If you have been to New York City lately, you cannot help but notice the huge number of tourists crowding the sidewalks of Manhattan, and the tourist buses inundating the streets. I have never seen more tourists anywhere in the world than in New York right now, even in this time of economic stress. Judging by all the languages I’m hearing (Russian, German and Italian, especially), more than half come from abroad. But tens of thousands hail from other parts of the U.S. Last year, New York City received the second-highest number of visitors in the U.S., trailing only Disney World.
And so I decided that it’s high time that I, a born and bred New Yorker who still resides here, write a column sharing with my readers some of my favorite restaurants in this city. I realize, of course, that many tourists have no particular interest in fine food and wine--judging by how crowded ordinary diners, coffee shops, etc. have been in mid-town Manhattan lately. But all of the popular, well-known restaurants are crowded as well, making one doubt that a recession exists in my city. And I suspect that readers who peruse the columns in this publication are definitely interested in fine food and wine.
Since we write mainly about wine at Wine Review Online, all of the restaurants will have some wine theme. I’m sticking almost exclusively to Manhattan, because most visitors don’t travel to the other boroughs--although the parts of Brooklyn nearest to Manhattan are experiencing a restaurant renaissance; I do include one old favorite restaurant from Brooklyn. And I’m purposely leaving out the most renowned fine restaurants in New York--Daniel, Le Bernardin, Jean Georges, Per Se, Union Square Café, and Gramercy Tavern--because enough has been written about these excellent restaurants, and most restaurant goers know them. I’m omitting Asian (except one Japanese), Indian, and Mexican restaurants for two reasons: These restaurants seldom have much of a wine list, and other locations do better than New York with these cuisines. I’m also leaving out steak houses, because I’m not a particular fan of them.
This is a list of my favorite restaurants, the ones in which I dine. Obviously in a city with so many fine restaurants, I can only cover a small percentage of them. But I do include three pizza restaurants, because I love great pizza, and New York has more than its share of great pizzerias, perhaps not as many as Naples, but pretty close. You might notice that many of the restaurants I list have either Italian or French cuisine, for two reasons: Many of New York’s best restaurants feature either French or Italian cuisine; and I personally favor these cuisines, especially because these restaurants usually have good wine lists.
I’ve grouped the restaurants in the following manner: French (and French-American) cuisine; Italian cuisine; American cuisine; other cuisines. I list the restaurants in alphabetical order within each category:
Adour, 2 East 55th St.--In the classy St.Regis Hotel. This is Alain Ducasse’s classic French restaurant in New York. Outstanding French cuisine plus a superb wine list from sommelier André Compeyre. Expensive, of course. Beautiful restaurant, excellent service. A “special occasion” restaurant.
Balthazar, 80 Spring St. (Soho)--The closest thing to a Parisian brasserie in New York. Great seafood; baguettes. Already a NY institution. Come early; it’s always crowded. Excellent breakfast; its own bakery next door.
Bouley, 163 Duane St. (Tribeca)--This is the great chef David Bouley’s flagship restaurant in New York. For me, it belongs on anybody’s list of the best five restaurants in the city. A stunning restaurant, just about perfect in every way. The best deal is Bouley’s five-course $55 prix fixe lunch. Superb wine list.
Boulud Sud, 20 West 64th St.--Master chef Daniel Boulud’s newest place in New York, and it’s a winner. Cuisine is Mediteranean-themed, with superb service and an excellent wine list. Excellent, spacey bar. Lots of small plates to start you off. Lincoln Center is a block away.
Café Boulud, 20 East 76th St.--The original Restaurant Daniel was at this location, in the Surrey Hotel. Excellent cuisine, great bar next door. The $35 prix fixe lunch is a real bargain at this luxurious restaurant.
Capsouto Frères, 451 Washington St. @Watts St. (Tribeca)--This spacious French bistro is a longtime favorite of mine, and a Tribeca institution. Older brother Jacques Capsouto takes care of the wine. Charming, homey, brick-walled room. Moderate prices.
Corton, 239 W. Broadway (Tribeca)--Drew Nieporent’s updated version of his classic Le Montrachet. Excellent service. Wine list focuses on Burgundy. Cuisine is modern French.
Eleven Madison Park, 11 Madison Ave.--Union Square Café and Gramercy Tavern are more well-known, but Danny Meyer’s French stunner, Eleven Madison Park, was always the gem in his fine stable of restaurants (Danny recently sold it to chef Daniel Humm and a partner). Outstanding restaurant in every detail, including primarily French wine list. Gorgeous view, overlooking Madison Square Park.
JoJo, 160 E. 64th St.--An early Jean-Georges bistro, still going strong after all these years. When you want top French cuisine without the fancy touches of four-star restaurants (like Jean-Georges), this is the place.
La Silhouette, 362 W. 53rd St.--A hot, new French restaurant run by people who worked at Le Bernardin. Excellent food and service. An instant success.
L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, 57 E. 57th St. (Four Seasons Hotel)--The brilliant Robuchon’s only New York outlet, L’Atelier has exquisite food, Japanese-influenced, many small plates. But limited seating, and expensive.
The Modern, 9 W. 53rd St. (Museum of Modern Art), French-American--Another Danny Meyer winner. Outstanding service, excellent wine list. I’m here on Sundays a lot, because you can bring your own wine without a corkage fee on Sundays.
Picholine, 35 W. 64th St.--Excellent cuisine, Mediterranean influenced. One of the finest cheese courses in the country here. Near Lincoln Center.
Toqueville, 1 E. 15th St. (Union Square), French-American--Quiet, but excellent restaurant, a bit under the radar--one reason I like to go here. Also, the $29 prix fixe lunch is a good deal.
Triomphe, 49 W. 44th St. (Iroquois Hotel)--Intimate Theatre-District restaurant with excellent service and a fine wine list. Great choice for theatre goers; prompt service.
Ai Fiori, 400 Fifth Ave. (Setai Hotel)--Michael White’s newest success in NY Italian restaurants. Exceptional cuisine inspired by Italian-French Riviera. Beautiful restaurant; great wine list. Michael is known as the pasta master of New York.
Babbo, 110 Waverly Place (Greenwich Village)--Mario Batali’s flagship restaurant; extremely difficult to get reservations at the always-crowded Babbo. Yes, a bit noisy, but exceptional food (especially pastas) and outstanding Italian wine list. Worth the effort if you score a reservation.
‘Dell anima, 38 Eighth Ave. (West Village)--I hesitate to list ‘dell anima because it’s very small. The best way to get a reservation is to know young co-owner/wine guy Joe Campanale or his mom. Food and wine are great; just show up at 5:30 pm and hope for the best. Failing that, go to their wine bar next store, Anfora; very “in,” with some food.
Del Posto, 85 10th Ave. (Chelsea)--Stunning restaurant, from the moment you walk in. A Batali-Bastianich masterpiece. Exceptional Italian cuisine with a super Italian wine list, especially strong on Piedmontese wines. A memorable dining experience. One of New York’s finest restaurants.
Felidia, 243 W. 58th St.--It seems that Felidia has been here forever (actually three decades). Lidia Bastianich began her empire here. It has lasted because it’s still very good. Excellent Italian cuisine and wine. Lidia is still very much in charge.
Il Buco, 147 Bond St. (NoHo); Il Buco Alimentari/Vineria, 52 Great Jones St.--An old-time favorite featuring top Mediterranean dishes and great pastas. Its new offshoot is right around the corner, with a wine bar.
Il Gattopardo, 33 W. 54th St.--Superb Neapolitan cuisine at this very reliable restaurant, with excellent Italian wines and warm service. Across the street from Museum of Modern Art.
Il Giglio, 81 Warren St. (Tribeca)--Traditional Italian cuisine. Starts you off with excellent free antipasti. It’s difficult to believe that there are so many good Italian restaurants in NYC.
I Trulli, 122 E. 27th St.--Another fine restaurant that has withstood the travails of time. Cuisine feature Pugliese favorites. Superb pastas and an intelligent wine list. A wine bar is attached, with food available. And a garden in the back. Acoss the street is Vino, an Italian wine shop.
La Masseria, 235 W. 48th St.--This is my go-to place whenever I’m in the Theatre District and I’m yearning for excellent Italian food. The owners, from Capri, start you off with the best fried zucchini I’ve tasted, very light and not greasy, along with similar-styled fried calamari and melt-in-your mouth burrata. I always order a pasta dish because it’s so good here. A true find; the Theatre District has very few good restaurants.
L’Artusi, 228 W. 10th St. (West Village)--Joe Campanale’s other (and larger) restaurant in the Village; when they turn you down at ‘dell anima, come here. Same quality food and wine, and you can actually get a reservation. Lots of small plate offerings. A “can’t miss” eatery.
Leopard at des Artistes, 1 W. 67th St (Central Park West)--Formerly Café des Artistes, now transformed into a beautiful southern Italian restaurant by the people who own Il Gattopardo, with the same murals that decorated the previous restaurant. A top Italian restaurant in an area (the Upper West Side) that needed one.
Lido, 2168 F. Douglass Blvd (aka 8th Ave.) @ 117th St.--Southern Harlem
is undergoing a renaissance, part of which is the opening of several fine restaurants. Lido has been a success since it opened last year. Good menu including excellent crostino to start (don’t miss the salt cod & potato) followed by yummy pastas, veal meatballs, and an impressive list of wines by the glass.
Lincoln Ristorante, 142 W. 65th St. (Lincoln Center)--Lincoln Center is an area that can support many fine restaurants, and Lincoln is one of the newer ones. A beautiful restaurant, it’s nicknamed the “Glass Palace.” Lincoln’s chef, Jonathan Benno, worked previously at Per Se. Modern Italian cuisine in an exceptional setting.
Locanda Verde, 377 Greenwich St. (Greenwich Hotel, Tribeca)--One of New York’s best chefs, Andrew Carmellini, is running the show here. Excellent food and a “happening” crowd, but noisy. And difficult to get reservations.
Maialino, 2 Lexington Ave. @ 21st St. (Gramercy Park Hotel)--Yet another Danny Meyer success; this time Meyer tries his hand at an Italian restaurant, modeled after a Roman trattoria. A featured entrée: suckling pig. Great service. Not surprisingly, difficult to get a reservation. Good wine bar, while you’re waiting.
Marea, 240 Central Park South--Seafood is the specialty at Michael White’s finest restaurant; definitely one of my favorite restaurants in the city (in the country, for that matter). Voted the #1 Italian restaurant in NY by Zagat. Outstanding seafood pastas, and an exceptional wine list with hard-to-find Italian wines, which the excellent sommelier, Francesco Grosso, will be happy to point out to you.
Pó, 31 Cornelia St (West Village)--One of the small Italian restaurants in the Village that has been around for decades, because it’s one of the best. Great food, ambience, and moderate prices.
Scalini Fedeli, 165 Duane St. (Tribeca)--One of the finest Northern Italian restaurants in New York, but under the radar in its Tribeca location. Superb cuisine, matched by a great wine list.
Scarpetta, 355 W. 14th St. (Chelsea)--One of the hot Italian restaurants in NY that’s always crowded. Outstanding pasta dishes. Difficult to get a reservation. Scott Conant is the owner-chef.
SD26, 19 E. 26th St.--Just north of Madison Square Park, Tony May’s new restaurant takes over from his former success, San Domenico. Beautiful dining room, managed by Tony’s lovely daughter, Marisa. Excellent cuisine and wine list.
I’ve limited the many good pizza restaurants in NY to my three favorites. They’re too good to be called pizzerias. You can usually bring your own wine, but check for any corkage fees:
Don Antonio, 309 W. 50th St.--The newest of NY’s great pizza restaurants (opened in Feb.2012), but in a sense the oldest. One owner is Antonio Starita, third generation owner of one of Naples’ oldest pizzerias. The other owner is Naples-born Roberto Caporuscio, founder of the brilliant Keste Pizza restaurant. Two specialty pizzas here are Montanara (fried pizza) and a pizza topped with ricotta and a mozzarella-filled crust.
Keste Pizza & Vino, 271 Bleeker St. (West Village)--Definitely the hottest (and arguably the best) pizza restaurant in New York. Neapolitan Roberto Caporuscio has bought great Naples pizza to NY. One special I like is Pizza Bianco with baked lemon slices. Warning: this small place gets mobbed quickly; go at lunchtime or about 5:30 pm.
La Pizza Fresca, 31 E. 20th St.--Anther great Neapolitan pizza restaurant, but it remains a well-kept secret, and so you can reserve here (next to Moore Brothers Wine Shop). The best news is that not only does it make great pizza (plus pasta, etc.), but it also has a terrific Italian wine list and great wine glasses (very unusual for pizza restaurants). I love this place!
Aquagrill, 210 Spring St. (6th Ave., Soho)--Yearning for some great seafood, but not ready for Le Bernardin’s prices? This is the place for you. It can get crowded; come early.
Asiate, 80 Columbus Circle (Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 35th floor) American/Asian--Stunning views of Central Park from one of NY’s most beautiful restaurants. Asian-American cuisine complemented by great wines. Prix fixe lunch for $34 is a good deal, considering the restaurant.
Aureole, 135 W. 42nd St.--Charlie Palmer moved his legendary restaurant to 42nd St., and now more seating is available. But because of its central midtown location, it can get crowded evenings. Best time to come is lunchtime; get a seat by the window for people-watching.
Blue Hill, 75 Washington Place (Greenwich Village)--Dan Barber’s “farm-to-table” restaurant, featuring the freshest ingredients from his farm. Excellent service; difficult to snare a reservation.
Craft, 43 E. 19th St. (Flatiron)--Chef Tom Colicchio’s top restaurant. New American cuisine, featuring great vegetables. A favorite among health-conscious New York diners.
Dovetail, 103 W. 77th St. (Columbus Ave.)--An oasis on the Upper West Side; one of this area’s only great restaurants. A good-looking restaurant featuring new American cuisine, with excellent service.
The Dutch, 131 Sullivan St. (@ Prince St., Soho)--Chef Andrew Carmellini’s hot new restaurant. Regional American cuisine; definitely an “in place”; late-night menus.
Gilt, 455 Madison Ave. (NY Palace Hotel, 50th/51st Sts.)--Stunning restaurant with new American cuisine and superior wine list. Expensive; a special occasion restaurant.
Gotham Bar & Grill, 12 E. 12th St. (Greenwich Village)--Chef-owner Alfred Portale has kept Gotham one of NY’s best restaurants for 28 years. Sophisticated new American cuisine accompanied by excellent wines and service. A New York institution. Reserve early; usually crowded.
Hearth, 403 E. 12th St. (1st Ave.)--Paul Grieco’s East Village Restaurant features top new American cuisine with chef Marco Canora. Next store is Terroir, Grieco’s wine bar, with lots of Rieslings.
The Mark, 25 E. 77th St. (Mark Hotel)--A Jean-Georges restaurant featuring new American cuisine. A spacious, pretty restaurant; fine dining and excellent service.
Mas, 39 Downing St. (West Village)--Great ambience at this quiet new American cuisine restaurant featuring fresh foods from the Greenmarket. Fairly expensive, but top quality all around.
Prune, 54 E. 1st St. (1st and 2nd Aves., East Village)--Simple, new American cuisine. Prune is wildly popular, and so expect crowds at this small restaurant. Come early.
River Café, 1 Water St. (Dumbo, Brooklyn)--My one outer borough entry, on the East River, overlooking New York skyline. Other than the stunning view (worth a visit for that alone), great new American cuisine, with a strong California wine list. Plus exceptional service. Valet parking.
Rouge Tomate, 10 E. 60th St.--Although it sounds French, a fairly new restaurant with American cuisine, specializing in fresh ingredients, with excellent wine service.
Telepan, 72 W. 69th St.--Bill Telepan’s new American cuisine and friendly service is a winning combination at this restaurant near Lincoln Center.
Veritas, 43 E. 20th St.--New American cuisine. It must be listed for its imposing wine list alone, plus excellent wine service. But quite expensive.
Aldea, 31 W. 17th St. (Flatiron) Portuguese cuisine--George Mendes is the chef; one of two fine Portuguese restaurants in NY. This one is new; nice-looking restaurant, with good service.
Alfama, 214 E. 52nd St.--The other good Portuguese restaurant in NY. It used to be in the West Village, but closed down and re-opened here. It’s just as good as ever, perhaps even better.
Brushstroke, 30 Hudson St. @ Duane St. (Tribeca) Japanese cuisine--David Bouley’s new Japanese restaurant has received high ratings all around. Beautiful dining room; flawless cuisine. Good wine and sake list.
Milos, Estiatorio, 125 W. 55th St. Greek/Seafood cuisine--There are many new Greek restaurants in NY, but Milos is regarded by many as the best, especially for its fresh seafood. Fine Greek wine list.
Wallsé, 344 W. 11th St. (West Village) Austrian cuisine--New York’s premium Austrian restaurant. Enjoy Austria’s fine white and red wines with excellent Austrian dishes.
I’m getting hungry. Time to make a reservation!