Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Something I am excited about: Chock Full 'o Nuts has opened a full-service cafe on 23rd Street! This may not seem like much of a big deal, but I have been into Chock ever since I read about its history. You see, having experienced antisemitism, founder William Black was sensitive to discrimination, and he made a point of hiring integrated staff, whom he paid a living wage and benefits. Later, Jackie Robinson was brand spokesman and after his retirement, Vice President of the company. In addition, the chain was known for high quality and uncompromising hygiene.

But I wouldn't be so excited if the menu wasn't totally retro and awesome: chicken croquettes, cream cheese on date-nut, and the "Chock Special" of "nutted cheese" on raisin bread! How I wish I still worked in the Flatiron! What a fab alternative to Eisenberg's Sandwich!

Sweet dreams!


Sunday, October 3, 2010

A NYC Itinerary Suitable For First-Time Visitors

While this plan doesn't incorporate some tourist strongholds, I think -- I hope! -- it gives a good flavor of the city! Everything I list is accessible by subway. It's very walking-heavy, so you may want to ride to some of the stops. In any case, wear good walking shoes. And bring a change if you're going somewhere fancy; New York is big,and and you may not have time to go home and change!

For starters, I'd avoid:

Times Square
Little Italy
South Street Seaport

(Although no one will be mad if you don't!)

Day 1: (Saturday)
Have breakfast somewhere convenient, although if you want ideas, please hit me up! If you're in Brooklyn, stop by the Brooklyn Flea at 10; you can get a bite there, too. But in any case, this itinerary will take you into Manhattan.

Start out at Kalyustan's. Browse the amazing array of spices and have am early lunch in the shop's second-floor cafe: cheap, delicious, and mostly vegetarian! This area is known as "Curry Hill" and you'll see tons of terrific restaurants.

Now you're going to walk south (downtown) until you reach Gramercy Park at E. 21st, the city's last private park, surrounded by some of its prettiest and priciest buildings.
Go to the Manhattan Arts Club at 15 Gramercy Park S. and beg the door guy to let you look upstairs. He may have a parrot on his shoulder and will probably let you. It's gorgeous.

Okay, so continue south, through Irving Place (stopping to look at my favorite house on the corner of 17th!)and move onto Union Square. The Greenmarket will be going on, as well as much revolutionary activity and assorted art and happenings. This is, in fact, the traditional political upheaval center of the city.

Go to the Strand. Hang out here for an hour or so, or however long you want.

Now, choose-your-own-adventure-style, you have two options:

East Side:
Wander down to the East Village. Check it out. Hungry? There's a lot to eat. I am partial to Veselka, which is 24-hours and kind of an institution, or the pork buns at Momufuko
On the LES, head down Orchard Street; there are lots of boutiques, good gelato at the Labortorio, and coffee at the Roasters, if you like that sort of thing. I rec a visit to the Tenement Museum Gift Shop, especially if you're souvenir-shopping. And in fact, one of the walking tours or museum tours is really fun and really informative!

West Side:
Take the L from 14th Street to 8th Avenue. You are now on the West Side! Walk still further West; you are going to the High Line at 20th street. Walk the High Line and, if you're feeling peckish, visit the Chelsea Market afterwards. Feeling contemplative? Wander south to the Garden at Saint Lukes to read and sit for a while.

You're also right near Chelsea; you may want to visit a few galleries (all of which are listed in Time Out New York.)

Now, hop back on the A/C and head down town to Broadway/Nassau. I know I said not to go to South Street Seaport, but I take it back: it may be touristy, but it's still old and kind of cool. Walk down Pearl Street, especially. If it tickles your fancy, you're also near the Fed, the Stock Exchange, and Trinity Church -- to say nothing of what's left of Ground Zero.

Now, whether you went east or west, I recommend taking the Staten Island Ferry. The best view of the city -- and the Statue of Liberty! (Also, Free!)

Back in Manhattan, you're now going to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.

In Brooklyn, proceed through Brooklyn Heights on Clinton Street. At Atlantic Avenue, cut up to Henry and get a drink at Henry Public. Sit and decompress for a while.

At 6, head further South on Henry until you reach Lucali at Henry and Carroll, making sure to grab a bottle of wine along the way. Hopefully you've beaten the rush; if not, put your names down and wander east a few blocks into Carroll Gardens; walk down Court and take a look at one of the city's Little Italys. Still thirsty? Abilene is always fun.

Don't feel like Brooklyn? Want to go home for a while instead? Eat in Manhattan: I love Tartine and Joseph Leonard.

After dinner, head into the city and grab some culture! The Met or the NY Philharmonic if you can -- or, there are always shows aplenty.

You will probably be tired by now, but if you feel like a cocktail, try Milk and Honey! Or, in BK, Delmano Hotel. If you really feel like a swanky experience, have a cocktail at The Carlyle.

Day 2: Sunday
Uptown: Brunch is a necessity! Go to Barney Greengrass.
Now, weather permitting, you're going to walk across Central Park -- don't rush it, there's a lot to see! (Unless, that is, it's raining. In which case, catch the crosstown bus at 86 Street.)

- Go to a museum! The Met, the Guggenheim, the Museum of the City of New York, the Neue Gallery. Give it a few hours.

- Now, a snack at Cafe Sabarsky!


Downtown: Have brunch at Prune (first choice!) or Freeman's. Or get a bagel with the works at Russ and Daughters and eat it in the little park across teh Street by the handball courts. Maybe do the downtown itinerary you didn't choose yesterday! If you end up at South Street, hit the excellent New Amsterdam Market for provisions.

Now go home.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Restaurant: Minetta Tavern

Minetta Tavern
113 MacDougal St. nr. Bleecker St.
Hours:Mon-Fri, 5:30pm-1am; Sat-Sun, 11am-3pm and 5:30pm-1am
Subway: A, B, C, D, E, F, V at W. 4th St.-Washington Sq.

Minetta Tavern (which, once upon a time, was indeed a humble Village tavern)is part of a recent wave of clubby, "old New York"-y restos that are hard to get into and disingenuously sceney. It's also famous for a $26 "Black Label Burger" that some rank among the best in Gotham, and which is indeed delicious if you like a distinctly aged, rather gamey patty. That's $26. That said, I would recommend it: it is expensive, but still cheaper than, say, 21. And, if you'll recall, this is where they installed Joe Gould as "resident bohemian" and where he received his mail, which really should count for something.

Yes, it's a scene, but if you go early, getting a table should not be a problem. Cocktails are delicious, the menu is old-fashioned and satisfying, and the service very cordial. Plus, the vintage interior is undeniably seductive. The capper, for me: M and I went to share that $26 burger at the bar one evening and found ourselves seated next to a garrulous Episcopal priest who discussed Bitters with great knowledge and enthusiasm, had a large and sumptuous meal, and ordered the souffle.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Restaurant: Azul Bistro

Azul Argentine Bistro
152 Stanton St
Lower East Side
Subway: F to Delancey St; J, M, Z to Delancey–Essex Sts
Mon–Thu, Sun 6pm–midnight; Fri, Sat 6pm–1am.

If you want steak, but don't feel like The Steakhouse Experience, I highly recommend Azul! It gets very, very loud, and it's a tight fit. But if you're in the right mood - or if you go very late - this is not a problem. The ceiling is papered with Argentine pinups, the walls with soccer stars, the vibe is festive and the light is magical. There are all sorts of Argentine things on the menu, but I always get the marinated skirt steak for two (with another person, that is) which comes with mashed potatoes and garlicky chimichurri. And you'll leave happy!

Restaurant: Torrisi Italian Specialties

Torrisi Italian Specialties
250 Mulberry St. nr. Prince St.
Subway: 6 at Spring St.; B, D, F, V at Broadway-Lafayette
Tue-Sun, 11am-4pm and 6pm-11pm; Mon, closed

Torrisi is very good to know about if you're in Soho, but then it's good to know about anyway: it's terrific. The premise is: old-school Italian deli. The twist is: everything is, in fact, locally sourced. The spot is as casual and sepia-toned as one would imagine from that description, and on the friendly side of cool. By day, it's a sandwich shop serving up chicken parm heroes, eggplant parm plates, and a garlicky vegetables. At night, it becomes a proper restaurant and a pricey one to boot. You've got to do prix-fixe (I'm not telling you, they are: it's the only option) so if you're not feeling hungry or spendy, do elsewhere. If you do decide to visit, however, you'll have fresh, luscious, local food well-prepared and a darling plate of house-made "rainbow cookies" and other Italian bakery standards, reinvented. By candlelight, of course. By the by, the tables aren't made for more than four, max, so take this into account. NB: M has accused me of favoring it just because their website is "piginahat.com" Not true!

One Meal in Brooklyn

Recently, there was a query on Chowhound that started a lot of conversation. The poster said he was trying to get his wife to move "to Brooklyn" while she wanted to stay in Manhattan. Each was given one meal to make his case. Cute, I guess, but completely ludicrous given the wide range of neighborhoods and atmospheres in both those enormous boroughs (although, I guess if one is a certain sort of yuppie, and I'm honestly not being snide, there are only about three areas in each that one would consider, and they're not very different at that.)

Anyway, the recs flew thick and fast, and ultimately, the couple had a highly influential meal at Marlowe and Sons. But the whole thing got me thinking: what if you did have to recommend just one place? Of course, luckily, these things are slightly more specific: there's some geographical limitation, or sensibilities to consider, or conservative taste-buds. Certainly, the one place you'd recommend to someone's parents is not necessarily the same one where you'd bring an out-of-town friend.

Were I answering the original poster's question, and wanted something hip-ish, and delicious, with typically Brooklyn insouciance, I'd probably go with one of these:

-Marlowe and Sons (with a drink at Delmano Hotel!)

-Lucali (with a drink at Henry Public!)

-Frankies (with a drink at MiniBar!)

-Roberta's (you'll drink on the deck while you wait and like it)

I'm not saying these are where I'd go, necessarily, for my birthday (in fact, we went to Petite Crevette) but all are festive and wonderful and representative and unlikely to disappoint, whatever someone's expectations.

Manhattan, now, is another ballgame. I asked M, and he said "Supper" (but he always says Supper.) I, on the other hand, might go with Torrisi Italian Specialties. Or Joseph-Leonard. Or maybe Tartine...well, that's for another day.

Restaurant: Joseph Leonard

Joseph Leonard
170 Waverly Place
West Village
Subway: 1 to Christopher St.
Mon, 5:30pm-midnight; Tue-Fri, 8am-2am; Sat, 10:30am-2am; Sun, 10:30am-midnight

Joseph-Leonard is, as of this writing, a hot-spot. Not in the creepy way, but it's no-reservations and small and you'll wait. Is it worth the wait, you ask? I am not the one to ask: I am firmly of the beat-the-rush school and am much more inclined to do a brunch-early-bird, myself. That said, it's indeed something special, and relaxed and fun and delicious and terribly New York. Last time we dined there, we had basil Gibsons, a delicious beet salad and a terrific skirt-steak and David Wain and his parents were at the next table. It was perfect. So, that's up to you.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Restaurant: Momofuku Noodle Bar

Momofuku Noodle Bar
171 First Ave., nr. 11th St.
Subway: L at First Ave.; 6 at Astor Pl.
Sun-Thu, noon-4pm and 5:30pm-11pm; Fri-Sat, noon-4pm and 5:30pm-midnight

A bit foodie-ish, yes, and not for the vegetarian, but Momofuku's noodle bar is actually terrific. It's fancy takes on street food: ramen made with Berkshire pork and pork buns that are a local legend (get them!) And it's affordable - if chaotic - too.

Chelsea Market

Chelsea Market
75 Ninth Ave. nr. 15th St
Subway: A, C, E at 14th St.
Mon-Sat, 7am-10pm; Sun, 8am-8pm

The Chelsea Market is sort of a funny thing to put down here, but it's neat enough that if you're in the area - especially if you're going to the Highline - it's well worth a stop. Basically, it's a food hall: a collection of high-end stores in the old Nabisco factory. The space is cavernous and odd, and the picnic pickings superlative. Just a few highlights:

Amy's Bread for sandwiches and bread

Butcher shop for sandwiches and salumi

Bella Italia for antipasti and panini

Lucy's Whey for cheese

Jacques Torres for chocolate

Ronnybrook Milk Bar for ice cream

Fat Witch for brownies

(Needless to say, also great if you've got a kitchen!)

Patisserie Claude

Patisserie Claude
187 W. 4th St. nr. Barrow St.
Subway: A, B, C, D, E, F, V at W. 4th St.-Washington Sq.
Daily, 8am-8pm

Patisserie Claude, which is shleppy and shlumpy, was for years actually run by Claude, who was the sourest French baker in the whole world. He's retired now and a much nicer employee has bought the place, but the croissants are as good as ever. A true old-Village experience! Sit and eat, but nb: there's no AC come summer.

Bar: Black Mountain Wine House

Black Mountain Wine House
15 Union St. at Hoyt Street
Boerum Hill, Brooklyn
Subway: F, G at Carroll St.
Daily, 5pm-midnight

Black Mountain is the most relaxing, un-sceney place imaginable to get together with a group of (female) friends, although I imagine it'd be good for a date too. The setting is causal and comfy, there's a fire in winter and the staff is super-friendly. And the food is good too: cheeses and charcuterie and salads and, on Tuesdays, fondue.

Restaurant: Roberta's

261 Moore St (between White St & Bogart St)
Bushwick, Brooklyn
Subway: L to Morgan Avenue
Mon-Fri 12 p.m. - 12 a.m.
Sat-Sun 11 a.m. - 12 a.m.

If you fancy a hipsterish, aggressively locavore, authentic New Brooklyn experience, I believe Roberta's - with its southern-accented Italian and pizzas - may be for you. It's off the beaten path, and you may have to wait in the back yard with a beer. But it's friendly and convivial and it's laid-back and even the weird pizzas are pretty excellent thanks to the terrific ingredients. A really fun place for a crowd, too - because it's loud and you'll sit at communal picnic tables.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Restaurant/Bar: Moto

394 Broadway, at Hooper St.
Mon-Fri, 6pm-1am; Sat, 11am-2am; Sun, 11am-1am
Subway: G at Broadway; J, M at Hewes St.

I always called this "the bicycle restaurant" because there's an old bike frame over the door, but in fact it has nothing to do with bikes and only a little to do with motorcycles and a lot to do with a sepia-toned, atmospheric, Francophile bar with good live music most nights. "Chill" is a word I don't often use, but it generally applies here, not least because it's a bit off the beaten path (albeit right on the subway line.) There's classic French "fare," but it's a great place to go just for some good beer, music and an intimate, low-key hang. NY Mag calls it "Kafkaesque," so make of this what you will. Extra-appealing on a rainy night!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Shops: Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens

Smith Street: (F,G to Bergen or Carroll) Shops and much yuppie folderol.

Dear Fieldbinder (198 Smith Street @ Baltic)
I worked here for years; the people are wonderful and the clothes beautiful. No "boutique freeze" whatsoever, and very good sales.

Smith & Butler (225 Smith @ Butler)
Kind of old-timey aesthetic boutique, with good men's and womenswear.

Joe's (Su)Perette
This place is an enormous dump and the staff are surly, but do yourself a favor and order a couple of "prosciutto balls."(I think they're 50 cents each.) It's a little cheese-and-prosciutto croquette, fried fresh, that one of my friends likened to "tasting sugar for the first time.)

Court Street (basically a food walk through the old neighborhood!)

Court Pastry
If you like Italian pastry (I'm not such a fan) this is the best.

D'Amico Coffee Roasters (309 Court @ Degraw)
Amazing coffee - to buy or to drink - at a neighborhood stronghold. I love the "Red Hook Blend."

F. Monteleone & Cammareri Bakery (355 Court St @ Union St.)
Everyone has opinions about the best "lard bread," a spicy loaf filled with cheese and hunks of salami. For my money, this is #1 - and they make it in a roll, so you won't need to buy a whole one. But as Lavar would say, don't take my word for it: Caputo's and Mazzola are just a few blocks away!

Esposito's Pork Store (357 Court @ President)
A family-run business with amazing house-made salamis and soppressatas.

Marietta Dry Goods (392 Court St @ 1st Place)
A time-warp clothing store run by two octogenarian brothers who will tell you stories of the old neighborhood. Pick up some cheap PJs, undershirts or a half-slip while you're at it.

(Look for the "social clubs" hereabouts: you'll know them by the old men speaking Italian.)

Olive's Very Vintage (434 Court Street @ 2nd Place)
A touch pricey, but I've had some good finds!

Caputo Fine Foods (460 Court @ 4th Place)
Amazing sandwiches and the most divine homemade mozzarella. And I love how three generations work there at once

Store 518 (518 Court @ Nelson)
Vintage and oddness. Have found some wonderful shoes, an antique doll, and some vintage name barrettes for friends.

Neighborhood Overview: Dumbo, Brooklyn Heights and BoCoCa

Although this actually covers a few miles, they are a natural grouping.

Cross the Brooklyn Bridge at some point - it is equally nice in good weather or after dark.

Under the bridge is Dumbo, which is somewhat ridiculous and has become like a mini-Soho, with its industrial buildings turned into home stores etc. If you are here, though, you may want to check out Jacques Torres' Chocolate Shop or the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory. There is also a really pretty park along the waterfront. AVOID GRIMALDI'S. You will see the lines, but they are suckers and there is better pizza to be had.

If you walk south, further into Brooklyn, you will be in Brooklyn Heights. This is staid and mature, but very beautiful. A nice spot for a coffee, if needed, is Iris Cafe (20 Columbia Pl between Joralemon St & Atlantic Ave) , or get a drink at Henry Public (329 Henry St between Atlantic Ave & Pacific St.)

Next, you hit what realtors call BoCoCa, but which is really Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, and Carroll Gardens. All you need to know is, they have all been gentrified like crazy. You don't need to know it, in fact, because it will shortly become obvious. (In Boerum Hill, one may find the New York City Transit Museum.)

Carroll Gardens, which is very pretty, was a Little Italy until recently, still is a bit. I have a lot of restaurant tips for this area and, because it's a neat area, some shopping tips, too. I recommend a leisurely stroll down Court Street, maybe ending up at Lucali or Frankies.

Small Museums

Just a few I like! There are more...

East Village

Merchant's House Museum</span>
29 East 4th Street
A small, not terribly well-known museum, this house was donated to the city after the last of the siblings died in the 1930s, leaving in tact a 19th century time capsule. The old spinster, by the way, is said to have been the inspiration for Henry James' Washington Square. She's also said to haunt the place.

New York City Fire Museum

278 Spring Street
For fire buffs, of course, but interesting generally and an odd, good contrast to the shopping and gallery-hoppers of NoLiTa.

Forbes Galleries
62 Fifth Avenue
Inside the mind of a rich person. It involves Faberge, and lots of toys.

Financial District:

Fraunces Tavern Museum

54 Pearl Street
Revolutionary history!

American Numismatic Society/Fed

33 Liberty Street

Museum of American Finance

48 Wall Street
Both, naturally, deal with finance. The first, with coins!

Horticultural Society of New York

147 West 37th Street 13th Floor
Delightfully old-fashioned and calming.

Mt. Vernon Hotel Museum and Garden

421 East 61st Street

Museum of American Illustration

128 East 63rd Street

Nicholas Roerich Museum
319 W. 107th Street
The home of Russian artist Nicholas Roerich, extremely interesting and perfect for a rainy day.

Museum of Art and Origins

430 West 162nd Street
Its purpose is slightly vague, but both museum and brownstone are lovely!


Louis Armstrong House
34-56 107 Street
7 to 103-Corona
Flushing, Queens

Living Museum at Creedmore Psychiatric Center

80-45 Winchester Blvd, Building 75
This is a museum of the hospital's early days, yes, but also a functioning psychiatric hospital and a place to show the patients' work. While it may sound odd or macabre, in fact it's moving and fascinating.


City Reliquary
370 Metropolitan Avenue
A small museum to the city that makes for a nice change from all the Williamsburg hipness!

New York City Transit Museum
Corner of Boerum Place and Schermerhorn
Boerum Hill/Cobble Hill
In an abandoned station!

Staten Island:

Alice Austen House
2 Hylan Boulevard • Staten Island
Thursday through Sunday 12:00 P.M. - 5:00 P.M. The grounds are open every day until dusk.
Alice Austen was a Victorian photographer and her cottage is absolutely lovely. The photography is also fascinating. Near the ferry and the bridge.

Staten Island Museum
75 Stuyvesant Place
One of those Victorian museums full of taxidermy and random things.

Do: Film Forum

Film Forum
209 West Houston Street between 6th and 7th Avenues
Subway: 1 to Houston Street

The Film Forum is the city's best revival house and it's always worth checking their schedule! The popcorn is also excellent, although I've never found Jacques Derrida's recommendation of the banana bread to be convincing one way or the other. If you go during the day, many, many oddballs. Oddly, there's only ever a wait for the men's room here.

Notable Buildings

While you can get books and books on NYC architecture, the AIA Guide to NYC is highly recommended for its bizarre and highly opinionated critiques of buildings such as this chauvinistic and possibly unwarranted review of the Grace Building at Bryant Park: "A disgrace to the street. Bowing to its era's zoning requirements for setbacks produced an excuse to develop the flashy swooping form that interrupts the street wall containing Bryant Park. The plaza behind is a bore." With over 5000 entries (all personally visited by the authors) this brick of a book is still small enough to carry on your explorations of NYC. The opinions here are M's and M's alone:

Citicorp Center
@ Lexington & E53rd
Forceful, exposed, and masculine, the base of this building is the architectonic equivilent of an urban flasher exposing his erect penis. I get nervous standing near it. But opposing that yang, there is hidden underneath an elegant post-brutalist chapel and a small performing arts theatre. Urbane.

Also be sure to catch a glimpse of the Long Island City Citibank building in Queens by looking east, down 53rd street and across the river. This modern ode to the ziggurat is one of the most successful forays of Post-Modern architecture, and its axial relation to the Citicorp center is nothing short of genius.

Credit Suisse Building @ Madison Square Park (23rd and Broadway)
What can one say? This is simply an exquisite, sexy building. It alone convinced me not to short Credit Suisse's stock back in '07. A wise move. Incidentally, the former Bear Sterns building is a po-mo junk heap.

NYC Police Headquarters
@ City Hall
I find it hard to describe what I find so attractive about this building. I once brought a girl here to look at it, and she broke up with me shortly after. Go figure. Its volumes are massed expressively, projecting a solidity and force befitting a police headquarters, yet the F.L. Wright inspired corner windows (which I think open manually) speak to the humanism and empathy one hopes a police force can aspire to.

Edmond Safra's Republic National Bank (now an HSBC) @ Bryant Park
To quote the AIA Guide, "a digital tidal wave that swells over the old Knox Hat Building." I enjoy transacting business here.

7 World Trade Center

The finest skyscraper built in NYC in the last several decades. A modern paean to Mies van der Rohe's unrealized crystalline sketches for the Friedrichstrasse office tower. If there was to be a dictionary entry on the concept of transparency in architecture, a picture of this building would suffice. From a distance one can see straight through one side of the building and out the other, and the support structure emanating out from the elevator shafts is fully legible. Brilliant.

Restaurant: Supper

156 E. 2nd St., nr. Ave. A
Mon-Thu, 10am-midnight; Fri, 10am-1am; Sat, 11am-1am; Sun, 11am-midnight
Subway: F, V at Lower East Side-Second Ave.

Supper is a place I tell everyone to go, because the food is just so good and after a day of walking there is nothing more relaxing than sitting down in its dim dining room with its flea-market decor and hand-written menus. After a family wedding weekend (his family) in Buffalo, M and I rolled off the plane and came straight here for house red, shaved fennel salad, tuna with eggplant and tomatoes and spaghetti with lemon. I can't tell you how revivifying it was. Cash only!

Bar: Sunny's

253 Conover St.
Red Hook, Brooklyn
Wednesday, Friday, Saturday - 8pm to 4am
B61 Bus to Van Brunt

The best bar in NYC, but also quite isolated and open only 3 nights a week, Sunny's is the last of New York's longshoreman's taverns. Now, it has live Western Swing on Wednesdays, old-timey music on weekends and amazing atmosphere all the time. Sunny is a famed local eccentric. And I liked it before my brother worked here, too.

Bar: Milk and Honey

Milk and Honey
134 Eldridge Street
Daily, 9pm-3am
F at Delancey St.; J, M, Z at Essex St.; B, D at Grand St.

Yes, they have an ever-changing secret number. You need a reservation. (Although I've shown up looking respectable and been given a slot.) And there's a long list of rules, like no more than 4 to a party. And it kind of started the horrible "speakeasy" trend. But the cocktails are so good. And thanks to all those rules, you can have a quiet conversation over a perfect drink on even a Saturday night at 10. Oh, and cash only.

Other bars, same owner, also great and no reservation but get crowded:

Little Branch
20 Seventh Ave. South, at Leroy
West Village

East Side Company Bar
49 Essex St.nr. Grand St.
Lower East Side

Restaurant/Bar: El Quijote

El Quijote
226 W. 23rd St.,nr. Seventh Ave.
Daily, 11:30am-midnight
Subway: 1 at 23rd St.; C, E at 23rd St.

Ok, strictly speaking, El Quijote doesn't have the best food. But it is awesome: an ancient Spanish restaurant with, yes, kitschy Don Quixote decor, in the Chelsea Hotel. Can you get a better paella or sangria in NYC? Probably. But nothing will be quite as weird or wonderful.

Bar Jamón/Casa Mono

Frnt 1, 125 East 17th Street (Irving Place)
Union Square/Gramercy
Open Weekdays 5pm-2am; Weekends 12pm-2am
Subway: 4, 5, 6, L, N, Q, R, W to 14th St.-Union Sq.

These tapas bars are right next to each other on Irving Place; Bar Jamón is a touch smaller and has no sit-down tables. Both (despite being owned by Mario Batali) are low-key and delicious and while they get crowded at peak hours, are a wonderful place to stop for a snack if you've been walking in Gramercy. I've never had anything bad, but pan con tomate, chiles rellenos (or the Spanish equivalent!), patates braves and any other vegetable have been wonderful. They have a lovely wine selection too, which comes in little carafes.

Shops: The Strand

*The Strand
828 Broadway between 12th and 13th
9:30am – 10:30pm
Sunway: 4, 5, 6, L to 14th Street - Union Square

16 Miles of Books. Indeed. Warning: you will run into someone with whom you went to high school. But the stacks are good for hiding! Essential, I think.

Restaurant: Vinegar Hill House

Vinegar Hill House
72 Hudson Ave between Front & Water Streets
Vinegar Hill (near DUMBO), Brooklyn
Tue-Thu 6pm-11pm; Fri-Sat 6pm-11:30pm; Sun 5:30pm-10pm
Subway: F to York or bus to York Av - Navy St, or walk from the Bridge!

I love the tiny, weird neighborhood of Vinegar Hill, but unless like me you like wandering inaccessible neighborhoods or know that commune of hippes who live by the admiral's house and don't have a door on their bathroom, Vinegar Hill House is sort of the only reason to make the trek. But it's really good! The food's tasty in that new-Brooklyn way, and the decor isn't too sepia, and it's just friendly and comfortable and lovely and off-the-beaten-path AND you won't have to wait an hour for brunch. Cute bar, too!

Restaurant: Pies and Thighs

Pies and Thighs
166 South 4th Street (between Bedford Ave & Driggs Ave)
Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Subway: J,M,Z to Marcy Ave
M-F Breakfast 8-11
Lunch 11-4
Dinner 5-12

Saturday & Sunday
Brunch 10-4
Dinner 5-12

When it opened, Pies and Thighs was just a couple of southern hipsters making fried chicken and pie in this back-street lean-to with a cooler and a hot-plate, attached to a sort of dodgy bar with a square of astro-turf outside. Then they were closed, seemingly forever, and everyone was bereft. And when they reopened, they were in a real space, in a more central location, and were a proper restaurant with a kitchen and crockery the owner/chef's mother threw, and wine from her sister's vineyard, and you can even sit down. The fried chicken and the pie and the biscuits are all still scrummy, as my British friend (who made a meal of mac and cheese, black-eyed peas, collards, and peanut-butter pie, for you veggies out there) said. And if it's less quirky, it's certainly more reliable! (And come in the morning, by the by, for egg sandwiches, fresh donuts and coffee.) It's still cash only, for the moment.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Restaurant: The Breslin/Stumptown

The Breslin
Ace Hotel
20 W. 29th St.nr. Broadway
Mon-Fri, 7am-11:45am, noon-4pm, and 5:30pm-4am; Sat-Sun, 7am-4pm and 5:30pm-4am
Subway: N, R, W at 28th St.; 1 at 28th St.

On the one hand, the Breslin is kind of ridiculous. It's in this super-hip hotel, the Ace, in a kind of douchey neighborhood, Murray Hill, and it's a bit of a scene. There is an Opening Ceremony (a high-fshion mini-chain) in the lobby, and the "lobby bar" is totally goofy. However! It's also pretty cool-looking, and the food (by chef April Bloomfield, of the Spotted Pig) is terrific, and let's face it, sometimes a little sceney can be fun!

The dinner - sort of a locavore, top-drawer, high-end take on gastropub, which I do realize is already high-end - is very good, with lots of homemade charcuterie and house-made pickles and sticky-toffee pudding. But the brunch, which is well-priced and much less crowded, is among the city's best. I have had: perfectly poached eggs, grapefruit with ginger sugar, Greek yogurt with homemade granola, delicious coffee, and among the best hot cross buns I've ever tasted and I am serious about my hot-cross buns! Also, they start serving early, which I love.

There's a branch of Stumptown Coffee in the hotel, which is typically good if you're someone who cares a lot about coffee in that Portland way, and is notable both for the very friendly baristas' absurd , L.A.-circa-'04 getups and the excellent pastries, provided by the Breslin.

(And, let's face it, I also like Opening Ceremony.)

Food Shop: Russ and Daughters

*Russ and Daughters
179 E. Houston St.nr. Orchard St.
Mon-Fri, 8am-8pm; Sat, 9am-7pm; Sun, 8am-5:30pm
Subway: F, V at Lower East Side-Second Ave.; J, M, Z at Essex St.

Russ and Daughters is take-out, so if it's bad weather or you don't have a kitchen somewhere, I guess it'll just taunt you. However, it's such an institution, and so amazing, and so special, that you should poke your head in no matter what. A remnant of the LES's Jewish immigrant past, R&D has been serving the city's best "appetizing" (smoked fish and other Jewish dairy cold-cuts) for generations and the place is a time capsule, albeit a thriving and sophisticated one. While you can get a bagel to go, know-at-alls on Chowhound are very scornful of this because it's not traditional. (I do it all the time, though!) Plus, the weekend-morning takeout crowd is kind of a gas, and the Babka and coffee are excellent. (If you're a purist, buy your fixings here and, if it's not a Saturday, your bagels and bialys from nearby Kossar's.) Also, watch this.

NB: the youngest generation has an excellent blog, Lox Populi!

Restaurant: Prune

54 E. 1st St. nr. First Ave.
Mon-Thu, 11:30am-3pm and 5:30pm-11pm; Fri, 11:30am-3pm and 5:30pm-midnight; Sat, 10am-3:30pm and 5:30pm-midnight; Sun, 10am-3:30pm and 5:30pm-11pm
Subway: F, V at Lower East Side-Second Ave.

Prune is one of the spots where I always recommend people come for brunch. I mean, the dinner is spectacular, and special, and creative, and interesting-in-a-good way (I suppose you'd call it nose-to-tail "New American," maybe with French country influences? Anyway!), but brunch is much cheaper if you're not doing a special occasion! And it's amazing, and the place is just as cool and casual and friendly and they're just as inclined to be playing Talking Heads or Dolly Parton. Brunch here is very popular (their Bloody Mary menu is legendary) and of course it's tiny, so if you don't want to wait, come before the first seating at 10. Everything is perfect, be it the stewed tomatoes, the fresh juices, the perfect Eggs Benedict or the various quirky, hand-written things that have never occurred to you.

Or, come in the evening for a drink and a homemade deviled egg. Either way, you'll be so glad you did. (For what it's worth, last time I brunched here, Claire Danes and Hugh Dancy were waiting for a table.)

Restaurant: Petite Crevette

*Petite Crevette
144 Union St at Hicks St. (just across BQE)
Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
Mon-Sat, noon-3pm and 5pm-11pm; Sun, 5pm-11pm
Subway: F,G to Carroll Street

The food at Petite Crevette is good: simple, no-frills preparations of impeccably fresh fish, a list of which is written on brown paper every day. But the atmosphere is magical, and simply put there's nowhere more festive in the city to BYO champagne and toast to someone's birthday, or promotion, or whatever. Yes, it's BYOB, also cash-only: there are both ATMs and a wine store around the corner.

(I think they're calling this the "Columbia Street Waterfront District" these days, but it's obviously just an extension of Carroll Gardens.)

Restaurant: Lucali

575 Henry St. nr. First Pl.
Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
Hours: 6-11ish, closed Tues.
Subway: F, G to Carroll Street

Lucali is, hands-down, my favorite pizzeria in New York. The debates about pizza, as seen on Chowhound et al, are very tiresome indeed, and the one concensus is that Grimaldi's is a pale former shadow of itself and only sucker tourists wait in the endless line for it. While I abstain from these debates on grounds of having a life (sort of; I am making this) I will say that while you may have to wait for Lucali, too, I don't mind. I love the staff, I love the cozy, sepia-toned space, I love Mark, the owner, I love the BYOB policy, and of course I love the delicious pizza. I get it with just fresh basil, and maybe a calzone. We'll go together, actually.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Midtown Restaurants

Most of the spots in here are "destination" recommendations. But midtown is such a wasteland, and so full of tourist traps, that I wanted to give you a list of spots that, while not necessarily outstanding overall, are by far the best options hereabouts, and all very good besides. One often finds oneself here for a show, or a performance at Lincoln Center, and must have a dossier!

Times Square:
Margon(136 West 46th Street between 6th and 7th) a tiny Cuban luncheonette with delicious sandwiches (Cubano especially), a hot buffet, and great cafe con leche. The Gourmet staffers used to eat here all the time!

Edison Cafe
(228 W 47th Street between 7th and 8th) A converted hotel ballroom known, amongst actors and writers, as the Polish Tea Room. Coffee shop fare with especially good Jewish classics like blintzes, latkes and matzoh ball soup. A favorite of my grandfather from the days when he worked in radio.

Burger Joint (119 West 56th Street, in lobby of hotel, between 6th and 7th) The "secret" burger place inside the lobby of the Parker Meridien is a tad gimmicky, but makes a darn good, no-frills burger.

East Midtown:
Entrecote (590 Lexington Ave, @52nd) The best food in midtown is really steak - Wolfgang's, Strip House, Sparks. Well, since the best steak of all is at Peter Luger in Brooklyn, much better to go to Entrecote. This is the first US outpost of a cult Parisian mini-chain that only serves steak frites, in an addictive sauce that's a big secret. And they bring you two portions! I actually love it; the weird location keeps me from giving it its own entry, though.

West Midtown:
Chez Napoleon (365 West 50th Street @8th Ave)
Another super old-school, rather campy French spot. "Sadie, you've outdone yourself this time," said the friend whom I made meet me there. But the food was good, the souffle a poem, and we had a blast: such a good alternative to the mediocrity of the theatre district!

Amy's Bread (672 9th Ave @ 47th St)A reliable mini-chain making delicious sandwiches and baked goods. Favorites: NY State goat's cheese and roasted vegetable sandwich; white bean and avocado sandwich; spicy grilled cheese.(Veggie-approved)

Manganaro (9th Ave. btw 37+38th) This venerable red-sauce spot has a reputation for crankiness, but be nice, don't act like an ass, and have some excellent eggplant parm! I love it ;)

Afghan Kebab House (764 9th Avenue @51st St) Cheap, good, no-frills Afghani! (Veggie-approved)

Columbus Circle:
Bouchon Bakery (Time Warner Center, 59th and Broadway) Despite being in a weird, glorified mall, the food - at both the takeout counter and the sit-down restaurant - is AMAZING: the best pastries, quiche, soups, salads...

Restaurant: The City Bakery

City Bakery
3 West 18th Street, near 5th Avenue
Mon-Fri, 7:30am-7pm; Sat, 7:30am-6:30pm; Sun, 9am-6pm; closes half an hour early daily in summer
Subway: 4, 5, 6, L, N, Q, R, W at 14th St.-Union Sq.; F, V at 14th St.; 1 at 18th St.

My old boss used to refer to the stream of morning fashion-industry traffic that streamed through here as "the bitches' parade." The people-watching is good, all right. City Bakery is a bakery, yes, and many come for their hot chocolate, their famous cookies, or the pretzel croissant. But the lunch "salad bar" - a selection of inventively-prepared green-market veggies, plus sandwiches, a beloved mac and cheese and a thick tomato-vegetable soup, make it a lunch destination both for eating in and taking out.

Restaurant: Westville

Westville: 210 West 10th Street near Bleecker Street
A, B, C, D, E, F, V at W. 4th

Westville East: 173 Avenue A
L at First Ave.

Westville does all kinds of upmarket takes on kid food and their butterscotch pudding is highly regarded in some quarters, but it's the long daily menu of fresh, inventively-prepared vegetables - and the vegetable plates that ensue - that make it such a destination (for me.) They also have a new, East Village location, even though now the name makes no sense. It's still just as good.

Restaurant: Pearl Oyster Bar

Pearl Oyster Bar
West Village
18 Cornelia Street
Mon-Fri, noon-2:30pm and 6pm-11pm; Sat, 6pm-11pm; Sun, closed
Subway: A,B,C,D,E,F to West 4th Street

Pearl does New England-style, no-frills seafood like lobster rolls, chowder and oysters. Everything on the short menu is perfect, and there's a reason it's always packed: come early or wait, and get a sundae if you have room. Not too fancy, but always festive. They started the lobster roll craze of the 'oughts which, while it should not be of remote interest to anyone else, was kind of Big in NYC for a while.

Restaurant: Tartine

West Village
253 West 11th Street
Mon-Sat, 9am-10:30pm; Sun, 9am-10pm
Subway: 1,2,3 to 14th Street; 1 at Christopher St.-Sheridan Sq

Tiny (it's really cramped - don't bring anyone rotund or claustrophobic), unpretentious and charming, Tartine is really special. BYOB and prepare to wait - then have a meal of well-priced, delicious French classics and an especially yummy dessert. (I like the chicken in white wine, with salad. But that's just me. And if they have that layered meringue gateau, try it!) If you're in the area, a lovely breakfast spot. Oh yeah, cash only.

Bar: Hotel Delmano

Hotel Delmano
82 Berry St. nr. N. 9th St.
Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Subway: L to Bedford Avenue

There are a lot of sepia-toned bars in Brooklyn, but this one is something special: both beautiful and good. (The Brooklyn Belle is especially delicious, IMO.) They have small bites, too.

Restaurant: Marlow and Sons

*Marlow and Sons
81 Broadway (near the Manhattan Bridge)
Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Subway: J/M/Z to Marcy Avenue

Marlow and Sons is very locavore and ahead of the Brooklyn-food curve, but it's also cozy and cool and really fun. Come for breakfast for great coffee and muffins, or for slice of pound cake later in the day, or for lunch, or treat it as a wine bar and have potato fritatta. Or order something amazing off the ever-changing blackboard menu. It's not too hipsterish, either! Oh, and they have this adorable little faux-English grocery store in the front.

La Lunchonette

La Lunchonette
130 Tenth Ave. at 18th St.
Subway: A/C/E to 23rd Street
Mon, 5:30pm-11pm; Tue-Fri, noon-3:30pm and 5:30pm-11pm; Sat-Sun, 11:30am-3:30pm and 5:30pm-11pm

A classic, cozy, perfect little French bistro! Romantic, or just fun.

Restaurant: Il Laboratorio del Gelato

Il Laboratorio del Gelato
Lower East Side
95 Orchard Street between Delancey and Broome
Subway: J/M/Z/F to Essex-Delancey

The gelato here is amazing. That is all!

Restaurant/Bar: Freeman's

Lower East Side
End of Freeman Alley (off of Rivington)
Subway: F/V to 2nd Avenue

*You MUST get to Freeman's early, I mean indecently, Miami-early. (Okay, 6.) It gets level-12 douche-tastic later, I am sad to report. So, early. But it's worth it! While the dinner is delicious, I love to go just for one of their amazing cocktails (the Bramble is my favorite!, and some hot artichoke dip, and maybe an order of devils-on-horseback...brunch is good, too.*

*NB: there's taxidermy

Restaurant: Frankies 457

*Frankies 457 Sputino
457 Court Street at 4th Place
Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
(There's also a location on the LES)
Subway: F to Carroll Street

*Frankies is so amazing: local and special and relaxed and really delicious Italian food. It's in the heart of old Carroll Gardens, although it's quintessential new Brooklyn. There are small plates, like salads and vegetables, or larger dishes like the best eggplant parm sandwich on the face of the Earth and scrumptious meatballs with raisins and pine nuts in addictive red sauce. Go early, and remember: cash only.

Restaurant/Bar: Fette Sau

Fette Sau
354 Metropolitan Ave
Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Subway: L to Beford; L,G to Metropolitan-Lorimer

Fette Sau's BBQ is only good, but the atmosphere is great. I recommend coming early to check out their excellent Bourbon selection. A good place for friends, especially in warm weather when more tables are available.

Restaurant: Eisenberg's Sandwich

Eisenberg's Sandwich Shop
174 5th Avenue between 22nd and 23rd
Weekdays 6:30am-8pm; Sat 6:30am-6pm; Sun 6:30am-4pm
Subway: R,W to 23rd St.; F,V to 23rd St.; 6 to 23rd St.

Eisenberg's is an old working-person's luncheonette. Is the food a-mazing? Not really, but if you want an egg cream and a grilled cheese or an egg salad sandwich, stepping in here - especially in this neighborhood - is like going back in time. When I worked at the Flatiron Building, I'd eat at the counter here all the time.

Restaurant: Egg

Williamsburg, Brooklyn
135 North 5th Street, Brooklyn
Subway: L to Beford Avenue

Egg is some of the best breakfast in New York. It's southern-style - think biscuits and gravy (including a veggie version!), country ham, and at lunch, pimento cheese - but everything's locally-sourced and the atmosphere is pure Williamsburg. Long lines on weekends after noon or so.

Bar: Bohemian Hall

Bohemian Hall Beer Garden
2919 24th Avenue, Astoria, Queens
Open Mon-Wed 5pm-2am; Thu-Fri 5pm-3am; Weekends 12pm-3am

If you have a car, go to Queens. And if the weather's nice, and you're in Queens, go to the odd, venerable Bohemian Beer Hall in Astoria. There's food, but come with friends and for beer. There used to be a lot of these beer gardens, so this is a real taste of the past.

Shop: Idlewild

Flatiron District/Union Square
12 West 19th Street, near 5th Avenue
Mon-Fri. 11:30 a.m. - 8:00 p.m., Sat. 12:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m., Sun. 12:00 p.m. - 6:00p.m.
Subways: R,W to 23rd St.; F,V to 23rd St.; F,V,L,1,2,3 to 14th Street-Union Square

In a city of good bookstores, Idlewild, a travel-themed shop, is something special: books are arranged by country and city and it's so appealingly curated, you'll love it even if you're not going anywhere. And if you are, it's one-stop shopping for travel guides, novels and history.

Restaurant: Barney Greengrass

*Barney Greengrass
541 Amsterdam Avenue between 86th and 87th Streets
Tue-Sun 8:30am-5pm
Subway: 1 to 86th Street

This is an essential NYC spot, an ancient Jewish deli known as "the Sturgeon King." It's one of the major institutions of the Upper West Side, and the people-watching is (almost) as good as the scrambled eggs with onion and lox; the fresh OJ; the babka and the chopped liver. Don't get fancy: stick to bagels, bialys and appetizing (Jewish cold-cuts.) In fact, get the eggs with onions and novie! And don't let the waiters push you around. During peak brunch hours, you'll wait, but there's a quick turnover and if you're there before 11 or on a weekday, you'll be in, no problem.

Restaurant: Grand Central Oyster Bar

Grand Central Oyster Bar
89 East 42nd Street (Grand Central Station)
Sunway: 4,5,6,7,S to Grand Central Station
Open Weekdays 11:30am-9:30pm; Sat 12pm-9:30pm

This is a NYC institution, and while the food's a bit uneven, it's a really fun experience. Stick to oysters or classic dishes like the pan-roast, chowder, or oyster stew. With the hot little baking-powder biscuits, it's a pretty great meal. Try to sit in the back room! And be sure to do the "Whispering Gallery" just outside.

Bar: Campbell Apartment

Campbell Apartment
15 Vanderbilt Ave (Grand Central Station)
Subway:4,5,6,7,S to Grand Central

This is the place to go if you're waiting for a train - or marooned in midtown for any other reason. You're going mostly for the space(a converted apartment), which is stunning, although the baroque cocktails are good. Warning: The scene gets horrible, so go only at off-hours!

Bar: Angel's Share

Angel's Share
8 Stuyvesant Street at 3rd Avenue, 2nd Floor
Monday-Sunday 6pm - 2:30am

Okay, this is a bit scenier than I normally go for, but still a good, quiet spot to know about in the often overrun East Village. It's a "secret" bar, tucked away behind a Japanese restaurant. As in any of these places, weeknights are a better bet. It's little and you can't go with a larger party than 4.

Restaurant/Shop: Kalustyan's

123 Lexington Avenue at 28th Street
6 to 28th Street
Monday - Saturday 10 am - 8 pm ; Sunday and Holidays 11 am - 7 pm

This enormous spice emporium is worth a visit anyway, but the second-floor cafe is a gem: delicious, cheap vegetarian Indian. The mujaddara sandwich is one of the best and heartiest in the city!

Restaurants: Zucco le French Diner

*Zucco le French Diner
188 Orchard St., nr. Houston St.
F/V to 2nd Avenue, F/JMZ to Essex Street

Mon-Sat, noon-midnight; Sun, 11am-11pm

Zucco himself is raffish and awesome. The place is tiny, cool and serves basic, rich, traditional French food all day long. You can come early(ish) for cafe au lait and a tartine, any time for an espresso, or in the evening for escargots, steak frites and a glass of wine. There are a few tasty vegetarian options, by the by, although no one who's revolted by the smell of cooking meat should attempt it. Even when the neighborhood is at its horrible worst on weekend nights, the vibe here stays good.

Bars: Bemelmans Bar

Bemelmans (named for the murals) at the Carlyle is one of the great old-school hotel bars: live music, a ritzy crowd and well-made, super-pricey, classic cocktails. Fun for a high-end Old New York evening, and the cabaret acts are often super, or super-weird. I have seen old men do Noel Coward shows, just sayin.' The food is exorbitant, btw; we usually start at the Veau d'Or and then head uptown!

Restaurants: Lady M. Cake Boutique

Lady M
41 41 East 78th Street (Between Madison Avenue and Park Avenue)
Subway: 6 to 78th Street
If you can't get into Sabarsky - or maybe even if you can - this elegant, sleek, ritzy little pastry shop is an amazing between-museums cake-and-coffee spot. Expensive, but the cakes are terrific.