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Jue Lan Club
Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz Jue Lan Club

The best new restaurants and bar openings in December

From Korean BBQ to a Caribbean rum hall, feast your eyes on the most exciting new eats in New York City

By Dan Q Dao
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There was sadly no picturesque white Christmas in New York this year, but at least December didn't disappoint in the world of food and drink. Year 2015 ended on a fittingly strong note with the openings of a Swiss Alps-inspired holiday pop-up, a new wave French restaurant and even a Korean BBQ and karaoke hybrid. Here are the best new restaurants and bar openings in NYC in December.

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New restaurants and bar openings in NYC

Autre Kyo-Ya
Paul Wagtouicz

Autre Kyo-Ya

Restaurants French East Village

When it comes to food, New York has fully embraced culture crossing: Jewish-tinged ramen bowls from Ivan Orkin, Swedish-inflected soul food from Marcus Samuellson, and now this French-accented spin-off of Japanophile-loved kaiseki mainstay Kyo-Ya. Chefs Shuji Furukawa (Kyo-Ya) and Takashi Igarashi (Kajitsu) make a west-bound shift with hybrid dishes like a quinoa-risotto bouillabaisse with yakishimo fish, a sea urchin consommé and a roasted-kamo confit stuffed in phyllo with black truffle and a beet-plum sauce. The 40-seat space also speaks to both cultures, with former tenant the Barrel’s concave cedarwood ceiling preserved alongside shoji-screened windows and imported Japanese tiles used on the bar’s backsplash.

BAITA interior
Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

Baita by Birreria

Bars Gastropubs Flatiron

Journey north for the winter at this mountain-lodge takeover of Eataly’s rooftop bar, La Birreria, revamped with Adirondack chairs, pine trees and vintage Dolomite artwork. The namesake concept, baita (literally, “small ski lodge in the Alps”), is a holistic idea of not only snowy slopes but also warm hearths, meat and cheese, and festive drink. The latter takes the form of a 60-glass Italian wine selection; three caldi (hot) cocktails with a base of tea, hot chocolate or eggnog; and classic-riffing cups like a Barr Hill Gin–charged White Hot Negroni and a frosty, espresso-laden Grappacino with almond grappa. Eataly executive chef Fitz Tallon taps into inspiration from the Alps with dishes like Swiss specialty raclette, serving Vermont's Spring Brook Farm cheese with pickled vegetables, potatoes and pork loin, and several varieties of polenta featuring mix-ins like Wild Hive buckwheat, Arcadian Pastures meats and Brooklyn Brine sauerkraut.

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Duck meatball sandwich at High Street on Hudson
Photograph: Jason Varney

High Street on Hudson

Restaurants American West Village

Though still recovering from the horrific Amtrak derailment in May 2015, Philadelphia chef Eli Kulp is jumping back into the food scene and teaming up with his business partner Ellen Yin for this New York offshoot of their award-winning High Street on Market. Like the Pennsylvania original, the 60-seat eatery showcases produce and ingredients from area farmers’ markets (here, the Union Square Greenmarket) in dish holdovers, like the brunchtime Red Eye Danish (Benton’s ham, coffee gravy) and a duck-meatball sub with spicy marinara and Lancaster Amish Swiss for lunch. Exclusive to the Gotham location, however, is the addition of a central bread oven at the on-site bakery manned by Sullivan Street Bakery alum Alex Bois, who turns out daily baked loaves such as buckwheat cherry, barley baguettes and a New World rye, all available to take home.

Insa
Craig LaCourt

Insa

Restaurants Korean Gowanus

It’s odd enough to find quality Korean BBQ or a karaoke lounge outside the K-town strongholds, midtown and Flushing, Queens, but to find both within one Gowanus—of all places—venue? It’s almost unheard of. That’s what married-team Sohui Kim and Ben Schneider (the Good Fork) are banking on with this 100-seat meat-and-music spot. At-the-table grills fire cuts like kalbi beef short rib and samgyeopsal pork belly—all brought in exclusively from sustainable purveyors like Debragga, D’Artagnan and Niman Ranch—but chef Kim also gives attention to traditional banchan (side dish) offerings like three types of kimchi, salted whiting fish and glazed kabocha squash. After dinner, the party moves to the back of the restaurant where five karaoke rooms invite diners to take the microphone for modern standards ranging from Guns N’ Roses to Lady Gaga.

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Jue Lan Club
Paul Wagtouicz

Jue Lan Club

Restaurants Chinese Flatiron

Two distinct strands of history converge at hospitality guru Stratis Morfogen’s newfangled Chinese restaurant in the Flatiron District: The landmark church it’s set in formerly housed the infamous nightclub Limelight, while the name pays homage to China’s revolutionary 20th-century artist community. An art-forward design celebrates each of those threads, with a private room dedicated to the legendary club and walls decorated with works ranging from Keith Haring’s Apocalypse #10 (1988) to ceramic Buddha heads from sculptor Yeats Gruin. Helming the kitchen is chef-partner Oscar Toro (Buddakan), who dispatches seasonal Asian plates, including “sloppy buns” with braised oxtail, egg noodles with roast duck in broth, and Wagyu beef with smoked oyster crema.

Kosaka
Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

Kosaka

Restaurants Japanese West Village

Year 2015 was a banner one for Japanese omakase: It kicked off with Shuko, got a summer boost from Tempura Matsui and is now closing out with this 18-seat sushi shrine helmed by Yoshihiko Kousaka (Jewel Bako). Aided by his longtime friends, husband-and-wife team Key Kim and Mihyun Han (a former sous chef at Jewel Bako), the chef offers two omakase options: a sushi-only version for $125 and a chef’s tasting menu with hot dishes for $155. On any given night, the L-shaped walnut counter plays host to a parade of raw-fish standards like toro (fatty tuna), kinmedai (golden-eye snapper) and ikura (salmon roe). Meals close with a rotating selection of tea from master Satoko Souheki Mori (Tea Whisk) and seasonal desserts provided by Fujiko Aoki (Mochi Rin), including a mochi-bean ball and a green-tea custard, served in custom pieces from pottery artist Akihiro Nikaido.

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LE TURTLE kabocha and fresh cheese
Photograph: Paul Wagtouicz

Le Turtle

Restaurants French Lower East Side

What the hell is new-wave French health food? Taavo Somer and Carlos Quirarte—of Freemans and the Smile, respectively—have joined forces to corner that hyper-niche market at this 55-seat, French-rap-soundtracked dining room. The restaurateur duo tapped Blanca alum Greg Proechel to oversee plates like kohlrabi bisque with lamb belly and smoked cabbage, cockles with parsley root and grilled lemon, and oxtail with celery "breadcrumbs" and fresh horseradish. Although the liquor license is still in the works, the wine list has been curated by former Semilla sommelier Jessie Kiefer and spotlights French and natural bottles, with espresso-based drinks from San Francisco's Sightglass Coffee is available at the travertine bar in the meantime. Along with white tilework and pine-and-leather Shinola banquettes, the space features a neon light installation by visual artist Sophie Kitching.

Pearl's
Liz Clayman

Pearl's

Restaurants Caribbean Williamsburg

After tackling American comfort foods like fried chicken (Sweet Chick) and hamburgers (Pop’s of Brooklyn), husband-wife duo John and Fallon Seymour are taking inspiration from more tropical climes. Influenced by Fallon’s Trinidadian heritage, this 26-seat, Calypso-soundtracked canteen honors her grandmother’s recipes and traditional dishes, including curried conch with dumplings, jerk chicken on rice, and a classic bake and shark (fried shark seasoned with tamarind, shadow bene and garlic sauce and served with pickled slaw and mango chutney). Cultural motifs abound in the space, with vintage tribal patterns painted by local graffiti artist Snoeman, photographs of Caribbean music icons by Jonathan Mannion and a mural depicting tropical flora and fauna. At the bar, beverage director Wilmer Reyes (Sweet Chick) serves cocktails like a frozen dark and stormy and an amber rum punch made with apple and watermelon juices.

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Photograph: Filip Wolak

Playa Betty's

Restaurants Mexican Upper West Side

Like its sister haunt, Reunion Surf Bar, this 3,000-square-foot space taps into a sunny West Coast aesthetic with house-made pine communal tables, surfboards from the owners' personal collections and walls papered with beach-themed movie posters. The menu likewise takes cues from the Golden State, with coastal dishes inspired by the food trucks of Mendocino County (pimiento cheese fritters) as well as the soulful fusion cuisine of Baja (tempura-battered mahi-mahi tacos, butter-bacon chicharrones). Los Angeles’ health-minded ethos is captured in a selection of Dharma bowls, built fast-casual style with a choice of grain (brown rice, white quinoa), beans (pinto, black) and proteins such as grilled steak, roasted chicken and Veracruz fish. At a white-ash bar, beverage director Aviram Turgeman serves fittingly tropical cocktails, including a mescal-based Smokey Playa (passion fruit, smoked salt) and a blue curaçao-built Wipe Out (gin, mint and citrus).

The Living Room at W New York - Times Square

Bars Hotel bars Midtown West

Today’s tourist-congested Times Square is hardly synonymous with chic cocktail bars, but this $10 million revamp of the W Times Square’s lobby bar—spearheaded by restaurant guru Matt Levine (Chalk Point Kitchen, the Handy Liquor Bar)—is looking to change that. The 40-foot bar taps into the hub’s storied history: An entryway is flanked with smoked bronze glass and velvet fabrics recalling the grand theaters that populated the area in the 1920s; a brass-dichroic glass “DJ ball” pays homage to the square’s annual New Year’s Eve tradition; and an expansive mural depicts the colorful characters who have populated the crossroads over time, from the showgirls of the ’60s to the New Wave teens of the ’80s. The Handy Liquor Bar drinksman Albert Depompeis created Gotham-nodding cocktails like the Sunset Park Mule (Herradura reposado, ginger beer), the Rush Hour SideCar (Rémy Martin, blood orange) and the bourbon-grapefruit Washington Heights Manhattan, splashed with habanero vermouth and hopped grapefruit bitters

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