Blossom Vegan Restaurant
For cautious carnivores, Blossom offers one big surprise: All the eggless pastas and mock meats actually taste pretty good. For vegans, it's a candlelit godsend. Guiltily dreaming of veal scaloppine? Try the pan-seared seitan cutlets, tender wheat gluten served with basil mashed potatoes, swiss chard, a white-wine caper sauce and artichokes. With fake-meat entres averaging $17, carnivores may feel compelled to eat the real thing elsewhere, but vegetarians have indeed found a great date place. 187 Ninth Ave between 21st and 22nd Sts, Chelsea (212-627-1144, blossomnyc.com) Average main course: $17.
The Breslin Bar & Dining Room
The third project from Ken Friedman and chef April Bloomfield offers the most opulently fatty food in New York—served in medieval portions in a raucous lodgelike setting. You'll wait an hour or more for a table, but once you're seated, the gastropub delivers a near-perfect dining experience. A giant pig's-foot-for-two entre is stuffed with cotechino sausage, breaded, fried, and doused in a mix of white wine and cream. The pork belly roulade is sweet, smoky and fragrant with red wine and apples. Desserts—like a warm sticky-toffee pudding spiked with Turkish coffee—turn the end of the meal into a Dickensian Christmas feast. Ace Hotel, 16 W 29th St at Broadway, Midtown West (212-679-1939, thebreslin.com) Average main course: $27.
This unassuming pizzeria marks the restaurant debut of cult baker Jim Lahey (Sullivan Street Bakery). Co. lives and dies by its famous no-knead pizza dough, which produces a firm-chewy crust blistered in a searing 900-degree oven. Although the classics are on offer, you'd do well to explore the more creative pies: The Flamb is topped with mellow onions, Gruyre, bchamel and chewy lardoons, and the Popeye features three cheeses under a blitz of fresh spinach. The rest of the menu is so low-key, it's as if the chef were afraid to risk upstaging the pizzas. Stick to a pie and a beer or a well-priced glass of wine. 230 Ninth Ave at 24th St, Chelsea (212-243-1105, www.co-pane.com) Average pie: $16.
With four-star ambitions and prices to match, Mario Batali's Del Posto set the bar awfully high when it opened in 2005, but the cavernous restaurant has become nothing less than the city's top destination for refined, upscale Italian cuisine. The clubby dining room, serenaded nightly by a twinkling grand piano, feels like the lobby of a very opulent grand hotel. The kitchen, under the stewardship of longtime Batali protg Mark Ladner, challenges its French competition in butter consumption. A gorgeous mixed mushroom appetizer drowning in the stuff, as do ethereal ricotta-filled gnudi and flaky thyme-flower sprinkled turbot fillets. The most show-stopping dishes, intended for sharing, include hunks of lamb and veal and pitch-perfect risotto for two. The all-Italian wine list is suitably encyclopedic and exorbitantly priced. 85 Tenth Ave between 15th and 16th Sts, Chelsea (212-497-8090, www.delposto.com) Average main course: $29.
The John Dory Oyster Bar
April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman's original Meatpacking District John Dory was an ambitious, pricey endeavor, but its reincarnation in the Ace Hotel is an understated knockout. Tall stools face a raw bar stocked with a rotating mix of East and West Coast oysters, all expertly handled and impeccably sourced. True to form, the rest of Bloomfield's tapas-style seafood dishes are intensely flavored. Chilled lobster tastes larger than life, its sweet flesh slicked in an herbaceous tomalley vinaigrette. Meanwhile, warm dishes take their cues mostly from the garlic-and-olive-oil belt—meaty octopus doused in aioli, plus miniature mussels stuffed with boisterous mortadella meatballs. Though the utilitarian sweets aren't worth sticking around for, the savory food here merits the inevitable wait for a table. 1196 Broadway at 29th St, Midtown West
(212-792-9000, thejohndory.com) Average small plate: $14.
It takes several dishes to make a meal at this slender, wood-paneled Japanese pub; fortunately, there are plenty of well-executed options to choose from. Skewers of medium-hot shishito peppers hit the right balance of crunch and chew, while tender sliced pork belly is bright with ginger. Winning tempura preparations include plump shrimp wrapped in shiso leaves and tako kara age—delicate deep-fried octopus sprinkled in green tea salt. The small plates are designed to go with sake, and the extensive list includes a flavor-matrix chart to help newbies navigate. We enjoyed the unpasteurized, full-bodied Kikusui Funaguchi. 207 Tenth Ave between 22nd and 23rd Sts, Chelsea (212-627-7777, izakayaten.com) Average small plate: $6.
Familiar dishes, prepared with a twist: That's the signature of chef-owner Sue Torres, who cut her teeth at Rocking Horse Cafe. At her colorful underground restaurant, you're likely to find unlikely specialties such as lobster-and-corn fritters, fava-bean-and-drunken-goat-cheese empanadas or pressed-to-order fresh tortillas. There's also a terrific Sunday brunch menu that caters to the hungover and the hungry. The bar offers dozens of tequilas and six types of margaritas at prices from $10 to $69. 311 W 17th St between Eighth and Ninth Aves, Chelsea (212-243-1333, suenosnyc.com) Average main course: $20.
Tasha Gibson and Julie Wallach's sophomore follow-up to Little Giant channels the experience of dining at home—if home happens to be a charming spot in the country stocked with grandmotherly knickknacks. The nostalgic food is grounded firmly in the deep South. A tasty burger comes with batter-fried pickles and crispy bacon, plus a smear of pimento cheese. Macaroni and cheese features a complex medley of Grafton cheddar, Gruyre and grana padano with crumbled corn bread and fresh cavatelli. For dessert, try the namesake Tipsy Parson—a boozy trifle served in a stemmed parfait glass. 156 Ninth Ave between 19th and 20th Sts, Chelsea (212-620-4545, www.tipsyparson.com) Average main course: $22.
Husband-and-wife team Eder Montero and Alexandra Raij celebrate the cuisine of Spain's Basque region at this spartan tapas spot. Though it lacks the bustle of Raij's previous projects (Tia Pol, El Quinto Pino), the sprawling menu still features some solid Iberian fare. Adventurous eats include breaded-and-fried tongue cutlets; squid cut into wispy strands with sweet onions and garlic; and fries with cod-roe mayonnaise. In the end though, expediency—most nights a small party can get in with little wait—may be the best reason for choosing Txikito over its often-packed forebears. 240 Ninth Ave between 24th and 25th Sts, Chelsea (212-242-4730, txikitonyc.com) Average plate: $12.