NYC Restaurant Week® at 30: The Now Generation

nycgo.com staff

(Updated 08/18/2022)

The early 1990s in NYC heralded the arrival of culinary superstars whose kitchens and dishes became renowned and influential—and in many cases remain so. During the decade, Tom Colicchio opened his first restaurant, Gramercy Tavern, with Danny Meyer; Brooklyn chef Alan Harding led the charge for beer programs in restaurants; and Zagat guide founder Tim Zagat and restaurateur Joe Baum started NYC Restaurant Week. Back then, NYC Restaurant Week provided affordable access to young, creative strivers looking to try out new dining experiences. It still does. So 30 years on, what does dining look like in New York City today?

In celebration of the 30th anniversary of NYC Restaurant Week, we sent four emerging creatives to enduring, classic establishments and innovative hot spots to show us how and where they dine.

Amalya Meira at Palo Santo

Photos by Amalya Meira, Logan Blagg, Daniel DiFerdinando and Elie Goldberg

Amalya Meira dined at Palo Santo, a Latin American and Caribbean restaurant inside a brownstone—with a lovely back garden—in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Meira is a 32-year-old fashion and textile designer who co-owns and curates the boutique Lagoon New York. Meira opened Lagoon in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, in 2021, just down the street from her plant-filled apartment, which she’s lived in for the past five years. Open for in-store shopping, Lagoon also houses Meira’s design studio, where she produces her namesake clothing line. Centered on sustainability and accessibility, Lagoon champions independent design and the surrounding community. Meira’s work has been featured in Vogue, Glamour, New York and Paris Fashion Weeks and Art Basel Miami.

Who did you bring with you to dinner?
Logan Blagg, a fashion designer and the co-owner of Lagoon New York; my husband, Daniel DiFerdinando, a multimedia artist and fabricator; and my brother, Alexander (Elie) Goldberg, an MD-PhD student at Columbia University.

What did you think about the space and the atmosphere?
I love the signage and wrought-iron gate at entry. The backyard was so secluded and beautiful; it really felt like a secret garden. It had very relaxing energy, almost like we had traveled somewhere new.

What makes dining in NYC exciting to you?
The energy of New York City is intoxicating to me—it always has been. I love the strange harmony of beauty and grit that exists here, iridescent shattered glass, flowers growing out of the cracks. Anything is possible.

What makes a meal memorable to you?
An element of surprise. And I really don’t like overthought food; I appreciate when the ingredients are fresh and able to shine.

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Tell us about the first course.
Everything was shared. There was grilled octopus with potatoes, olives and fennel. I love grilled octopus and this was a great one; I don’t usually like fennel but it was very complementary.

The hearts of palm with pea shoots, pistachio and mango was a surprising pairing of flavors. This was a favorite of everyone’s; it was such a hot day and this was super refreshing. I wish I had some right now.

The scallop ceviche with sweet potato and hominy was also very fresh; Logan loved it. And the watermelon salad with mint and balsamic and cheese on side was so fresh and genuinely beautiful. We loved this.

The second course?
Roasted swordfish with platanos and slaw was delicious and so fresh, and a very good amount of food. The sweetness of the platanos was balanced by the slaw.

As a gluten-free person I haven’t had fried chicken in a long, long time. It was awesome to be able to order the [gluten-free] cornflake-crusted version. Everyone swore it tasted better than regular fried chicken—such a treat. I am not a big pork fan, but slow-cooked pork with roasted pineapple, homemade tortillas and adobo sauce was hands-down my favorite dish. The sauce was awesome and the pineapple was the perfect addition to balance the subtle spice. The homemade tortillas were incredible.

And the coconut plantain stew was served inside an actual coconut!

What did you finish with?
Mango sorbet—great, not too sweet, refreshing and natural tasting.

Any other takeaways or insider tips?
Caitlin [the host] was so nice. She made great suggestions, was super accommodating of my allergies and excited to have us. We all wanted to buy the house hot sauce because we liked it so much, and they gave us each a bottle.

I heard that their brunch is incredible; I will definitely be back for that. The patio was so intimate: perfect for a date, lengthy catch-up with an old friend or getting to know someone new.

Describe your Restaurant Week experience in three words.
Fresh, spicy, textured.

Reserve your table at Palo Santo to sample their NYC Restaurant Week menu, now through August 21.

Stephán Lewis at The Russian Tea Room

Photos by Stephán Lewis

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Stephán Lewis visited The Russian Tea Room in Midtown West. Part of NYC Restaurant Week since 1992, The Russian Tea Room is an ornate NYC staple serving Eastern European fare for nearly a century.

Lewis, 31, was born and raised in New York City. He grew up skateboarding, an activity that introduced him to different people and places—which he begin to capture as a photographer and videographer. His work has been featured in galleries as well as publications such as Dirty Mag and Vice’s i-D magazine. In addition to being an artist, Lewis is a bartender, barista and clothing designer.

Who did you bring to dinner?
I was dining with fellow artists and close friends: Danielle Katan, 27, a creative entrepreneur and founder of an independent female skateboarding and lifestyle brand; Keith Hardy, 24, a professional skateboarder and mixed media artist; and Gabriel Law, 24, a freelance street and landscape photographer. I’ve known these people for years and respect and value their tastes.

Give us a feel for the space.
The interior of the restaurant was grand. The interior and artwork had a post-Renaissance feel. I imagine Count Dracula’s dining room would be similar. You can’t miss the Felix the Cat portrait upon entry; the placement was bold, but it worked.

What do you love about dining in NYC?
To be fully immersed in and become a part of the environment is truly magical. I could feel the energy of James Baldwin and the many notable figures who frequented The Russian Tea Room in the past.

What made the meal memorable to you?
This was my first NYC Restaurant Week and my introduction to Eastern European cuisine, and I wanted to fully lean into the experience. To start, I tried the borscht, which is made with pickled red beets, vegetables and hints of dill, and served in a short rib and bacon broth with a braised beef pirozhok [baked bun with filling]. Presentation is extremely important when it comes to remembering a dish; I always pay attention to how my meal was served. My first-ever stroganoff was extraordinary, with a perfectly braised short rib and rich thick-cut noodles coated in a mushroom black truffle cream sauce.

What else would you recommend off the menu?
For lighter fare, I’d recommend the Tea Room salad as a starter and salmon as a main course. The salmon was seared to perfection in a dill beurre blanc sauce and paired with vegetables and pilaf. For dessert, we enjoyed both the mousse and cheesecake.

What did you have to drink?
We ordered a few handcrafted cocktails and Russian beer to pair with our meals. The old-fashioned was to die for, so we had a second round. We watched the bartender elegantly garnish the perfect martini, extra dirty; he made it look like art.

Any insider tips?
This place is excellent for friends or relatives visiting from out of town. The waiter paid exceptional attention to detail: one of our guests had a nut allergy and our server was extremely accommodating. Five stars!

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Reserve your table at The Russian Tea Room to sample their NYC Restaurant Week menu, now through August 21.

Darnell Bernard at Golden Unicorn

Photos and videos by Darnell Bernard, Amber Strickland and Tata Jibladze

Darnell Bernard dined at Golden Unicorn, a Chinatown institution that opened in 1989 and was an original NYC Restaurant Week participant three years after that. It serves elevated Cantonese cuisine and dim sum.

Bernard was born and raised in Brooklyn and is a model, actor and fashion influencer. He’s gained recognition through the popular NYC street fashion Instagram account Watching New York. Darnell started his career as a model in 2008, and in 2016 became the first male representative for L'Oréal Paris’ True Match campaign.

Who did you bring to dinner?
My best friends: Amber Strickland [pictured above, left], 26, a copywriter, and Tata Jibladze [above, right], 31, a nightlife socialite.

What is the space like?
The interior reminded me of a really cool Gotti-style movie. There are a ton of crystal chandeliers and gold dragons on the wall. My friends and I particularly loved the robot that delivered the entrées to our table; we thought it was such an amazing touch.

What makes dining in NYC exciting to you?
I love dining in NYC; what makes it most exciting is the company you have with you.

Tell us about the food.
For the first course, we had the piglet buns [steamed white buns with sweetened egg custard]. It was one of the prettiest and tastiest dim sum options; the custard cream filling brings joy to your palate.

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The second course?
We ordered the red oil wontons and hot and sour soup. The wontons were one of my favorite items on the menu; the [peanut sesame] sauce that pairs with them is so delicious.

And the third course?
We had the chicken with peach and black bean sauce, which was unique and flavorful, and the jumbo shrimp with walnuts, cooked to perfection; both dishes were amazing and very tasty.

Any insider tips?
This is the perfect place to have a birthday celebration. Try the lychee martini and margarita—both were highlights of my experience.

Describe your NYC Restaurant Week experience in three words.
Exciting, tasty, memorable.

Reserve your table at Golden Unicorn to sample their NYC Restaurant Week menu, now through August 21.  

Djali Brown-Cepeda at Chocobar Cortés

Photos by Djali Brown-Cepeda and Ricardo Castañeda

Brown-Cepeda is a filmmaker and archivist. A native New Yorker from Upper Manhattan and the Bronx, she runs Nuevayorkinos, a digital archival project documenting and preserving Latino and Caribbean culture in New York City through family photos, videos and stories (read more about Brown-Cepeda and the project here). Djali has exhibited her work at Queens’ MoMA PS1, East Harlem’s El Museo del Barrio and MACLA in San Jose, California. Brown-Cepeda dined at Chocobar Cortés, a Caribbean restaurant in the South Bronx that’s the offspring of a chocolate manufacturer and puts chocolate in basically everything on the menu. Chocobar Cortés was modeled after a Puerto Rican restaurant in San Juan.

Who did you bring to lunch?
I dined with Ricardo, my partner in love and life. He’s a graphic designer, bartender and the creative director of Nuevayorkinos.

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Give us a feel for the restaurant. What is the space like?
The style of the restaurant is very Caribbean. The white and bright yellow walls, black-and-white floor tile and old-school Chocolate Cortés advertisements make you feel like you’re in the Dominican Republic [where the Cortés brand began]. The music was also great, ranging from Caribbean classics and salsas to Fela Kuti and boogaloo.

Did anything in particular stand out?
As archivists, we appreciated all the imagery on the walls. It was also really nice seeing a framed La Borinqueña comic strip.

Tell us about the first course.
We had the veggie alcapurria [fritters] and croquetas de jamón Serrano [Spanish ham croquettes]. The bite-size treats whet my appetite. The stars of the croquetas were the dark chocolate sauce and the grated Manchego cheese. I’d never think to pair cheese and chocolate, but it tasted amazing.

The second course?
For our main lunch course, I had the grilled chicken sandwich, while Ricardo had the Chocoburger [Editor’s note: in case you’re wondering, the chocolate is in the ketchup]. The chocolate balsamic vinaigrette on the grilled chicken was incredible—another innovative creation. What really took us by surprise was the chocolate that came out with the curly fries—delicious!

The third course?
We were pretty full, so we opted for two cócteles (cocktails) to wrap up our meal: the Don Ignacio and the Choco Martini. The Don Ignacio came with a frozen chocolate rim, and the Choco Martini had coconut flakes—they were both visually stunning and delicious. The chocolate sauce at the bottom of the Choco Martini is a nice ending to a yummy, refreshing drink.

Any insider tips?
For Latino communities, especially Caribbean and coastal folks, this place feels like home. It has live drumming weekly by Danny Conga, a very talented musician who can drum along to and improvise on any song of any genre, from salsa and merengue to hip-hop and r&b.

Describe your dining experience in three words.
Creative, nostalgic, choco-licious.

Reserve your table at Chocobar Cortés to sample their NYC Restaurant Week menu, now through August 21.

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