Dining in New York - My Favorite Restaurants

09/20/2017 07:09 pm ET Updated Dec 23, 2017

I often meet people for long lunches or dinners. I find these the only way to really get them to open up especially if I am trying to understand the other person as a potential business partner or employee, or if I am seeking advice or mentorship. On the flip side, if somebody requests my time, I avoid meeting unless they commit to a dinner or lunch for at least 2 hours.

Various experts have attested to this format of pulling people out of their daily routine and away from disruptions in order to inaugurate a warmer relationship grounded in sincere consideration. You need an environment that eradicates pretense and posturing, and lets the partakers soften up to genuineness. Also at the end of such lunches or dinners, you should always set up time for the next opportunity to get together or touch base so that you have continuity. A new restaurant perhaps!

New York has some of the world's best restaurants and people want to explore them. However, as everybody would have noticed, many are noisy and cramped. Although that tends to go with the flow of being in the Big Apple, it's not the easiest thing to get to know the other person when you are sitting 6 inches away from the next table, or have to talk over a bunch of people to be heard.

I have been living and working in New York for the past 20 years and have visited many of the great restaurants in this city either on a personal, social, or business context. When friends or colleagues visit the city, they tend to ask for recommendations, and the ones I have seen been thrown at them are average at best. Just because a restaurant receives positive mass reviews on Zagat or Yelp, or a Michelin star rating does not mean it’s a must visit. There are several other parameters to consider.

The list I offer below is broken up by cuisine. These watering holes are my personal favorites in New York. I have visited every one of them, at least twice, and would recommend taking your friends, clients, business partners or significant others to any of them.

You can sit down and have a decent conversation at any of these culinary establishments over some of the best and most innovative food you will come across in Gotham City. Every single one of them is unique. I have struck some of my best deals at these places and cultivated lasting friendships.

If you do visit any of the restaurants on this list and agree or disagree with me, or would like to add to this list with your own recommendations, please feel free to comment below as well as tweet @anuragharsh.

Lamb Burger

  • Breslin - Contemporary, high-end British gastropub in a hip, vintage-inspired space at the Ace Hotel. The lamb burger is immensely popular, accounting for as much as a third of all orders. The grass-fed lamb patty comes served with a slab of feta cheese, thin slivers of red onion, and a mayo spiked with cumin. Must visit.
  • Dirty French - The buxom lamb patty is topped with Bûcheron cheese, a goat's milk variety from the Loire valley, and onions cooked with cumin, evoking the flavors of the Middle East and North Africa
  • Clover Club (Brooklyn) - Six ounce lamb burger on a toasted roll with sliced red onion and chevre goat cheese, with a choice of potato chips or a green salad on the side. The patty is impressively seared and at first blush looks like a regular old hamburger patty, but it tastes a lot earthier, with that pleasing richness that lamb fat brings to the table.

Steak

  • Wolfgangs on Park Ave and 32nd - Their Porterhouse is among the best steak in New York and possibly in the United States. Anybody that tells you otherwise, doesn't really know steak - they might have had steak at hundreds of restaurants, including all those advertised in inflight magazines, or even some of the popular ones in NY, but they really don't know steak, how it is meant to be prepared, served and relished. Wolfgang Zwiener learned his craft well. Taking the core principles from his years as Peter Luger’s head waiter, Wolfgang didn’t just duplicate an exceptional steakhouse; he improved upon it making Wolfgang’s Steakhouse extraordinary. With arched ceilings tiled by the famed Rafael Guastavino, the restaurant’s architecture is stunning. This is without a doubt, my all time favorite steakhouse in the western hemisphere, north of the equator (the others are all in Argentina!)
  • Peter Luger (Brooklyn) - The one mentioned above, broke off from here. So obviously I have to mention this 130 year old, cash-only steak icon where old-school waiters serve aged beef in a German beer hall setting. This might be the best steak in America. The only downside is it is a bit of a stroll from Manhattan into Brooklyn. But for the steak of your life, who cares.

Sushi/ Japanese/Omakase

  • Cagen (means "Just Right") - Spartan, high-end Japanese offering only tasting menus with home made soba & flown-in fish
  • Kajitsu (vegetarian) - Shojin cuisine, an ancient Japanese culinary practice developed in Zen Buddhist monasteries
  • Momofuku Ko - Tiny, tough-to-reserve eatery via David Chang offering multi-course, Asian-accented meals.
  • Hirohisa - Refined, seasonal Japanese cuisine, with omakase & choice sakes, in a minimalist open kitchen
  • Jewel Bako - High-end sushi & omakase served in a casually elegant, bamboo-lined dining room.
  • Kanoyama - Basic space serving broad variety of fish (plus vegetarian options), with adjacent sake/oyster bar.
  • Kyo Ya - Posh Japanese izakaya where unique dishes parade one surprise after another. Try the Bozushi (a "pressed sushi" roll like you've never seen). A ten-course tasting menu requires 48 hours notice.
  • Sushi Ginza Onodera - Extremely high-end Midtown branch of a Tokyo restaurant group serves an omakase-only sushi menu with most of the fish flown in from Tsukiji market 
  • Sushi Inoue - Truly amazing sushi in the heart of Harlem, run by Chef Shinichi Inoue, formerly of Sushi Azabu.
  • Sushi of Gari - Chef Masatoshi "Gari" Sugio marinates raw fish in sake, works with a lively spicy mayo, and singes pieces with his trusty butane blowtorch.Such innovations may be common these days, but they're rarely equaled.
  • Sushi Yasuda - Spartan appearance to this sushi temple, where honey-toned bamboo slats are by far the warmest feature
  • Sushi Zo - Omakase multi-course tasting menu. NY branch of the acclaimed Los Angeles restaurant
  • Tempura Matsui - High end Tempura with omakase menus, battered seafood and veggies with small plates such as sashimi
  • Tori Shin - “Tori” means “chicken” or “bird” and “Shin” means “spirit”. Each bit of the bird, cooked separately, has a different pleasure to offer.
  • Ushiwakamaru - Simple Japanese by chef Hideo Kuribara with melt-in-your-mouth sushi in larger digs anchored by a counter

Spanish/ Tapas

  • La Vara (Brooklyn) - La Vara imho is the best Spanish restaurant in possibly all of New York influenced by Spain's longstanding Muslim and Jewish populations, and offers a take on Basque cooking that'll spoil you for other tapas joints.
  • Casa Mono - Little tapas joint by Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich celebrating Spain's Costa Brava in all its culinary glory. 
  • ABC Cocina - Jean-Georges' upscale farm-fresh Flatiron Latin-inspired sequel to, and better than ABC Kitchen.

Seafood

  • ZZ’s Clam Bar - With just four marble tables and a small counter, this is as intimate as it gets. The short seafood menu comes with a couple of choices under headings like "crudo," "seared" and "ceviche." Before you do anything else, order the trout roe on toast-it's a beautiful thing and will linger long in the memory. 

Chinese

  • Wu Jia Le - This is where the Chinese Ambassador to the United States dines almost every day that he is in NY. I have seen him at this establishment several times. Close to NewsCorp, Fox and several other media outlet buildings, this is a popular venue for sit down business Chinese cuisine. Spicy Sichuan-Chinese fare including dan dan noodles & camphor-smoked duck in a simple setting.
  • Cafe China - Blink and you'll miss its inconspicuous façade, but what a shame, for Café China is a little journey into the magnificent pleasures of Sichuan cuisine by way of midtown. Inside find a long, narrow space fitted out with seductive portraits of 1930's Shanghai starlets, bright red chairs, bamboo planters and a dominating marble-and-wood bar. After struggling with their on-again-off-again popularity, this kitchen is back to their A-game, producing Sichuan (and Sichuan-influenced) dishes with aplomb. Their particular strength lies in the elegant and effortless contrast of complex flavors, even when the prep is decidedly simple-as in the delicious steamed eggplant and ginger sautéed duck. Pickled vegetables achieve harmonious balance between sour and fiery notes; while thinly sliced conch pairs perfectly with tingly chili oil. Sichuan pork dumplings arrive in a delicate wrapper and atop a delicious bath of soy and chili oil. But save space to savor the Chungking chicken, alternately tender and crispy, with abundant dried chilies, scallions and sesame seeds. Spicy cumin lamb, fried to gamey perfection and tossed with sesame seeds, chili peppers and cilantro, is yet another smoky treat.

Mexican

  • Casa Enrique (Queens) - Chiapas. Puebla. San Luis Potosí. One can literally taste the regions and cities that Chef Cosme Aguilar's amazingly complex menu explores-including his own childhood recipes to honor his mother's memory. A steady stream of hungry diners seeks out this rather small, tasteful dining room for friendly yet professional service and soul-warming fare. Aim for the large, fantastic communal table. Start your meal with hearty rajas con crema, combining none-too-spicy poblanos with sweet, fresh corn, Mexican sour cream, and cheese served alongside a stack of fresh and slightly toasty tortillas. This kitchen's tender chicken enchiladas with mole de Piaxtla may induce swooning, thanks to a sauce that is unexpectedly sweet yet heady with bitter chocolate, raisins, almonds, cloves, cinnamon, chilies, garlic, sesame, and so much more, with incomparable results. It's the kind of food that thrills palates (and tempts wanton thoughts). Expect the chamorros de borrego al huaxamole to arrive falling off the bone and redolent of epazote, allspice, and pulla chilies. Its fruity-spicy broth is drinkable. Every bit of every spongy and buttery layer of the cow and goat's milk pastel tres leches is absolutely worth the indulgence.
  • Cosme - This place is a thrill. The tortillas here as just out of this world. The aroma of these tortillas is completely wholesome, like flowers, bread straight from the oven, and super soft at the same time. There are no tortillas remotely like this in New York. Cosme makes them downstairs in the kitchen from old strains of blue, yellow, purple and white corn grown in Mexico. Many seafood and vegetable dishes turn out to be salads, or something like a salad, approachable, simple-seeming assemblages with a jolt of the unexpected. White ayocote beans, which look like cannellinis and are as creamy as any bean I’ve tasted, are surrounded by mixed greens and sliced radishes, all looking innocent enough; it’s the habaneros and charred cucumbers in the dressing that get you. The raw hamachi dabbed with lime and jalapeño sounds like another crudo variation, but the jalapeños are fermented and the limes dried until they turn black; together their flavor is so intense it could walk through bricks. Scallops and poached jicama, cut into white discs that you can’t tell apart until you bite down, are dressed with lime juice and cucumber; it seems like a traditional aguachile, but the sneaky, sideways heat comes from grated wasabi. Mr. Olvera doesn’t use heat and spice as weapons; he uses them like a pen, to sharpen and define the outlines of a dish. Dried ground chiles provide some backbone to a sweet pineapple purée served with firm, flavorful cobia and warm tortillas, for making an exhilarating seafood version of tacos al pastor.
  • El Atoradero (Brooklyn) - Chef/owner Denisse Lina Chavez's beloved bodega-restaurant. The Mexican-born Chavez, a native of the Puebla region, has a serious indigenous ingredient pipeline to her home country going-an advantage that shows up in her delicious mole poblano and pozole. Tuck into tender tacos stuffed with fragrant, spicy lengua or plump camarones, or even nutty, pitch-perfect mole poblano y pollo dusted with sesame seeds. A daily special of lamb shoulder arrives perfectly juicy and flavorful, served with a side of rice and beans. The new location offers a smattering of tables and a bar, housed in a homey interior with bright pineapple motifs that hark back to its original digs.

Thai

  • Ayada Thai (Queens) - What a menu it is, with dishes like the crispy catfish salad, paired with green mango and laced with a perfectly balanced lime dressing; a whole, deep-fried snapper, served with shredded green mango and tamarind sauce; a bowl of chewy drunken noodles sporting crisp green beans and tender chicken in a fragrant chili-garlic sauce; or fresh ripe mango and sticky rice, steamed to pearly, translucent perfection and carrying flavors of of sweetened coconut milk.
  • SriPraPhai (Queens) - Worth the trek on the 7 train or a 20 min cab ride from Manhattan, this Woodside holy grail of Thai food offers an enormous choice of memorable dishes at varied heat levels (make sure you really mean it if you ask for very spicy); although cash only with perfunctory service and decor, it's out-of-this-world.
  • Pok Pok (Brooklyn) - It takes a special talent to bridge the gap between Brooklyn and Northeast Thailand, but Chef Andy Ricker does so deftly, having dedicated his life to the study of Northern Thai cuisine. Pok Pok Ny is the delicious manifestation of that education, along with his ongoing travels. Tucked into the Columbia Street waterfront district, this casual spot offers seating along a long bar, as well as at little tables covered in checkered colorful plastic. Service is equally laid-back-the young, trendy servers mill about in chambray shirts, while crooning Thai pop music wafts overhead. Don't leave without trying the khao soi kai, a rich coconut curry with springy egg noodles and tender chicken; or laap, a warm hand-minced pork salad.
  • Somtum Der - Tucked along the fringes of Alphabet City, a little taste of authentic Isaan Thai awaits. Originally based out of Bangkok, the New York outpost of Somtum Der offers a cozy little enclave for the East Village set, stylishly accented with bright pops of red, and a welcome glimpse of the kitchen's somtum station. There, you'll spy large glass jars of peanuts, dried red chilies, and spices-the contents of which are ground by mortar and pestle to produce what some claim is the city's best green papaya salad. Order big here, for the portions aren't massive and the food is so terrific you'll inevitably want more. The kitchen is happy to kick things up a notch, spice-wise, but you'll need to request the hotter end of the spectrum for greater authenticity.

Indian

  • Tamarind Tribeca - Cost $5 Million to build this high-end Indian kitchen serving upscale versions of classic dishes in a modern, soaring space oozing with grandeur.
  • Moti Mahal Delux - New York's best butter chicken and tandoori chicken in a dining room with a lovely, elegant but relaxed vibe. Introduced to the West by Gaurav Anand (also owner of Bhatti Indian Grill in Midtown and Awadh on the Upper West Side)
  • Junoon - Indian fine-dining, beautifully prepared and elegantly presented dishes. Great Indian cocktail selection as well.

Scandivanian

  • Luksus - Luksus is Danish for “luxury” although the simple wooden dining room is more cosy cabin than chic dining destination. Located at the back of Danish craft beer hall Tørst in Brooklyn, Luksus draws inspiration from the New Nordic movement with a tasting menu that is big on foraged ingredients. Typical dishes: The 15­ course menu could kick­off with smoked bluefish broth and mackerel with Jerusalem artichokes and watercress, followed by lamb marinated in soy and vinegar and artfully presented cuts of goat (leg and belly) with salted plums and smoked rutabaga. A little on the chef: Originally from Canada, the bearded Burns previously headed up R&D at Momofuku and ran the pastry section at Noma in Copenhagen for three years.
  • Aska - “Wait, do I eat the rock, too?” is a legitimate question to ask here. Seasonal Scandinavian tasting menus & wine pairings in an intimate space, plus a cellar bar/garden. At this Williamsburg restaurant, Fredrik Berselius, one of the most creative and challenging chefs since Paul Liebrandt (under whom he worked) is making some of the city’s best fancy food. 
  • Agern - Inside Grand Central Terminal, this airy Scandinavian arrival from Claus Meyer (co-founder of Copenhagen's Noma) showcases locally farmed and foraged ingredients with its dishes offered on two tasting menus (one centered on vegetables) or à la carte; natural woods, charcoal banquettes and central counter seating distinguish the space.

Italian

  • La Sirena - Maritime Hotel magnet by Batali & Bastianich for housemade pastas & other upscale Italian fare. Having honed his skills at Del Posto and Babbo, Chef Josh Laurano has been ordained to execute this New York-style take on Italian dining. Pastas such as creamy lasagne al pesto e patate or zesty tonnarelli neri with seafood are sure to be a highlight and best enjoyed as the bis portion, split between you and your guest. Panelle, mint, and pomegranate molasses combine for a Sicilian-inspired backdrop to succulent lamb chops. When asked if you would like bread, your answer should be enthusiastically affirmative-the freshly baked semolina loaf is fabulous. Campari-soaked babà is an untraditional but nonetheless delightful pastry nicely paired with basil gelato.
  • Carbone - Red sauce Italian restaurant theater, and it’s a show you shouldn’t miss. This is one of New York City’s absolute best restaurants. This spot from tag-team chefs Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone, is a Godfather hangout on steroids.
  • Babbo - Buzzing carriage house featuring the high-end Italian fare of prestigious chef Mario Batali. Phenomenal pastas and other exceptional dishes delivered by a polished team in warm if boisterous carriage house digs.
  • Faro (Brooklyn) - Focus is on handmade pasta using local grains, and utilizing NY farms and farmers to create delectable, seasonal American dishes. Menu changes often.
  • Del Posto - One of the best special occasion restaurants in New York City. Think of it like a more upscale Babbo, or Daniel with pasta. Showcases the Batali-Bastianich magic with inspired cuisine and an extraordinary wine list in a glamour palace setting.
  • Marea - There are some restaurants that have a discernible pulse that makes you immediately aware you've arrived somewhere a little special. At this elegant and refined Italian restaurant you aren't so much as welcomed in as taken in hand and enveloped in a sort of benevolent bubble of care. It's a grown up establishment with a suitably urbane clientele who all look at home in this part of town. Sit in the main dining room where all the action happens, As the name suggests, seafood and shellfish lie at the heart of the menu. And needless to say, the ingredients are not only of irreproachable quality but are also treated with respect and deftness by the kitchen, whether it's the brilliant white halibut or the salt-baked wild bass. Start with the crudo, and then head for a generous bowl of homemade pasta such as tagliolini with clams and calamari, followed by a whole fish or a classic entrée. It's not of course compulsory to stick to fish-the lamb chops make a worthy alternative. The wine list is a deserving tome and along with the big names are some lesser known growers who merit investigation.

American/ Nouveau

  • Aldea - Great Portuguese cuisine. Those who like to eat while deciding what to eat will delight in an appealing petisco or snack-the crisp and refreshing gin and tonic macaron for example-served to kick off the four-course meal. The menu reflects the seasons and is full of dishes to match that Southern European climate: they are bright, sunny, and you feel they are doing you good. Nothing says the Med more than bacalhau-here served grilled and set over earthy-sweet sunchoke purée, finished tableside with enriched soy sauce. The kitchen is equally adept at more warming, comforting dishes-try the grilled quail with butternut squash and pumpkin seeds. Aim for items that remain truer to their Portuguese heritage rather than Japanese embellishments.
  • Caviar Russe - Contemporary dishes of surprising delicacy and precision, with a pleasing bias towards wonderful seafood and shellfish, such as scallops with ricotta gnudi, or delicious bluefin tuna with uni and asparagus. You get buzzed in at street level, which adds a bit of mystery to proceedings. Up the stairs and you'll find yourself in a lavish little jewel box, with colorful murals on the wall, Murano chandeliers hanging from an ornate ceiling, and semi-circular booths.
  • The Modern - This restaurant has one of NY's most prized locations, designed to capture the iconic feel of the Museum of modern Art (MoMA) in which it is seamlessly housed. Chef Abram Bissell and crew are wowing the patrons with excellent food and warm, well-timed service. Appealing dishes showcase clean flavors and may include roasted cauliflower composed with creamy crab butter, almond-cauliflower purée, and crabmeat. Delicate balance and top ingredients are at the height of an exceedingly tender lobster marinated with truffles and served in a luscious sauce with radishes and bright herbs. For dessert, rhubarb bread pudding is topped with vanilla-mascarpone mousse for a bit of flourish and whole lot of fun. The bar area at the Modern is equally awesome, should you not find reservations in the dining room.
  • Dovetail (great vegetarian options as well) - The name is apposite because this is one of those restaurants where all the elements fit together and complement each other perfectly, from the look of the room to the style of food and the tone of the service. This large space has a chic and sophisticated feel, with pillars breaking it up into more manageable sections to ensure greater intimacy. The service is also just right: professional and structured yet undertaken with considerable warmth-you really feel as though you're being well looked after. What sets this restaurant apart is that vegetables are given their own moment in the limelight rather than merely playing second fiddle to meat or fish. The ingredients are from the top drawer and the dishes are quite elaborate in design but pleasingly easy to eat. Fluke crudo comes at the perfect temperature so that maximum flavor is revealed; cauliflower velouté has a remarkable depth of flavor; and the sirloin and short rib reveals a kitchen strong on technique as well as an understanding of textures and the balance of flavors. It would seem churlish to end with anything other than their excellent chocolate soufflé.
  • Nix (also great Vegetarian/Vegan) - Named for the 19th century Supreme Court case that ultimately decided tomatoes are indeed a vegetable, Nix is a bright young starlet backed by some heavy hitters. Chefs John Fraser (of Dovetail's beloved meatless Mondays) and Nicolas Farias are crafting a vegetarian cuisine that makes you wonder if meat might be holding back vegetables-here they shine without it. The service team is as on-point and well-versed as a letter from the editor (Condé Nast's former Editorial Director is a partner and frequently oversees the dining room). No surprise that it fills with a unique crowd of fashionista foodies that are as visually appealing as those light fixtures sculpted from juniper roots. Green plants and skylights keep everything looking healthy and bright-it's a welcoming scene. The two à la carte menus offer intriguing vegetarian options or a more concise vegan one, which has many of the same compositions minus the dairy. Playful highlights include crisply charred avocado a la plancha served in a pool of tomato water, salted and spiked with jalapeño, finished with bits of fresh mozzarella. Fuji apple sorbet begins as a fragrant dessert, then pops with the inventive flavors of candied olive and lime.
  • Günter Seeger - Chef Seeger offers serious cooking in casual settings. Here, find a dining room that feels like a part of his own home, decorated with his own artwork, wine collection, floral arrangements, and tiered drum chandeliers covered in rosy fabric. Much of the staff wear a formal mien and the orchestrated service reflects that-as do their uniforms, which are as serious as American Gothic, but still modern. Local farmers and producers influence the nightly tasting menu with exquisite ingredients that shine in the kitchen's very capable hands. This is the eponymous chef's first foray into NY's dining scene (he is still a household name in his previous home city of Atlanta). And here he crafts a seasonal cuisine that is refined and elegant, yet also restrained and muted. Highlights include a cool and intensely fresh snap pea gazpacho with wild mint and shallots, followed by a supremely tender beef tenderloin in a pinot noir-jus reduction. Desserts like the rote grütze (red groats) with vanilla cream and green juniper berries make it immediately clear why this is a kitchen of serious standing.
  • ABC Kitchen - Jean-Georges Vongerichten's farm-to-table restaurant lets you indulge your cravings whilst playing up your eco credentials, because this is a place that takes its social responsibilities seriously and whose ethos is writ large upon the menu, with suppliers acknowledged and policies explained. They describe their extensive menu as "locally sourced and globally artistic." Fortunately their food is more convincing than their semantics-the glossy tuna sashimi is served at just the right temperature; a burger is pepped up with pickled jalapeños; and a toothsome panna cotta comes with delicious glazed figs. This accent on freshness finds its reflection in the pure white wholesomeness of the place and the youthful enthusiasm of the service team.
  • The NoMad - The reputation of the seductively louche NoMad hotel, housed within a strikingly bohemian Beaux-Arts building, owes much to the considerable talents of Will Guidara and Chef Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park, as they look after all things relating to food and drink. The glass-roofed Atrium is the chief pleasure dome but a meal in NoMad's land is a moveable feast and some prefer eating in the more languid surroundings of the Parlour, where there's a little less head swiveling and competitive dressing. Wherever you sit, you'll find the service confident and engaging and the menu hugely appealing. Don't come expecting the culinary pyrotechnics of Eleven Madison Park: here it's about familiar flavors in more approachable, less intricate dishes, but with the same care and understanding of ingredients. Chicken-which, if we're honest, would be the final meal of choice of many of us-is the undoubted star; they roast a whole bird, pimp it up with foie gras and black truffle and serve it for two. Bone marrow adds depth to beef, while asparagus with bread sauce shows the kitchen is equally adept when subtlety is required. For dessert, look no further than the aptly named "Milk & Honey."
  • Gramercy Tavern - In a roll-call of New York's most beloved restaurants of the last couple of decades, Gramercy Tavern would be high on many people's list. It is one of those places that manage the rare trick of being so confident in its abilities that it can be all things to all people. You'll probably leave happy whether you've come on a date or are here to impress the in-laws; whether you're closing a deal or simply lubricating the thought processes behind a deal. The "Tavern" side is the better one for lunch, especially if there are only two of you and you can sit at the bar-it doesn't take bookings so get here early and join in the grown-up "I'm not really queuing, I'm just standing here" queue outside. The "Dining Room" is for those who like a little more pomp with their pappardelle, and really comes into its own in the evening. The cooking is the perfect match for the warm and woody surroundings: this is American food sure of its footing and unthreatening in its vocabulary. The main component, be it sea bass or pork loin, is allowed to shine and there is a refreshing lack of over-elaboration on the plate that demonstrates the confidence of the kitchen.
  • Eleven Madison Park (Just made world’s #1 restaurant uprooting Copenhagen’s Noma) - Chef Daniel Humm's cooking is clever, innovative and even a little whimsical; it is as often robust as it is delicate. This variety and depth is what sets him apart from other chefs, and puts Eleven Madison Park on the vanguard of America's dining evolution. As before, no menu is presented here, but a conceptual shift means that diners are now empowered to choose their preferences for a number of courses. The myriad plates that subsequently appear are dramatic, like the gueridon presentation of asparagus in rosemary broth cooked sous-vide in a pig's bladder, but also display extraordinary understanding of technique, as in the dry-aged duck. The restaurant is housed within the sort of grandeur that could only ever have belonged to a financial institution. It's a hard space to fill; conversations don't so much hang in the air as float up to the vast ceiling and never return. But somehow the room's sheer scale and the well-spaced tables allow you to feel cocooned in your own world. Considerable help comes courtesy of the engaging staff as they explain each dish in loving terms but without ever sounding too virtuous. They also know when to talk and when to leave you to enjoying your meal.
  • Piora - It's hard to tell from the name, but this delightful retreat has a distinctly polished, upscale and intimate sensibility. A simple glow from the window in the evening hints at the treats to come. Then make your way inside, and you'll find a gorgeous interior with a few communal tables, a marble-topped bar, as well as cozy two-tops. Designed by architect Stephanie Goto, the interior is a sophisticated blend of white, woods, and gorgeous branch-like light fixtures with exposed bulbs. So yes, you'll be talking about the splendid décor, but rest assured as it won't be long before the first-rate food and graceful service catches your attention. Chris Cipollone is an accomplished chef, and his food is a marriage of equals between Italian and Asian. The result is sublime, refined and innovative fare. Dinner must begin with hot, pillowy monkey bread served in a cast iron pot, dusted with sea salt and served with rosemary-scented lardo as well as roasted seaweed butter. From there, imagine black garlic- and squid ink-bucatini studded with meaty Dungeness crab, maitake mushrooms and Fresno chilies; or savory suckling pig with mustard seeds, grilled sweet onions, orange and oven-roasted cabbage.
  • Blue Hill - Chef Dan Barber's iconic venue remains the paragon of farm-to-table dining in Manhattan by virtue of its seasonal lineup of pampered product. Everything on the menu is sourced from the Stone Barns Center (home to Blue Hill's Westchester farm) as well as a number of local producers. Blue Hill's intimate space has been hosting a devoted foodie following for an impressive 15-some years, and service in this former speakeasy-where fresh flowers and candlelight cast a romantic spell-is nothing less than excellent. The adept kitchen turns out contemporary cuisine, which in turn showcases the astounding quality stocked in the larder and allows vegetables to shine at all times. Asparagus spears are gently roasted to preserve their natural earthiness and coupled with vibrant beet yogurt, as well as stinging nettles cream for a perfect balance in flavor. Then, moist striped bass draped atop fennel purée is decked with soft, sweet currants and toasted salty pine nuts to form a succulent and satisfying entrée. Familiar desserts highlight still more of the kitchen's best, as is the case with light and custard-y brioche bread pudding coupled with a quenelle of pleasantly bitter cocoa nib cream.
  • The River Café (Brooklyn) - Thanks to its enviable location and stunning skyline vistas, this waterside favorite more than lives up to its reputation as one of the dreamiest escapes in town. Delicate details like fresh, fragrant flowers, beautifully set tables, and cozy rattan chairs make for romantic environs-and though the tight space has a way of turning intimate whispers into public displays of affection, all will be forgiven after a bite or two of Chef Brad Steelman's solid-as-ever cuisine. Launch into plump wild shrimp smothered in creamy Hollandaise and served with crunchy white asparagus for added texture; or the perfectly crisped crab cake arranged with creamy uni, avocado, and a light herb salad. Pearly white halibut with roasted maitakes is a testament to the kitchen's focus on simplicity and supreme freshness, while a glistening rack of mint- and mustard seed-glazed lamb-charred on the outside with an evenly pink interior-exemplifies its artistry. Enjoy dessert, as the mouthwatering offerings (think milk chocolate soufflé with melted marshmallow, or dark chocolate marquise topped with a replica of the nearby Brooklyn Bridge) are a veritable education in soigné presentations and sumptuous flavors.
  • Contra - Minimal, industrial, and in harmony with the cool neighborhood, this is the kind of classic downtown spot that draws trendy millennials from afar. Seating is either intimate or cramped, and the music is lively or loud, all depending on your mood. Enthusiastic servers add to the room's energy. Offering six courses for under $70, their prix-fixe is renowned not just for its ambition and creativity but also as one of the best values in town. While the menu format may be fixed, dishes change frequently to reflect the young chefs' wide-ranging talents and contemporary flair. The hallmarks of this kitchen are clean flavors and unfussy technique, as in raw shrimp shimmering with brown butter, served with tardivo di Treviso, matcha powder, pink grapefruit, and reddish strips of pickled radish. Then, thin slices of trumpet mushrooms served over a brunoise of Asian pear are balanced with cilantro and dill in a citrusy lemongrass broth, for perfect balance of flavor and texture. Impressive skill is behind the visual appeal in the of fluke fillet, beautifully cooked and set in a creamy pool of almond broth with golden tomato segments. A few doors down, sibling Wildair serves natural wines with signature snacks.
  • Delaware and Hudson (Brooklyn) - Just removed from the busy thoroughfare, find this understated gem adorned with little more than photographs of field-fresh produce, votives, and a tulip for each table. Service is as laid back and attentive as the ambience. That easygoing feel extends to the menu, which capitalizes on the best ingredients of the moment. Thanks to an impressive resume, Chef Patti Jackson's foundation in Italian cooking adds delicious dimension to this regional American food. Start off with an array of openers, ranging from the cool and bracing flavors of mustard-pickled sardines over arugula, to a paper-thin crostini topped with a quenelle of chicken liver pâté and julienned radish. The golden-brown chickweed pie is a signature for good reason. By the grace of the chef's upbringing in Pennsylvania Dutch country, her warm, yeasty pretzel rolls may be among the best on this side of the Delaware. Follow this with twice-cooked nuggets of buttery spaetzle composed with a springtime mélange of chopped morels and slivered green onion. End your meal on a strong, sweet note with a duo of desserts like almond cake topped with rhubarb compote, and a pitch-perfect panna cotta over a smear of lemon curd.
  • Meadowsweet (Brooklyn) - Tucked next to the steely skeleton of the Williamsburg Bridge, Meadowsweet cuts a stylish industrial figure with its glass-fronted façade, whitewashed brick walls, and original mosaic-tiled floors. Leather banquettes line the wall, and pendant bulbs illuminate one of several beautiful oil paintings of a meadow. Inside, the restaurant jumps with Williamsburg's finest -along with more than a few bridge-hoppers from Manhattan and beyond. And that's on a slow night. The fuss is quite merited. Despite ample competition in this section of town, Chef/owner Polo Dobkin and wife, Stephanie Lempert, manage to elevate the kitchen's dishes into next level territory, and they do so in a lovely, urbane setting with loads of charm and friendly service. The inventive American menu gets a lift from Mediterranean accents: a bowl of deliciously chewy squid ink "fettuccine" arrives with Spanish octopus, chorizo, hot chili and breadcrumbs; while tender duck finds its match in braised red cabbage, poached Seckel pear, and roasted Bartlett pear-and-black currant coulis. There's an impressive list of cocktails and wine; not to mention a globetrotting beer selection ranging from Austrian lagers to Japanese ales.
  • Aureole - Nestled smack dab in the middle of the melee that constitutes modern-day Times Square, Aureole's message is clear from the moment you enter its serene glass façade: drop your bags (and perhaps your shoulders) and relax-it's time to be pampered by a truly exquisite seafood-centric meal in a luxurious setting. Up front, you'll find the Liberty Room, home to a lively bar that's ideal for an after-work drink or pre-dinner cocktail; and a small collection of handsome, walnut-topped tables comprising a more casual dining area. Toward the back of the restaurant, the formal dining room cuts an impressive, elegant figure with sexy low lighting, crisp white tablecloths, and polished table settings. Dinner might begin with a beautifully composed peekytoe crab salad, sporting vibrant green avocado panna cotta, juicy watermelon and sea beans; and then move on to a gorgeous slice of fresh Alaskan black cod in a sweet and savory marinade, paired with crisp snap peas, bok choy, and choy sum. End with a stunning finale like the elegantly prepared Saint Honoré, a flaky tuile topped with a flower-shaped pinwheel piped with silky Manjari chocolate mousse and dotted with light-as-air choux puffs.
  • The Finch (Brooklyn) - Tucked among rows of brownstones straight off the set of a movie, The Finch's charming location pulls at your heart strings long before Chef Gabe McMackin's outrageously good food warms your soul. Duck behind the bright blue façade, and things get even better: a warm staff welcomes you to a charming, rustic décor, replete with wood beam ceilings and farmhouse chairs. At the heart of this expansive space, which sprawls out into a series of cozy nooks, is an open kitchen where the chef extraordinaire guides his team to excellence before an audience of diners seated at a Carrara marble counter. Modern yet comforting, McMackin's dishes mix skill and personality. The food is well-executed, satisfying and carefully sourced from tender shishito peppers, blistered to perfection, with a squirt of lemon and crunchy sea salt, to shaved lamb tongue with fennel, green olives, orange and chili. Chewy cavatelli with yellow foot chanterelles, broccoli rabe, nettles and smoked yolk is yet another highlight, while six slices of spot-on Berkshire pork fanned over Calypso beans, littleneck clams, chicory and a sumptuously spicy broth is a fine way to end the affair.
  • Bâtard - 239 West Broadway will be a familiar address to those who know their restaurants as it has hosted a number of seminal establishments over the years-namely Montrachet and Corton. Drew Nieporent's Bâtard restaurant is now firmly in situ and once again we have a talented chef making waves in TriBeCa. Chef Markus Glocker's cooking is very precise and his dishes look quite delicate on the plate. But like a good featherweight they pack more of a punch than you're expecting. You'll even notice his Austrian roots in evidence in some of the dishes, such as short rib and tafelspitz terrine, or the Granny Smith and sweetbread strudel. The room is comfortable and neat and the atmosphere grown-up yet animated. When it comes to service though, it appears that the restaurant has mistaken informality for indifference as it lacks coordination or direction. So you may need to remind yourself that you're here primarily for the food. But that food is very good indeed.
  • The Musket Room  - New Zealander Matt Lambert appears to be on a mission to debunk some stereotypes and defy a few expectations about his homeland. For a chef raised in a country famous for its wild, rugged terrain and obsession with rugby, his contemporary cuisine is surprisingly subtle, thoughtful and at times even quite delicate-and if you come here expecting to find lamb on the menu, you'll probably be disappointed. It is obvious that this is a kitchen with a mastery of all the modern culinary techniques. Don't go thinking this is all about presentation though, because the dishes really do deliver on flavor and are ridiculously easy to eat. Nothing demonstrates the ability here more than the succulent New Zealand venison accompanied by "flavors of gin" which are dots of juniper meringue, fennel, and a licorice-infused sauce. Even that antipodean classic, the pavlova, is given a new lease of life by not so much being deconstructed as being reinvented, as a subtle and delicious delicacy made with passion fruit. The warm and inviting room fits seamlessly into the neighborhood and comes with a 20-foot walnut timbered bar and lime-washed exposed brick walls.

French

  • Rebelle - Heat-seeking foodies on the hunt for the next big thing have found it at this chic bistro from the owners of Pearl & Ash. The dining room is as dim as a cave-its palette of concrete and ebony brightened only by a white marble bar and gracious team of servers who know when they're needed and seem to disappear when they're not. Rebelle has an edgy vibe-the space was once a burlesque bar, after all. But, beneath that veneer is impressive talent delivered with a sexy French accent. While Chef Daniel Eddy's streamlined presentations and foam flourishes have contemporary flair, rest assured that classic technique is at the root of every dish. Lamb tartare is perfectly balanced, boasting piment d'Espelette-kissed cubes of meat tossed with green chickpeas, strained yogurt, and a slice of excellent toasted bread. Then, exceptionally tender pork loin is served over a mustard-tinged sauce with wilted greens, grilled spring onions, and a delicious bite of deep-fried headcheese. For dessert, gâteau Saint-Honoré is seasonally reimagined as crisp layers of pâte feuilletée, mascarpone pastry cream, and fragrant wild strawberries adorned with tiny strawberry- caramel-lacquered profiteroles.
  • The Modern - This restaurant has one of NY's most prized locations, designed to capture the iconic feel of the Museum of modern Art (MoMA) in which it is seamlessly housed. Chef Abram Bissell and crew are wowing the patrons with excellent food and warm, well-timed service. Appealing dishes showcase clean flavors and may include roasted cauliflower composed with creamy crab butter, almond-cauliflower purée, and crabmeat. Delicate balance and top ingredients are at the height of an exceedingly tender lobster marinated with truffles and served in a luscious sauce with radishes and bright herbs. For dessert, rhubarb bread pudding is topped with vanilla-mascarpone mousse for a bit of flourish and whole lot of fun. The bar area at the Modern is equally awesome, should you not find reservations in the dining room.
  • Eleven Madison Park (Just made world’s #1 restaurant uprooting Copenhagen’s Noma) - Chef Daniel Humm's cooking is clever, innovative and even a little whimsical; it is as often robust as it is delicate. This variety and depth is what sets him apart from other chefs, and puts Eleven Madison Park on the vanguard of America's dining evolution. As before, no menu is presented here, but a conceptual shift means that diners are now empowered to choose their preferences for a number of courses. The myriad plates that subsequently appear are dramatic, like the gueridon presentation of asparagus in rosemary broth cooked sous-vide in a pig's bladder, but also display extraordinary understanding of technique, as in the dry-aged duck. The restaurant is housed within the sort of grandeur that could only ever have belonged to a financial institution. It's a hard space to fill; conversations don't so much hang in the air as float up to the vast ceiling and never return. But somehow the room's sheer scale and the well-spaced tables allow you to feel cocooned in your own world. Considerable help comes courtesy of the engaging staff as they explain each dish in loving terms but without ever sounding too virtuous. They also know when to talk and when to leave you to enjoying your meal.
  • Minetta Tavern - While this circa 1937 setting has been restored and refreshed, nothing here changes and that is its beauty. This quintessential New York tavern is still surrounded by dark wood, checkerboard tiled floors, and those framed caricatures. The astute service team handles the crowds and energy as well as ever-they even don the same white-aproned livery seen in Mad Men. It's that kind of place. The menu's dedication to bistro classics (like oxtail and foie gras terrine) and New York steakhouse fare ensure its longevity. Trust them to prepare a steak tartare that is beyond textbook perfect, comprised here of pristine beef tenderloin, anchovy, capers and more, crowned with a tiny quail's egg. This kitchen has a way with meat that goes far beyond the burger on everyone's lips, thanks to beef that promises the deep, telltale flavors of dry-aging. Their massive pork chops draped in sauce charcutière have an intense crust that is blackened but never burnt, concealing a juicy interior that is no small feat for such a large piece of meat. The bittersweet chocolate soufflé is, was, and probably always will be crowd-pleasing and delicious, especially when served with a melting scoop of Bourbon-pecan ice cream.
  • Jean Georges - The restaurant inside the Trump hotel, Jean-Georges reigns supreme over the Central Park dining scene. The restaurant's separate entrance can be something of a whirlwind as guests must pass through buzzing Nougatine to arrive at this refined silver-gray dining room. Still, those immense windows, columns, and twinkling views make it a very special place. On weekdays, the feel is formal and business-driven, while weekends hum with tourists, socialites, and an easier vibe. The highly professional staff is one well-oiled and smooth machine. To dine here for the first time is to be blown away by brilliance; to come again and again is to realize that certain elements of the cooking flaunt more of a patina than a shine. Yet even certain menu classics continue to earn new accolades, especially the ever-memorable foie gras brûlée with dried sour cherries, pistachios, white Port gelée, and a spiced fig jam that leaves you weak in the knees. Desserts venture to rise above the savory dishes in theme and harmony. Grand finales include an homage to chocolate with hazelnut chocolate mille-feuille, chocolate pudding tart, and chocolate sable. Lunch is a superb option for those who don't want to break the bank.
  • Café Boulud - Taking its cue from classic French cuisine, Daniel Boulud's refined vision of food and beverage at the Surrey hotel is comprised of two spaces: the jewel box known as Bar Pleiades and this elegant, appealingly understated restaurant. Inside, ritzy residents and in-the-know globetrotters dine in a well-groomed, secluded room furnished with plush carpeting, rich wood accents, and mirrored surfaces. Sparkling elements atop beautifully laid tables set off the spot's conviviality, and gallant, smartly-dressed servers display unwavering competence in their presentation of uniquely constructed and superb tasting compositions. Under the watch of Chef Aaron Bludorn, the kitchen makes culinary decisions that never disappoint. Classically done poulet rôti showcases evenly moist, crispy skinned chicken finished with a fragrant tarragon jus, while the Crescent Farms Pekin duck, cooked to a perfect pink and sprinkled with coarse salt, is served with currant-studded kasha for wonderful depth in flavor and texture. For dessert, intricately layered crêpe cakes are garnished with rhubarb gelée and kissed with ricotta sorbet. And warm and springy madeleines-a house signature-send satisfied diners on their way.
  • L'Appart - Tucked within the sprawling French markets of Le District, L'Appart is not so much a dining room as the crown jewel comprised of everything those surrounding boulangeries, cheese markets, and butchers can offer. Through two nondescript doors and a small brass plate etched with its Liberty Street address, find an impeccably decorated interior that resembles an elegant Parisian apartment (hence the abbreviated name). Stunning New York Harbor views wake you from that reverie. Chef Nicolas Abello starts meals on a high note with canapés simply called "Nico's snacks" that range from a cool, fragrant Charentais melon soup with a hint of mulling spices, to a spoonful of smoky eggplant topped with the perfect counterpoint of sweet, dense prawn. This may be the prelude to a picturesque ensemble of foie gras with mango purée, pickled Finger grapes, green gooseberries, pecan slices, and more. Herb-crusted Colorado lamb filet is downright flawless, accompanied by a copper pot of confit byaldi, layering thin slices of baked vegetables and served with a wonderfully salty goat cheese "samosa." The choice of prix-fixe menus ranges in the number of dishes offered, but the cheese supplement is always a steal.
  • Gabriel Kreuther - Proving that the death of fine dining has been grossly exaggerated, Alsace-born Gabriel Kreuther's eponymous midtown restaurant offers artfully designed surroundings, creative and eye-catching food, and service that is formal and quite ceremonial. It's certainly a striking room, with columns of reclaimed wood juxtaposed with creamy white leather seating and a glass wall offering glimpses of the impressively calm goings-on in the kitchen. The table settings are immaculate too, with delicate glassware, cups and bowls that you can't stop stroking, and surgically thin modern cutlery that you'll either love or hate. The chef's classical culinary upbringing underpins his modern creations and his Alsatian heritage plays a role too. Alongside kugelhopf, you'll also find sauerkraut-it makes an appearance in one of his more theatrical dishes where it's mixed with sturgeon, garnished with caviar and presented at the table with the lifting of a glass cloche filled with applewood smoke. The desserts, if you can get past their somewhat pretentious monikers ("revisited" or "ethereal" anyone?) show that the pastry section is also given license to push boundaries.

German/ Austrian

  • Wallsé - Austrian cuisine is known for being hearty and immeasurably satisfying, but the great strength of Wallsé is that you don't have to have spent the day skiing in Innsbruck to appreciate its cooking because the adept kitchen has a lightness of touch and is not rigidly tied to tradition. There are some foods that just feel right at certain times of the year. When the nights draw in and there's a little chill in the air, there are certain words whose very presence on a menu summon feelings of comfort and warmth-and those words surely include spaetzle, schnitzel, and strudel. Whether you've chosen the gamey and fork-tender venison cheek goulash or have gone for the tafelspitz, you'll find that the dishes here are harmonious, nicely balanced, easy to eat, and even easier to return to enjoy again and again. The restaurant is divided into two rooms, both dominated by striking paintings that may even portray the chef himself. The clientele is a largely sophisticated bunch with an inherent understanding of how restaurants work which, in turn, creates an easy, relaxing atmosphere. The wine list also merits examination, if only to discover there's more to Austrian wine than Grüner Veltliner.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.
CONVERSATIONS