Recently Opened Restaurants
by Julie Besonen, 04/24/2009
The Oak Room at the Plaza Hotel
10 Central Park South, 212-758-7777, Midtown East, Manhattan
After a protracted absence during a mega-million-dollar renovation, the fabled Oak Room reemerged on the dining scene last fall with a thud, roundly booed for its high-priced French food. Things have begun to turn around now that a new chef, Eric Hara (ex–Fishtail by David Burke), is in the kitchen reimagining classic American cuisine. And the prices are lower—which isn't to say it's a bargain, but it is more affordable. The gorgeous dining room radiates power and romance, so much so that even locals may be seduced this time around. Service is welcoming and so is the wine list, with 50 bottles for under $50. Expect updated Dover sole, dry aged steaks and newfangled dishes like cauliflower and sea urchin risotto.
60 E. 54th St., 212-308-2950, Midtown East, Manhattan
For someone who's king of the glitzy media world, Vanity Fair's Graydon Carter certainly is reticent when it comes to publicizing his restaurants. To discourage critics, his Waverly Inn in the West Village never officially opened and still doesn't have a useful telephone number. Charles, another secretive West Village haunt he's part of, hides behind papered-over windows. But while Monkey Bar may seem as difficult to get into as the Vanity Fair Oscars party, it's not. The restoration of the historic venue, with its glorious Edward Sorel mural, heralds a more open policy—one with an actual reservation line. The bar is expansive, and the dining room, which could pass as a movie set, isn't packed—yet. Whiplash is a potential hazard from seeing who's who at the tables, and the retro American menu also stars bold-faced names, such as oysters Rockefeller and Nora's meatloaf (Ephron, that is).
Damon: Frugal Friday Everyday Except Tuesday
47 E. 19th St., 212-780-0880, Flatiron, Manhattan
DFF is shorthand for the new Flatiron sensation in the contemporary private dining room next door to Craft. Tom Colicchio's executive chef Damon Wise was, er, wise enough to see that if people were willing to wait in line for two hours for his everything-under-$10 Friday menu, there might be enough hungering for it six nights a week (Colicchio is in the kitchen for Tuesday-night dinners). A seasonal, revolving menu of snacks and small plates may include fried quail with rhubarb chutney, pork-belly lettuce cup with hibiscus and chicken-liver pâté with Washington cherries. To drink are cocktails like the 19th Street Headache as well as beers like Pabst Blue Ribbon, also at pocket-friendly prices. Reservations are not accepted, so you may have to loiter outside for a while.
Bar Blanc Bistro
142 W. 10th St., 212-255-2330, West Village, Manhattan
Adding the word "bistro" to the name isn't the only change at Bar Blanc, whose reinvention comes just a year and a half after its opening. There's also a new chef, Sebastiaan Zijp (ex–Bouley Upstairs), a bargain bar menu, a more casual dinner menu, specials scrawled on chalkboards and cute burlap pillows warming up the white leather banquettes. The white marble bar now has beer taps, which really flow during happy hour, from 5:30pm to 7pm, when brews are half-price (along with cocktails and wine by the glass). During that time it's advisable to snack on ham and fontina cheese croquettes and duck liver mousse on toast. At dinner it's more about slow-roasted chicken and seared black cod with wilted spinach and saffron sauce.
130 W. 46th St., 212-485-2999, Midtown West, Manhattan
At Nios, a faux fireplace divides the swanky dining room from the lobby of the boutique Muse Hotel. Patricia Williams' smart, appealing menu focuses on small plates of artisanal cheese, charcuterie and salt cod fritters, as well as pizza, sandwiches, french fries, sweet potato fries and tater tots. One wall is comprised of a giant wine and champagne refrigerator, and at the marble-topped bar are creative libations and an impressive selection of single malts, bourbons and Cognacs. Two other things to write home about: handmade chocolate bars and restrooms with a sense of humor. Behind a door marked "envy" is a green bathroom. "Rebel" has a cracked mirror while "vain" is wall-to-wall mirrors.