Sure, we all love to go casual with New York pizza and burger joints, but sometimes a night at one of the city’s best fancy restaurants is in store. Whether you’re looking for fine dining restaurants at which to celebrate a special occasion or romantic restaurants for your next date night, New York has elegant dining rooms for every need.
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Best fancy restaurants in NYC
Expectations are high at Per Se—and that goes both ways. You are expected to come when they’ll have you—you might be put on standby for four nights, only to win a 10pm Tuesday spot—and fork over $150 a head if you cancel. You’re expected to wear the right clothes, pay a non-negotiable service charge and pretend you aren’t eating in a shopping mall. The restaurant, in turn, is expected to deliver one hell of a tasting menu for $325 (service included). And it does. Dish after dish is flawless and delicious, beginning with Thomas Keller’s signature salmon tartare cone and luxe oysters-and-caviar starter. In the end, it’s all worth every penny (as long as someone else is paying).
New York dining mores have experienced a seismic paradigm shift in the past decade, toppling Old World restaurant titans and making conquering heroes of chefs that champion accessible food served in casual environments. But Le Bernardin—the city’s original temple of haute French seafood—survived the shake-up unscathed. Siblings Gilbert and Maguy Le Coze brought their Parisian eatery to Gotham in 1986, and the restaurant has maintained its reputation in the decades since. Le Bernardin is still a formal place, with white tablecloths, decorous service and a jackets-required policy in the main dining room. But a recent overhaul modernized the room with leather banquettes and a 24-foot mural of a tempestuous sea by Brooklyn artist Ran Ortner.
More than a mere crusader for sustainability, Dan Barber is also one of the most talented cooks in town. He builds his oft-changing menu around whatever’s at its peak on his Westchester farm (home to a sibling restaurant). During fresh pea season bright green infuses every inch of the menu, from a velvety spring pea soup to sous-vide duck breast as soft as sushi fanned over a slivered bed of sugar snap peas. Start to finish, there’s a garden on every plate—from buttery ravioli filled with tangy greens to just-picked cherries under a sweet cobbler crust. Once among the most sedate little restaurants in the Village, this cramped subterranean jewel box has become one of the most raucous.
Many people consider the River Café to be the best restaurant in Brooklyn, and it is probably the most expensive. The romantic waterside eatery, which could easily skate by on its gorgeous views of downtown Manhattan, has spawned a long roster of great chefs, including Charlie Palmer (Aureole), David Burke (davidburke & donatella) and Rick Moonen (RM, Oceana). The kitchen lives up to those predecessors with two exquisite prix-fixe menus: three courses (you choose) or six courses (chef's choices). Stellar dishes include crisp oysters with smoked salmon and caviar, rack of lamb or lobster specials. For dessert, few can resist the chocolate marquise Brooklyn Bridge, shaped like its sparkling namesake.
Swiss chef Daniel Humm mans the kitchen at this vast Art Deco jewel, which began life as a brasserie before evolving into one of the city’s most rarefied and progressive eateries. The service is famously mannered, and the room among the city’s most grand. But the heady, epic tasting menus are the true heart of Eleven Madison Park, a format that spotlights Humm’s auteur instincts. Tableside flourishes are part of the fun: Look out for even more dazzling showmanship—including one dish presented by way of a sleight-of-hand trick.
Gramercy is the restaurant that transformed Danny Meyer from a one-shop restaurateur to a full-blown impresario, made Tom Colicchio a star and launched a citywide proliferation of casual yet upscale American eateries. It’s delicate constructions of vegetables and fish that dominate now. The influence of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a restaurant given to ingredients-worship, is evident as soon as the first course (of the main dining room’s mandated three-course prix fixe) is rolled out.
Unlike so many of its vaunted peers, Jean Georges has not become a shadow of itself: The top-rated food is still breathtaking. A velvety foie gras terrine with spiced fig jam is coated in a thin brûlée shell; a more ascetic dish of green asparagus with rich morels showcases the vegetables’ essence. Pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini’s dessert quartets include “late harvest”—a plum sorbet, verbena-poached pear and a palate cleanser of melon soup with “vanilla noodles.”
A vibrant redesign by Adam Tihany has brought Daniel Boulud’s classically opulent restaurant into the 21st century. The food is as fresh as the decor: A raw starter of wasabi-kissed hamachi tartare is paired with hamachi sashimi marinated in a subtle tandoori rub. Unusually generous entrees include astonishingly tender halibut, roasted on a slab of Himalayan sea salt and served with Thai basil, hearts of palm and a mellow yogurt-curry sauce. Sure, Daniel is still a big-ticket commitment, but Boulud and his team make a powerful case for keeping the high-end genre alive.
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 one of the city’s top destinations for refined, upscale Italian cuisine. The clubby dining room, serenaded nightly by a twinkling grand piano, feels like the lobby of an opulent grand hotel. The kitchen, under the stewardship of longtime Batali protégé Mark Ladner, challenges its French competition in butter consumption. A gorgeous mixed mushroom appetizer is drowning in the stuff, as do ethereal ricotta-filled gnudi and flaky thyme-flower sprinkled turbot fillets. The most showstopping dishes, intended for sharing, include hunks of lamb and veal and pitch-perfect risotto for two.
Are you a vegetarian in NYC?
Zen Yai Noodle & Coffee
If long slurpable noodles are what you’re after, this restaurant in the East Village can satisfy your appetite. The thing to order here is the pho, which comes in both the classic beef broth version with rare eye round, tendon, braised shank and oxtail ($14) and a vegan alternative with vegetable stock and tofu ($8). The menu also includes vermicelli noodle salad with pork spring rolls ($8), stir-fried glass noodles with assorted vegetables ($7.95), crispy pork belly rice bowls ($8.50) and pineapple curry with jasmine rice ($8.50). Order a few sides of lemongrass soup with shrimp or chicken ($4.95), kimchi fries ($5) and shrimp summer rolls ($5.50) to round out the meal.
Venue says: “Hungry? We use only the best ingredients that keep customers coming back time and again.”