Dining à la Art

Julie Besonen

Spring shows are busting out all over. On Broadway there's David Lindsay-Abaire's acclaimed Good People and Daniel (Harry Potter) Radcliffe making his Broadway musical debut in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. The thrilling DanceBrazil is coming to the Joyce Theater. The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art is gearing up for Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. Along with feeling overwhelmed by so many new live performances and art installations to choose from, New Yorkers and visitors alike often have the same question: Where should we eat before or after the show? Our slideshow highlights 10 restaurants convenient to some of the City's most important venues, focusing on real neighborhood places, not just those designed for out-of-towners.

Charcuterie. Photo: E. Laignel

Bar Boulud
1900 Broadway, 212-595-0303, Upper West Side, Manhattan
Let's say you have tickets to the Metropolitan Opera or the imaginative London import, War Horse, at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater. Bar Boulud is a stone's throw away. The polished staff beautifully orchestrates the pre-theater, three-course $42 menu so there's no danger of missing the curtain. The bistro is a dressed-down Daniel Boulud concept, with plain wood tabletops lining an interior that looks like a sleek, inflated train car. Choices on the pre-theater menu differ every day but you might find country pâté, Long Island duck confit and gooey chocolate moelleux with plums and fig-salted caramel ice cream. On the wine list, mainly dedicated to the Rhone Valley and Burgundy, are a number of excellent labels available by the taste or glass if you're worried that a whole bottle might induce a nap mid-show. For a post-show nosh, a late-night menu is available until midnight on weeknights and 1am on weekends.

Courtesy, Cascabel Taqueria

Cascabel Taqueria
1538 Second Ave., 212-717-8226, Upper East Side, Manhattan
If you're a fan of Mexican food—modern Mexican, not Tex-Mex—fuel up at Cascabel before an afternoon at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The taqueria opened as a casual, counter-service joint in 2009 and outgrew its small quarters so quickly that the owners soon commandeered a larger space two doors down. There's waiter service now and it's a less hectic experience, with sun filtering through the windows and cheerful décor that celebrates lucha libre (masked wrestling). Soft corn tacos come stuffed with yellowfin tuna belly and hearts of palm or achiote-marinated hanger steak with oyster mushrooms, crema fresca and crispy onions. A table caddy holds squeeze bottles of mild-to-fiery roasted salsas. Further elevating Cascabel from your average hole-in-the-wall are locally sourced and organic ingredients plus a great list of fruity agua frescas, microbrews and tequilas. At lunch, Mexican-style sandwiches are a particular treat, especially the cemita with shredded pork butt, mango, queso fresco and smashed avocado.

Courtesy, Chez Josephine

Chez Josephine
414 W. 42nd St., 212-594-1925, Theatre District, Manhattan
Sexy, mellow Chez Josephine provides a quiet respite from the mayhem of Times Square, and it's within walking distance of every major Broadway theater. The bargain-priced ($35) pre-theater menu includes lobster bisque, braised short ribs and lemon tarte brûlée. Jean-Claude Baker and Jarry Baker, the adopted sons of risqué chanteuse Josephine Baker, have run a tight ship since 1986. The venue has a bordello-like demeanor but its character is not anything-goes. The dedication to correct bistro fare and gracious service is strongly felt. It's truly restaurant-as-theater, with live piano entertainment nightly and a talented, Broadway-worthy barman who may burst into song. You may love it so much you'll want to return for more after the show and luckily, you can. It's one of the few Theatre District restaurants open until 1am.

Photo: Alexander Thompson

Chez Oskar
211 Dekalb Ave., 718-852-6250, Fort Greene, Brooklyn
BAM is one of the most exciting urban art centers in the world, presenting international, cutting-edge theater, opera, dance and film. Allow 10 minutes to walk to your show from Chez Oskar, billing itself as "Le Funky French Bistro," which it is. On the walls are artful renditions of civil rights leaders' mug shots and a mural depicting bon vivants during the Harlem Renaissance. Selections on the eclectic menu range from classic escargots and salade Niçoise to vegetarian risotto and cheeseburgers. The $22 early-bird menu, served Monday through Thursday, includes three courses (or two courses and a glass of wine). Make one of those courses French onion soup, dense as gravy and bubbling with a thick lid of cheese. Depending on how much time you've got, other weekly specials feature all-you-can-eat mussels for $12 on Tuesdays and a 30% discount on bottles of wine on Thursdays.

Courtesy, Freemans

At the end of Freeman Alley, off Rivington Street, 212-420-0012, Lower East Side, Manhattan
The contemporary art at the New Museum never fails to provoke debate, and the ideal place to dissect the radical Lynda Benglis show or George Condo's dystopic portraits is at Freemans, found around the corner and down a clandestine alley. The rustic, bohemian hideaway is gilded with a veritable zoo of taxidermied animal heads and birds, the walls lined with a dormant wasps' nest and 19th-century photography. With so much to look at, including an incredibly hip, knowing crowd, you'd think the food would be beside the point. Instead, it's better than it needs to be, featuring savory devils on horseback, the signature hot artichoke dip and five-cheese macaroni. There's also a strong cocktail program. Brunch is a madhouse, so get here no later than noon to avoid a frustrating wait.

Photo: Alexander Thompson

J.G. Melon
1291 Third Ave., 212-744-0585, Upper East Side, Manhattan
Upper East Side ladies in big sunglasses. Young dudes with baseball caps worn backward. Businessmen on cell phones talking real estate deals and child support payments. Have any of these people just come from an exhibition at the nearby Whitney Museum of American Art? Probably not. Those European hipsters with their scarves knotted just so? Perhaps. They're all part of the show at this circa-1972 watering hole with one of the best burgers in town. You may even see Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said to be a regular. Also worth noting: the mind-boggling array of melon-themed paintings, drawings and tchotchkes—and a martini that's properly stirred, not shaken, and gratifyingly poured to the brim. J.G. Melon is a classic saloon evoking the ghosts of John Cheever and George Plimpton, chatty and lively, and still so popular after all these years it's best to hit it mid-afternoon when there's no wait for a table or bar stool.

Photo: Alex Lopez

La Bonne Soupe
48 W. 55th St., 212-586-7650, Midtown West, Manhattan
The Museum of Modern Art has two very good, in-house cafes (Café 2, Terrace 5) and a Michelin-starred restaurant (The Modern) but if you'd like to take some air after the intensity of the German Expressionism show, stroll a few blocks to the endearing La Bonne Soupe. It's a real neighborhood place in Midtown, a low-key, French luncheonette whose rich soups live up to its name. For $18.25 you can get a bowl of French onion, mushroom and barley with lamb, or mulligatawny, each served with bread, salad, dessert and house wine or coffee. It's hard to find a deal like that anywhere. It's also an idea to keep in your pocket when you visit Radio City, Carnegie Hall or St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Italian Frittata with Asparagus and Spinach. Photo: wEnDy (via Flickr)

Le Zie 2000
172 Seventh Ave., 212-206-8686, Chelsea, Manhattan
There is a dizzying number of dance companies performing at The Joyce this spring, and in Chelsea, there is an equally dizzying number of restaurants beckoning for your dollars. One of the best is Le Zie 2000, a Venetian-style trattoria where you're affably acknowledged coming and going and well taken care in between. The front dining room is a civilized, white-tablecloth affair and the back galleria, overlooking the patio, is more animated. There is also a separate, cozy lounge with a bar and limited menu. The food is uniformly good, featuring a wide selection of antipasti (steamed asparagus with poached egg and mushrooms; fried calamari and zucchini with spicy tomato sauce) and luscious pastas. For vegetarians, the pici is hand-rolled, melded with ricotta, lots of vegetables, herbs and garlic; for omnivores, the spaghetti and meatballs is out of this world.

Antipasto. Photo: Alexander Thompson

13-27 Jackson Ave. at 47th Ave., 718-729-4602, Long Island City, Queens
The draw of MoMA PS1 has brought much more allure to Long Island City as a residential area and modern art pilgrimage. Further buffing the neighborhood's cachet was the recent opening of M. Wells, a hipster diner beating the drums for French-Canadian foodstuffs. But we'd also like to point you in the direction of the old-school Manducatis nearby. From the outside, it looks like a humble dive bar, but inside, it may be the most authentically recreated Italian trattoria in the City, complete with blazing fireplace. Beloved owners Vincenzo and Ida Cerbone have been on the scene since 1977—Vincenzo, formally attired in a suit, greets you at the door, and the apron-wrapped Ida is still in the kitchen. Her pasta is made with love and covers the classics: fettucine Bolognese, bucatini all'Amatriciana, penne alla puttanesca. And when was the last time you heard a Muzak version of the theme from Romeo and Juliet or a retiree called "kiddo"? The daytime lady servers sound a little like Marge Simpson's sisters, all contributing to make this place a living museum installation.

Lamb Chops. Courtesy, Molyvos

871 Seventh Ave., 212-582-7500, Midtown West, Manhattan
Molyvos is comfortable in every way, from its spacious, wood-detailed premises to its unpretentious service to its heartwarming Greek cuisine. The Livanos family (Oceana, Abboccato) has made it pleasant for solo diners, couples and large groups, and it could not be more convenient to Carnegie Hall or City Center. A special menu is served pre-theater (5:30–7pm) and post-theater (9:30pm till closing), priced at $37 for an appetizer, main course and dessert. Look for a delicious selection of classic spreads, stuffed cabbage, succulent lamb and wild shrimp; and for dessert, ravani, a toasted almond vanilla cake with cinnamon cream. Tables fill up pre-show but there's always the sense everything is under control, an important factor when you don't want to miss the orchestra's opening note.