, and it made an immediate splash on the Manhattan food scene. The New York Times lavished it with three stars, James Beard named it the Best New Restaurant and more praise followed from every respected food publication in the business. Almost nine years later, Colicchio’s tried-and-true recipe of superb ingredients prepared simply still sets gourmet hearts a flutter.
Notable mention goes to the earthy Hen of the Woods mushrooms and the braised short ribs, both perennial favorites, but the seafood, from spanking fresh oysters to roasted daurade, is equally flavorful. The only downside is that dishes, which are meant to be shared, tend to be on the small side; in other words, over-order, and get two of anything that sounds particularly appealing. Craft does offer a private dining room, but the buzzing main area, with its high ceilings, patchwork leather wall and scuffed wooden floors is much more appealing in its sleek take on the rustic greenmarket dining trend.
TIP: Foodies will be delighted by Colicchio’s recent announcement that starting October 14, he is launching a special chef’s table every other Tuesday at the space adjacent to Craft.
DB Bistro Moderne
A contemporary and chic take on a Parisian bistro, this restaurant in the heart of the theater district makes a burger with stuffed with braised short ribs, foie gras and black truffles. If you’d prefer to eat after the show, DB Bistro Moderne offers a lovely dessert and champagne pairing nightly after 9pm.
At Amanda Cohen’s vegetarian restaurant, any dish can be made vegan, but don’t be deceived – the menu is not only for juice-cleansing health nuts. With appetizers like southern hush puppies, comfort food is abundant, and everything is beautifully plated. While some dishes may sound a little too “earthy” for some (coconut-poached tofu and sea beans?), they’re delicious; Cohen’s East Village spot has been earning rave reviews since opening in 2008.
From the minds behind the Italian empire that includes dell’anima, L’Artusi and Anfora comes this East Village spot specializing in an oft-forgotten Italian staple: polenta alla spianatora. Essentially polenta spread along a long wooden board, the classic at L’Apicio is much more than that; fluffy and impossibly creamy polenta mingles with any number of toppings depending on the night’s menu. A recent favorite involved hearty chunks of spicy pork sausage strewn atop the flavorful grain.
While it was once impossible to secure a table, fever has died down just enough so that those waiting to get in can now do so. For traditionalists, the extensive pasta menu is sure to impress; some find their garganelli verde with lamb bolognese to be better than the pastas at sister restaurant L’Artusi, although the scene is slightly less glitzy. My wonderful meal was topped off with two delicious desserts: sea salt gelato and a slice of chocolate hazelnut ice cream cake.
This Art Deco–inspired restaurant is located in the Chatwal Hotel and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week in a red leather–clad dining room presided over by an enormous fireplace. If you’re just looking for a pre- or post-theater drink, the adjoining lobby bar is a convenient choice.
Danny Meyer’s Maialino is one of those restaurant that seems to have it all: a great location (opposite Gramercy Park); an inspired design that manages to balance chic and cozy; a cool downtown vibe that keeps scensters entertained and a menu that’s interesting enough to draw the foodies. Meyer has said that Maiolino was inspired by an old-fashioned Roman trattoria, but the Devid Rockwell-designed space, with a nice bar-café area up front and airy dining room in the back, feels decidedly new-world. The menu, too, infuses classic Italian cuisine with innovation; meals kick off with anti-pasta, which may include insalata di bottarga (celery root served with a soft-boiled egg and mullet roe), lamb sweetbreads with radicchio or fried artichokes drizzled with anchovy sauce. Carnivores will be happy with all-things braised (lamb), aged (steak) and hearty (oxtails) while sweet-tooths will surely find something to please on the dolci menu. There’s a fabulous bar area, so even if you cannot score a coveted dinner reservations, cozy Maialino is a nice spot for an aperitiv and some cichetti.
Food Network chef Marc Forgione opened his namesake restaurant in 2008, and the mostly-seafood restaurant is now a classic. The Tribeca space is rustic and friendly, and the chili-lobster and chicken-under-a-brick are top notch. The downtown spot can get noisy, but patrons return for the fun atmosphere and great food.
Tucked away on a lovely side street in the West Village, the intimate Mas is the perfect place for a romantic night out. Its philosophy is based on serving freshly prepared, seasonal cuisine and diners have a myriad of choices. There’s a three-course prix fixe, a six-course chef’s menu (designed by chef Galen Zamarra according to your taste preferences) and an a la carte menu, offering even more options. It changes often, as evidenced by the fact that diners are handed a few pages, neatly tied together by twine, instead of the regular large, stiff menus. Zamarra, a James Beard Award winner and Bouley alumn, masterfully blends classic French cuisine with American flavors. A recent meal included a deeply flavorful wild porcini soup with crispy, sautéed sweet breads; a simply roasted monkfish served with carrot purree and cauliflower; and a huckleberry-almond tart with honey crème fraîche. The dining room has a wooden communal table running down the center of it and small tables lining the walls. There’s also a nice bar and small lounge area up front. Open daily for dinner.
The warm blond dining room of Jean Georges that seems to roll right out into Central Park is one of designer Adam Tihany’s most successful projects, and despite all his descendants world-wide, remains the jewel in Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s crown. Memories of meals past seem to live forever. And the peripatetic chef appears remarkably often in the open kitchen. Nougatine, the less formal dining room that shares the space, the kitchen and the ethic of perfection, is itself better than most in the city. It’s excellent for breakfast overlooking the park, the superb prix fixe lunch ($24.07) of three courses, such as yellow watermelon soup, seared salmon and chocolate peanut butter parfait, or a lovely supper, especially pre-theater.
Pure Food & Wine
This deeply stylish raw-vegan restaurant, with one of the loveliest garden decks out back, was instrumental in transforming the idea of “raw cuisine” into something accessible, chic and innovative. Nothing edible is heated to more than 118 degrees here and yet dishes such as spicy Thai lettuce wraps, tomato and zucchini lasagna and dark chocolate layer cake are full of flavor and beautifully presented. Owner Sarma Melngailis wants customers to get away from thinking of raw food as nibbling on a stick of celery, and her passion and commitment for seasonal, organic and home-grown ingredients drives the menu and wine list.
Dishes draw inspiration from across the globe, so the often-changing menu may include sushi, white corn tamales and Thai coconut noodles. Sweet tooths can rest assured that raw-vegan desserts, prepared by a former pastry chef of Gramercy Tavern, are seriously delectable—think chocolate passion fruit tart, served with fresh raspberries and framboise pearls, and ice cream sundaes topped with organic nuts and a real cherry. Says Melngailis: “If anyone is skeptical about raw food, they should have our desserts first. We don’t use any soy products, just fresh young coconut and organic nuts.” Diners sit in a beautiful wood-paneled dining room with splashes of deep reds or on a spacious garden deck, romantically lit by strings of twinkling lights. It’s the perfect setting to venture into the world of raw and vegan, or, as Melngailis would prefer you think her cuisine: organic, well-balanced and truly good for you.
Read a Q&A with Sarma Melngailis about what it means to “go raw.”
Read Sarma’s picks on the organic products and wellness- or food-focused travel destinations that inspire her
This transplant from Brussels opened to much acclaim in the fall of 2008. Located in the former Nicole Farhi store, within walking distance to Barneys, the St. Regis and the Peninsula, the sleek restaurant champions the concept of S.P.E. (Sanitas Per Escam in Latin), which translates as “health through food.” There’s a nutritionist on staff and no meal is supposed to surpass 800 calories. The concept can sound gimmicky, but there’s nothing fussy or conceited about the expertly prepared food.
Overseen by Daniel Boulud and Joël Robuchon alum Jeremy Bearman, the dishes on the focused menu are innovative, beautifully presented and good for you. Signature concoctions include a celery root and almond “panna cotta” with Peekytoe crab and grapefruit; a farm-raised rabbit Fleischnacke with chestnut pasta and market apple; and a dessert plate that consists of tiny, flavorful bites of a caramelized banana Napoleon, a roasted banana sorbet and a tiny tasting of hot cocoa. Naturally, all ingredients are local and seasonal, with a real focus on nutritional values. (Rouge Tomate’s motto is: “We all need more green.”) Chic, modern and comfortable, the airy, multi-level space is the perfect backdrop for Bearman’s cuisine. For those in need of a quick pick-me-up, there’s also a juice bar. Open Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m.
Longtime Italian favorite San Domenico traded its former Central Park South location for a glam new home on Madison Square Park. Renamed SD26, the elegant 14,000-square-foot space features a $7 million renovation complete with soaring, gold-leaved ceilings and fiber optic installations by the artist Sheila Hicks. (Her work can also be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.) Father/daughter team Tony and Marisa May shipped their chef to Rome to cook with the city’s Michelin -starred chefs for a month prior to creating SD26’s menu, and the aim is to serve some of the city’s best contemporary Mediterranean cuisine.
The East Pole
The owners of Chinatown’s The Fat Radish (www.thefatradishnyc.com) bring farm-to-table freshness uptown with sister restaurant The East Pole. It’s housed in a chic brownstone, and the location is decidedly different from the downtown alternative, the vibe more refined. Chef Nicholas Wilber’s veggie-centric dishes excel, but carnivorous types enjoy a number of options, including the famed Fat Radish bacon cheeseburger. The two-story interior abides by a black-and-white color scheme, while the lovely backyard garden is strictly green—the perfect place to enjoy your, well, greens.
The Musket Room
Opened in the spring of 2013, The Musket Room is an unassuming, cute Nolita spot serving inspired New Zealand cuisine. The rustic, white-washed façade opens to a chic two-room interior; The Musket Room, with a long walnut timber bar, and the preferred Barrel Room, looking into the restaurant’s back garden. There are five-course and nine-course tasting menus, as well as an à la carte menu featuring thoughtful dishes like mushroom custard and Chatham cod with peas, crab and pickled mussels.
The Red Cat
A favorite among Chelsea residents, The Red Cat serves delicious, contemporary American comfort food. The restaurant is just so cozy you might be tempted to forgo your theater tickets and linger over dessert.
Tom: Tuesday Dinner
Perhaps tired of having his name mostly associated with the Top Chef series on Bravo, chef Tom Colicchio, of Craft, has announced that he will be introducing special, intimate dinners. Starting on October, he will cook up multi-course dinners every other Tuesday in a 32-seat restaurant called Tom: Tuesday Dinner (adjacent to Craft at 47 East 19th Street). The meals will start from $150 and reservations can be made up to six weeks in advance.
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