by Julie Besonen, 03/14/2012
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The cult of celebrity chefdom has not lost its potency. The millions who tune in to food TV shows tie up the City's reservation lines to see what these tastemakers are all about. Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio's long-running Flatiron District restaurant Craft remains what every contestant strives for: consistently delicious food, a stylish and inviting dining room and polished service. The menu runs the gamut from dry-aged rib eye to a wide selection of roasted, sautéed and braised vegetables, the Garden of Eden for vegetarians.
No reservations are required to experience another Flatiron favorite, Eataly, an Italian-themed amusement park where Mario Batali plays a role. Counters devoted to pizza, panini, coffee, gelato, vegetables and fish, plus a rooftop beer garden, mean there's something for everybody from morning to night.
Remember the first-ever Top Chef winner, Harold Dieterle? His comfortable Greenwich Village bistro Perilla has a seasonal American menu with a caveat: the spicy duck meatballs must never be mothballed. PBS host Eric Ripert, of Avec Eric, is another demigod. His Midtown showcase, Le Bernardin, features pristine seafood in a newly rehabbed, eco-friendly space that reflects his concern for sustainability. Booking a prime-time dinner reservation can be an issue, so keep in mind that it's open for lunch.
Here's another great thing about having lunch where famous chefs roam: there's usually time for a nap before heading out to a Broadway show. Tables at Daniel Humm's grandly gorgeous Eleven Madison Park and Andrew Carmellini's SoHo hotspot, The Dutch, are accessible during the day. It's the same at ABC Kitchen, a heavenly, farm-to-table restaurant in the Flatiron District area where Jean-Georges Vongerichten appointed the gifted Dan Kluger to carry out his vision. Pretzel-dusted calamari and crab toast with lemon aioli are must-haves.
Marcus Samuelsson's rollicking Red Rooster Harlem is easier to penetrate at lunch than dinner, too. Blackened catfish and fried yard bird with mashed potatoes are comfort dishes of the highest order. And now that NoHo's Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria earned three stars from The New York Times, rising-star chef Justin Smillie's life will never be the same. Try dinner to experience his meltingly tender short ribs or porchetta, but if you can't, there's always breakfast or lunch.
"Let's get ethnic food" can mean anything in the City. Put your finger anywhere on the globe and you'll likely find an ambassador in one of our five boroughs. Flushing, Queens, has authentic Chinese (see Imperial Palace and Spicy & Tasty), as does Sunset Park, Brooklyn (see Pacificana, especially for dim sum). In Manhattan, the best new Chinese restaurant is the attractive Café China, near Grand Central, featuring the familiar (kung pao chicken) and the what?! (Mao's blood tofu stew with pig blood, lamb, beef, loofah, bean sprouts and chili broth).
Returning to our famous-chef discussion, Dieterle happens to also be behind the West Village's most happening Thai restaurant, Kin Shop. If you're hankering for the cuisine in the Thai-saturated Hell's Kitchen, Pure Thai Shophouse is the ticket, serving fiery wok stir-fries in a charming, tight-fitting space.
Stimulating Indian eateries abound in the East Village and Murray/Curry Hill, where Dhaba gets top honors for spiced cashews and Goa fish curry. Korea flaunts a strip of restaurants in Midtown almost as glittery as Las Vegas, but the one critics have been raving about most is Hell's Kitchen's Danji, where classical technique is employed for poached sablefish with spicy daikon and wild mushroom "jook" (Korean-style risotto).
Sushi is brilliant all over Manhattan, but for something a little different, the all-beef menu at the West Village's Takashi is an incredibly fun way to experience Japanese fare. In NoLIta, Balaboosta provides a dark, romantic setting for exceptional Middle Eastern fare, from phyllo-wrapped shrimp to chicken cooked "under a brick" with Israeli couscous.
The dining scene in New York City sees waves of change every season, with chowhounds crowding into the places everyone's talking about until they have to dash off to the next place before everybody else gets there. Case in point: Pok Pok Wing on the Lower East Side. It's always packed because Portland's Andy Ricker has such a reputation—and deservedly so—for his lust-worthy, Asian-style chicken wings.
Discounting delis, Jewish food didn't have much of a reputation until Kutsher's came along in TriBeCa. The whole genre has now been invigorated, thanks to house-smoked pastrami, perfect matzo ball soup and wild mushroom and fresh ricotta kreplach. What's more, it's kid-friendly, with a menu for the pickiest little darlings: chicken fingers and pasta with butter.
For anyone who's not afraid of anchovies and oxtail—and apparently there are legions—go to Tertulia, a sexy Spanish gastropub in Greenwich Village. Less daring diners can rest easy with paella and creamy ham croquettes. Followers of the internationally acclaimed New Nordic cuisine have found a temple in NoHo at the fashionable Acme. Forage through Mads Refslund's menu of hay-roasted sunchokes, arctic char, and pearl barley and clams, far different from the restaurant's former life as a casual Southern joint. Speaking of second acts, Alison Eighteen, in the Flatiron District, is the reincarnation of '90s hotspot Alison on Dominick Street. Restaurateur Alison Price Becker is so connected that this French-American brasserie may very well become this era's Elaine's.