It’s been six long years since New York (and this critic) had the reckless, possibly insane idea of compiling a list of the top restaurants in New York City and ranking them from 1 to 101. Given everything that’s transpired in the endlessly evolving world of big-city restaurants, however, it feels more like six centuries. Back in the dim, pre-recession year of 2006, fat-cat bankers still roamed the culinary landscape, lavishing their bonuses on thousand-dollar bottles of Haut-Brion, Brooklyn was still a relatively minor culinary planet orbiting the great sun of Manhattan, and David Chang (whose Momofuku Noodle Bar was our No. 101 restaurant that year) was an obscure cook toiling away down in the East Village.
These days, of course, the entire edifice of what used to be called “haute cuisine” has been officially turned on its head. Mr. Chang is now one of the most prominent chefs in the country, and Brooklyn has become a primary dining destination for thrill-seeking swells from across the river in Manhattan, not to mention around the world. Roughly a quarter of the establishments on our original top-101 list have gone out of business, while many have lost their edge. Countless others have fired their chefs, revamped their stuffy, suddenly outdated dining rooms, and retooled their menus to reflect the tastes of a new generation of eaters obsessed less with ancient notions of “gourmet” propriety than with comfort, cost, and the elemental pleasures of a good, locally sourced pork chop.
Given these seismic changes, we thought it was time to haul out the original Platt 101 and give it a radical update. Like last time, we’ve ranked our favorite restaurants according to the magazine’s star system (5 = ethereal, 4 = exceptional, 3 = generally excellent, 2 = very good, 1 = good). Because we live in a more utilitarian, two-star world, however, it is this grumpy critic’s opinion that there are no five-star restaurants in New York City this time around. Farm-to-table joints outnumber fancy Asian-fusion palaces on this version of the list. Old Michelin perennials have plummeted, outranked by a rabble of nouveau-speakeasy joints, Brooklyn dining bars, and even the odd circus-size Italian food hall. As usual, the subjective judgments and opinions expressed in these pages are open (indeed, designed) for debate. Because we’re slaves to fashion, like most New Yorkers, we’ve tended to favor newer restaurants over older ones. And there are plenty of other worthy establishments that we’ve neglected. Are these the absolute best places to eat in the city right now? We think so. But like the original Platt 101, this one is designed as a culinary snapshot in time. Use it as a guide as you make your way around the diverse, always delicious, constantly changing world of New York restaurants. And pay attention. Soon everything will be different, and your weary, bilious critic will have to tuck in his napkin and start from scratch all over again.
The city is full these days of grown-up haute cuisine restaurants trying desperately to look young, and younger contemporary establishments dabbling in increasingly grown-up styles of cooking. But no restaurant blends these two trends together as seamlessly as this one. The service is impeccable without being overbearing or stuffy. The room is grand, but not in an imposing way. And then there’s the chef, Daniel Humm, whose ingenious new Rubik’s Cube tasting menu combines the spontaneity of the ingredient-driven, farm-to-table dining experience with the grandeur of old-fashioned fine dining. If the chef's famous duck for two is on the menu, order it. Angela Pinkerton is one of the best pastry chefs in America; save room for Milk and Chocolate, her superb modern take on those classic themes.
Le Bernardin (previously 1) ★★★★
This legendary seafood palace falls a spot in this year’s rankings because, frankly, we’re not wild about its much-publicized makeover. Mrs. Platt misses the wait staff’s old uniforms (they now sport modish Green Hornet–style black outfits instead of ocean-blue vests and ties). I miss the grand old dining room, which has been redone in familiar barnyard shades of caramel and tobacco brown. There’s nothing boring about Eric Ripert’s cooking, however (try the cod barigoule with truffle sauce) or the seamless old-world service, which remains the gold standard in a restaurant scene increasingly overrun with clamorous, bunker-size establishments populated by waiters sporting roughneck tattoos.
Per Se (3) ★★★★
Why don’t we put Thomas Keller’s consistently excellent, extravagantly praised establishment at the top of our Best Restaurants list like every other blogger, gourmand, and overfed critic in town? Because despite all sorts of subtle changes in recent years, the staid, icy room still reminds me more of a hushed stage set than an organic big-city restaurant. And while the cooking is technically immaculate in every way, the highlights of Keller’s fabled (and increasingly pricey) tasting menu—the velvet-smooth foie gras torchons, the butter-poached lobster from Nova Scotia, the famous Oysters and Pearls—tend to feature tricks and ingredients we’ve seen before.
Momofuku Ko ★★★★
The arcane Internet-reservation system is harder to crack than Fort Knox, and if you actually manage to obtain a seat at this spare, twelve-seat East Village dining bar, the overly reverent atmosphere among the assembled food geeks can have a slightly chilling effect. But once dinner begins, the dazzling forward-thinking cooking makes all of that worth putting up with. To experience the full range of David Chang’s uniquely modern, slightly mad post-gourmet sensibility (delicately broken eggs oozing caviar; the famous frozen foie gras grated over Riesling gelée), fork over $175 for the legendary lunchtime tasting extravaganza (Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays). It lasts three hours, which leaves plenty of time for a digestive late-afternoon nap.
Craft (5) ★★★★
The filament lightbulbs at Tom Colicchio’s endlessly imitated restaurant don’t look quite as cutting-edge as they used to. But the classic farm-to-table menu still exudes a sense of austere, even biblical, authority, and almost everything on it tastes exceptional. Pay special attention to the simple, unadorned pleasures—the fat, milky Fanny Bay oysters from British Columbia, the ever-changing seasonal selection of hand-foraged mushrooms, and the impossibly sweet diver scallops, which were garnished, the last time I dropped by, with a simple bay leaf and served with a pot of vermouth butter on the side.
Gramercy Tavern (34) ★★★★
After the departure of Colicchio several years back, we gave this highly influential but curiously indistinct Danny Meyer operation just two stars and ranked it No. 34 on our list. Enter the talented farm-to-table innovator Michael Anthony, who in a few short years has revived the casual, front-of-house Tavern menu and turned the main dining room back into one of the top-ten culinary destinations in the city. Anthony is a master of the delicate art of seasonal cooking. You can’t go wrong with any menu item containing the word braised, or anything to do with the greatest of all barnyard proteins, pork.
Corton (7) ★★★★
Drew Nieporent and his chef-partner, Paul Liebrandt, have scrapped the à la carte menu at this Tribeca restaurant in favor of a more rarefied tasting option. I don’t like the new format as much as the old one, but the best of Liebrandt’s creations—intricately arranged tastes of Scottish red-legged partridge, delicately textured desserts like the pamplemousse meringue—are works of art. Add Nieporent’s old-world wine cellar and the restaurant’s sleek, palate-cleansing design, and this is the closest thing you’ll find in this burger-ravaged metropolis to the high-end restaurant of tomorrow.
Daniel (8) ★★★★
On my latest visit to Daniel Boulud’s august, recently renovated flagship restaurant, I was shocked to see the regulars sipping newfangled mixologist cocktails with racy names like Smokey Bandit along with their usual flutes of Krug Champagne. Still, the best things about this terminally grandiose, irredeemably French uptown establishment remain the timeless old classics. The latest executive chef, Jean François Bruel, comes from near Lyon, where Boulud is from, and has a similar talent for infusing the most intricate haute cuisine recipes (lobster bisque en croûte, suckling pig with leeks) with a dose of old-fashioned Lyonnaise comfort.
Torrisi Italian Specialties ★★★
Plenty of opinionated downtown gourmets consider Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi’s perpetually mobbed retro Italian joint on Mulberry Street the best restaurant, pound for pound, in the city. After Torrisi’s recent ambitious remodeling, they certainly have a case. The original restaurant has been transformed into an elegantly snug tasting room, where $125 now buys you an ambitious, twenty-course menu, the highlights of which—Delmonico steak tartare, Chinese cashew chicken oysters, charred lamb ribs sweetened in Manischewitz—encompass the entire gastronomic history of New York City in twenty or so carefully considered bites.
Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare ★★★
César Ramirez’s Michelin-starred eighteen-seat tasting atelier in downtown Brooklyn just got its liquor license, and the reservation system is still a bit of a mess. The chef also has a slightly anachronistic fondness for the kind of grand ingredients (caviar, gold leaf, truffles) that used to define so-called gourmet dining in this town. But his most imaginative dishes (langoustines with salmon roe and burrata, any of his sashimi-style offerings) are as refined as anything you’ll find across the river, and the volume and range of his elaborate 25-course dinners justify the dizzying $225 sticker price.
Not so long ago, assorted gasbag food pundits and jaded restaurant critics were confidently predicting the death of grand gourmet dining in postrecession New York. Well, Michael White and his deep-pocketed partner, Ahmass Fakahany, have proved us wrong. This unabashedly glittering, upmarket midtown seafood restaurant doesn’t have the earthy geniality of some of White’s earlier (and now sadly defunct) restaurants, but the range and ambition of his vision more than make up for the loss. Go at lunchtime, when the pace is less hectic, and it’s possible to sample the chef’s opulent pasta creations (the hand-cut spaghetti with uni and crab, say) without breaking the bank.
Jean Georges (7) ★★★
The world headquarters of the ever-expanding empire of Jean-Georges Vongerichten drops from the top ten on our list mainly because the boss seems more interested in farm-to-table dishes than in Asian-fusion cooking these days. On my last visit to the gleaming glass dining room, the chunk of beef tenderloin I ordered for lunch was strangely chewy and even bled on the plate, and a few too many of the dishes we sampled (sea scallops draped over soggy crisped rice, sticky crab dumplings flavored with Meyer-lemon tea) seemed like fusion for fusion’s sake.
wd~50 (4) ★★★
Madcap genius Wylie Dufresne’s pioneering Lower East Side restaurant drops several spaces (and loses a star) because some of his molecular-gastronomic tricks—foie gras falafel—don’t seem quite as novel as they used to, when that style of cooking was all the rage. And because the desserts have fallen off since the great pastry wizard, Alex Stupak, left to open a taco shop.
Minetta Tavern ★★★
Is Keith McNally’s semi-private faux-speakeasy dining club really one of the top fifteen restaurants in town? After careful reconsideration (we gave it two stars in our 2009 review), we think so. The faux speakeasy is the dominant dining genre of our recessionary times, after all. And there’s no denying the quality of Riad Nasr’s high-wire bistro cooking (get the celebrated Black Label burger, the beautifully crisped pork trotter, or anything from the excellent grillades section of the menu), or McNally’s uncanny ability to conjure that ineffable feeling among his selected guests that on this particular night, in this particular room, they’re dining in the right place, at the right time.
Annisa (27) ★★★
Anita Lo’s tiny jewel-box restaurant on Barrow Street, which burned down three years ago, has been rebuilt from scratch, with the help of a feng shui master. The result has indeed been harmonious for the chef and her patrons alike. Lo’s famous foie gras soup dumplings and pig’s trotter with chanterelles survive from the original menu, and her new creations (butter-poached lobster with sweet-pea flan, soft blocks of sablefish marinated in miso) are more focused and confident than ever. Combine this with the first-class service, the glowing little room, and the fact that Lo is in the kitchen almost every night, and you have a dining experience that strikes an increasingly rare balance among style, technique, and traditional gourmet pleasure.
ABC Kitchen ★★★
Jean-Georges may not have started the great back-to-nature, farm-to-table locavore craze, but at this curiously located (yes, it’s in a department store), resolutely green (even the place mats are compostable) restaurant, he comes as close as any chef in the city to perfecting it. Everything on the menu tastes good, but the main attractions are the seafood dishes. Try the Gloucester cod (stacked over chopped asparagus, with a creamy citrus emulsion), the black sea bass (with New York State red-bliss potatoes), and the shell-on lobster, which tastes like it was hauled just minutes before from the chilly waters off Maine.
Masa (2) ★★★
Masa Takayama’s fabled sushi parlor plunges fifteen places on this year’s list for the most fundamental of reasons. Although exemplary, the delicacies I sampled on my last visit (gently grilled tuna membranes; dabs of rare, candy-colored golden-eyed snapper; fugu intestines flecked with gold leaf) seemed to have shrunk in diversity and size from past years. And compared with those of his newer, more nimble downtown tasting-table competitors (Momofuku Ko, Brooklyn Fare, Torrisi), Masa’s ever-escalating, prerecession prices ($450 for dinner, up from $350 when we first published this list) are now officially insane.
Before John Fraser set up shop on this windswept, restaurant-challenged corner of West 77th Street, savvy, seasonally attuned Upper West Siders had to travel miles for a taste of top-notch nouveau- barnyard cooking. Not anymore. At this polished little townhouse establishment, you can enjoy decorous risottos folded with lamb bacon and ramps, gourmet lasagne layered with beef cheeks or braised duck, and elaborate omelettes (at brunch) stuffed, depending on the season, with hand-foraged mushrooms or vividly green Greenmarket asparagus. To experience the full range of Fraser’s talents, go on Monday evenings, when the chef and his staff put on an inspired vegivore tasting menu that even a devout carnivore can love.
L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon ★★★
There are eight Joël Robuchon gourmet outlets around the globe now, each with the exact same dining-bar concept, the exact same menu, and a wait staff dressed in the exact same dark, slightly dated Nehru jackets. This cookie-cutter quality takes the sense of specialness out of dinner at this posh Four Seasons Hotel restaurant, but it doesn’t alter the pleasure of indulgent Robuchon creations like the foie gras–filled Les Ravioli, or the great Le Caviar made with smoked salmon, spoonfuls of osetra, and perfectly poached egg. Sit at the bar and not the awkward tables; the flowery service feels less overbearing and you can focus solely on the food.
Del Posto ★★★
Many of the city’s Italian-food snobs insist that Mario Batali’s ambitious attempt at a four-star restaurant is worth that lofty rating, but we’ll stick to the three-star assessment we made when we first reviewed the meatpacking-district expense- account behemoth in February 2006, just after the original 101 list was published. The service is still mannered, the piano tunes still echo lugubriously around the great train-station-size room, and although Mark Ladner’s succulent, smoky-sweet grilled pork chop remains one of the five greatest taste thrills in the Western Hemisphere, the restaurant still feels more like an imitation of four-star opulence than the real thing. The excellent bar menu has sadly been discontinued, but the $29 lunchtime prix fixe is one of the better gourmet deals in town.
Gotham Bar and Grill (11) ★★★
In a grudging nod to current fashion, Alfred Portale’s ageless downtown institution now serves trendy retro-style cocktails (try the Corpse Reviver No. 2 with Plymouth gin), and a fine lunchtime Gotham Burger, which the kitchen tops with melted cheese flavored faintly with truffles. Of course, Portale also still serves defining eighties classics like his melting round of tuna tartare and a New York strip steak served with a tower of deliciously frizzled Vidalia onions, which are as solid and satisfying as ever.
The Modern (14) ★★★
What is it about this impressively situated, impeccably run Danny Meyer operation that makes us like it slightly less than we think we should? Maybe it’s the awkward unisex bathrooms or the tightly packed tables in the main dining room, which make it feel, on busy evenings, as if you’re dining in a very grand European train station. The views of MoMA’s iconic sculpture garden are as dazzling as ever, however, and if you don’t mind the clamorous, cafeteria-style atmosphere, the best things on Gabriel Kreuther’s excellent Alsatian-themed menu in the café-bar area up front (tarte flambée, pork belly with puréed peas, boudin blanc with a sinfully rich dollop of bacon mayonnaise) are as artful and satisfying as ever.
Aquavit (9) ★★★
The lost star and fourteen-point ratings drop come because Marcus Samuelsson has moved on and because the room, despite being redesigned, still looks, in our humble estimation, like the first-class waiting lounge of a prosperous Swedish airline. But the elaborately flavored eponymous spirits are as potent as ever, and the best of dishes on Swedish chef Marcus Jernmark’s newly retooled, aggressively Scandinavian menu (pork shoulder glazed in vinegar, juniper-smoked sweetbreads, the fabulous lunchtime salmon burger) taste like something you might encounter in one of the trendy Nordic restaurants that are now all the rage in Europe.
Sushi Yasuda (29) ★★★
This pristine midtown sushi temple climbs five spots despite the departure of its revered founder, Naomichi Yasuda, who returned last year to Japan. That’s because the Zen-like peacefulness of the room is unchanged, and Yasuda’s prize pupils, Mitsuru Tamura and Tatsuya Sekiguchi, are producing pristine flights of yellowtail and top-grade o-toro tuna belly, just like the master used to. The range of fish flown in from around the globe is unrivaled, and if you have the cash, or the expense account, the exorbitantly pricey, no-frills menu is still the closest thing you’ll find in New York to a classic sushi dinner in Tokyo.
At this hushed vegivore temple in the East Village, Japanese chef Masato Nishihara marries the ancient vegetarian shojin philosophy practiced by the Zen Buddhist monks of Japan with the spirit of a big-city Greenmarket. The results—delicate “black night” carrots served with melting blocks of tofu, artful arrangements of “autumn mushrooms” seized in dissolving tempura batter—are the perfect antidote to the city’s endless procession of haute burgers and pork chops. The menu changes monthly. If you’re feeling flush, order the Matsutake Dinner ($100); the exceptional artisanal “sake pairing” option is an education in itself.
Picholine (23) ★★★
The fusty pink-linen wallpaper was mercifully removed from the old dining room a few years back, and the bar, long beloved by crowds of Champagne-swilling opera loons, now has a cleaner, more sophisticated look. The most meaningful innovation, though, comes in the kitchen, where Terrance Brennan has updated many of his aged French-centric recipes and added new Spanish-accented creations (try the El Bulli–esque “paella spring rolls” at the bar). Brennan recently added an extravagant new vegetarian menu that might cause a minor riot if it appeared at one of the trendier Greenmarket joints downtown.
A Voce Columbus ★★★
Missy Robbins’s reputation as a pasta savant has been secure since her Chicago days at Spiaggia, when she was President Obama’s favorite chef. But at this sleek restaurant on the third floor of the Time Warner Center, she demonstrates her talent for taking rustic, gut-busting Italian recipes like pancetta pork belly and roast rabbit and imbuing them with a sense of light, even dainty uptown style. The Italianate Sunday brunch is one of the best in midtown. As always at the Time Warner food court, the best spot is at a table by the window, with dazzling views of the park.
Seamus Mullen designed this snug, raffishly fashionable Iberian gastropub to evoke the smoky little cider houses of Northern Spain. But we’re betting you won’t find lustrously sweet-and-smoky sardines like this in the pubs of the Basque Country. Nor are you likely to come upon two-fisted tapas interpretations like tosta huevo roto y jamón Ibérico, which packs the flavor of an entire ham-and-egg breakfast into one bite. For the authentic gastropub experience, sit in the back, next to the roaring, chimney-style oven, and order a raft of the ever-changing market-driven daily specials, which are scrawled in Spanish on blackboards hung on the redbrick walls.
Boulud Sud ★★★
At his elegant new restaurant across from Lincoln Center, Daniel Boulud does for tired old Provençal-style Mediterranean cuisine what he did ten years ago for the great American hamburger. The best of the dishes on the varied, eclectic menu (the saffron linguine, the house ratatouille, the ivory loup de mer steamed in grape leaves) taste like they’ve been beamed in from a new, not yet discovered kitchen on the Amalfi Coast. But it’s the refined, Middle Eastern–style fusion desserts (sütlaç rice pudding from Turkey, grapefruit givré topped with lacy strands of halvah) that make this the freshest, most imaginative new Boulud venture in years.
This polished, unremittingly cheerful version of a Roman trattoria aspires to be all things to all people, and, being a Danny Meyer restaurant, generally succeeds. The Roman-style breakfast includes a stout porchetta-and-egg sandwich, and at lunch the bar teems with pink-faced Gramercy Park burghers wolfing down rustic classics like frizzled baby artichokes with bread and anchovy sauce, and crocks of gently simmered tripe. Chef Nick Anderer has an almost magical knack for reproducing classic Roman pastas, in particular the spaghetti alla carbonara, and the creamy, Pecorino-laced cacio e pepe.
At this deceptively sophisticated midtown establishment, Viennese chefs Wolfgang Ban and Edi Frauneder produce updated Austrian classics that even delicate eaters like my wife can love. As she will tell you, the attraction to Seäsonal lies in the carefully chosen, impeccably fresh Greenmarket ingredients—tender pieces of Crescent duck from Long Island (with red cabbage and a sprinkling of poppy seeds), artisanal goat cheese (stuffed inside half-moon Schlutzkrapfen, or ravioli), slices of tender American Wagyu beef—which turn old Austrian warhorses into some of the most refined beefeater delicacies in town.
Union Square Cafe (16) ★★★
Michael Romano may have left the kitchen, and the old murals on the walls can make the pokey rooms look, on gloomy days, like the set for one of Martha Stewart’s doomed TV shows. But in this era of glorified neighborhood joints, there’s still no place I’d rather go for a classic Sunday chicken dinner than this perennially popular, Zagat-approved Danny Meyer institution. New chef Carmen Quagliata recently introduced the first-ever Union Square weekend brunch, along with an array of fashionably rustic bar snacks, including a plate of crispy pigs’ ears drizzled with artisanal honey.
Sushi of Gari (East Side) (15) ★★★
There are now four restaurants in Masatoshi “Gari” Sugio’s high-end sushi empire, including one in the theater district and another on the Upper West Side. But this original pocket-size establishment on East 78th Street is still the best place to indulge in the master’s much imitated but rarely equaled high-flying creations, like tender, blow-torch-singed slips of hamachi, and the great eight-piece Tuna of Gari tasting, which includes different gradations of fish dressed, in the chef’s signature style, with pickled ginger, crisped taro root, or spoonfuls of gently dissolving tofu mayonnaise.
Café Boulud (17) ★★★
Brooke Astor’s former neighborhood haunt has turned into a more pedestrian full-service operation since we ranked it No. 17. Breakfast is now served in the modish, primly renovated dining room, and there are still café tables on the sidewalk, where the ladies who lunch can sip $5 cappuccinos while watching the traffic creep slowly toward Madison Avenue. But the competent menu still features well-turned-out classics, like beef tournedos Rossini topped with soft pillows of wine-poached foie gras, and the beautifully constructed tarte Tatin, which the pastry wizards in Monsieur Boulud’s kitchen enliven with a racy scoop of bourbon ice cream and an ice-thin butterscotch tuile.
The talented George Mendes has spent decades wandering the globe, studying under some of the great culinary divas of our time (Ducasse, Bouley, etc.). At this sleek, inventive little restaurant in the Flatiron district, he finally has a kitchen to call his own. The Portuguese-American cook has a fondness for taking traditional Continental recipes and reworking them in all sorts of unexpected ways, but the dish I keep dreaming about is the great paella-like arroz de pato (duck rice), which Mendes folds with duck confit and tiny nickels of chorizo and finishes with crunchy, barely visible wafers of duck crackling.
SHO Shaun Hergatt ★★
Shaun Hergatt’s eponymous restaurant has its quirks, it’s true. The room has the swank but indistinct quality of a second-tier Asian hotel, and you need GPS to locate the place among the gloomy office towers along Broad Street. But you won’t find world-class, classically informed cooking like this anywhere else in the gourmet-challenged canyons of Wall Street. Although the Australian-born former Ritz-Carlton chef has recently converted to a more purist, ingredient-driven menu, look for the dishes (poached blue prawns with cardamom, pressed ocean trout touched with kalamansi fruit) with his signature Asian-fusion touch.
The Breslin Bar & Dining Room ★★
Lots of chefs practice nose-to-tail cooking these days, but April Bloomfield is one of the few who manage to raise pig trotters, beef shins, and assorted animal viscera to the level of art. To experience the full majesty of her vision, gather ten of your sturdiest carnivore friends for one of the restaurant’s fabled reservations-only Chef’s Table feasts, which begin with a perfectly roasted suckling pig hoisted to the table with all the trimmings (including potatoes roasted in pork fat) and conclude with an assortment of ye olde English desserts like trifle and Eton mess served in giant white tubs.
Momofuku Noodle Bar (101) ★★
David Chang has restaurants in far-flung places like Sydney, and even midtown Manhattan, these days. But for the money, this original flagship noodle bar in the East Village (which we ranked No. 101 in our last list) remains the best place to sample his infectious, influential, high-octane brand of fusion cooking. The current chefs, Ty Hatfield and Sean Heller, have a knack for elevating old-school comfort dishes into the realm of haute cuisine. Their current masterwork is the special-order fried chicken, which combines the messy communal charms of an old-fashioned church picnic with the regal pleasures of Peking duck. That alone is worthy of a 63-point jump.
As a third-generation sushi chef, Sotohiro Kosugi knows his way around delicacies like pearly spotted shrimp and fatty o-toro tuna belly. But the thing that separates this little restaurant on lower Sixth Avenue from other sushi parlors around town is the raw and gently cooked non-sushi dishes. Soto has a special facility with uni, that great seafood delicacy, which he deploys by the spoonful, the way an expert pastry chef uses clouds of whipped cream.
Is this sprawling, festive, perpetually chaotic Mario Batali–Joe Bastianich Italian food circus really one of the top-40 dining establishments in New York City? Where else, we ask, can you enjoy fresh-baked baguettes stuffed with Tuscan-style porchetta (at the rotisserie), mounds of golden, impeccably crunchy vegetable fritto misto (at Le Verdure), or a multicourse Piemontese beef tasting menu (at the excellent Batali meat restaurant Manzo), all under one roof? Add the fabulous artisanal salumi and boutique pastas, the aisles filled with imported olive oils and other Italian specialties, and the first-rate gelateria, and you have an omnivore’s delight, and one of the most lively, energetic dining destinations in this food-saturated town.
Babbo (6) ★★
The rock ballads still blast relentlessly over the packed tables at Batali’s flagship restaurant, and the room still radiates the signature combination of intimate bonhomie and big-city style. But we dock two stars, and 35 ratings slots, this time around because the kitchen appears to have settled into a comfortable rut since the departure of Batali's last great lieutenant, Andy Nusser, almost a decade ago, and the restaurant's age, like that of a long-running Broadway play, is beginning to show. Still, some of the classics retain their old magic, and there’s no better place than the Bastianich cellars to explore the deep and various pleasures of Italian wine.
Blue Hill (10) ★★
We called Dan Barber’s hushed farm-to-table temple “the best low-profile restaurant in town” when we gave it three stars and ranked it No. 10 on our last top-100 list. The restaurant’s fame has since skyrocketed (even the Obamas ate there), but the cooking doesn’t seem quite as vivid or original as it once did, especially compared with the Barber brothers’ other great haute-barnyard operation, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, on the old Rockefeller estate up the Hudson. If you want to experience the glories of the Daily Farm egg or the classic Blue Hill whey-fed pig, however, it’s still as close to the real thing, in the big city, as you’re likely to get.
Má Pêche ★★
Compared with the foodie-casual atmosphere at David Chang’s downtown restaurants, the vibe at this echoing midtown hotel operation can feel a bit stuffy and off-key. But the Southeast Asian–oriented fusion menu is filled with all sorts of undeniable wonders. When the sticky, lemongrass-infused pork ribs were on the menu, they were undoubtedly the best ribs ever served in the vicinity of 56th Street and Fifth Avenue, and the sheer originality of the signature house carnivore specialties—apple-scented pork chop for two, the fusion steak-frites, the grandiose Beef Seven Ways feast—put other expense-account chophouses in the neighborhood to shame.
Locanda Verde ★★
The tables at Andrew Carmellini’s trendy Tribeca restaurant are too close together, and most evenings the room is overrun with thrill-seekers from far-off places like Hackensack and L.A. But if you pick your spots wisely, no restaurant in town comes as close to combining the snug intimacy of an Italian taverna with the polished elegance of a classic French brasserie. I like to visit at breakfast for the lemon-ricotta pancakes, or during lunch, when the decibel level is tolerable and the menu includes inspired comfort-food dishes like Carmellini’s ode to the iconic Italian-American hero stuffed with sausage, broccoli rabe, and heaping spoonfuls of housemade ricotta.
Vinegar Hill House ★★
How is this snug, rustic, quaintly quirky mom-and-pop operation on the eastern border of Dumbo different from the hundreds of other snug, rustic, quaintly quirky hipster destination restaurants that have popped up like mushrooms in the wilds of newly gentrified Brooklyn over the past decade? You could make an argument for any of chef Brian Leth’s rigorously seasonal pastas or risottos, or for the crispy, faintly vinegary country chicken that is served, farm style, in a sizzling iron skillet. But we’ll vote for the legendary Red Wattle house pork chop, which is as opulent and satisfying as any cut of meat that you’ll find in the grand steakhouses of Manhattan.
The Spotted Pig (52) ★★
There was much grumbling among members of the local gourmet-restaurant community when the mandarins at Michelin awarded April Bloomfield’s groundbreaking West Village gastropub one of their coveted stars. For once, the Michelin crew got it right. The best of Bloomfield’s durable creations—the gnudi, the smoked-haddock chowder, the superb lunchtime Cubano sandwich—display as much classic cooking technique as a French soufflé. Factor in the presence of Jay-Z and his posse upstairs, and a pint or two of Old Speckled Hen at the riotous bar, and they’re also way more fun to eat.
The Little Owl ★★
Joey Campanaro doesn’t get the press of David Chang or some of the scruffy chef pioneers in Brooklyn. But if we had to choose just one restaurant to represent the casual, classically informed New American bistro style that has swept the city’s dining scene over the past six years, this might be the one. All of the seminal comfort-food totems of our day are on display on Campanaro’s menu, including his famous veal-and-pork meatball sliders, the incomparable bacon-and-cheese burger (yes, it rivals Minetta’s), and what is arguably the city’s original iconic pork chop, which the chef serves atop a pile of fat, Parmesan-laced butter beans.
Franny's (97) ★★
Brooklyn lays claim to all sorts of radical new dining trends nowadays, but the borough’s single greatest culinary achievement, in the humble opinion of this Manhattan-centric critic, is still the fresh-baked pizza pie. The beautifully balanced, perfectly sized clam pie is my selection of choice at this iconic, rigorously local Prospect Heights establishment. But the pastas are all excellent, too, and the plump, ethereally sweet wood-roasted pork sausage is as fine a sausage as you’ll find in Kings County—or anywhere else, for that matter.
Osteria Morini ★★
Michael White may dabble in all sorts of refined haute cuisine recipes these days, but you only have to take one look at the rotund pasta savant from Wisconsin to know that he’s a fresser at heart. The sheer richness and bulk of the Emilia-Romagna specialties at this popular downtown osteria can be overwhelming, so focus on the intricately realized, faithfully rustic pastas (there were twelve on the dinner menu at last count), which White executes with his usual panache. If you’re still standing after that, call for the impressive house porchetta, which is as big as a wagon wheel and piled with potatoes crisped in pork fat.
Porter House New York ★★
Restaurateurs have been trying to update the classic big-city steakhouse for decades now, but at this posh, unapologetically traditional beef house in the Time Warner Center, Michael Lomonaco sticks to the time-tested formulas. For maximum beefy pleasure, I suggest the tender, chile-rubbed rib eye, from the famous Brandt Ranch in California. Complement it, if you dare, with a rasher of the Bunyanesque hash browns and a vat or two of the opulent creamed spinach, which Lomonaco tops, almost criminally, with a crumbling of bacon.
Peter Luger (43) ★★
Lately, my steak-snob friends have taken to criticizing the uneven quality of the beef at this venerable Brooklyn chophouse. To which I reply, “Who cares?” Luger’s is to the legions of steak fiends who visit New York what the Metropolitan Opera is to opera buffs: However uneven the performances, there’s no place more magical to take in the show. Visit the grand beef-eating hall at lunchtime, when the great house burger is on the menu and when it’s possible to enjoy your sizzling porterhouse for two without getting elbowed, New York style, in the nose.
The Four Seasons (56) ★★
Through hurricanes, financial panics, and assorted other postmillennial calamities, this plutocrat watering hole still somehow manages to retain its special Oz-like feel. If you can’t abide the ridiculous prices (the crab cakes cost $55), do what many members of the one percent now do and take refuge in the new two-course, $35 “bar lunch” menu, which includes a selection of oysters and the hefty Four Seasons sirloin burger.
Le Cirque ★★
There’s a slightly arid, corporate quality to this legendary establishment’s latest location on the ground floor of the Bloomberg building, but in this no-frills era of brusque waiters and loud little rooms, the timeless Sirio Maccioni treatment still has its charms. It helps, of course, if the great man recognizes you (“They’re all over us like you’re the Prince of Liechtenstein,” whispered my dumbfounded midwestern mother-in-law when we dropped in a few months ago). If you have the $52 burning a hole in your wallet, the grand old lobster salad Le Cirque won’t disappoint, nor will the equally classic crêpe Suzette, which is prepared tableside, in a flaming cloud of Grand Marnier.
Adour Alain Ducasse ★★
This plush, David Rockwell–designed room at the St. Regis is a more pleasant place for a dated French meal than the location of Monsieur Ducasse’s original doomed venture in the Essex House. Since the departure of multi-star chef Tony Esnault, however, the kitchen has been a bit of a mess. Ducasse’s latest lieutenant, Didier Elena, has attempted to adapt to current New York tastes by adding a heritage pork chop to the menu, along with a trendy côte de boeuf for two. Traditionalists can still take refuge in the maestro’s exotic French desserts, in particular the Vacherin with mango marmalade and coconut, and the dark-chocolate sorbet sprinkled with brioche croutons.
Gordon Ramsay at The London ★★
The boss rarely seems to set foot on the premises anymore, and my notes from my 2007 review include adjectives like “pearly, corporate, and lifeless” to describe the dull, windowless room. But someone in the kitchen of this distant Gordon Ramsay outpost clearly knows what he is doing. There’s a refreshing, unfussy directness to classic Continental recipes like roasted poussin and the fork-tender Colorado lamb loin, which was rolled, on the recent evening I enjoyed it, with a buttery, faintly minty coat of toasted bread crumbs. You may want to skip dessert and wait instead for the fabled after-dinner Bon Bon trolley cart to roll around. Among other excellent confections, it contains what is possibly the finest rendition of peanut brittle in town.
La Grenouille ★★
There may be one or two other places left to sample the all but vanished pleasures of classic French cooking in New York City, but this legendary flower-filled townhouse off the corner of Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street is undoubtedly the best. My mother is an expert on the house Dover sole, which she insists is better than ever. The great, top-hat-size soufflés—the first one made with a chewy mix of Swiss, Emmentaler, and Gruyère, the second with a decedent wisp of Grand Marnier—stand as monuments to a lost culinary age.
Esca (20) ★★
The Batali-Bastianich outfit’s resident fish guru, Dave Pasternack, has been busy running the seafood operation at Eataly lately, which may explain why, on a recent visit, my bowl of linguine con vongole tasted like it had been seasoned with a salt lick. Pasternack’s generously cut raw-fish crudo creations are as artful and fresh as ever, however, and although we dock a star (and 37 points) this year, this remains the Platt family’s choice, on a good day, for a stylish pretheater dinner.
Wallsé (12) ★★
The appeal of grand Austrian cuisine may have faded since we ranked Kurt Gutenbrunner’s posh West Village restaurant a lofty No. 12 in our last survey. But if you don’t have the energy to fight your way into the Spotted Pig down the street, the Continental delicacies at this West Village establishment—oxtail goulash with bread dumplings, sweetly poached lobster tails soaked in béarnaise—can still please. And in the opinion of this boozy critic, the Bloody Mary–style Pepper Tomato cocktail is the best brunchtime drink in the city.
If the master happens to be in the house, some of the fusion-happy, eighties-style creations at David Bouley’s current headquarters on Duane Street are still worth the extravagant price of admission. But the real energy these days in the chef’s dwindling portfolio of restaurants is across the street at this new Japanese establishment. Isao Yamada’s kaiseki-influenced tasting menu is generally impeccable, and if you ask your waiters in the main dining room politely, he may slip you a few excellent off-the-menu Osaka-style sushi items in between courses.
The meatpacking district has expanded several times over since we awarded Scott Conant’s modish, elegantly conceived Italian restaurant three stars several years back, as has the Scarpetta franchise, which now includes outlets in Beverly Hills and Miami Beach. But the long, commodious bar is still one of the more welcoming dining spots in this hectic, theme-park neighborhood, and if you stick to Conant’s great signature dishes (pitch-perfect spaghetti pomodoro, the luxurious polenta, helpings of moist, gently crisped baby goat), venturing over there is well worth it.
Having made his reputation running kitchens for David Bouley, Shea Gallante has a notion of rustic Italian cooking that's slightly different from yours and mine. The soft, plum-size meatballs at this posh Flatiron-district establishment are touched with truffles, and if you order the charcuterie board, you’ll find the usual assortment of salumi and hams enlivened with elegant little blocks of pâté made from calves’ tongues. The optimum time to enjoy these elevated treats is on a chilly winter evening, when bread is warmed in the roaring fireplace and the toasty dining room fills with the pleasant aroma of wood smoke.
Veritas (30) ★★
This great boom-era high roller’s wine mecca plummets 32 points down the list and loses a star. The décor was redone last year in flat beige and brown, and the fancy Frenchman in the kitchen was replaced by the wily veteran Sam Hazen. The much-ballyhooed new seasonal-American menu has its charms (the maple-brined Wooly pig, the truncheon-size veal chop), but the real reason to visit is still the extravagant wine list, provided, of course, one of your hedge-fund buddies is paying.
Ai Fiori ★★
Michael White’s new Rivera-themed establishment in the Setai Building on Fifth Avenue lacks the cozy intimacy of his casual downtown taverna, Osteria Morini, or the polished luster of his midtown flagship, Marea. But if you don’t mind the fancy European prices and the bland hotel-restaurant décor, the best of the old-fashioned gourmet creations on the menu (Nova Scotia lobster poached in oceans of butter, White’s epic foie gras–coated rack of lamb) are as artfully decadent as anything you’ll find in the grand hotel restaurants of Paris or Rome.
Perry Street (48) ★★
This sleek Jean-Georges operation on the ground floor of Richard Meier’s glass building in the far West Village has all sorts of charms, including an underrated slew of cocktails and one of the best brunches in the city. But the dish I keep going back for is the ingenious molecular-gastronomy-style fried chicken. The key is the fluffy, oxygen-infused batter that combines the melting wispiness of the finest tempura with a brittle, candied crunch.
Kin Shop ★★
All of the curries at Top Chef veteran Harold Dieterle’s inventive contemporary Thai restaurant are ground in-house, and if you wish to amp your dinner up to true Bangkok levels, each table is set with a pot of green-chile sauce fierce enough to curl the hair of even the most seasoned reality-TV judge. But the dishes that work best at this bistro-style establishment are those that mingle Western ingredients with Thai flavors, like chunks of Maine lobster tossed in yellow curry, and roasted bone marrow served with a stack of buttery roti flatbreads on the side.
Red Rooster Harlem ★★
Marcus Samuelsson’s stylishly boisterous Harlem brasserie opened just a year ago on Lenox Avenue, but it already feels like it’s been part of the neighborhood for decades. Go on Sundays for the bountiful gospel brunch, and order Samuelsson’s Yard Bird fried chicken, which is soaked in buttermilk, sizzled to a brittle, almost toffeelike consistency, smothered with a generous pour of peppery mace gravy, and served with a mess of gourmet collard greens on the side.
Char No. 4 ★★
Over the past few years, this Cobble Hill establishment has morphed from an elevated, barbecue-centric bourbon joint into a destination restaurant jammed with New Age southern-food connoisseurs. There’s a fancy weekend brunch, and the esoteric bourbons on the list continue to grow exponentially. But the real reason to make the trip is the raft of items that emerge from the smoker, like the fat slabs of maple-smoked bacon, and the great barbecued-pork sandwich, which is splashed, in true down-home style, with a sauce laced with mustard.
Fatty 'Cue (Brooklyn Branch) ★★
If the barbecue-loving Platt girls had their way, Zak Pelaccio’s Asian-influenced Williamsburg barbecue joint would be perched on the top of this list, among the city’s more hoity-toity restaurants. We like to sit in the little mezzanine in the back room when we visit, where it’s a pleasure, on cold winter afternoons, to sample exotic helpings of wood-smoked lamb shoulder and slurp bowl after bowl of the spicy, Malaysian-style house noodles. Best of all are the great truncheon-size heritage pork ribs, slathered with palm syrup and smoked-fish sauce. Even if you’re a diminutive 11-year-old girl, it’s pretty much impossible to eat just one.
The Dutch ★★
The maze of closet-size dining rooms at Andrew Carmellini’s popular new Soho bistro can feel chaotic on crowded evenings, but if you want to experience the grab bag of comfort-food fads and outer-borough dining trends—haute fried chicken, retro mixologist cocktails, pricey boutique steaks—that have defined the city’s dining scene over the past decade, this is a good place to start. The rib eye for two is almost the equal of the steaks a few blocks away at Minetta Tavern, and Kierin Baldwin’s superb country pies taste like they’ve been smuggled into Soho from one of the better farm kitchens upstate.
The Standard Grill ★★
As hopelessly chic, perpetually overcrowded downtown-scene destinations go, this outfit, run by André Balazs and chef Dan Silverman, is an impressive operation. Even on the most hectic evenings, the main dining room manages to exude a sense of intimate, even festive coziness. Silverman’s constantly evolving, seasonally informed American-bistro menu is eminently satisfying both at lunch (yes, the burger’s good) and dinner (get the Million Dollar chicken), and there’s no better place in Meatpacking Land for a restorative, late-night pot of cheese fondue.
Balthazar (19) ★★
Keith McNally’s famous Soho brasserie plummets from our top twenty this year and loses a star, because the menu has barely changed in a decade, casual French cooking is as exhausted as any cuisine in town, and the talented bistro chefs Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson now spend most of their time at McNally’s other downtown hot spot, Minetta Tavern. Even so, the dining room is as luminous as ever, and if you’re in the mood for a nostalgic bite of steak tartare or a restorative morning cup of café au lait, this is still the place to go.
Prune (90) ★★
Thankfully, the newfound literary celebrity that’s come with the publication of her excellent memoir hasn’t changed Gabrielle Hamilton’s cooking. At her East Village bistro, the Blood, Bones & Butter author continues to deliver her reliably solid high-minded comfort food. Her brunch, regarded by many as the best in town, includes no less than ten equally intoxicating Bloody Marys and thirteen egg dishes. Finish the triple-decker, batter-fried, ham-turkey-and-cheese Monte Cristo sandwich in one sitting, and you won't have to eat for the rest of the day.
Momofuku Ssäm Bar ★★
It’s an article of faith among the David Chang scholars I know that the heat and creativity at this East Village restaurant dropped perceptibly when Chang’s great lieutenant Tien Ho left the kitchen for Má Pêche. It may be true that the new regime lacks originality, but there are still plenty of good things to eat. Go for the excellent new rotisserie-duck dishes at lunchtime, and for the legendary bo ssäm pork butt, which Chang addicts can devour in the comfort of their own homes, provided they call the restaurant’s to-go service three days in advance.
Casa Mono (37) ★★
All sorts of Spanish-restaurant concepts have come and gone over the past five years, but Andy Nusser’s durable Gramercy Park tapas operation feels as fresh and lively as ever. The prime spot in the smoky little submariner’s space is still the bar, where it’s a pleasure to watch Nusser and his grill men whip together their artful tapas combinations. The new Whole Organic Animals section of the menu contains an impressive array of meat lovers’ delicacies—pork croquettes, chorizo, goat-liver pâté—from beasts butchered in-house.
Compared with the grand French restaurants of old, the boxy little room at Jesse Schenker’s West Village restaurant has a plain, functional feel. But there’s nothing simple about the forward-thinking gourmet cooking that has been designed by Schenker to drag classic French cuisine kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Witness Per Se alum Christina Lee’s desserts, in particular her ingenious haute interpretation of s’mores.
Lupa (49) ★★
Mario Batali’s much-imitated Roman osteria suffers from many of the maladies associated with a terminally popular, decade-old restaurant. The room resembles a mosh pit on busy nights, and the waitress on my last visit was as brusque as an old sailor. But if you go for a quiet weekday lunch, or to dine at the bar early in the evening, before the crowds move in, the beautifully pitched Roman-style dishes (the salumi, the smoky bowls of carbonara, the fresh pear salad garnished with pancetta lardons) are as solid as ever. If you’re at loose ends on a Saturday afternoon, the braised-lamb-rib blue-plate special is an excellent way to use your time.
At her intimate little restaurant on the fringes of Chinatown, Emma Hearst manages to take a whole variety of trite, tired new-millennium dining concepts (rustic Italian, small plates, wine bar, etc.) and somehow make them feel new. A case in point: her inspired pâté de fegato, an ethereal small-plate homage to the Egg McMuffin made with whipped chicken liver, bits of bacon, and a single, perfectly fried egg set on an English muffin griddled in duck fat. Her well-chosen Italian wines are a bargain for the price.
Back in July 2006, not long after it opened on the upper reaches of Lexington Avenue, we gave this instantly popular nouveau rustico Italian mom-and-pop shop an enthusiastic three stars. It’s not quite the same (the original chef-owners have since moved on), which is why it gets two stars here. But the fabled original bread recipe lives on (you can now order the crunchy, addictively salty loaves to go), and thanks to the new chef, John Carr, the best of the original Tuscan specialties—hand-rolled tagliatelle with guanciale and kale, the flattened chicken al mattone spritzed with lemon—are still worth a few extra subway stops.
The chefs behind this grand, Mughal-size establishment in the Flatiron district have worked in many of the great Indian kitchens around town. Their insight is to produce a smorgasbord of delicacies built on the country’s five classic styles of cooking (clay-oven tandoori, cast-iron tawa, etc.). I recommend the fabulous breads and the classic rendition of slow-cooked goat, patiala shahi, prepared in the handi (curry) style. Wash it all down with a selection of excellent Continental wines, chosen by former Gotham Bar and Grill sommelier Scott Carney.
With its multitude of party rooms and runway-length bar, this cavernous Flatiron establishment looks a little too much like a hotel nightclub in Dubai. But Philippe Massoud’s menu is filled with the kind of refined creations (excellent hot and cold mezes, lobes of bone marrow on pita pillows, gourmet duck shawarma with fig jam) that have earned Lebanon its reputation as the gourmet capital of the Middle East. The lamb dishes alone (seared chops dressed with za’atar salsa verde, fork-tender ribs, thumb-size mekanek sausages sprinkled with pine nuts) are reason enough to visit what is arguably the best high-end Middle Eastern restaurant in the city.
Casa Lever ★★
The space-pod-style booths can feel weirdly claustrophobic when the famous honeycomb-ceilinged room fills to capacity, and the prices, especially at dinnertime, are a bit nuts. But if you (or your rich out-of-town aunt) are searching for a decent place for a stylish but dignified Italian power lunch in midtown, you could do an awful lot worse. Order the Milanese classics, like the risottos laced with artichokes, or osso buco, or the superior house rack of lamb served, by the bow-tied waiters, with a dab of fresh-made mint sauce on the side.
The Mark ★★
In the afternoon, the tables at this new Parisian-style Jean-Georges hotel restaurant fill with wispy-thin ladies from the neighborhood sporting their $750 hairdos (Frédéric Fekkai’s salon is upstairs), and early in the evenings the place turns into a festive destination for the Swifty’s set. The crack staff in the kitchen turn out a pleasing mix of old warhorses (steak tartare with frites, fluffy Grand Marnier soufflés) and nouveaux comfort-food creations, like the great Croque M, served at brunch and lunchtimes only, with wads of melted Gruyère, smoked country ham from Flying Pigs Farm, and two expertly fried quail eggs.
Among Upper West Side gourmands, Bill Telepan is rightly regarded as the man who finally brought first-class Greenmarket cooking to this former culinary wasteland. Telepan’s elegantly nourishing farm-to-table recipes are worth sampling any time of the day, but it’s his brunch that stands out. That’s when local hungry men gather to feast on bountiful platters of biscuits and gravy with poached eggs, potato pierogies stuffed with ricotta, and Telepan’s aptly named lumberjack breakfast, which the chef constructs with slabs of country scrapple, sunnyside eggs, and a stack of fluffy buttermilk pancakes.
15 East ★★
Once upon a time, a few thousand Dow points ago, grand Godzilla-size establishments ruled the Japanese-dining landscape. Today, the action is at smaller, more nimble establishments like this one, off Union Square, where the menu includes a variety of sophisticated à la carte dishes and an elaborate selection of sushi prepared by chef Masato Shimizu. The young and talented Shimizu cures his own gari ginger in vinegar, and marinates his sea eel in vats of sake. If you’re feeling flush, order the $75 tuna flight, which consists of five different cuts and grades of fatty albacore, which the gregarious Shimizu outlines for his patrons on a chart.
Hard-boiled offal loons can enjoy four varieties of cow stomach at this first-class facsimile of a Japanese yakiniku barbecue grill, as well as a chewy $20 tasting adventure called the Tongue Experience. For the rest of us, the pleasures of Takashi Inoue’s neighborly, exceedingly well-run Hudson Street establishment lie in classics like Korean-style beef short ribs dipped in sesame seeds, and the meltingly soft strips of rose-colored rib eye impeccably sourced from Lindsey Farms. The sole house dessert consists of a bowl of soothing soft-serve ice cream infused with Madagascar vanilla beans and flecked with gold leaf.
Prime Meats ★★
With its bewhiskered barkeeps and dark burled-wood interior, Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli’s Carroll Gardens retro chophouse sometimes exudes an almost overweeningly precious sense of Brooklyn style. But if you can weather the crowds and the attitude, you’ll find many time-tested pleasures on the reasonably priced menu. But be warned. Dishes like beef brisket with red cabbage, puffy golden schnitzel, and a delicious choucroute garnie, piled with fat German sausages and house-brined sauerkraut, aren’t for the faint of heart.
Sushi Azabu ★★
Cramped little speakeasy dining rooms may be all the rage in Manhattan, but Japanese gourmands have been dining this way for centuries. This cozy, bomb-shelter-size establishment in the basement of the Greenwich Grill is arguably the most authentically Japanese of all the upmarket sushi joints in town. The esoteric array of seafood delicacies available at the tiny, nine-seat bar include two kinds of luxurious pearly sweet shrimp (white shiro and giant botan) and delicate spoonfuls of rare red sea urchin, which costs $12 for a single bite and is jetted in during the summer months from the Sea of Japan.
Jonathan Benno hasn’t lit up the sky with his cooking the way many devotees from his time as the No. 2 man at Per Se had hoped. But steadily improving dishes like the spaghetti de mare and the red snapper in burrida sauce are now almost worth their exorbitant sticker price. And the great space-age dining pavilion, among the glowing theaters of Lincoln Center, is one of the most breathtaking settings for a restaurant meal in the big city that this jaded critic has ever seen.
Say what you want about custom-blend haute burgers and carefully carved pork chops for two. The true test of a modern kitchen is still that most storied of all barnyard comfort dishes, roast chicken. At this glitzy, snugly proportioned West Village brasserie, executive chef and co-owner Harold Moore slips a mixture of butter and fresh herbs under the skin of his heritage birds, sizzles them to a perfect crispness at exactly 600 degrees, and plates his chicken for two over a bed of puréed truffled potatoes. Did we mention the crouton stuffing? Moore tosses it with chunks of gently dissolving foie gras.
The name of this cozy, cookbook-lined Nolita restaurant means “perfect housewife” in Yiddish, but there’s nothing casual about Einat Admony’s elevated brand of Middle Eastern comfort-food cooking. Go at dinner for the shrimp kataïf (wrapped in strands of phyllo), the perfectly charred lamb chops (touched with Persian limes), and the profusion of elegant small-plates dishes, which incorporate many ingredients from Admony’s great West Village falafel shop, Taïm. The imposing Mediterranean-style lamb burger is the perfect lunchtime antidote to an afternoon spent browsing the prim boutiques of Nolita.
If you crave a taste of bearded, flannel-shirted, nose-to-tail-obsessed Brooklyn but don’t feel like hopping the train across the river, head to this boisterous West Village speakeasy. Chef Mehdi Brunet-Benkritly hails from the offal-mad city of Montreal, which means he serves roast chicken legs with the gnarled claw attached, and a mean version of egg-in-a-hole, larded here with deposits of gently simmered tripe. The desserts, meanwhile, are pure Manhattan, especially the fabulous made-to-order madeleines, served with a pot of honey-flavored sabayon.
Otto Enoteca Pizzeria (61) ★★
This bustling, consistently agreeable Batali operation is another perennial Platt-family favorite. The girls like to nibble on wedges of the chef’s signature pies topped with mushrooms or smoked lardo. Their portly dad favors the pastas, like the superb linguine alla carretierra tossed with pepper, plum tomatoes, and garlic chives, which I enjoyed at the bar just the other day. Otto also has one of the best gourmet takeout operations in town. Luckily, we live down the block.
Alex Stupak won numerous awards as a pastry chef for his madcap dessert creations at wd~50, but at this cutting-edge Mexican joint in the West Village, he turns his attention to savory food—specifically tacos. The objects of his obsession are served in all sorts of unexpected shapes and sizes—the fish taco is made with tempura-fried shark—but the ones you’ll keep thinking about are the old favorites, in particular the smoky, deliciously addictive lamb borracha taco, spiced with fiery Oaxacan chiles, orange juice, and a wicked hit of mescal.
Frankies Spuntino 457 ★
The two Franks (Castronovo and Falcinelli) have their own celebrity cookbook, along with two successful Spuntino outlets across the river in Manhattan. But this original Carroll Gardens institution remains the showcase for their elegantly sturdy, eminently satisfying brand of neoclassical, family-style red-sauce cooking. The meatballs with Sunday sauce get all the press, but save room for the desserts, especially the crème brûlée, which is undoubtedly the finest fancy dessert in all of Brooklyn.
Waverly Inn ★
With the merciful departure of the celebrity hordes to newer, trendier destinations around town, something strange has happened to Graydon Carter’s little West Village dining club. It’s become an unexpectedly pleasant place to eat. The room is as stylish as ever. The best of new chef Eric Korsh’s elevated bistro dishes—Dover sole, roast pheasant, bananas Foster served in a sizzling cast-iron pan—are very good. There’s even a listed reservations e-mail these days, which mere mortals can use at any time of the day to book a table.
Is the food at this sneakily sophisticated West Village wine bar–restaurant on the same level as some of the great Italianate dining spots uptown? My discerning gourmand brother, who is a regular at the dining counter there, would argue that it’s actually a whole lot better. He’s especially partial to whatever bruschetta creation happens to be on the menu, and the dainty housemade orecchiette, which was ladled, the last time he dropped in for dinner, with a dense pork-belly ragù. Co-owner Joe Campanale used to be the sommelier at Babbo. That explains the expertly curated list of Italian wines, priced reasonably here.
My food-loving midtown friends have been bull-rushing this tiny, Michelin-starred haute-Korean establishment ever since it opened one year ago, among the increasingly sophisticated jumble of new restaurants along 52nd Street in Hell’s Kitchen. Spend a happy evening grazing the former Daniel chef Hooni Kim’s intricately fashioned, modestly priced small-plates dishes—the spicy Korean Fired chicken wings, velvety blocks of tofu rolled in potato starch, the Changian sliders filled with pork or filet-mignon-quality bulgogi—and it’s easy to see why.
This unlikely, ramshackle establishment, which began life as an out-of-the-way pizza joint among the loading docks of Bushwick, has morphed into a kind of poster child for the new Brooklyn cuisine, complete with radio station and vegetable garden on the roof. If you can’t get a taste of Carlo Mirarchi’s vaunted tasting menu (it’s served Wednesdays and Thursdays only, and the waiting list is a month long), we recommend the beautifully charred, football-size special calzone—filled recently with mounds of prosciutto and smoky mushrooms—which is ample enough to feed a family of four.
The name of this diminutive Chelsea tapas bar means “little” in Basque, but there’s nothing undersize about Alexandra Raij and Eder Montero’s rigorously authentic Spanish cooking. In the evenings, the polished limestone bar fills up with tapeadors feasting on full-flavored tongue-twisting specialties like txilindron (spicy spareribs), and little mountains of crispy edged patatak mentaiko (fried potatoes) served, in the Basque style, with pots of mayonnaise laced with cod roe. The lunchtime El Doble burger—two patties of all-American beef dressed with layers of melted sheep’s-milk cheese—is equally bold.
The New York food impresario Ed Schoenfeld has had a hand in numerous Chinese culinary booms and trendlets over the years, but this infectiously popular Greenmarket operation in the West Village might be his most inspired one yet. It can take hours to get a table on a crowded evening, and a few of the fusion experiments conducted by the talented Hong Kong chef, Joe Ng, veer of the rails. But the playful, impeccably fresh food is a healthy cut above the kind of run-of-the-mill cooking you tend to see these days down in Chinatown. Classics like crispy beef, shrimp and cashews, and chicken smoked in brown sugar and jasmine tea rarely taste this good.
Fette Sau ★
Any self-respecting big-city top 100 restaurant list these days needs a proper barbecue joint, and this festive, market-style operation on the gentrified fringes of Williamsburg is ours. The optimum time to visit is on Fat Pig Thursdays, when the scruffy pitmasters break down a whole smoked heritage pig into all its most delectable parts—the butter-soft belly, the delicate cheeks, and the dinosaur-size chops—and sell them off pound by mouthwatering pound, until the entire hog is gone.