Milady's
Photograph: Courtesy of Gabi Porter

NYC's latest restaurant reviews

See which neighborhood spots, fine dining destinations, dives, bars and cafes score Time Out's iconic red stars.

Amber Sutherland-Namako
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Dining out in New York City can be a labor of love. There are thousands of new and old restaurants to choose from, making reservations can seem like a sport or a game of chance and most of us want and need to spend our eating and drinking money wisely. That’s why Time Out New York spends days and nights haunting the city to highlight the very best in hospitality right now, and gently divert from the less-best. Peruse on through to choose your next favorite destination, and play along to see which newcomers become 2023’s top options

RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best restaurants in NYC

Latest restaurant reviews in NYC

  • Greenpoint
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

A short menu that I have a hard time choosing from is a rare thing. There are usually a few obvious standouts, but at Gator, which opened last December in Greenpoint, the beets, mixed mushrooms, mac and cheese, hake and pork chop all sound great. And they are. 

Gator’s look fits squarely in the style category I invented, “restaurant in a movie that isn’t about a restaurant.” Even that novel genre can land a few different ways. At this 42-seat space, it works beautifully as a shot from a scene set in a lovely neighborhood place where everything’s baseline 30% better than in real life. Wood or marble tables in the daintily-reptile accented, elegantly understated dining room are topped with candles that create a diffused, pale amber glow. The chairs are a little more comfortable than most. And the hospitality is inviting with an easy warmth. 

Chef Allyx Seemann, an interior designer before she started cooking professionally in restaurants like Jean-Georges, is owner and namesake, having been called Allie-gator as a kid. She’s authored the most comprehensive menu in the shortest number of items the city has seen in a while. And, unlike other similarly truncated efforts around town lately, it all actually coalesces. 

Like a lot of those other recent ventures, Gator’s menu eschews section titles, but it more or less starts with what might conventionally be considered appetizers and ascends to larger plates. I think something was said about sharing on my visit last week, but something is said about sharing at a lot of places, and chatting with staffers is like conversing with a friend, so it might have just been my actual pal that made the suggestion. In either case, order the amount of food you wish to eat. I trust you. 

Like most modern folk, Seemann is sustainability-minded, using ingredients that would otherwise be relegated to waste in some of her fantastic preparations. That mac ($24), for example, which sounds somewhat light as detailed on the menu, with house-made sheet pasta, brown butter, lemon and panko, is decadent with white cheddar, fontina and Comté cheese rind that would otherwise be relegated to the bin. Is it too rich and creamy to order as a main; too much like diving into a bath of noodly fondue? Not for me, baby! But it is indulgent, so you might want to split it and save room for more. 

The sensational beets ($16) taste like they were grown in one of the world’s last patches of totally unadulterated soil, the kind that perfumes the country air on a rainy morning. They’re oven-roasted with aromatics and joined by miso cream, mandarin salt and popcorn shoots—petite greens grown from you-guessed-it—for an outstanding mélange that’s bright, earthy, and just a bit sweet. The mixed mushrooms, also grouped among what I’d consider starters or sides, are terrific, too, though more buried in pleasant sauteed barley than expected. 

Subtle abundance is all around. An excellent hake is amplified by green curry, crispy black rice and a peanut crumble for a texture triumph and knockout flavor combination that turns the otherwise mild, flaky whitefish into fireworks. 

The ash crust on Gator’s perfect pork chop is also one of its most waste-conscious preparations, Seemann says. It’s made by burning allium skins and citrus peels left over from other recipes down to ash, and blending them with cinnamon and cloves until it all turns into a fine powder. It coats the cut, which then gets pan-seared, finished in the oven and plated with mellow celeriac purée and smoked mandarin marmalade. Those accouterments are tops, and chop itself joins the very best in the city. It’s a real showstopper: tender, juicy and everything you hope a pork chop is going to be, but totally unique to this tableau. 

Vitals

The vibe: Charming, comfortable and romantic in that carefree, French cinema kind of way.

The food: Self-billed as “contemporary Americana with a flair for sustainability.” The beets, mac and cheese, hake and pork chop are all superb. 

The Drinks: Wine and beer. 

Gator is located at 105 Norman Avenue. It is open Wednesday-Monday from 5:30pm-10pm, and Sunday from 5:30pm-9pm. 

  • Union Square
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Union Square Park seems quieter than I can ever recall seeing it in the evening, even pre-pandemic. On a recent walk along its eastern and northern edges a couple of hours after dark on a recent weeknight, I tried to imagine telling a tourist what it was like as recently as the twenty-teens. Not that I even noticed any apparent out-of-towners—an infrequent paucity in most of Manhattan’s geometrically-named geographical landmarks. 

Lively Kanyakumari, from restaurateur Salil Mehta (Laut, Wau, Kebab aur Sharab) and chef Dipesh Shinde (who opened the latter with Mehta in 2022) about a half-block west on 17th Street betrays that quiet. Only about a month after opening, the pretty space that seats 56 awash in honeyed light, inviting you to “journey from Mumbai to Kanyakumari,” is comfortably packed, even on weeknights. That means that, while you should still probably make a reservation, you won’t wait an inordinately long time to actually get seated after booking. 

Drinks come up swiftly, too, including pleasant efforts like the Curry Leaf ($18) with vodka, coconut, lime and the obvious botanical or spot-on classic martinis (about $21). The dinner menu spans a single page. Listed under “from Tamil Nadu,” the golf ball-sized bonda ($15/4) is wonderfully crisp and fried to golden outside, its interior curd rice creamy and just a tick tart. The bite-sized pieces of fried chicken from Kanyakumari ($18) have a good crunch, too, and a much milder finish than their crimson coating might indicate. 

Among the larger plates, the goat biryani from Bangalore ($28) is scant on that protein, pretty hidden in its aromatic, nicely-spiced jeerakasala rice, but what’s there is tender with a mellow, yet unmistakable gamey flavor. Beware the abundant bones in the amma mess fish ($42) from Kozhikode, whose unspiked bites are a delight, satiny and covered in a sensational curry that disappears as fast as flaky layers of malabar paratha ($5)—one of the best things on the menu to pair with anything you can—will hold it. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Bustling but comfortable, with nicely-paced service in pretty environs. 

The Food: Coastal South Indian cuisine with starter-sized plates like crisp bonda and fried chicken and fantastic curry covering a bone-in fish. 

The Drinks: Beer, wine and cocktails. 

Kanyakumari is located at 20 East 17th Street. It is open Tuesday-Thursday from 5:30pm-10:30pm, Friday-Saturday from 5pm-11pm and Sunday from 5pm-9:30pm. 

 

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  • East Village
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

The hospitality group Unapologetic Foods has been a local industry leader for several years, and about as many restaurants. Its original Masalawala ran for a decade—that’s a New York City restaurant decade—in the East Village until 2021. Adda in Long Island City, Dhamaka on the Lower East Side, Semma in the West Village and the kind-of loop-closing Masalawala & Sons in Park Slope have gathered fans and honors, including from Time Out New York and Michelin, before and since. Those spots, and others in the UF canon, have long aimed to “redefine Indian food” to tremendously popular effect. Its latest turns a focus to Filipino cuisine. 

Naks opened on First Avenue in the narrow space previously occupied by Jeepney, another Filipino restaurant that operated there from 2012 to 2021, in December. Dhamaka chef Eric Valdez, who helped catapult that hotspot to tremendous success, is chef de cuisine. Valdez taps preparations from his upbringing in Makati, Philippines for the menus. Naks serves an à la carte offering at tight tables around the bar up front, and its kamayan dinner for $135 per person in the larger back dining room. The bill of fare for the latter, multi-item feast can vary, and some of Naks’ buzziest items are available on the former. 

The soup no. 5, for example ($19; easily serves two), said to be a suitable hangover remedy, had a brief turn as the talk of the town earlier this winter. The pleasantly viscous broth is buoyant with beef testicle and pizzle, with a low-simmering heat and herbaceous sibot. Its liquid’s soothing, velvety consistency, alternating tender and near-chewy (like a nice bit of squid) proteins and grazing kick combine to create the sensations I’ve recalled most sonorously since visiting. 

Skewers of eel or pork ($18/2) are easier to skip, yielding enough, and slick with sauce, but otherwise indiscernible from their citywide peers—an infrequent occurrence for Unapologetic Foods. Back on the memory clock, the dinakdakan ($19) (not unlike sisig, a server might say, and similarly presented) with pork liver, snout, ear and brain is more texturally rich and uniquely flavored with a touch of bitterness. As if to split the difference, the pritong itik ($47) is as fine a waterfowl as any in town, generously portioned for a few, and wonderfully crispy. 

A couple of months after opening, Naks is a zag for this esteemed hospitality group, even aside from the noteworthy menu departure. It’s also the uncommon Unapologetic Foods destination where reservations are still relatively easy to come by, recently inebriated or not. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Inviting, lively and cozy to the point of being cramped. Operationally as polished as any Unapologetic Foods restaurant. 

The Food: Filipino cuisine by the multi-course feast or à la carte. Highlights from the latter include the soup no. 5 and the pritong itik. 

The Drinks: Beer, wine and cocktails. 

Naks is located at 201 First Avenue. It is open Wednesday-Sunday from 5pm-10pm. 



  • Greenpoint
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

New York City is just rich with restaurant openings. Big, splashy openings with TV-repeat celebrity chefs, intimate neighborhood affairs with quickly-accrued followings that sprawl beyond their geographical boundaries, local hospitality group spots that spin into mini-chains, revivals, out of town arrivals and some that overlap. And, even within that first category, you never know what to expect. 

Breeze opened, seemingly quietly, in Greenpoint early last fall. It gained some early local coverage and capsule round-up treatment, but remained more-or-less absent the shattering social media smash some destinations seem to break through right away. That’s the Sichuan restaurant’s first perk: It’s poised just under the radar enough that you can tell your friends, “you might not have heard of this place, but . . .” 

You might not have heard of this place, but its hospitality is excellent. Recently arriving on time to a cozy, packed house, parties meeting with glee, and at least one group gathered outside (so somebody’s heard of it) while my date was late (then later and later), I was seated and served a fantastic drink, the Juno ($18), made with a whiskey duo, plum vinegar and lime. It’s a terrific mix of smoky and sweet with half a degree of a welcome medicinal quality like a penicillin. The booze took the edge off of waiting for the rest of my table to arrive, sure, but the unbothered, unrushed nature of the staff sure helped, too. 

You might not have heard of this place, but it has plenty of comforting plates to share (or keep to yourself) that you’ll likely wish to revisit later. Its pork soup dumplings with crab roe (4/$10) are both dainty and sound enough to sustain the savory broth inside in advance of slurping, spoon sipping, or the delivery method of your habit. The shrimp variety (4/$10) is similarly wrapped: Breeze knows its dough. 

You might not have heard of this place, and the entrees are good, too, though heat-seekers should consider the diced chicken’s stated chili pepper ($24) more of a garnish. It’s unlikely to spark even the most sensitive palate, but it’s still an enjoyable dish of fried chicken bits. And the shredded beef with green chili is exactly as expected, whether you’ve had the familiar, tender strips of both half a hundred times, or this is your first order. 

You might not have heard of this place, but I won’t hesitate to return when I’m in the area. I’m looking forward, in fact, to popularing the darling little four-top in the window alcove up front, though I imagine I’d be just at ease at any of the 40-some-odd seats in the narrow, pale-hued space, or at the bar toward the back. And in that event, as Breeze’s popularity grows, I’ll make sure that everybody’s on time. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Welcoming, hospitable and lively all at once. 

The Food: Broadly billed as Sichuan with terrific dumplings and nice dice chicken and shredded beef.

The Drinks: Great cocktails, including the signature Juno and classic Manhattans and martinis, plus wine and beer. 

Breeze is located at 595 Manhattan Avenue. It is open Monday-Thursday from noon-3pm and 5pm-9pm, Friday from noon-3pm and 5pm-10:15pm, Saturday from noon-10:15pm and Sunday from noon-9pm.

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  • Lenox Hill
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

A hundred dollars is a lot of money, until it isn’t. When the regulars at the idyllic West Village restaurant where I once worked used to spend about that much most days, I thought they must have been Condé Nast millionaires. But when I’d finish a day-bar shift with about the same amount, my nightside pals would look on with a little pity.  

In the fine(r) dining segment of today’s local hospitality pie, a special occasion and/or otherwise fancy dinner, usually a tasting or prix fixe for under $100 per person is still noteworthy. One of the best in this class, Tribeca’s Bâtard, closed for good in 2023 after its own two, three and four-course menus crept up from $59, $79 and $89 to $79, $95 and $105 in its last five years in operation. But, when market forces close a door, they open a window, this one to the new Café Boulud, where two courses clock in under that critical hundred buck mark.

The original Café Boulud first opened in the neighborhood in 1998; that go-go, pre-smartphone time when you might have seen Martha Stewart among tables topped with foie gras, deconstructed foie gras (duck), sweetbreads and martinis with nary a surreptitious snapshot to show for it. All these years later, the revival, which follows the first’s 2021 finale, offers . . . also all of those things, but still no surreptitious photos, please, it’s just too rude. 

All of those menu items are rather nice, once you’re seated. In a creeping recurrence that I hope does not become a trend, a recent wait for a reservation stretched to 15 minutes, after a host invited my party to wait “elsewhere,” as the adjacent bar was still under construction. There’s a not-so-communal table at the front of the dining room to bridge the gap in theory, if not in practice, so we ended up huddled by the doorway while gaggles clamored at coat check. The food that follows mostly covers for the earliest front-of-house encounters. 

Tables, while as close together as any in town, are much more peaceful, if a bit brightly lit across its cream colors and jewel tones. The martinis ($22+) are ideal; smooth and frigid. The Manhattans ($19+) are proper, too, both good enough baselines to trust anything from the (existing) bar. 

The dinner menu is also more varied than most of Café Boulud’s ~$100 peers, starting at two courses for $95. Four sections are divided into French classics, seasonal plates, vegetarian selections and a rotating quarter recently billed as “cuisine from Thailand” with lemongrass shrimp dumplings and a Chiang Mai pork duo of roasted tenderloin and crispy belly. Passable bread with slightly below-average butter is included, which is still a nice gesture.

Among the “classic” apps, the foie gras is a beautiful rectangle of terrine as pretty as a windowpane on a Northeastern liberal arts college campus. It’s accompanied by a line of lightly sweet kumquat confit and pear two ways, including a pleasantly brittle, paper-thin slice plated upright. It’s a master class in the preparation, as buttery as can be and rich to evoke a flavor and metaphor. It’s the culinary equivalent of, say, bathing in a supersized cocktail glass full of pearls. The sweetbreads, too, are some of the best I’ve had in recent memory, the tender offal approaching creamy inside with a golden exterior crunch. Both would be an excellent introduction to their form, setting an expectation even for meat-seekers in NYC. And there’s plenty more of it here. 

The Pennsylvania duck from the seasonal menu—winter at press time—is roasted to a lovely mauve. It’s seasoned with studied restraint, allowing a hint of gaminess without obscuring with its persimmon jam and jus. This, like the apps and most of the plates here, is also decently portioned enough to avoid the hackneyed dad jokes about having to grab a slice of pizza after. 

A smattering of veggie sides are listed for $15 a piece, aside from that dedicated column that includes dainty beet ravioli with sheep ricotta among its options. The pomme frites are a so-so outlier of average execution where most else is textbook. Back on the opposite spectrum, the creamy spinach casserole is one of Café Boulud’s best items, delivered as promised and celebrating its titular ingredients with aplomb. 

None of this is new. OK, that foie is probably prettier than most at the moment. But the food and drinks are doing what they’re supposed to do: justify the cost of a nicer-than-normal night out with maybe a few threads of what those super-high-ticket reservations run. Just don’t expect to see any of them woven around the coat check. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Tightly packed and a little bright in the dining room with a lowkey energy that’s suitable for somebody’s parents.

The Food: Two courses starting at $95, divided into sections categories like French classics, seasonal, vegetarian and a rotating section billed as “cuisine from Thailand” at press time. The foie gras, sweetbreads, roasted duck and spinach casserole are standouts. 

The Drinks: Excellent cocktails, plus wine and beer. 

Café Boulud is located at 100 East 63rd Street. It is open for dinner Monday-Saturday from 5pm-10pm and brunch Saturday-Sunday from 11am-2:30pm. 

  • Greenpoint
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

It seemed like I spent half of 2023 on the G. Greenpoint was among my most-visited neighborhoods for new restaurants, the Brooklyn-Queens crosstown my truncated chariot across a few miles of Kings County. The high concentration of promising premieres turned out mostly fine.

Glasserie opened about half a mile from the Greenpoint Avenue stop a decade earlier. In that year alone, the neighborhood was cheered in headlines like “Go Greenpoint!,” and jeered with descriptions like “charmingly desolate.” The restaurant got its share of accolades in any case, earning industry honors like Michelin Bib Gourmand recognition, and practical assets like returning customers. Back to the future, Glasserie proprietor Sara Conklin opened Radio Star about the same distance away in another direction on November 15, 2023. As at Glasserie, Asi Maman is chef.

Right near the water’s edge, cheery Radio Star has walls of windows and chirpy yellow walls. It also has the small tables and hard seats befitting the latter half of an operation described as “all-day;” more precisely “a Mediterranean-style diner with a 1940s vibe” in this case, per press materials. I wouldn’t worry about dressing for the decade, but the place is cute. 

The day begins at 8am, with breakfast sandwiches, feta pastries and merguez in a blanket. Heartier sandwiches and a staff-favorite vegetarian chili join at lunch from 11-4, when dinner begins. The full bill of fare is deserving of those ubiquitous plush banquettes boasted about all over town, but service is pleasantly speedy enough to keep your sit bones from too much wear. 

The complimentary bread is a mostly flavorless, chewy vehicle for condiment jars like the roasted garlic ($4), which could enliven anything. It’s satisfying to smoosh and, were the bread toasted, maybe, it would be a more successful effort. The merguez in a blanket ($13), still available from the earlier hours, nicely balances its lightly-spiced interior lamb sausage with its flaky exterior, though it is still wanting a condiment like the hot & sweet sauce sold separately for $2. The pistachio chicken croquettes’ ($14) texture lands a little harder, denser than a meatball and thin on flavor. 

Though the olive oil-poached cod has a remarkably crisp exterior that fractures to a satiny center, Radio Star’s meats are its headliners. The kitchen here is gas-free, a move gathering more and more attention among home cooks and industry professionals alike. 

“We have and will pay significantly more to operate a fully gas-free venue. The kitchen, heat, etc. are all-electric,” Conklin said via email a few months before opening. “This choice was a big one and makes a statement of turning away from fossil fuels, which is better for the environment as well as the health of staff working on premises."

Even National Grid devotees will agree that Radio Star’s heat source does right by its pig cheeks ($26) and smoked short ribs $28. The former, a pair of palm-sized cuts and served atop creamy labneh and gentle harissa are rich and impeccably tender, served with a few date halves warmed in dry-aged beef fat and concentrated fruity sweetness. The latter’s texture is terrific, too, splitting the difference between velvety and silken with its amplifying fat and thanks to an overnight marinade, several hours in the smoker and a finishing chicken stock braise. 

The G train’s supposed to be suspended for some of this summer. Charming and far from desolate as the area is, there will be plenty of locals to fill the 40 seats inside around Radio Star’s large, central bar, not to mention the space for 62 more on the patio. And other chariots await

Vitals

The Vibe: Cute, cozy and quick. 

The Food: Mediterranean-influenced menus from morning until night, with standouts like merguez in a blanket, pork cheeks and short rib. 

The Drinks: Cocktails, wine and beer. 

Radio Star is located at 13 Greenpoint Avenue. It is open Sunday-Thursday from 8am-11pm and Friday and Saturday from 8am-12am. 

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  • Lower East Side
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

About a year ago, a colleague messaged me asking for a restaurant recommendation. It had to be sushi, which couldn’t be easier. In Manhattan: ibid. And somewhere fun would be preferred. Oh no. 

Just as most places can feel romantic under the right circumstances, almost anywhere can end up fun when the stars align. But identifying a sushi restaurant in Manhattan with explicit baseline fun absent any X factors—a place approximating the promise of a Rainforest Cafe or Benihana or pseudo speakeasy—was a rattling challenge. I made a few good-faith suggestions, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the paucity of obvious options. Several months later, Kaki opened on the Lower East Side, granting me those wishes three.

The omakase spot debuted in the former Tiny’s Giant Sandwich Shop on Rivington Street in August. The narrow, beige-y space seats about a dozen, mostly at the counter, with a few tables by the big sidewalk-facing windows. Unlike some other unmentionable sushi newcomers that seem designed more to distract with their technicolor sensory overload than delight with their culinary contributions, Kaki’s understated decor betrays the crackling energy that builds as the house fills up, staggered seatings orchestrated in 75-minute increments throughout the evening. 

Kaki isn’t without its X factors, either. Everybody seems excited to be there, even aside from the several guests celebrating birthdays on a recent visit—at least four parties acknowledged with a snippet each of the 50 Cent classic. The below-market price tag, $75 for fifteen items, and BYOB policy likely account for some of the buzz. Likewise the unpretentious hospitality; nobody here’s going to recite a line about how they do things a little differently or explain in placid tones that, being an omakase, all the plates to follow are selected by the chef. And social media devotees might have already caught a glimpse of the fire course, an element which, since the dawn of time, has attracted and amused. 

The fire course lands as swift as a sleight of hand, sans any pageantry hinting at what’s to come. It’s only a little peculiar at a glance, a paper cone pointed toward the ceiling, obscuring what turns out to be a golf ball-sized sphere of flaky pastry with finely sliced tuna, salmon and yellowtail inside. Then, as you’re sipping a pleasant mushroom broth with noodles or more than a few splashes of complimentary sake, the staff sets them all alight in a pulse-quickening woosh that washes the room in a hush fractured by oohs, aahs and nervous laughter. The effect transcends any flaming cocktail or jubilee; this is a leaping blaze, a flash and a half that produces enough adrenaline to power the rest of the dinner. 

The sizzling micro-show packages the dish rather than informs it; neither the lightly crisp shell nor its tasty interior need the heat or flame at this stage, but it’s still a very nice two bites after all the razzle-dazzle. Any less successful and the whole bit would burn out into gimmick, but Kaki pulls it off with aplomb. 

The fantastic fish selections that follow that undeniable introductory draw merit reservations on their own, even without the preceding glow. Availability will vary, but a lovely bit of buttery, rosemary-smoked king salmon with a dusting of chives might be next to arrive. Two rounds of nigiri, five to each set, could include a near-sweet scallop with truffle and wasabi, that textbook amberjack swimming across similar menus all over town, satisfying tastes of Spanish mackerel and fatty tuna and a smattering of custardy uni here and there. Even packed into this relatively brief window, it’s a gratifying lineup presented with enough revelry to last all night. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Unpretentiously hospitable in a small, casual, beige-y space. 

The Food: A $75, 15-item omakase that might include wonderful king salmon, Spanish mackerel and fatty tuna, plus a starter that’s literally fire. 

The Drinks: BYOB with some splashes of complimentary saki. 

Kaki is located at 129 Rivington Street. It is open Tuesday-Thursday from 5pm to 10pm, Friday-Saturday from 5pm-11pm and Sunday, 5pm-11pm.

  • West Village
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Cornelia Street in the West Village has been a culinary destination across its single block for decades. When I worked at its titular café toward the end of its last golden age, and Lady Gaga likely did not, the Italian restaurant Pó, farm-to-table Home and Pearl Oyster Bar each shone between West 4th and Bleecker. Those are all closed, with uniquely uniform eulogies to match. 

In the interim, and the inopportune thrust of the pandemic, highly-regarded chef Simone Tong followed her eponymous noodle shop with a fantastic new-American-Chinese spot, Silver Apricot, in the former house of Home, where sommelier Emmeline Zhao is partner. And, last month, Zhao expanded next door with fantastic Figure Eight in the previous Pearl space, with Calvin Hwang, previously of Michelin-starred Saga, Crown Shy and Vestry, as executive chef. 

Figure Eight, which "celebrates the culture and culinary richness of the lower Atlantic coast through a Chinese-American lens,” has redone its previous occupant’s sandy color palette to cooling gray and blue. In addition to the enduring exposed brick also throughout, the bar’s still on the left and the couple dozen tight-squeeze seats occupy the narrow area on the right. Drinks come out quickly at one or to the other, including the Pollinator ($19), its pleasantly pillowy layer of foam crowning vodka, yuzu and elderflower, and the gin martini with a twist (~$23), which arrives with a sidecar that nearly doubles its volume and speaks to Figure Eight’s confidence and hospitality.

Likewise, a seafood tower is always a fête. Ever inviting effusion only equaled by the likes of trompe-l’œil cakes and Champagne cascades, seafood towers are shorthand for “we’ve made it, baby,” even when baby is still on the way. Figure Eight’s ($49 per person), is a triumph. Marveling, recently, and wondering how its lobster is the best I’ve ever tasted, an answer: sourced from the coast of Nova Scotia, the tail is steamed for six minutes to atypical tenderness and brushed with preserved lemon brown butter. The texture and near-sweetness achieved are unparalleled. The top tier’s pair of stone crab claws are treated more-or-less the same, but with a longer cook-time for equally ideal effect, and the jumbo shrimp are beyond reproach. Tumble down to level one and delightful jalapeño-pickled mussels, scallop crudo topped with bright roe, Shanghainese smoked fish salad with fried saltines, and beautifully arranged razor clams, thinly sliced and dressed with celtuce, daikon and vegetarian semi-dried-tomato and shiitake XO, regally await.

The seafood tower is Figure Eight’s don’t skip, can’t-miss, big hit: a new standard in its class. Its skate ($26) is also essential eating. The mild fish is brined in seasoned buttermilk overnight, dredged in a blend of rice flour and all-purpose, fried and doused with pork lard chili crisp for a deep, dynamite crunch and brilliant balancing act with its daintier interior. It’s served with ranch, pickles and an airy, flaky sesame biscuit. 

The ribs, too, land exactly on what this focused kitchen wants to do. Here, the pork is coated with salt, sugar, MSG and five-spice that amplifies the barbecued swine’s rich smokiness with a finish easily liberated from the bone. 

Those erstwhile Cornelia Street locales were as beloved as any in New York City, each with their own off days, perfectly orchestrated evenings and regulars, some of whom might have been a little justifiably bitter when their favorite dropped the check for the last time. When that happens, and it does a lot if you’re lucky to live a life of restaurants and bars, the best you can really hope for, after the sting subsides, is that the inevitable newcomer will be a good steward of the place. And not a bank. Figure Eight is as excellent a next act for its storied address as any can hope for. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Casually polished and as assured as if it had been there for years. The table arrangements are a bit tight and conversations carry. 

The Food: A sensational seafood tower that’s inked in New York City’s big book of essential eating, excellent hot fried skate and pork ribs. 

The Drinks: Splendid cocktails, plus sake, wine and beer. 

Figure Eight is located at 18 Cornelia Street. It is open Tuesday-Saturday from 5:30pm-midnight. 

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  • Fort Greene
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

If you’ve heard anything about Sailor, Fort Greene’s new, self-billed neighborhood bistro that, shockingly, has only been open since September, you’ve heard about the chicken. Its journey begins a day before it's plated, when it's salted, chilled to dry, and fitted with compound butter made with shallots, garlic, lemon, fresh sage, bay and thyme, and dried mint and oregano under its skin, before being roasted and anointed with a pan sauce of drippings, lemon and more butter. 

People clucking love this half chicken, served with a small portion of Parmesan potatoes ($38), so much that they’re willing to queue up for it before the place even opens at 5pm. If you, too, like chicken, this one will have you singing like you’re in a Burger King Commercial. It’s a get in when you can kind of place, but at your own peril. Snag a late a late, unlikely reservation, and the final bird might have flown the coop. Luckily, they make other stuff. 

Sailor’s darling corner spot separates its bar and dining rooms. Both rustic, the first is theoretically open to pop-ins, provided one does so at some fortuitous moment. Once you’re in, it’s comfortable enough to forget how much of a slog it was to win the pleasure. Here, the wine is appropriately chilled and the martinis are accurately icy. Around a windowed turn to the left, where the white tablecloths read as functional rather than starchy, ibid. Both spaces are punctuated by exposed brick, distinguished wood and convincingly nautical pictures and fixtures. It’s pretty, warm and as well executed as expected from restaurateur Gabriel Stulman, whose other operations include Fairfax, Joseph Leonard and Jolene. April Bloomfield, in her first return to a local restaurant kitchen since acknowledging her role in The Spotted Pig’s disgrace, is partner and executive chef. 

The menu is broad enough and interesting in the length of one page. To start, the lambic-poached radishes  ($13) are plump, properly softened and made savorier with a bit of pleasantly salty guanciale. They’re pretty, too, shining like baubles. The ​​paté en croute ($18) is fairly standard in its near-density with a flaky pastry exterior, livened up a bit by a dollop of mustard and a die-sized celery-infused gelatin cube that’s about as far afield as anything here. The excellent sweetbread ($18) colors just outside the edge of the lines, too, in that they’re typically served smaller and with an ‘s’ on the end. Sailor, instead, fries up one big veal variety to a crisp, deep golden outside while keeping its splendid interior buoyant and juicy. Only the mussel toast ($16) stalls to launch. Its bivalves are pleasantly perky, but their sauce-portioned broth, rather than simply softening their vehicle to pliability, or even fully drenching it like would happen in a whole big pot, just makes the whole thing seem kind of soggy. 

Those other mains, the ones you might have to reconsider if poultry’s 86’d, are, in fact, worth a first look. The smoked pork shoulder ($28) collapses to the fork as is ideal, imbued with all the low-simmering sweetness writ rich one would wish for. Likewise the roast coulotte steak with blue cheese butter, ($37) its sirloin cut suffused with that accompaniment, velvety and expertly finished to that sometimes elusive medium rare. Try achieving that with a chicken. 

Vitals: 

The Vibe: Warm and nautically chic without being theme-y.

The Food: NYC’s most popular chicken plus a great sweetbread, smoked pork shoulder and roast coulotte steak. 

The Drinks: Terrific cocktails, plus wine and beer. 

Sailor is located at 228 DeKalb Avenue. It is open Wednesday from 5pm to 10pm, Thursday-Saturday from 5pm-10:30pm and Sunday from 5pm-10pm. 

  • American
  • Financial District
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Delmonico’s has had several twists and turns in its 196 years as a hospitality enterprise. Expansion and retraction. Ownership changes and licensing agreements. Fires. Financial battles. And status grabs as the nation’s first fine dining destination, its largest, and as the originator of such august entrées as eggs Benedict. 

It has occupied the distinguished tip of a triangle block downtown in one form or another for most of the time since 1837. Its last gap was during the pandemic. Then, another zag last winter, when news of its impending return was announced, then retracted, then proclaimed once more, with new owners and some cosmetic alterations attached. Delmonico’s reopened, replete with a ribbon cutting and a visit from the mayor, in September. 

Like centuries, I suppose, 20 minutes can seem subjective, depending on how you spend them. I recently spent what ended up being 20 minutes waiting for my Delmonico’s reservation acquiring knowledge. 

First, I learned that the delay had no estimated end because “a couple of tables” were “finishing up.” Second, I learned that I could beat it to the separate bar to wait for an undetermined period, but there might not be space because it was “pretty crowded.” Third, I learned that if you while away on the pretty blue settee near the entrance, instead, you will be walled off by a dense line of vacation-wear or business casual-clad people clamoring to retrieve their items from coat check. And finally, I eventually learned that 20 minutes was exactly one-fifth of the total time I’d spend at the considerably more comfortable table in the much more hospitable dining room, where, unlike up front, nobody changed their shoes—though perhaps that act is just a unique way of expressing ease. Bare feet aside, as I’ve wished for this level of confidence and stiletto relief plenty of times, those other (minor, for someone at a place with $250 steaks) irks are a shame, because the main event is very pleasant. 

The sweeping space is still uncommonly handsome, with soaring ceilings, crisp linens and pretty light fixtures. It’s also been brightened up a bit, what little wall space isn’t covered by stately wood paneling has been redone in white. You could easily spend more money in a place that feels less important, and Delmonico’s prices aren’t any more punishing than its 2023 peers. 

Its wine selection is vast and varied; the cocktails, proper. The house (with orange bitters) and classic martinis are nicely icy ($21 and $18+, depending on spirit); the signature and standard Manhattans ($19, $21 respectively) are exact. 

To start, three chilled jumbo prawns ($27) are an odd number, but large enough to configure for, say, a party of four, if necessary. They’re served with the right chill (too warm and they’re unsettling; too cold and I think you’re up to something) and an above-average cocktail sauce, even if it’s stated gochujang seems to appear in name only. The king crab garlic spaetzle ($27) is equally valid as an appetizer, side or even somewhat more petite, red meat-avoidant main. It’s a comfort summit cloaked in rich mornay, reminiscent of that perennial vintage favorite, mac and cheese. And the creamed spinach ($15) is the wonderful accompaniment of hopes and dreams. 

Delmonico’s broiled steaks are peak form. They’re a master class in medium rare. They are absent room for improvement. The tender dry-aged bone-in rib-eye’s 22 ounces of South Dakota beef ($85) are suffused with punchy bovine flavor and funkiness as spot-on as its Central Casting appearance. Even more silken, slicing into the 10-ounce filet mignon ($65) is like opening a ring box to reveal its alluring ruby interior. Butter is eye-rollingly extra ($6), but the cut’s Wagyu tallow baste (rendered fat) imparts enough savory, salty juiciness and platonic ideal steak clarity that it needs no accouterment. 

Vitals:

The Vibe: Pleasant, convivial and highly hospitable in the dining room. The chaotic coat check/waiting area needs work, but, with any luck, you won’t languish there for long. 

The Food: Peak-form steakhouse classics. 

The Drinks: Great cocktails, plus wine and beer. 

Time Out Tip: Among your other wishes, just tell the sommelier how much you want to spend; it’s fine. 

Delmonico’s is located at 56 Beaver Street. It is open for lunch Monday-Friday from noon-3pm, brunch Saturday and Sunday from noon-3pm and dinner Sunday-Thursday from 5pm-10pm and Saturday and Sunday from 5pm-11pm.

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  • Williamsburg
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

The end of the year is peak “best of” season in NYC. In addition to the typical categories like the best new restaurants and bars, I always think about the less obvious hospitality heroes. The best place you can successfully reach by phone. The best happy hour that’s accurately detailed online somewhere. And the best buzzy spots where you can actually get a table. 

Café Camellia in Williamsburg is one of those. After opening in April, the southern charmer appeared on The New York Times’ list of the best restaurants in the U.S. That type of attention sometimes sucks up tables like a couple of dogs eating spaghetti in an alleyway, but Gulf Coast-focused Café Camellia’s have remained curiously available.

The understated dining room (previously divided on its reservation platform into “front” and “back” sections without enough difference to make the distinction more useful than it was confusing) is casually elegant like a breezy beach house. The capable bar is on the left and there’s garden seating in the back. Despite its booking abundance, Café Camellia also seems to crowd just to the perfect capacity: enough to feel lively, but not so much that you end up rushed.  

To start, the fried pickled green tomatoes ($12) are passably crisp, but not quite done to a crunch. Their plating atop what the menu lists as ‘bama bernaise—a pleasant multipurpose sauce—exacerbates the matter, and it might be better on the side. It’s still an overall enjoyable dish. The braised collard greens ($12) are more of a must, silken and lightly bitter, bolstered by rich pork shoulder bits. And the fried crab claws ($20) are one of this moment’s most perfect snacks, or apps, or, why not just have the half-pound basket for dinner, as tasty and fun as they are to eat; “like an artichoke” a server might say. These alone, a little like shrunken frogs’ legs, are worth a visit, but the dedicated entrées are great, too. 

A blackened catfish ($22) is prepared in a cast iron for a dynamic finish that happily marries the filet’s mild, firmly tender interior to its zippy, Cajun-seasoned surface. The substantially portioned bone-in Delmonico that calls to mind caveman cartoons is flame-grilled and topped with a medallion of the good butter for a rich, velvety, passionate affair with medium rare. And, while I am generally a restaurant dessert detractor (Le Rock, Bar Mario and Gage & Tollner being fairly recent exceptions), Café Camellia’s Key Lime ($12) pie is an exquisite contribution to the category. 

Vitals

The Vibe: A warmly inviting, special neighborhood restaurant that’s lively without overflowing. 

The Food: Self-billed southern fare with great fried crab claws, collard greens and a bone-in steak among standouts. Get dessert. 

The Drinks: Cocktails, beer and wine.

Time Out Tip: Take the Delmonico bone home for Sunday’s gravy. 

Café Camellia is located at 318 Graham Avenue. It is open Monday-Saturday from 5pm-12am, although the kitchen closes at 10.

  • Midtown West
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

With his latest restaurant, chef Sungchul Shim has established a pattern of opening a great new place every other year. First was Kochi, in 2019, followed by Mari in 2021, then Don Don this past September. In between, he’s also collected Michelin stars for the first two, and snuck in Mari Ne as a more casual iteration of its namesake. Don Don, the latest expansion in the Shim culinary universe, takes us from Korean skewers to hand rolls to barbecue. 

“A restaurant is not only selling the food,” Shim tells me by phone the day of Mari’s debut. “The guests have to enjoy, they have to have a good experience. They come here not just for a meal. So I try to give them more fun.” 

Mari is fun, as is Kochi, particularly for expensive tasting destinations where the evening’s spend starts at $145 per person. But Don Don’s a hoot. 

It’s also already popular, and there isn’t really anywhere to stand and wait for reserved tables, and the doorway bottlenecks pretty easily, but it’s all upbeat enough to land more like a lark than a nuisance. It feels effortless, like the team and the menu and the space’s crowded grill-top tables just happen to happily coalesce even though it’s all the product of Shim’s experience and tremendous talent as a chef and restaurateur. 

His foray into Korean BBQ is also considerably more affordable than its lauded predecessors. The $80 butcher’s special is reasonably suited for two, and comes with each of Don Don’s five cuts: bone-in pork loin, belly, collar, jowl and rib (also listed à la carte for $35-$59), preceded by housemade banchan including peak daikon and onion kimchi. 

Also included, the jeon is a warm, welcoming introduction, its rectangular scallion-packed pancake yielding pleasantly from crisp to soft. Gyeran jjim and jjigae are both available separately, and both are very good. The former’s is the best $5 you can spend on eggs in New York City, the anchovy dashi-enhanced soufflé as light and lovely as a magic carpet ride. The latter stews ($17) are vibrant bouquets of items like kimchi, tofu, squash and dainty mushrooms across three varieties. 

This is all, of course, pre-pork, Don Don’s exclusive specialty, dry-aged on-site for amplified tenderness, and displayed in slabs behind glass toward the back of the long, bustling space. The staff gets it sizzling atop the table alongside ramekins of sensational, slowly-roasting garlic cloves, savory smoke perfuming the air. They more or less take the lead on shepherding the swine’s preparation to achieve a cheek’s satiny finish or the leaner loin’s heartier bite. Don Don, electric as it is, makes it easy to relax and chat (if a bit hard to hear), creating, of course, the danger that if you let anything sizzle too long it’ll be overdone before it’s gone. And unrushed as it is, in spite of the obvious demand, you’ll have to enforce that final cook time yourself. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Party-light, absent the expectation of having to make small talk with strangers. 

The Food: All-pork Korean barbecue dry-aged in-house; great jeon, delightful gyeran jjim and wonderful jjigae. 

The Drinks: Soju, makgeolli, sake, beer. 


Don Don is located at 37 West 43rd Street. It is open Monday-Thursday from 11:30am-11pm and Friday-Sunday from 11am–2 am.

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  • Red Hook
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

What was once beloved Pizza Moto under the thunder of the Brooklyn-Queens expressway has emerged once more as a popular Brooklyn pie destination, only a couple of months after opening. 

Farina in Red Hook uses the fan-favorite previous tenant’s august oven (originally intended for bread baking) to produce irregolare pizzas the likes of which the warm, welcoming newcomer notes originated in Naples many years ago. That near-double-century brick baby is one important part of the equation used to create some of the city’s best recent entrées to the cuisine category. Also in play: Chef/partner Antonio Pisaniello’s (previously of Italy’s La Locanda Di Bu’) seven-grain dough mix, sourced from near and far, studied fermentation and temperature, abstractly structured, square shape and terrific toppings. 

The house-made fior di latte is best in class, a cheese that arrives on most of Farina’s 14 pies. As excellent relatively unadorned in a Margherita pizza ($21) as it is amid hits like meatballs, sausage and broccoli rabe, the delicious dairy alone would be worth the trip to this frenetic strip of Hamilton Avenue. 

It’s much more pleasant inside, with a communal table in the center of the dining room and smaller arrangements all around. A petite bar toward the back pours wine by the glass and half of full carafe, and beer is also available. Pizzas are around 11’’ each, divided into four slices a piece, so order a bunch, or tally up tasty apps like fritto mare and roasted eggplant. 

Farina is located at 338 Hamilton Avenue. It is open Wednesday-Monday from 5pm-10pm. 

See restaurant critic Amber Sutherland-Namako’s extended review here

 

  • Carroll Gardens
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

This past September, a group of friends from the Isan restaurant Somtum Der in Red Hook opened their own spot, serving what they call “unconventional Thai food” in neighboring Cobble Hill. Named Untable for chef Rachanon Kampimarn, also called Aun, the inviting locale is already attracting crowds ready to wait for outstanding plates that you might see simmering around social media. 

First up in early renown: Untable’s “what the hell" fried rice. An item said to be so spicy the proprietors christened it with a curse word, the dish does pack an eye-misting heat via a multi-chili blend shipped from Thailand. Add fuel to the fire with even more finely-chopped hot ones, which join a perimeter of ingredients like sweet pork, rolled egg, onions, mango and cucumber. You’ll want to mix them all in for maximum flavor effect, but maybe reserve some of the ancillary chilis unless it’s a blaze kind of day.

Now that we’ve slaked any burning curiosity, you’ll probably actually start with a drink. Untable’s novel cocktails are all best in class, including the fruity and sophisticated, tequila-based Sexy Fig, and the versatile, citrusy, vodka Ma-Krut (both ($17). Follow those with the satisfying crab croquettes ($19/3) with a zippy tom yum purée and crown of lemongrass and lime leaf. Get the tiger shrimp, too, ($19/2), for the fantastic crustaceans themselves, and the fresh herbal salad of cashews, ginger, shallots, chili and lime they’re joined by. 

Now it’s around what the hell fried rice time, which you’d be remiss to miss, but consider the perfectly done, if much milder, Chilean sea bass ($38), and the comforting kao-soi ($25) with grass-fed beef and buoyant noodles in an also less-intense Chiang Mai-style curry. 

Untable is located at 529 Henry Street. It is open Thursday-Tuesday from 12pm-3pm and 5pm-9:30pm.

See restaurant critic Amber Sutherland-Namako’s extended review here.

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  • Williamsburg
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

This cute and cozy—yet still stylish and roomy—new spot’s a great stop for a weeknight pick-me-up of a dinner or (for once!) an easily won Friday or Saturday evening reservation. Neeloo has space for 70 between tables and the long bar inside this brick-lined Grand Street locale, plus a patio that can accommodate a couple dozen in the back. 

Stick to classic cocktails ($16+) if mixed drinks are a must (beer and wine are also available), and order the hearth-broiled Wellfleet oysters ($19/6) for bivalve believers and belitters alike. Their cloak of melty Camembert creates a real shellfish hit. The pommes dauphine appetizer ($10) is simpler but satisfying, as golden-fried potato poufs are wont to be. 

Among the mains, lovely slices of American Wagyu sirloin ($39) are excellently prepared to a requested medium rare, if overly smothered in a foie gras and Sauternes jus that’s seemingly absent notes of the former ingredient.  A nice bit of halibut’s more of a sure thing: moist, fresh and swimming in a green tomato and coconut broth that gives the fish a bit of zip. 

Finish with Neeloo’s baked Alaska ($12). Almost as sweet as it is bright, the dynamic dessert is set alight right at the table for a flashy end to any evening. 

Neeloo is located at 284 Grand Street in Brooklyn. It is open Wednesday-Sunday from 5:30pm-close. See restaurant critic Amber Sutherland-Namako’s extended review here

  • Brooklyn Heights
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Chama Mama is the finest new culinary addition to Brooklyn Heights’ Montague Street in its recently refreshed past. The Georgian restaurant with two other locations, one in Chelsea and one on the Upper West Side, took over the former Le Pain Quotidien space, not too far from the borough’s second Books are Magic, in July. Although the layout is largely the same as before, Chama Mama lends a light, lofty, fresh air to the address, now equally practical for solo diners, large groups, or cozy pairs.

Its roomy polished bar up front merits “just drinks” visits for Georgian wine by the bottle, glass, or flight, and cocktails incorporating the clear Georgian brandy, chacha. Large and small tables are all around, stretching back toward the sparkling open kitchen, where they bake sensational bread to pair with tasty pkhali ($26 when five spreads are bundled into the “taste of Georgia”), and fill with wonderful, warmly melting cheese for khachapuri varieties. The adjaruli khachapuri’s ($18) a real stunner, topped with butter and raw egg and all swirled together at the table for a show stopping blend. 

Those items alone are worth a trip to this locale, and mains like the chicken in tkemali and adjika ($30), vibrantly sauced with crisp, golden skin, are invite lingering, when available on the frequently updated menu. Chama Mama just added, for example, pumpkin to its soup ($14), and pkhali ($14 à la carte) options for the fall. 

Chama Mama is located at 121 Montague Street. Reservations are available daily from 11am to 9:30pm. See restaurant critic Amber Sutherland-Namako’s extended review here

 

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  • Flatiron
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

If I had a buck for every time I’ve heard that “New York is back,” I’d have enough for a few bites at chef and humanitarian José Andrés’ new restaurant, The Bazaar. Literally. 

A place where the plates range from $14 for eight olives to $65 for one ounce of Kobe ribeye, with $8 oysters in-between, certainly assumes that the moneyed are poised to spend again. This is not the first return to super-luxe dining since the pandemic, of course. Daniel Boulud’s Le Pavillon, which presently peaks at $205 per person for six courses at dinner, was among the earliest post-vaccine arrivals; James Kent’s Saga ($295 per person for nine-ish rounds), which came a little later, is one of the most expensive. But Spanish and Japanese-influenced The Bazaar at The Ritz-Carlton, Nomad, with its recommended four-to-six dishes a guest, and its caveat that many amount to just a few chews, assembled untethered from a guided tasting or the notion of abundance a multi-course experience can evoke, seems to have the boldest dollar signs of those après-2020 currency symbols. 

Some of The Bazaar’s “little starters,” for example, are even less substantial, at twice the price, as the amuse-bouche-sized openers I knocked at one of 2022’s best newcomers, the also costly, also à la carte, Le Rock. And some of their flavors are as fleeting as the essence of a Pamplemousse LaCroix, for comical sums. 

That includes the Japanese sea urchin cone. Described by The Bazaar’s patient, professional staff as one or two bites, it’s most charitably enjoyed as the former, lest you get a mouthful of the bland, uni-obscuring yuzu kosho mayo gathered toward its tip. At $24 for the pinkie-measured nibble, this is not an unheard of supplement fee for that orange-y, buttery-to-dissolving good stuff on, say, a nice bit of sashimi, but here, it needlessly competes, with, rather than compliments, its accompanying emulsion. The disappointment and perhaps rightful guilt for having just eaten the equivalent of almost eight subway swipes sucks some air out of the otherwise grandly handsome space. 

The Wagyu air bread ($18 per piece) is a much more uplifting affair. Versions also appear at The Bazaar’s D.C., Chicago and Las Vegas outposts as one of few recurring items—like those darn cones—across the brand. The Manhattan spin fills otherwise hollow torpedoes of that airy titular vehicle with marvelously melty manchego and tops it with a layer of thin, lightly seared beef. It approaches transcendent, decadent with textures alternating between silken, crisp and velvety. Eat it immediately, as instructed, and it’s unforgettable, and even seems worth its price. 

It’s a chasm. It’s unnerving to learn that The Bazaar’s introductory items are portioned and priced like they’re from a restaurant in a New Yorker cartoon. It’s disquieting to hear that its penultimate “tasting through Japan” section starts at $40 an ounce for (surely the finest) short rib, and wonder, in “if you have to ask . . .” fashion, if a person is intended to order all four selections for what would amount to a minimum of $200, were they cut to their smallest possible portions. And it’s just confusing to figure out that, aside from the unspeakably expensive so-sos, there are some slightly less unconscionably expensive very goods on the menu. 

While the oysters escabeche ($38)—which I ordered for its seeming hints of the molecular gastronomy genre Andrés is prominently associated with via its listed ingredients like “air” and “green apple “pearls”"—are ultimately uninteresting, topped with foam like you’ll find plenty of places, those teased gems just literal bits of fruit, the much simpler live scallops ($34) are fantastic. While the strip loin (recently available at $60 for 5 ounces; normally $80 for 8), as close as you can get to the considerably higher priced beef by the ounce section without going over, is cheerily interrobang-punctuated ok‽, if inadvisably done to a medium-plus in some places, the tartare ($36), made with Japanese Wagyu top sirloin, presented deconstructed with its egg yolk, mustard and anchovies, then assembled tableside and served with brilliant tempura shiso leaves, is wonderful. And while the puntillitas ($18) aren’t unlike any other fried baby squid in town, save for the vast room to roam between them, the bomba rice socarrat ($24) is excellent, enveloping to whisper warmth across lovely slices of raw shima aji. 

Visit frequently enough, and you’ll know what to order for a good time. But the price of admission is so high, it’s too easy to leave feeling like the subject of a joke. “No two experiences at #TheBazaar are the same,” a post on the burgeoning chain’s Instagram page states. With the wild swings, the assertion lands a little more like a threat. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Gilded. 

The Food: Some extraordinary items like the Wagyu air bread, beef tartare and bomba rice socarrat with shima aji. Average oyster preparations that cost too much to be so so-so and a huge miss with the super-spendy, signature Japanese sea urchin cone. 

The Drinks: Excellent cocktails like the über-smooth milk punch, and Manhattan, old fashioned and martini classics plus beer, wine, sake and shōchū.

The Bazaar is located at 35 West 28th Street. 

 

  • Korean
  • East Village
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

The text messages started the day before, as they always do. I’d finally landed a reservation at Ariari, the new Korean restaurant from Hand Hospitality, the group behind top restaurants Little Mad, one of my picks for the best openings of 2021, and Atoboy, high on my list of NYC’s overall greats. Ariari debuted in the East Village at the end of last year, and it took me until this summer to land a convenient reservation, this one the infrequent fruit of a Resy notification. 

This communiqué, however detailed several totally reasonable and not at all unprecedented house policies (don’t be too late, don’t double your party size, don’t cancel at the last minute unless you want to pay a comparatively reasonable $10 per person fee, don’t overstay your welcome) in addition to the more standard confirmation request. There were a few caps. Fair enough. I don’t see anything similar scrolling back through the last 24 months of reminders, but fair enough. 

But then, about 45 minutes before my designated arrival, as I chatted on a rooftop farther uptown, another message, “Your table is available now if you would be interested in dining with us sooner. Please text us back to confirm!” Then, relocated to a hot subway platform but with plenty of time to spare, the standard 30-minute warning, before, “Hello, this is ARIARI Restaurant. We are holding your table up to 15 mins after your reservation time. Please text us back if you are running late!,” which I wasn’t, but now felt like I was, the accumulated notification combining to leech the ease with which I wish to enter every restaurant, especially those I’m set to review, each ping thickening the early evening humidity and seeming to slow my every stride from the F at Second Avenue like a hypergravity stress dream.  

Inside, Ariari is the antidote to those missives. It is efficiently packed but comfortable enough, and peacefully lit to a near dim with pleasant energy that seems to exclaim “Oh hey, you made it!” as though the multitude of previous paragraphs never happened. The incongruity is a jarring relief, and cocktails like the light maesil (soju, green plum, Suze, peach lemon, $14) and, once you’ve cooled off, more robust dae-chu (jujube-infused rye, simple syrup, orange bitters, $15) further take the edge off. 

Excellent complimentary kimchi—crisp and bright—begins the path through Ariari’s menu. It’s a hard-to-choose-your-own adventure with mostly right turns, divided into categories like shareables and mains, which could easily be swapped. From the first, the seafood pancake ($16) if a regal golden-brown, bursting with minced mussels, shrimp and calamari, plus specks of Thai basil and Korean chives. It is delectably a little greasy outside, fluffy inside and buoyant with its trio of seafood. 

The fried section’s soft shell crab ($18) is a textbook success with the expected dual riffs on crispness from the outside in and properly juicy at the center. Its zippy accompanying yuza scallion aioli helps set it apart from any other late August offering if only a bit. 

Detours from the road here are minor. Among those mains, the duck bulgogi ($26) seems to have been fired a moment too long, its thinly sliced protein losing its typical waterfowl character. That it’s still basically tasty is a credit to its nearly sweet, slightly garlicky marinade, tangle of properly tender onions and chives and vivacious chojang-perilla dip. An easily corrected near-miss like this might go less noticed elsewhere, but Ariari sets a higher bar. 

The spicy pork with fried squid entrée ($25) and the rice and noodle column’s dolsot al-bap ($19) are marvelous examples of what the kitchen can do. The former’s perfectly pan-seared swine masterfully mingles with its fried companion for a texture triumph laced with celery’s ribbons of freshness. The latter’s an airy-rich, winning mix of fish roe, sea urchin cream and egg, stirred tableside to reveal rice beneath and incorporate all the gently saline, briny flavors. 

Service is swift without feeling rushed, so I was surprised when given a 40-minute warning toward the end of the dinner, not only that I had been given a 40-minute warning, as these things are enforced far less frequently than they are asserted, but that only 65 minutes of my two-top’s allotted 105 had passed, considering how many terrific things we had tasted in such a brief space. To poetic amusement, we still waited a little longer for the check than I’d have hoped, but that’s an old dining trope practically anywhere. But by the time I’d paid, we were still ahead of the deadline, but when it’s time to go, it’s time to go. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Inviting and busy—most who enter are greeted with a group cheer—but still with nicely-paced service in spite of the crowd. 

The Food: Billed as “Busan to New York,” with standouts like the seafood pancake, soft shell crab, spicy pork with fried squid and dolsot al-bap. 

The Drinks: Cocktails, sool, wine and beer. 

Ariari is located at 119 1st Avenue. 

 

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  • East Village
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

In the months before the pandemic, a little East Village sandwich window was getting big attention for its locally infrequent ingredients like camel and bison heart, alongside more standard fare like shrimp, lamb and roast pork. It closed three years and many fans later due to that old Manhattan classic, a lease dilemma. Foxface expanded its concept, menu, space and name not too far away this past spring with the opening of Foxface Natural on Avenue A. 

Though several times its predecessor’s size, Foxface Natural’s long, narrow dining room is still petite, swiped mostly in white with a few lines of sandy wood and a bit more color from potted plants. Like before, the menu is frequently updated; quail, live scallops, goat, outsized prawn heads and other underwater noggins having graced tables throughout Foxface Natural’s two seasons in operation. It’s still, in this new iteration, spotlighting some infrequently commercially seen items, a few available on a blink-and-you’ll-miss-them basis. A shipment of percebes, for example, was recently lost at JFK, conjuring all sorts of hypotheticals about the unintended party eventually on the Portuguese goose barnacles’ receiving end. Studied sourcing and its beautiful conclusion aside, there has still been little else quite as attention-catching as that camel here at 2.0, though the kangaroo tartare ($25) comes close. 

Next to nothing is unheard of in New York City, including kangaroo, which I’ve previously enjoyed in carpaccio form at since-shuttered Public in Nolita, and you can presently find skewered at Williamsburg’s Isla and Co. The lean meat is milder here than its “gamey” shorthand, and lends itself well to the raw, chopped approach, served in a heap with brittle Sardinian flatbread and a delightful little pouf of airy charred eggplant. A glancing taste could easily be mistaken for more common beef, a value judgment for the eye of the beholder. I’d get it again. 

Elsewhere among the assorted proteins, the wild boar pork tongue’s ($22) thin, cold cut-style slices are reminiscent of sandwiches, though more evocative of the catered luncheon variety than the unique affairs Foxface was first recognized for. The dainty pink pile is laced with light greens and served atop a tonnato sauce that obscures any tuna and anchovy notes with a heavier mayo presence. Its meat is plenty tasty, if only a little distinguishable from any other high-quality ham.  

Everything here is suitable to share; some for a few bites and some for several more, and the printed menu’s order follows a conventional smaller to larger format. In a rare suggestion of restraint wherever money changes hands, you might be told you’ve ordered too much, and encouraged to cull a plate or two. There are half a hundred ways to do so, even on a menu less than 20 lines long. Foxface Natural’s frequent rotation and pleasant, unrushed atmosphere lends itself to return visits to mix and match, and a first trip its as good a plan as any to follow the day’s recommendations. 

Seafood is the kitchen’s stated can’t-miss category at press time, and the hiramasa “pastrami” ($24), one dish consistently available since opening, gives a gentle kick to the geometrically-textured, thin slices of nearly-blushing fish. The app’s rye crisps and horseradish dabs close the loop on the subtly executed conceit. 

One of Foxface Natural’s best preparations is also its simplest, arriving just how the menu describes. A whole Montauk fluke ($56) is wood oven-roasted with parsley and an abundance of garlic that suffuses the tender fish with fragrance and deep, silky flavor without cloaking the fluke’s own near-sweetness. Relatively uncomplicated as it is, this is still a wonderful demonstration of what Foxface’s “natural continuation” can do. 

Vitals:

The Vibe: Peaceful, pleasant and unrushed. 

The Food: Frequently updated, unique, and skewed to seafood recommendations like the hiramasa “pastrami” and whole Montauk fluke at the moment. One of a few spots citywide with kangaroo on the menu. 

The Drinks: Beer and wine. 

Foxface Natural is located at 189 Avenue A. 

 

  • West Village
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

It takes a lot of work to make things easy. A good maître d' will do it, and Michael Cecchi-Azzolina, who manned Minetta Tavern, Raoul’s and Le Coucou before publishing his tell-all, Your Table Is Ready: Tales of a New York City Maître D' in 2022, is among the industry’s best known. The famed steward opened Cecchi’s as “a modern take on the classic New York bar & grill” in the West Village this summer. And it's already righting some recent hospitality wrongs. 

My top three restaurant complaints of the past two years have been that everywhere’s too bright, all the "new" cocktails are needlessly complicated and I can’t get a reservation anywhere. Hyperbole aside, they’re all vexing trends, each eschewed by cleverly coordinated Cecchi’s. Here, the lighting’s nice, the cocktails skew simpler and, although it’s obviously popular, Cecchi’s is also accessible for its intended purpose of selling food and drinks. 

The appletini ($20) among the latter’s a hoot, the slight pomegranate zag in the cosmopolitan ($20) is pleasant rather than puzzling and the Manhattans and martinis ($17+) are masterclass. There have even recently been seats to sip them at the handsome bar, where an old cash register from cult favorite Café Loup, which operated in the neighborhood for 42 years, is once more in use. The adjacent Art Deco-style dining room is flush with a honeyed glow and splashed with murals depicting convivial party scenes. A warm, less decorative but somewhat more private, annex is a little farther back. 

‘This must be the place’ -type spots like Cecchi’s aren’t always best known for their food, but 105 West 13th Street is now worth visiting aside from its scene. To start, a switcheroo. Farther down the list of those semi-private gripes, I’ll always grouse about a plated shrimp cocktail, staged flatly, absent its veritable third ingredient, a fancy presentation glass. Cecchi’s crustaceans ($6 each; minimum 3) arrive on their sides, lazing on a bed of ice, lemon wedges hedged wherever. But they’re so good, plump, bright, saline and devoid the unintended fishiness I’ve often detected at esteemed seafood spots, I didn’t care about the incongruous lack of pageantry. The mushroom toast ($17) goes bigger, piled but still manageable, with the light flavor combination of petite fungi and sunchokes. The onion rings ($15) fall shorter, a little underdone inside with a coating that struggles to adhere.  

The steak and fries pairing ($42), joins the best of any restaurant in this genre, its flap cut zapped of any common chewiness and turned wonderfully tender. Those crisp golden potato sticks are great, too, and both are made extra decadent by an accompanying brown butter béarnaise that’s better than any in recent recollection. The pan-seared pork chop is also tops, thick, juicy and served with tasty fingerlings and well-tamed broccolini; its dainty florets as attentively finished as its heartier stems. Even at a steak and chop-situated spot, it’s a bit of a surprise to see a roasted cauliflower ($29) as the sole plant-based entrée years into the cliché that it’s the sole concession “for the vegetarians.” It’s an unexpected passé flash in a place that otherwise so successfully conjures a modern vintage ambiance, rather than one of a reaching throwback; so much so that this one dish almost tracks as intentional camp. 

In various ways and to disparate degrees, every restaurant in New York City wants to be the place to be. At Cecchi’s, the feeling is mutual. 

Vitals:

The Vibe: This must be the place. 

The Food: Wonderfully plump and crisp shrimp cocktail, Solid steaks, fabulous fries and chops served with expertly-tended vegetables. 

The Drinks: Perfect cocktails as though they’re shaken from the libation heavens, plus wine and beer. 

Cecchi’s is located at 105 West 13th Street. 

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  • West Village
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Approach The Golden Swan’s 11th Street address (the same one previously occupied by The Spotted Pig; a restaurant that cycled through hospitality’s highest highs and its most disturbing lows before closing in disgrace in January of 2020), and a host stands guard outside. It’s dated, alienating and impractical, creating a truly goofy pseudo exclusively reminiscent of comical red velvet ropes rather than what I imagine is a stab at the gatekeeping of proprietor Matt Abramcyk’s early-aughts Beatrice Inn. “We’re trying to create a clubhouse without being a membership club,” Abramcyk told The Wall Street Journal; a conceit that, if landed, would only evoke the worst of both worlds. 

What might have seemed impressive in 2006 is a naked affectation today, but this introduction is more than just an eye-roller. What’s inside is rather nice, and the pre-entry pomp does it a disservice.

The once cluttered, grandma-tavern aesthetic that enraptured fans of celebrities and burgers for sixteen years is gone; with it, the once-ubiquitous pigs. The first floor space they’ve dubbed the Wallace Room is now awash in pretty shades of gleaming emerald and chartreuse. Essentially the bar component, the food down here is a bit different than the fancier affair upstairs, and, though still expensive, a bit less-so. The second-story dining room (“Dining Room”) is vaguely mid-century pretty, done in hues of warm beige with comfortable seats fit for grown-ups.  

The cocktail menu is twice as long and half as good as it needs to be, but this has been the norm all over town for a while. The takes on Manhattans and martinis ($19-$23) are fine, but their actual, off-menu antecedents ($20-variable) are better, even if the latter of those originals isn’t cold enough. In the dining room, drinks ordered on the rocks recently arrived up, also not an infrequent occurrence elsewhere. There’s wine. 

Trappings and citywide bar program blight aside, talented chef Doug Brixton’s menus are excellent. Recently departed from now-closed Bâtard, which was on our list of NYC’s best restaurants until its final day, his Golden Swan preparations are billed as French-Mediterranean. 

The steak tartare ($34), the only dish available in both spaces, caviar aside, is exemplar. It’s dressed up with garlic aioli that needn’t scare mayo haters away, a brown butter emulsion, Parmesan flakes and a few dainty greens, but its plump minced tenderloin still stars. 

A poached halibut looks ridiculous, plain-white and Jetsons-like, though this is, I concede, ideal rich person plating; real peak-Goop kind of stuff, like what they’d have been eating in the Flugelheim museum in Batman (1989). But—joke’s on me!—is another impeccable item. Its accompanying tableside dash of saffron beurre blanc adds required color, if not much else, but the fish itself is as light and mild to taste and gently firm to touch as any perfect such specimen in creation. The garnish-portioned artichoke beside it has flavor a few times its allotted size, bolstered by the best smoked trout roe I’ve had in a while. Real sides are separate, and the pleasant tri-color cauliflower with garam masala, labneh and mint ($15) also livens up the look a bit. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, The Golden Swan’s Crescent duck ($48; named for the local farm that boasts “nutritionally enhanced” birds) has a vibrant blush throughout its wedge duo. Its skin is rightly crisp, its fat is properly rendered and its texture is near-velvety to make for one flawless waterfowl. Its own little accoutrement creates a banner moment for beets. They’re sliced thin, folded and filled with shallots that have been coated in butter, sage, rosemary and thyme, slow-cooked, caramelized and puréed to sensational effect. It's a sweet, savory, special couple of bites served in just the right amount. 

It might take a moment to get off the ground, but The Golden Swan takes flight.

Vitals

The Vibe: After an unnecessary checkpoint outside, The Golden Swan is graceful, lovely and comfortable. 

The Food: Excellently-executed French and Mediterranean-influenced menus with fantastic steak tartare and perfectly finished duck.  

The Drinks: Cocktails, wine and beer. 

The Golden Swan is located at 314 West 11th Street. It is open Tuesday and Wednesday from 5pm to 12am and Thursday-Saturday from 5pm-1am. 

  • Midtown West
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Although I have yet to test this theory, I believe it would be easy to spend about one million dollars in under an hour across a short stretch of 57th Street. A luxury sports car from the Aston Martin at Park Avenue would do a lot of the heavy lifting as the vehicular equivalent of a cart full of turkeys on Supermarket Sweep, and then, provided I could find parking, I’d pad out the rest at Dior, Bulgari and Bergdorf. There’s a Tiffany over there, too. Now, perhaps the billionaires for whom the area is named (their “Row,” if you will), will say it can’t be done, but I reply, try me, you beautiful titans of industry, of whom everyone is very fond. My time, your money. Winner buys dinner at Nasrin’s Kitchen nearby. 

Chef Nasrin Rejali learned to cook family recipes growing up in Tehran and went on to operate a cafe there before emigrating to Turkey and then to the United States with her three young kids. Here, Rejali connected with the refugee and minority immigrant-staffed hospitality business Eat Offbeat. This eponymous Persian restaurant that opened in June follows a series of pop-ups she also hosted around town. 

Halfway up the staircase to Nasrin’s Kitchen’s second-story space, the air seems to lift, too, in a mood-elevating shift. The 50-some-odd-seat dining room just has good energy, a welcoming ambiance that can’t be faked. Tree trunks of datedly distinguished marble columns, petite vases of dainty carnations and casual white tablecloths are reflected in a wall of otherwise unobtrusive mirrors. A semi-separate bar a bit farther back will soon be stocked with wine and beer and it’s worth asking in advance about the present beverage possibilities. 

Rejali’s menus borrow some of those recipes from her youth, detailed in places on the menu while other items are noted by location. To start, mirza ghasemi ($12), from the Caspian Sea region of Iran is smoky and brightly, near-sweetly acidic, the eggplant and tomato dip topped with a sunny egg and served with thin, seeded housemade bread that yields from a little crisp to soft inside. 

Among the mains, the khoresh-e ghormeh sabzi ($28) listed as a national dish, is abundant with beef in its herbaceous stew and easy to share, even aside from its heaps of rice. Even larger and vibrant with its galaxy of jewel-toned ingredients, the tomato-saffron chicken in the zereshk polo ba morgh ($26, linked here to Tehran) is marvelously braised to tender, covered in perfectly prepared basmati rice, slivered almonds, emerald pistachios and tart, ruby-red berries. Delicious as they are, once plated, these gems won’t last forever. 

Nasrin’s Kitchen is located at 35 West 57th Street. 

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  • Gowanus
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

When a neighborhood restaurant closes, the best thing that can replace it is another one. Inevitable grousing about the way things were aside, those pleasant, easy spots are preferred over the alternative million dollar condos, bank branches, or even overpriced, underperforming food and drink businesses seemingly sprung fully formed from social media. So Cotra, a new self-billed izakaya that opened last month in the space long occupied by red sauce spot Monte’s is a welcome new steward of the address. It arrives on the block from the operators of Trad Room in Bed-Stuy. 

Inside, the brick walls are still exposed, and the wood-burning oven is still in the back; visible as before, but now framed by sleek windows. Up front, the white marble-topped bar remains on the right, and the whole rouge banquette to the left has been swapped with similar but untethered, segmented seats a bit better for smaller parties, if a little wobbly. The rest of the formerly blush color scheme around the actual banquette and booths have been redone in swipes of light gray, charcoal and blue for, once more, a modern-Gowanus aesthetic, as the place’s previous owners aimed to achieve when they redid the room in 2011 style.

Sushi varieties like the nori-forward tamago roll ($7.25), its bright interior egg overly firm, and the spicy salmon ($9) with too-chewy crispy rice, are quick to arrive for speedy drink pairing, but might be more welcome after you’ve had a few. Opt instead to linger a little longer for fun and nicely done fried apps like the golden panko-encrusted oysters ($14) and the mochiko karaage’s enjoyably juicy chicken ($15). 

Another fried bite, this time from the menu’s shared plates section, the soft shell crab $24, is both smaller than the karaage and considerably less flavorful for an easy skip. That category’s yakiniku skirt steak ($28), perfunctory greens aside, is a tastier, adeptly prepared to medium rare, alternative. 

Vitals:

The Vibe: Fun, friendly, neighborhoody and casually stylish. 

The Food: Nice fried oysters, chicken karaage and skirt steak; a wide variety of smaller plates.

The Drinks: Abundant, with cocktails, wine, beer, sake, shochu and zero-ABV options. 

Cotra is located at 451 Carroll Street. It is open Wednesday-Sunday from 5pm to 10pm.

  • Upper West Side
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

The buzziest restaurants in New York City are not always the best. Expectations inflated by press, hashtags, and exclusivity burst like birthday balloons in the power lines when that Next Best Thing turns out to be just fine. Tatiana by Kwame Onwuachi, which opened in November at Lincoln Center, is the rare New York City hotspot that actually exceeds its tremendous surrounding hype. 

Tatiana follows Bronx-raised Onwuachi’s early career years in some of NYC’s most esteemed restaurants, his Top Chef season, a pair of D.C. operations, book publications and accolades like the James Beard Foundation’s rising star chef of the year award in 2019. His first local destination, with Afro-Caribbean-influenced menus in a soaring, uncommonly inviting space, is a triumph. 

The sweeping venue is distinguished, chicly industrial and makes you feel like you’ve arrived, especially after what was probably a long and/or circuitous route to finally landing a table. Huge windows suffuse the polished dining room with natural light filtered by delicate metallic curtains. Large cumulus cloud fixtures hover toward the ceiling. The armchairs opposite a banquette with its back to Lincoln Center’s plaza are, uniquely, as comfortable as the cushy bench they face; nicely sized, substantially anchored and designed for ease. The custom pieces are a relief, and a demonstration of a detailed commitment to hospitality, particularly in light of the recent threatening trend of truly awkward seats, including the glorified tree stump-like tests of core strength at another hotspot elsewhere in town. 

There is also a ton to love on Tatiana’s one-page menu, divided into small and large shares. The curried goat patties ($26) are an excellent introduction to some of the kitchen’s rich protein preparations, plated three to an order with golden, flaky exteriors and sides of mango chutney and creamy aioli. The crispy okra ($15), also grouped among the starters, is a dish of fun abundance, with fresh texture and a patina of honeyed sweetness that, while tasty, cloaks the item’s listed mustard and peppa sauce.  

When reservations are this hard to come by, ordering can turn from simply taste-slaking to high-stakes strategy. I really don’t think you can go wrong here, and Tatiana adeptly factors seafood, poultry and vegetable options into its offerings to cover all manner of desires, but I will have a hard time skipping its exquisite red meat varieties on any lucky returns. 

Braised oxtails ($52) from the menu’s larger shares practically melt off the bone under a somewhat tangy, nearly-sugared glaze. Each silken bite is almost impossibly decadent with depths of flavor that bring conversation to a halt. 

Tatiana’s undeniable standout, however, (an exalted designation on an all-star lineup) is its short rib pastrami ($85), which has been presented a couple of different ways over the last eight months. Its wonderfully marbled, tender Wagyu is presently sliced and arranged to curve around a tight pile of crisp, slightly tart red cabbage alongside gleaming pillows of caraway coco bread. Both a perfect pastrami and sensational steak, like Tatiana’s welcoming warmth, there’s nothing else quite like it in New York City right now. 

Vitals 

The Vibe: Polished, comfortable fine dining that puts you at ease in an inviting space. 

The Food: Destination-making short rib pastrami, braised oxtails, crispy okra and curried goat patties are highlights among outstanding Afro-Caribbean menu items. 

The Drinks: Tatiana’s Miami Vice is one of NYC’s best frozen drinks, its classics are top-notch and its wine list is studiously curated. 

Tatiana is located at 10 Lincoln Center Plaza. It is open for dinner Monday-Saturday from 5pm-10pm.

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  • Noho
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

The tables at Raf’s are too close together. Maybe not all of them, but certainly the banquette stretch on the pretty restaurant’s long west wall leading to the elegantly framed, peacefully coordinated, open kitchen. The comparatively truncated space is nearly imperceptible, almost negligible until everybody starts to remark. That side of the dining room seems scored with a chorus of polite “pardon mes,” as the staff admirably navigates throughout. The tight fit that might not be as noticeable someplace else is magnified at Raf’s, which is so effortfully polished that the sporadic smudge is amplified. 

Intended to evoke both European-style neighborhood spots and the continent’s grand cafés, with more granular influences from Italy and France, Raf’s is . . .  sure, why not. It’s a glowy addition to Noho, just across East Houston from its predecessor, The Musket Room. The newcomer, which opened in March, could practically have sprung fully formed from any of the area’s stealth-wealthiest corners, with the reservation-filling following to match. It took a few tries before I could squeeze in. 

The address was Parisi Bakery for 47 years until 2021, and Raf’s has its own bread preparations to rival any other. That the $14 baskets become compulsory depending on appetizer selection is an increasingly common but irksome cost of dining out in recent years. The listed warm fresh ricotta, for example, which sounds interesting with the addition of long hot peppers that ultimately bring nothing, needs a vehicle, which turns the little $8 lark into a $22 starter, for the apparent few keeping track.

Skip the bland bit of cheese, but keep the peak-form focaccia, sourdough and milk buns, whose accompanying fancy butter is plenty complimentary, anyway. The trio’s a treat with that alone and another useful platform for the much better, nicely-portioned, buoyant beef tartare with anchovy, mint and a shower of aged Parm ($24.) It comes in handy again for the plump, ideally textured escargot’s too-mild in-shell herb bath, livening up the verdant blend as best it can. 

Wood-fired mains from the hearth are large, too and could be shared to mix and match with a house-made pasta like the otherwise fine for one mafaldine with lamb ragu ($29). The size of the whole dorade, for example, would be respectable in any gone fishin’ snapshot, with a proficiently fork-flaky interior. 

The half-chicken is the choice to beat, attracting long glances from those (very) neighboring tables. The impressively plated poultry’s parts are each triumphantly finished to their uniquely required cooking times and temperatures for a bird that soars alongside dainty asparagus spears and atop jus-soaked slabs of sourdough, at once rich, rustic and decadent. There might even be plenty to take home, where it’s still wonderful the next day in the relative sprawl of your own kitchen, improvised coffee-table-dining-room, or fire escape. 

Vitals: 

The Vibe: Tightly packed and a little stuffy between white tablecloths, though likely to relax over the course of what will probably be a long, successful run.

The Food: Fantastic bread with sensational butter, great beef-tartare, serviceable (though photogenic) escargots, a few house-made pastas and one impressive roast chicken. 

The Drinks: Wine and a cocktail menu better swapped with classics. 

Raf’s is located at 290 Elizabeth Street. It opens for dinner at 5pm Tuesday-Sunday.

  • Greenpoint

“Walk in as a person and leave like a legend,” reads a promise splashed across Mitica’s social media. The new Greenpoint restaurant opened this past May. A few menu items do assume that description, though not its most flattering definition.

Still, Mitica is promising. Its narrow bar area would be a fine place for a quick drink (though the novel options, each $16, are forgettable), the dining room beside is comfortable enough, there’s a large backyard, and reservations across all are wide open for this follow-up to well-regarded Mariscos El Submarino in Queens. 

Mitica serves some pleasant echoes of that Mexican seafood spot. The aguachile negro ($22), made here with four fresh, plump shrimp and sliced avocado under a miny-spray of pretty, edible flowers is as bright and refreshing as it is petite. The taco gobernador ($16) is nice too, stuffed with melty cheese and topped with bits of lobster, though the the sum of its parts is a bit too chewy due to its carrot tortilla. 

Other plates might, like a legend, exist only in hearts and minds, if only because they never arrive. That absence, plus the presence of an expensive rib-eye ($85) ordered medium-rare and served medium-well make Mitica one to watch, if not one to book just yet. 

Mitica is located at 222 Franklin Street. It is open Wednesday-Sunday from 5pm-10pm. 

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  • Park Slope
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

I did not set out to find the drink of summer. Other than my enduring belief that frozens, in general, are it, my more practical opinion is that it’s all marketing, as brilliantly demonstrated in this 2018 Times piece about that year’s supposed Aperol spritz blitz. But still, it’s A Thing, even if 2023’s race to identify it has prudently smoothed. 

Bar Vinazo opened on Park Slope’s 7th Avenue in May. It’s pale and narrow, but efficiently arranged with a few standard tables up front, tiny two tops fixed to the south wall, a long row of pleasanter bar seats an arm’s reach away and a roomy backyard appointed in ivy beyond. Self-billed as a Spanish wine bar, I aimed to start with one those on a recent visit, but the humidity outside set me toward cocktails while the white I had my heart set on—an apparently popular albariño ($18/glass)—needed to chill. 

In that brief cooling period, for me and the bottle on deck, I choose from the trio of Vinazo’s gin and tonics. Its gardener variety ($16), aptly made with Isolation Proof’s small-batch, limited-edition, ramp gin, is a knockout. It’s lightly vegetal, pungent and savory but refreshing, and like little else I’ve had in a glass lately. Gardeners aren’t being ordered everywhere, for, as I know, they’re unique to this restaurant, but that is precisely why they better occupy the nebulous drink of summer space than something supposedly ubiquitous. Like the season itself, the gardener is elusive, ethereal and, according to the patient, hospitable staff, a little divisive; an entry level to acquired tastes. 

A fair number of Vinazo’s menu items are curated, rather than scratch-made. Boquerones, sheep’s milk cheese and a tender but textured, fairly portioned to share at around eight slices, delicious lomo ibérico ($14-$18, respectively) are among those twenty snackier, assembled options. 

The pros in the minuscule, exposed corner kitchen also make some solid plates from start to finish. A pile of dime-sized, deeply saline and near-silken octopus medallions ($26) are mellowed by a stack of firmly yielding potato slices beneath in a wonderful pairing of bold and mild flavors. And the croquetas de jamón y queso ($15/4) are comforting cylinders filled with a wonderfully melty Manchego.

Vinazo’s fideuà is also pleasant. Its short pasta’s answer to near-relation paella’s rice is winningly prepared to suitable doneness, even as its shrimp and cuttlefish hover around the common fate of being heated all together with the mix, rather than a little later, as the seafoods’ optimal quicker cooking times require. 

Around three items per person are recommended, but personnel provide prudent guidance surprisingly absent the upsells I’ve increasingly seen elsewhere around town. It’s a polished operation, professional but still friendly, and a lovely place to wait for that ultimately quite nice albariño to reach its ideal temperature. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Intimate, casually polished and friendly. 

The Food: Mostly small plates like boquerones, sheep’s milk cheese and a great lomo ibérico. Fideuà is among a few larger options. 

The Drinks: NYC’s drink of summer in a leek-forward gin and tonic, plus more cocktails, wine and beer.

Bar Vinazo is located at 158 7th Avenue. It is open Tuesday-Sunday from 5pm-11pm.

  • Greenpoint
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

After international culinary employ, a tenure at highly-regarded Bessou (which previously had a presence at Time Out Market New York unrelated to this critic or review) and a stop at Saigon Social, chef Emily Yuen opened her permanent location of Lingo on Greenpoint Avenue this past April after a few of pop-up previews. 

The space is bright and beachy-breezy, if somewhat cramped by what seems like an ad hoc service island at the center of the bustling back dining room. Tables are the expected no-gossip distance apart, and there’s a peaceful, L-shaped bar daintily draped in a bit of greenery up front. A glimpse of the kitchen is in-between. 

Cocktails are a brief affair with some even briefer flavors. The umi martini ($17, also with vodka and theoretically plum-amplifying umeshu), does not quite assert its titular fruit, while other cocktails are indistinguishable or pronounce little more than sweetness. 

An otherwise wonderful hamachi collar’s ($18) smoked cherry tare’s a bit too sweet, too, the treacly glaze cloaking the marvelously tender yellowtail beneath, each strategic flick of the fork rewarding the modicum of effort with a satisfyingly procured morsel until the bone is approaching bare, ribbons of sauce pushed aside. It’s an easy enough fix, and the coating doesn’t penetrate the fantastically executed cut itself, but the cloak is a one-note opposition to its superior vehicle. 

Another app, the crispy cauliflower ($16), needs no improvement, nearly as brittle as the surface of a crème brûlée on the outside and yielding underneath, arranged on a mild, pleasant lime curry crema. 

Lingo’s bird soars even higher. The spicy fried chicken ($26) is, more precisely, a whole Cornish hen, finished with a lovely golden exterior that produces a gratifying crunch when you cut deeper into its juicy flesh. It’s a terrific little clucker, its stated spice admirably hot enough to justify its title. Subject to inexpert DIY-butchery, it does tend to slide around the plate a bit beside a lightly charred lime, unfairly making the poultry appear a tad paltry, but zoomed in it’s an impressive plate. 

The beef pie ($41) stuns at any range. It arrives with both a sprig of smoking rosemary and the circular bone from which marrow mingled into the dish planted in its oblong, flaky golden crown. It’s another beauty, sure, this one impressing to its seams, but it’s what’s on the inside that counts: its rich interior surpasses even its carriage with its Hokkaido-style curry’s substantial braised beef and supporting carrots, English peas and leeks. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Bright and beachy-breezy, if cramped in some square feet. 

The Food: Self-billed “Japanese-inspired new American” menus with impressive plates like the clucking good fried chicken and the beef pie with bone marrow and a sprig of smoking rosemary. 

The Drinks: Beer and wine, plus promising cocktails with room for improvement.  

Lingo is located at 27 Greenpoint Avenue. It is open Wednesday-Thursday from 5pm-10pm, Friday-Saturday from 5pm-10:30pm and Sunday from 5pm-10pm. 

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  • Italian
  • Gowanus
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

New to Brooklyn since last month, Café Mars is self-billed as “an unusual Italian restaurant.” It should become the norm. 

The Gowanus spot, which began simmering into existence on the Resident rotating chef circuit last summer, is the neighborhood destination to beat—near or far—replete with housewarming party hospitality, style, an excellent menu and more perspective than I’ve seen anywhere else this year. Café Mars is just tremendously itself. 

Arrive a few minutes before your reservation and you might wait in the picture window seat with your back to Third Avenue, then be invited to order a drink; a clever gesture that everybody wins. Ahead, the bar is to the right and a row of booths is to the left, all a little retro-future spaceship-adjacent. A smaller room is farther back, brick-lined with a bouncy, cerulean, wall-to-wall banquette and a partial view of the even smaller backyard expected to open this summer. There’s room for 55 throughout. 

My perpetual date and I were sat in that middle section on a recent evening, fast enough for the radioactive blue-hued Sonic Rickey  ($15) that I’d ordered up front from the cocktail menu’s “new tails” section to meet us at the table. The vodka, gin and lime cordial means business listing “blue razz” as its first ingredient, and, though its freeze pop-reminiscent sweetness isn’t to my taste, its assertiveness is delightful. More standard sips like martinis and smartly listed wines recalibrate back to an elder palate. 

The jell-olives ($11) are boozy, too: four Castelvetranos suspended in orange Negroni cubes. The textures and bittersweet notes are jubilantly paired. I’ll order the novel snack again for newcomers as a shorthand introduction to the place, though I’ll probably abstain from my own bite, as the dish pronounces itself the first time without beckoning return. But enough of the nompliments. 

Café Mars’ housemade pastas are out of this world. The baked potato gnocchi’s ($26) flavors are giddily just what they sound like, the sum of baked spuds plated in a butter sauce with roasted garlic sour cream, charred broccoli, pickled pepperoncini, bacon bits, chives and mozzarella. Co-chef Paul D'Avino mentioned Wendy’s erstwhile form as a reference point in response to a fact-checking email—a citation as apt as it is nostalgic. 

The “waves,” ($27) hearty, Slinky-like ridged curls, are perfectly firmly soft, served with plump, sea-fresh shrimp, slivers of asparagus and bright, thin Calabrian chile slices. None of Café Mars' four noodle plates are large, but this one is closest to an entrée. 

A pork rib Parm ($36), however, appropriately listed among the menu’s “big” options, is as richly decadent as it is substantial. St. Louis-cut swine is cold-smoked, steamed and roasted, bread crumb-coated, fried to order, blanketed in red sauce and mozzarella, broiled and presented pierced with an upright steak knife alongside a tangle of cold spaghetti salad that all together evokes particularly delicious, and wonderfully unusual, picnics in the park. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Housewarming party in a stylish, retro-future space. 

The Food: Unique snacks like Castelvetrano jell-olives, terrific, if petite, pastas, and bigger knockout swings like the smoked pork rib parm. 

The Drinks: In an uncommon act of generosity, seated guests are welcomed with a presentation of fancy glasses soon poured with a complimentary drink, which might be prosecco or a zero-ABV alternative. Wine, beer, cocktails and sake are also available for purchase.

Cafe Mars is located at 272 Third Avenue in Brooklyn. It is open Wednesday-Thursday from 5:30pm to 9pm, Friday-Saturday from 5:30pm to 10pm and Sunday from 3pm to 6:30pm. 

 

  • Midtown East

The $29 hot dog at Mischa is fine. It sure is big, for one, and it’s accompanied by a ramekin of chili as comforting as canned, plus five condiments (mustard, relish, kimchi, something approximating chili crisp and alleged pimento cheese that skews closer to aioli) that never quite venture too far from tasting like store-bought, but complete the appearance of abundance, nonetheless. 

It’s also evocative of little other than orchestrated internet virality, recalling social media strategy, rather than, say, warm afternoons at the ballpark, backyard cookouts, or, more likely in NYC, grilling in the park. If you were to buy one in many of those green spaces, instead, it should cost $4 for about an ounce-and-a-half of meat on a squishy bun, according to 2022’s approved pushcart vendor prices. 

Mischa’s fancier frank is stunt-sized at several times that weight in beef and pork, and served in a soft but substantial potato bun. The smiling wiener’s casing has a good snap and its juicy interior is tastier and better textured—a bit more dense—than any of those everyday options, if ultimately still expected. 

If you or someone you know wants a $29 hot dog, to cradle it for a photo, to create a clever hashtag, or use whatever’s already been invented for maximum impact, this is the place to acquire one. Sometimes you get what you pay for, and sometimes you can’t put a price on novelty. It’s this restaurant’s potentially hidden costs that end up vexing. 

I knew I’d made a mistake almost as the words escaped my lips. “Yes, thank you.” 

“Shoot,” I said to my friend, the two of us just barely settling into plush seats at chef Alex Stupak’s post-Empellón venture, which opened adjacent to a midtown food hall in April. “I think I accidentally just bought us an $8 bottle of water.” 

The setting being luxe-light, the menu being generally spendy, and the question being whether we wanted “still water,” I’d made an obvious blunder. “Sparkling or still” typically indicates payment in environs such as this, and I’d momentarily, somehow, forgotten my old “tap is fine” refrain. The fault was mine, and one that would actually cost $10 for a bottle of swiftly delivered Saratoga. To start.  

Having dodged one unsolicited recommendation that landed more like a store credit card offer (for the $19 black hummus), our intentionally ordered Mischa martini ($24) and horseradish margarita with mezcal, cucumber and smoked salt ($20) came quickly, too. 

Both are also fine, though the titular martini’s addition of carrot sticks to vodka isn’t particularly revelatory. Their arrival seemed to abet another weird add-on. 

It is very clear when a plate is inadvertently served. You’ll say something like “I don’t think that’s for us,” and it’ll be rerouted to the right table. Occasionally, it’ll turn out to be yours, indeed, sent out on the house, because the kitchen made extra, or you weren’t a jerk at the host stand, or you’ve been mistaken for an influencer. But I can’t remember ever having experienced any kind of gray area where I’m ostensibly given something that ultimately appears on the tab. 

“Did you know that I hate olives,” I said to my friend, both of us eyeing the handful of sesame-coated, savory fruits authoritatively delivered with the drinks, absent a glimmer of hesitation or pause for protestation. I’d have bet 10 times their eventual price that they were an amuse-bouche, or a slightly more divisive alternative to complimentary bread, or accompaniment to justify the carrot cocktail’s $24 price tag. There simply would have been no way to mistake, in good faith or bad, that we had asked for these olives, or that they were meant for us. That bet would have cost me $110. 

Listed among the sides, the long tots ($15) are another item that seems to aim the spotlight inward. The gimmicky tubes look like the product of a Play-Doh factory, but taste pleasantly surprisingly more like a reinterpreted knish than the assumed taters. The duck and foie gras mortadella appetizer ($24) fares worse, lacking obvious notes of either ingredient, and bland under a toss of crushed pistachios that do little to enliven the dull consistency. 

What’s listed as apple vareniky ($29) among three pasta options sounds promising. At about nine pieces, I’ve seen paltrier presentations, but, after a few bites, we had more than enough, anyway. Though the dumplings’ dough is mostly inoffensive, its purported salt pork is virtually undetectable and its fruit filling is reminiscent of sack school lunches. 

Many of Mischa’s preparations are, to be fair, technically adeptly executed. But reaching to remark on the scallops' proper doneness and nice caramelization, for example—qualities that should be given—isn’t enough to justify the main’s $48 outlay, even with its pairing of similarly finished shrimp on a bed of rice “grits.” 

To add farce to mild frustration, somewhere around our entrées, which also included a bright spot of a faultless, adobo-seasoned, lovely fried chicken with sofrito gravy ($36) another bottle of, this time, unmistakably unasked for Saratoga was uncapped and poured with head-spinning speed, even as our glasses were still half full. 

In several years of professional eating, I’ve only made this bottled water gaffe one other time; in 2021 at a fine dining destination with that unsettling undercurrent of "if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.” It wasn’t any more acceptable there than it is here, but that previous place had enough redeeming factors to recommend it, even with that one caveat. Mischa’s more of a stretch. 

As always, likes and clicks move on quickly; their perceived value sometimes fading as swiftly as it started. But, again, if you’ve got somebody in your life who’s a little late to trends, or who’d just get a kick out of an oversized hot dog, by all means, this is the place to book. Just skip most of the rest, and hydrate first.   

Vitals

The Vibe: Comfortably appointed and luxury-adjacent without veering into fine dining; suitable for corporate expense account dinners. 

The Food: The semi-famous $29 hot dog that launched tens of headlines, good fried chicken, and the avoidable rest. 

The Drinks: Serviceable cocktails, wine and beer. Non-buyer beware, un-asked for bottles of water might be served and added to your tab in confusing fashion. 

Mischa is located at 157 East 53rd Street. It is open for lunch Monday-Friday from 11am-3pm and dinner Monday-Saturday from 5pm-10pm; Sunday 9pm. 

 

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  • DUMBO
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

In New York City, there is a county known as Kings. Also called Brooklyn, it is arranged into sundry smaller sections with famed names like Williamsburg, Park Slope and Greenpoint. Although these areas make up but a fraction of the borough’s total expanse, they are dominant on screens large and small, all over the world. 

Dumbo is among them, sort of. Many visitors may know it from internet search terms like “NYC’s best Instagram spots,” or various hashtags. (As a macabre aside, Green-Wood Cemetery also pops up in similar web quests, and I humbly ask that future readers be respectful when taking their holograms there one day, when I’m cold underground. J/K, that ghastly micro neigh-boo-rhood is too expensive for me, evennn in lifeee *ghost sounds*). 

A charming acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, which a bit of it is, Dumbo is beautiful. Parts have sensational waterfront, Manhattan skyline and cobblestone street snapshots. The one to beat them all, or at least the one that’ll keep you apace with your pals visiting from Manhattan or Monaco, is at the intersection of Washington and Water Streets, where that titular structure, the Empire State Building, and you gorgeously align for one perfect image. And darned if some genius didn’t go ahead and build a pretty good bar right there, called Gair. 

Gair is a big, bright, box of a spot on the corner. Just out of frame, it’s a shining solution to that common after-tourist-attraction quagmire: what’s the closest possible place to post those pics with a few refreshments? It’s the photo-op spot’s answer to the Starbucks at the Louvre; to the cocktails on the Empire State Building’s observation deck

Up half a staircase, Gair has high ceilings and tall windows, two walls of which look over all the memory-making action on the street outside. On a recent visit, however, pre the formal post-work hour, I was stopped at the host stand then sat, back to the view, at the handsome, substantially sized, and mostly empty marble-topped bar. This is not the standard practice to sit at a bar, where one typically just . . . sits. There’s plenty of room to cross your legs beneath, at least, and the space is attractive, with a recessed ceiling that creates a cozy feeling even amid the relative sprawl, further populated by tables and chairs and appointed in mostly pale shades.  

Dubbed as either a “new neighborhood bar” or, more precisely, a cocktail one, in press materials, Gair does have the latter, but qualities often found at the former can only be imbued by locals over time. A few new openings managed to capture that inimitable proclivity right away—Velma, Etrusca and Gus’s Chop House are recent examples—but it’s an infrequent achievement. “Neighborhood” isn’t a hospitality category, like, say, speakeasy, pub or seafood shack, but an earned designation like dive

At the moment, and since its February opening, Gair still serves a fine purpose as a convenient and actually decent option in a highly-trafficked area that makes a nice showing of what NYC can offer. 

Some of the cocktails (all $19) have punny names. The “Under the Influencer” is not unpleasant, and seems more like something you’d sip hotel poolside than near the banks of the East River. It’s viscous like a cold-pressed juice, made with passionfruit, celery, lager, mezcal whose smokiness redeems the whole combination, and lovely cayenne pepper applied generously enough to actually pop and dive the drink a little more dimension. It’s kind of fruity without any radioactive colors or artificial sweetener, served in a tall glass without a straw. 

“The Old Man and the Sea” is more dynamic, telling a short story as its flavors gently roll in like the tide. Straight in a rocks glass, it mixes ​​Japanese whisky, soy and what’s detailed only as umami on the menu and turns out to be derived from fish oil bitters. It’s garnished with a curl of nori, and its deep perfume of the sea blooms first like a mist of ocean air, followed by a lightly arriving sweetness and smooth saline. Its finish is more complex and satisfying than many drinks with far more ingredients or steps. 

Low and no-ABV options are also available for $2 and $5 less. Beer starts at $6 for a can of North Fork Brewing Company’s Hold Me Closer Tiny Lager, wine pours open at $14, and the most expensive bottle is a $120 Champagne. The food menu is snack-centric, with charcuterie ($18), burrata ($24) and a solid house-made chicken liver mousse ($22). A cheeseburger ($24) is among a few larger plates. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Open, airy and sightseer-friendly, if a bit rigid at odd times with assigned bar seating. 

The Drinks: Cocktails like the dynamic Old Man and the Sea with notes of the ocean, plus low and no-ABV options, wine and beer. 

The Food: Snacks like charcuterie and chicken liver mousse, plus a couple of larger plates including a cheeseburger. 

Gair is located at 41 Washington Street. It is open Tuesday-Wednesday from 4pm-12am, Thursday from 4pm-2am, Friday-Saturday from 2pm-2am and Sunday from 2pm-10pm. 

  • East Village
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Downtown bistro Virginia’s had a respectable run from 2015 until owner Reed Adelson (previously of the Mark by Jean-Georges and Locanda Verde) chose to close at the conclusion of the cozy spot’s lease in 2021. Brick-lined and slightly rustic, its reprise less than a mile away opened with similar design in a larger space by the same name (dubbed for Adelson’s mom) this past March. 

The new address on Third Street was made-over outside and in after previous occupant Root & Bone vacated last year. As Virginia’s, redux, the facade is lipstick-red with pops of the same shade around the small bar near the entrance and the dining room to the left. The interior seats 60 at tables and schoolhouse-style chairs, with room for another 35 on the sidewalk. 

Former Fat Choy owner chef Justin Lee’s menu is made of mostly smaller plates with enough variety to appeal to groups, if sometimes better portioned for two. Hamachi crudo ($18) arrives four triangles to an order, though they’re sliced a bit thicker than many paper-thin preparations elsewhere. They taste as fresh as the sea, each topped with a j​​alapeño-sliver that adds a glancing crunch, if not heat, all bathed in a bright, citrusy gloss wanting for a few slices of bread, which one could order with olives for another $9. The clams casino ($18) is more easily divvied, with six hot half-shells, lightly herbaceous and bacon-forward with and a crumbly-crisp panko crust. 

The mains comprise a decent variety in spite of their truncated real estate—more-or-less four unless you stretch to include the serviceable Little Gem salad ($16.)  A heartier vegetarian option, risotto ($26) with Parmesan and confit tomatoes is adeptly textured, plenty creamy and comforting for cooler spring evenings, though its stated wild mushrooms seem like your average grocery aisle variety. 

Steak frites ($40) are on the opposite end of the spectrum, presented as a snapshot from any charming boîte, with welcome, textbook execution. Fantastic, thin and golden fries are piled beside a handful of frisée and a 10-oz New York strip capped with a melting medallion of butter. The house-recommended medium rare is convincingly achieved and this dish, paired with a great martini ($19) or pleasant pinot noir pour ($19) make the most convincing case for Virginia’s 2.0 as a lovely (re)addition to the area. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Relaxed and neighborhoody. 

The Food: Bistro and steakhouse-influenced with shareable apps like clams casino and nice steak frites. 

The Drinks: Cocktails, wine and beer. 

Virginia’s is located at 200 East Third Street. It is open Tuesday-Thursday from 5pm-10pm, Friday from 5pm-11pm, Saturday from 11am-3pm and 5pm-11pm and Sunday from 11am-4pm. 

 

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  • West Village
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

About a month after opening, Justine’s on Hudson is the uncommon great new restaurant where you can actually get a reservation, with one irksome quirk. Book the West Village wine bistro, and you could land at the smattering of tables in its small, buffed-to-lovely dining room, or at the even tighter bar. They don’t distinguish online the way many places have begun in recent years, delineating patio, indoor or counter arrangements. 

There are plenty of locations and situations where I prefer to sit at the bar. My most regular brunch spot. Almost any hotel. And a solo steak and martini at something supposedly reclaimed sounds rather nice at the moment. But when I’ve planned in advance, especially for work, I expect, more or less, to be seated in a chair. Among the litany of reasons you can’t just stick somebody on a stool, the most superficial is that they’re there under an assumed name for review purposes and need to meet certain conditions. But nobody should have to explain that to fulfill this otherwise very reasonable expectation. 

On a recent visit, it only took a few minutes to get rearranged on the velvety banquette that runs along one wall. Cool shades of slate, silver, beige and lacquered black surround. It’s all a little canonical Sex and the City, or at least an alternate reality version of the seminal show that didn’t give a whole generation and-a-half the wrong idea about both NYC (and journalism). It comes by its polish casually and seems orchestrated to make evenings feel easy, once you’re settled. 

Waiting wine glasses are thin and light and feel expensive, inviting pointed, manicured fingernail pings. Soon, they’re filled with perhaps the most studied selections in town: the eponymous owner, Justine Rosenthal, tapped her dad, industry-famous wine merchant Neal, to curate the bottles and pours. Nine of the latter are presently available, including the wonderful 2012 Lucien Crochet Sancerre rouge cuvée prestige, ($35/4 ounces) a harder-to-find red, decanted from a magnum with relaxed pomp.  

Chef Jeanne Jordan—previously chef de cuisine at the now-closed Mas (Farmhouse) nearby—aims to express French and Filipino influences on a menu that covers a decent amount of ground in relatively few lines. There’s some everyday drama here, too, after the delivery of that increasing anomaly, complimentary bread—a solid sourdough, in this case. 

The smoked crab and whitefish salad ($30) arrives under a whole, plate-obscuring coconut rice cracker, light and airy but able to carry the mild mix beneath. Unveiled, the minced seafood is bright with a garland of dainty yellow arugula flowers that add a bit of zip familiar from the greens from whence they came. It isn’t cheap, and nothing here is, but it’s fairly portioned, an eyeball measure that might match what often fills a split, buttered hotdog bun. 

Beef tartare ($28) is partly covered, too, peaking beneath another whole house-made cracker. Zabuton (the fatty chuck cut sometimes seen as Denver) steak trimmings are fresh, bright and as satisfyingly choppy as hoped for. A little lower and wider than a hockey puck, it’s showered with a cleverly texture-juxtaposing, finely crushed peanut pistou. These two starters together are an excellent introduction to the kitchen and a fun little choose-your-own surf and turf. 

Mains also span land and sea, risotto with spring vegetables and fish like fluke or wild striped bass among them. Lamb ($56), a trio from the rack, demonstrates control and confidence behind the burner, each piece slow-roasted to rose, tender and juicy toward its center, if a little chewier at the edges. Its best bites are nearly buttery and lightly grassy, with a dark, viscous bay leaf sauce that brings more depth to the dish. 

Justine’s on Hudson’s American Wagyu hanger steak ($48) the best of any kind I’ve had at a new restaurant this year. It’s marinated in wasabi and red wine, prepared to a marvelous medium rare down to a fraction of the degree, and finished with a kiss of char. Sliced before plating, it’s topped with a peppy sikil pak, the sauce’s pepitas verdant and vibrant with epazote’s herbaceous, acidic kick. It’s plated with one of the best items of the night, a tidy bouquet of garlicky mustard greens. It’s just the kind of thing I’d return for, maybe even alone some early summer night, swapping my typical martini for one of those brilliantly selected reds—if they eventually stop sweeping reservations to the bar. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Casually polished, lush and highly hospitable. 

The Food: One of the best new steaks in NYC among French and Filipino-influenced chicken, fish, lamb and vegetarian mains, plus great steak tartare and crab and whitefish salad to start. 

The Drinks: Studiously-curated wine by the bottle or $13-$35 glass, with most hovering around $20. 

Justine’s on Hudson is located at 518 Hudson Street. It is open Tuesday-Saturday from 5pm-10:30pm. 

  • Carroll Gardens
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Salt’s Cure first opened as a small, farm-to-table restaurant with a focus on whole animal butchery and local ingredients in West Hollywood in 2010. So, basically, the 2010 bingo card. The critical-and-consumer hit relocated to Hollywood in 2015. I visited that larger space a short while later, and I have fond, if unspecific memories of the experience. I believe I had pork, and I believe that it was very good, but I have no notes, photos or published work to support these reaching assumptions. I do not cover Los Angeles. 

Salt’s Cure returned to WeHo with the Breakfast prefix in 2017. On another trip of mine, it was a “you-have-to-go” place among everyone I knew (remember when it seemed like everybody was moving to L.A.?), but I didn’t make it. But by the time Breakfast by Salt’s Cure came to Manhattan’s West Village in 2021 it was already overly known for its griddle cakes.

Sometimes things simply don’t travel even between NYC neighborhoods. An outpost of a mini-chain you love on one side of town can seem completely inadequate on the other. The type of pipes that carry tap water can make a difference. Heat sources. Likewise, sometimes it seems, quirks of the earth below. I now regret not trying Breakfast by Salt’s Cure’s griddle cakes on any previous jaunt to California, because it is unfathomable that they could be as delicious as they are at its new Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn address, anywhere else in the world. As great as they are here, they must have been transcendent to have landed this far, and with such enduring acclaim. I’m not sure I would have been ready for that kind of enlightenment. 

Breakfast by Salt’s Cure opened its first Brooklyn restaurant on one of those improbably telegenic Brownstone Brooklyn corners this past winter. It’s across from sweet little Carroll Park on Court Street. On a recent Saturday morning, the line wasn’t quite out the door for the counter-ordering, table service schema, but it was close. 

Weekdays are easier, but still populated in the way that makes you wonder what everybody there’s job is and how you get it. Big windows let a lot of light into the minimalist room that feels a little like a plant store waiting for its leafy delivery with a few animal print textiles strewn about with Goop-y restraint. The register is near the entrance, a long line of bench seats with tables and chairs is to the right, and an open kitchen emitting a symphony of sizzles takes up about half the length on the left. Morning bedroom music is the even more deliberate score. 

The menu is brief and complete. Those griddle cakes are available in five types: a few fruits, chocolate, and the incredible “OG” ($10). Start there. The plate-cloaking oatmeal cakes are thin but substantial like a light but wind-fighting fleece on a crisp autumn day. The OG has a subtly assertive maple note and moist finish that proves BbSC’s repeated claims that they require no syrup, aided by its cinnamon molasses butter that arrives in near-spheres and melts to paint like Pollock across their textured surface toward lacy edges. It’s all you need and enough to drive you to distraction from the other fantastic items. 

Eggs are made in three stated ways ($5), and the soft scrambled is what waking up is for. They’re as dynamic as tumbling fog under a street light with another sensation seemingly impossible to stop returning to. Separately, this pork I won’t forget, both with the benefit, this time, of notes and photos I didn’t have before. Picnic ham ($9) with coriander and a brown butter glaze is like a mini-chop: hearty, barely sweet, properly porcine and a portion like nothing else in the a.m. neighborhood.

Hashbrowns, on the other hand, recall the very best of extended South Brooklyn. Shredded potatoes are knit tight and formed into a beautiful square like they used to do at one of my all-time favorite brunch spots, Fort Defiance, which recently started doing it again at its own new address. This particular plate does not appear to be on the menu at Breakfast by Salt’s Cure, West Hollywood, so, in addition to its wonderful preparation, it gives New Yorkers, particularly those peculiar Brooklyn varieties, something even more valuable; the ability to say that it’s at least one thing that you can only get here. (I won’t tell anybody that it’s available at the Santa Monica outpost if you won’t.) 

Vitals

The Vibe: Order at the counter for table service in a bright, airy, very breakfast-y space. Fine for lingering on weekday mornings. 

The Food: Incredible, can’t-miss griddle cakes, wonderful eggs, perfect hash browns and fantastic ham. Very good, well-traveling breakfast sandwiches are also available. 

The Drinks: Coffee, tea, juice, and cold brew by the can. 

Breakfast by Salt’s Cure, Brooklyn is located at 368 Court Street. It is open Wednesday-Sunday from 8am-2pm. 

 

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  • Prospect Heights
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

If Petite Patate, the new restaurant from chef Greg Baxtrom, feels like it’s been there for long enough to get comfortable, that’s because it sort of has. Baxtrom followed his 2016 solo premiere Olmstead, still one NYC’s best, with Maison Yaki at this address in 2019. Back then, practically everything new was on skewers, and the piercings here shined brightest. Maison Yaki was quick to earn public and critical praise, including a place on my list of that year’s top spots.

Then came 2020. Maison Yaki endured the same pause and subsequent sputters as everywhere else before ultimately flipping into Petite Patate this past February. Baxtrom opened Patty Ann’s and Five Acres in between. On a range from not-great Patty Ann’s to wonderful Olmstead, French bistro-inspired Petite Patate is in the pretty good center. 

The space is more or less the same. Its primary mood and hue is rouge, and the floor tiles’ jagged shapes are kaleidoscopic. The high-tops that used to hug the right-hand wall have been swapped for standard tables, and the space between them and the long, fixed-stool bar is still very narrow. As before, the dining room widens farther back around the open kitchen, and there’s an outdoor space beyond. 

As before, the listed cocktails are on draft, and the vesper, made with vodka, gin and a lightly bittersweet apéritif, is properly cold and satisfying. At $13, it is also below market rate in an economy where lesser cocktails rise above $20. Likewise the slightly more viscous vieux carré (rye, brandy, Bénédictine) at its own appropriate temperature and for a dollar more. À la minute drinks like a gin martini ($17) are exact as well. 

The small plates are mostly appetizers, but there’s also a French onion soup (soup is a course) and duck fat confit potatoes, which could pass as a side, should you order the unaccompanied sea bass. The escargot en croute ($18) is a delight—its crown of snails encircling their high, light and golden pastry, suffused and emerging from their lovely blend of garlic, herbs and parsley. The shell food itself is perfectly prepared to firmly yielding, the sauce is a pleasure and their encasement is nice in places. Where it’s soft and fluffy everything coalesces; where it’s brittle and flaking, it fails to connect. 

A duck liver pâté’s ($14) is also almost there. The spread is silky, rich and deep, seemingly slightly sweetened with a bit of beet, which is also whittled and pointlessly positioned in the blend’s center like a vampire’s sharpened fingernails emerging from the wrong side of the earth’s surface. Pistachios add a crunch that you also get with three pieces of toast teetering on the dish’s edge in a needless threat to fall and would be better portioned as four. 

Most of the seven entrées arrive with frites, and those are terrific, slim and salty and impeccably crisp-to-practically-whipped outside to in. They’re in abundance beside au poivre burgers, gussying up grilled chicken paillard and running over from a cup that comes with mussels à la bouillabaisse ($30). The bivalves are uniformly plump and tender as though quality-inspected by the shell. Their broth steals the show; perky and smooth and saline and best as hot as it’s served so don’t get to chatting. 

Patates also pair with the steak ($38) which, at six slices, looks a little paltry. Pre-cut, it also illustrates a doneness spectrum from almost rare to nearly medium, rather than the requested middle of the two conceptually close, but tangibly disparate finishes. The grilled New York strip’s flavor is pleasant, however, the beef’s natural notes are amplified by an otherwise light touch and mostly neither helped nor harmed by the fancy-sounding porcini & bone marrow glaçage underneath. Since the steak more or less tastes good and its pieces look like they could have come from different heat sources, it might be more successful if they put it on a stick. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Petite in hues of rouge with friendly, welcoming hospitality and neighborhood proclivities. 

The Food: French bistro-inspired with good escargot en croute, pâté, mussels, and a pretty ok steak. 

The Drinks: Great vespers and vieux carrés on tap, and equally nice live-made cocktails like gin martinis. Beer and wine are also available, but there is only one red by the glass. It’s fine.

Petite Patate is located at 626 Vanderbilt Avenue. It is open Tuesday-Saturday from 5pm-10pm. 

  • Red Hook
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Wonderful red sauce restaurants have splashed the adjoining neighborhoods of Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill and the Columbia Waterfront district for years. Some great ones have closed (I still miss Red Rose) but new efforts in this cuisine category continue to be served up in this specific part of Brooklyn more many than others.

A short distance away, Red Hook is a little less saturated. There are a high number of great restaurants on and around its main drag, but not a ton of Italian. 

Fort Defiance is one of those great places. It occupied 365 Van Brunt Street for more than a decade before moving a few doors down and operating in a few different forms before fully reopening last summer. Bar Mario followed, opening at Fort Defiance’s original popular address this past January. 

The outline is still recognizable from the corner locale’s previous iteration. The window seats up front are now high tops paired with backless stools upholstered in velvety jewel-toned deep teal. Those line the bar, too, which is a little more open, now absent the former cap of enclosed shelves above the bar that gave the space part of its cabin-like, near-nautical aesthetic. The vintage florals that covered tables are gone, too, and the walls are now a pretty millennial pink with a patina that abstractly recalls mottled clouds and makes the old familiar black-and-white checkered floors pop. The petite dining room is already popular and fills up fast. (Meanwhile, a couple of the outside spots are truly pushing the limit of what’s practically in traffic.) Reservations are not typically formally accepted. 

The menu’s similar to other nearby Italian spots even as the environs—the hues, the flashy mod light fixture toward the back, the neon sign emblazoned with the place’s name—seem to say ‘not-your-grandmom’s this-or-that.’ But, what Bar Mario seems to do quite cannily, is sort-of split the difference to appeal to real red sauce devotees, and diners for whom documentation is as important an appeal, all with warm hospitality. 

The fritto di calamari and shrimp ($18) loosely coats both and fries them to their proper texture—adding a few halved brussels sprouts to the mostly squid mix. Paradoxically arriving at lightening speed, it seems a little fresher than some competitors, if a little skimpy on the crustacean at two to an order. 

Portion sizes overall walk an appropriate line; neither teeming in seeming family-style-for-one fashion like at some NYC classics, nor teeny-tiny at some other notable newcomers. The entrée plating is ultimately satisfying with a few bites extra to share. 

An app or an add-on, polpettine al sugo con polenta ($16) comes with three “Mario’s secret meatballs” on a bed of silken grains. Part of the secret is the addition of green peas to the oven-baked, half beef, half pork blend, which arrives tender and moist to the center under a pleasant and understated marinara.

Spaghetti loaded with onions, garlic, capers and anchovies among its litany of ingredients, house-made gnocchi and pici (think of a plumper spaghetti) cacio e pepe, are among the pastas populating tables, mostly hovering around $20. The rigatoni alla fiesolana ($19) is detailed as a dry variety, which signals homemade qualities that add up to a comforting finish. The tubes are prepared to an ideal almost-firmness in a near-creamy sauce just shy of rouge, and kissed with smoked bacon and Parmigiano, cozy in a bowl that feels both simple and like it was dished just for you. 

There are enough specials that you have to really pay attention, including a recent duck pappardelle ($28). The waterfowl is curiously mild to the point of being a little hard to identify as anything other than “pretty good protein” in a vacuum, but the accompanying ribbons of wide, yielding noodles are top-notch, even in this sea of South Brooklyn options. 

Restaurant desserts puzzlingly disappoint more than often than not, hurtling to the point of why bother, but Bar Mario’s tiramisu could be it’s own whole thing like nearby Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pie. Heaps of light, airy mascarpone cheese beautifully diffuse its more intense notes of coffee and liqueur. As desserts are the most common items items to share, prepare to get in there quick or order a double. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Cool as grandmom’s parlor, were she an influencer, and twice as warmly welcoming. 

The Food: Red sauce-inclined with very good meatballs, comforting rigatoni alla fiesolana and great tiramisu. 

The Drinks: Cocktails, wine, beer and zero-ABV. 

Bar Mario is located at 365 Van Brunt Street. It is open Wednesday-Friday from 5pm-11pm, Saturday from 2pm-12am and Sunday 2pm-11pm. The kitchen closes at 10:30pm Saturdays, 9:30pm Sundays.

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  • Williamsburg
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

When Laser Wolf opened on the 10th floor of Williamsburg’s Hoxton hotel last May, it set off a chain reaction of accolades that virtually filled its reservation slots clear across the calendar. Almost 12 months later, availability is still stuffed nearly to the margins. You can now dine on a Saturday night more than two weeks from press time, for example, but not before 11:15pm. 

Having once waited more than two hours as a drop-in, to be seated at the bar, facing away from the notable view, for agreeably-fired skewers and a wonderfully abundant assortment of salatim, I still couldn’t, in good conscience, advise that anyone else follow that particular tack, then or today. That edition of chef Michael Solomonov’s Philadelphia original of the same name, however, still made it to my list of NYC’s best new restaurants of 2022, which says as much about its broad appeal in the dining room proper, booked at a rather early or quite late hour, still with sensational, unlimited babaganoush, gigantes, hummus and warm, ideal pita, as it does about last year’s contenders.  

K’Far, another Philly follow, debuted in the hotel’s sunken lobby level last November with a considerably lower hum ever since. And, although it is even better than its lovely and oft-praised upstairs related neighbor, you can actually get a table, more or less whenever. Mild situational Twilight Zone vibes aside, this apparent disturbance in the balance of public and media fondness for a destination relative to its objective goodness in such clear display is ultimately the restaurant-goer’s gain. A great place you can simply visit? For spring? Groundbreaking! 

The large Israeli restaurant shares some style notes with its PA predecessor. It’s warmly appointed, with soft, soothing hues and polished, beach house themes. There are three dining areas: the sleek, lofty, tri-sided chef’s counter to the left behind the host desk, what feels like the main dining room to the right, and the verdant adjacent atrium that’s full of foliage and natural light diffused through its glass panels. 

This is New York City’s best new hotel restaurant in the last several years, and it wins a high spot among the few true finest in the category overall. It would be as good anywhere, untethered from any naturally traveler-oriented conceit, but, aside from the notable friendliness of everyone I’ve encountered here, it escapes any tourist trappings. It also keeps the long hours expected of its genre, opening at 8am with borekas, Jerusalem bagel sandwiches and eggs for breakfast, and adapting to the mealtime of day until 11:30 on peak nights. 

The dinner menu starts small but shareable. Eight two-bite pieces of baklava ($18) are jubilantly springy and savory with flavorful, prudently salty haloumi, adorned with a vibrant shower of crushed pistachios. It’s a perfect snacking, drinking and chatting app. The same section’s roasted fennel Caesar ($16) is also quick to disappear. Its titular ingredient’s layers are subdued to mild, lightly blanketed in dressing and amplified by bolts of pecorino and the greatest salad crunch-enhancing accouterment in recent memory, described in understated fashion only as “pita crumbs,” of which I could not get enough.  

Even bigger in a landscape of increasingly miniaturized items at other operations, the Palestinian lamb tartare ($19) covers a swath of its plate in mauve, punctuated by perky shipka peppers and served with leafy green vehicles. It's a fantastic preparation for the meat’s fresh, subtly earthy notes.

A dorade entrée ($45) is not only the most excellent I’ve had of its kind, but one of the nicest fish of any variety I’ve had anywhere: on expensive tasting menus, at august seafood institutions, and considerably closer to the saltwater of the Mediterranean. It’s served tail-on and deboned for a practical whole fish presentation without any pesky poking around. Its simple seasoning and flame kiss allows the rich, tender white meat inside to shine. Its bed of creamy spring pea tzatziki with shabazi is peak form, and would be worth ordering on its own, were it a standalone dip.  

Ask what’s can’t-miss and you’ll get plenty of fair answers, but the chicken schnitzel ($30) is an automatic signature dish. The expertly butchered, juicy bird’s crunch comes from kataifi that gives the pounded fowl a light, crisp coat that seems poised to float into the air. It’s accompanied by a portion of tehina with a dollop of bright schug with a bit of heat I’d also like to pair with almost everything here and everywhere, including the delicious coconut ice cream that comes with a passable chocolate kanafi ($12) for dessert, as dynamically additive as this sauce is.  

Five months in, K’Far is the increasingly atypical terrific new restaurant that you can reliably book without any reservation platform gymnastics, and one that will give the lucky out-of-towners filling the stories in the hotel above the idea that dining this well in NYC can sometimes, somehow, seem easy. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Sprawling, airy and lofty but still intimate and welcoming across its three spaces, including the verdant atrium. 

The food: An Israeli all-day cafe, bar and restaurant, K’Far serves standout savory baklava, excellent lamb tartare, wonderfully light chicken schnitzel and a dorade that’s among the best fish our critic has ever had. 

The Drinks: Wine, beer and refreshing cocktails like the celery gin and tonic and Yalla Yalla, with vodka, elderflower, cucumber and soda.

K’Far is located at 97 Wythe Avenue. It is open 8am-10:30pm Sunday-Wednesday and 8am-11:30pm Thursday-Saturday.

  • East Village
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Not everything at Foul Witch is small. The dining room is long. The ceilings are high. The bathroom is spacious. The wine pour is fine, which has, in recent months of apparent ounce counting, become generous. But some of its smart, appealing preparations are paltry. Not that they’re trying to keep that a secret. 

The new East Village restaurant, which opened in January, follows a couple or several hospitality operations or businesses by some of the same partners, depending on who’s counting what. First was Roberta’s, which launched as a Bushwick juggernaut in 2008. Absent reservations but with the benefit of BYOB and tremendous buzz, the wait for tables wasn’t much faster than the time it took a Netflix DVD to arrive in the mail. 

Then came Blanca, which, after occasional engagements, formally took over 12 counter seats inside Roberta’s with a $180 per person, wide-ranging 20+ course, three-hour tasting menu in 2012. Though Blanca took bookings, Time Out called them “impossible" to get in a four-star review that summer. Back on the opposite end of the spectrum, Roberta’s pies were available in freezer aisles a short while later. 

Blanca went on to earn two Michelin sparklers before it closed in 2020. Today, in addition to its original address, Roberta’s has satellites elsewhere in Brooklyn, plus Manhattan, Montauk, Nashville, Houston, Los Angeles and Singapore. Foul Witch was initially conjured as a Frieze Art Fair pop-up in 2018 at a moment when a lot of this was brewing simultaneously.  

The 2023 edition has a permanent space on Avenue A, and a decent amount in common with all of the above. It’s Italian. There is zero online availability at press time. It is rusticly appointed, though more polished than its progenitor. It seems sort of trendy enough, I guess, but maybe like your erstwhile indie music fave made a tidy sum and started writing cool-parent children’s books. And, although they aren’t as tiny as they’d be at a tasting, some of the plates skew quite petite. 

The polenta ($29) isn’t one of them, for an app, though without explicit categories, the menu’s outline is mostly intuitive. The silken, golden grains are creamy and comforting, gilded with a lusty kiss of barely firmer sea urchin. Together, the textures and slightly-above-room temperature approximate a warm hug, and the urchin lends the, in this case, pretty rich polenta a saline, marine depth. It’s a fun one to play with: a bite of both side by side for distinct sensations; or one or the other, or swirled into harmony. A version previously existed at Blanca. 

Sometimes you get what you pay for, others, you pay what something’s worth to you, and occasionally the two shall entwine. If one night in 2012, service at Blanca rattled through the lower end of its rounds, 20, at $180 per person, each dish would have shaken out to $9 by a willfully simplistic calculation. That would be $12.31 at this moment. Part of the conceit at Foul Witch was to turn a bit of Blanca à la carte, and, like buying a bottle of perfume, the true price does rise as volume decreases. It’s the cost of access across many goods and services, widely and sometimes unconsciously accepted. Here, the dollar signs become a little more pronounced farther down the menu.

Maybe the expense of the excellent, included bread is baked in. A lovely baguette is accompanied by the best, salty and dairy fresh butter I’ve had this year, and an oil-soaked focaccia. They’re wonderful on their own, even as the latter’s a little drippy, and intended to match with cheese and charcuterie like the Fire & Ice $16, which combines both with a cool, mild stracciatella and a lower layer of ‘nduja. The proportions are a tick off, with the cheese cloaking, rather than veiling the lightly spiced meat that’s also a little more piece-y than the evenly spreadable consistency expected. Another starter, it’s still among the more industry-typical serving sizes on offer. 

Things shrink around the pastas. Asked about the veal tortellini ($28), for example, a staffer is swift to number its 10-12 pieces before other details. Even so, it’s a pauser, seeing how easily counted the stuffed pockets are in what most people will fairly assume is a main. And, while that could make a fun debate, it does fall outside of area entrée norms. What’s there is good, though—the calf soft and concentrated with its dainty springtime flavor inside its expertly finished wrapper posed atop a lightly bovine broth. 

A spaccatelli with aged game bird ($29) is less alarming without those individual pieces to tally, but still on the snacking end of the spectrum. Its appropriately springy tubes and tender duck are almost imperceptibly coated in a whisper of an almost sauce seemingly created by its ingredients’ natural cooking process. The sum is showered in pungent, thinly shaved Parmesan, and it all mingles successfully. A couple of larger items like grilled pork ($32) and whole roasted turbot ($145) are also available. 

The drink list splits the difference between those old, BYO days and the beverage programs that came later. Beer and wine are available, sans plans for a full bar. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Rustic with polish and probably cool enough, for those who care.  

The Food: Italian that follows the pizzas at predecessor Roberta’s and adjacent erstwhile tasting destination Blanca. Excellent included bread, some terrific apps like the polenta with sea urchin and notably small but good pasta options like the veal tortellini. 

The Drinks: Wine, beer, and a few non-alcoholic options. 

Foul Witch is located at 15 Avenue A. It is open Thursday-Monday from 5-10pm. 

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  • Soho
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Sometimes in movies, people meet in restaurants or bars that look too crowded but then turn out to have the perfect booth or corner seats. That’s Milady’s, even on recent weekends at standard going-out times. It’s one uncontrollable way to make people feel welcome, and the rest adds up to more orchestrated comfort. 

This also almost never happens, but 160 Prince Street might have even retained a little bit of its erstwhile local favorite namesake’s sparkle. The original Milady’s, which reportedly might have been operating since the 1940s, became so beloved serving Budweiser, Wild Turkey, potato skins and chicken wings that it got the whole New York Times wake reportage treatment when it closed in 2014. By then, it had become one of just a few destinations antithetical to surrounding Soho’s shopping mall sprawl.

“It’s a dive bar,” then-owner Frank Genovese told the paper at the time. “I serve burgers; a beer is 5 bucks. I can no longer sustain that formula. It doesn’t work anymore.” 

The destination characterized as “blue collar” in that same article opened under the earlier name last October with New York City hospitality maestro Julie Reiner (Clover Club, Leyenda) in power. With at least one other business occupying the address in the interim, the interior’s new but the layout’s the same. Enter on the corner, bar’s on the right, tables on the left, though now between chairs and banquettes done in subdued sunflower hues against large windows and pale cornflower-colored walls that fade out of recognition at night when the place is particularly crackling. 

Previously of Park Slope’s Applewood and Reiner’s own Clover Club, Executive chef/partner Sam Sherman’s menu is described as “dive bar inspired” in a press release—phrasing that courts all kinds of discourse and would undoubtedly invite derision were it not all as good as it is.  

Brunch, lunch and evening fare’s all divided into “dive” or “high dive” distinctions. At dinner, jalapeño corn dog poppers ($16) are filed to the former, plated about six two-bite bits to an order, all terrifically rich and juicy inside with a whisper of heat, enrobed in a thin cloak of batter and paired with zippy yellow mustard to dip. The latter’s shrimp cocktail ($27), with its own nice sauce, is as fresh and finely presented as any, if a bit of a reminder especially after the fantastic sausage bites, that these categories are in the eye of the beholder. 

The Milady’s burger ($23; “dive”) is among the best in class. Two beef patties are lightly smashed and prepared to a perfect not-too-doneness for their quick-to-heat dimensions, then joined by lettuce, tomato, onion, ideal American cheese and a creamy party sauce on an easily handled plush bun, and served with golden fries. A crab mac and cheese ($24; “high dive”) is likewise an excellent blueprint for the dish, packed with and wedded to its trio of titular ingredients, with gentle portions of Old Bay and green chiles.

Milady’s is a new classic restaurant and bar rather than a bar with food, but its drinks stand up to dedicated mixology spots. The menu, like at Leyenda, has a glass legend in the margin. A few options are listed in “cheeky” or “full-figured” sizes for $10 or $20. And all are printed with their alcohol by volume. The larger house martini, for example, with gin, rosé vermouth, fino sherry and Amaro Santoni comes in a more or less expected vessel (though less-so than the “Big Apple” variety) at 24.85% ABV. It also, like at Clover Club, comes with a sidecar. And its minor tweaks, crucial cold temperature and sensational finish make it an expert antidote to NYC’s recent martini and novel cocktail malaise. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Lively, accommodating conceptually cohesive; loud at night. 

The Food: Divided into “dive” and “high dive” categories, selections like former’s jalapeño corn dog poppers and burgers are wonderful. The latter’s shrimp cocktail and crab mac and cheese are quite nice, too.

The Drinks: Great cocktails, plus low and no-ABV drinks, wine and beer. 

Milady’s is located at 160 Prince Street. It is open Monday from 4pm-12am, Tuesday-Thursday from 12pm-12am, Friday & Saturday from 12pm-2am and Sunday from 12pm-12am. 

  • Two Bridges
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Racing through downtown around rush hour, via any means, save for maybe, a private zeppelin, is an unwelcome pulse quickener. Do it in service of reaching a hard-won restaurant reservation as the blocks seem to grow longer and the minutes shrink, and cortisol spikes even higher.  

But Casino is calming. Counter to a place with all the makings of a so-called hotspot (blocked bookings, media mentions and the frequent companion of both, PR), the ambiance is chicly easy. Greetings are inviting to the point of delightful distraction from those last heated strides outside. And there is a clear objective to welcome guests into Casino's esteem, with tremendous success. It's is among the most seemingly breezily hospitable hospitality operations in recent or outstanding memory. 

Aisa Shelley, partner in similarly categorized cool bars Primo’s and Mr. Fong’s, opened this self-billed northern Italian restaurant with chef Ken Addington (whose résumé includes Strangeways, Soho Diner and Five Leaves) in December. The bright, mostly white and very airy space up front has a smattering of seats at its petite bar and cafe tables between chairs and long benches, all intended for drop-ins. 

The back seats 70 across roomy rouge booths and a zig-zag of two and four-tops, all lit by slightly Beetlejuice-adjacent light fixtures that make pretty starburst patterns on the walls. The dining room also does cute by its white tablecloths. The recently beleaguered textiles are draped with more casual self-confidence here than most of the forced, confused efforts I’ve seen bumbling genres elsewhere lately. 

The menu’s more of a gamble. The crudo appetizer ($21) is excellent. Its amberjack, bathed in fermented fish sauce with basil, radish and chili, has a nice little heat that still keeps the fish’s freshness and expected buttery elements intact. The ‘nduja bread starter/side ($16) is as pleasant as it is puzzling: perfectly pillowy Parker House rolls sprinkled with what tastes like the best available bacon bits, rather than spicy, spreadable pork sausage. Its accompanying Calabrian chili honey butter, however, packs a pinch of that expected low spark. 

Pappardelle ($28) is listed among a trio of pasta options, this one served with smoked lamb from the kitchen’s cherry wood-burning oven. The meat is exceedingly mild, sapped of its pungency and almost absent its gamier notes, while the noodles skew a fraction softer than ideal. Altogether, it still passes the comfort test, and many will likely find it fine, but it’s a forgettable dish in a city with plenty of competitors. 

An abundant lobster cioppino ($48) is memorable for all the wrong reasons. It is beautiful to behold; bountiful with black bass, clams, crab, mussels, shrimp and its titular ingredient in saffron fennel broth. The liquid vehicle’s a smooth enough ride, but its passengers seem to have been boarded simultaneously, without regard for their disparate desired cooking times. My first bite was what must have been shrimp, though I’m meeting the toughest crustacean I’ve ever pierced more than halfway in making that assessment. Whether it was prepared on the surface of the sun or plunged into its fluid grave too soon is a vexing bet. The lobster fares a bit better, but might do more right coated and served on a roll. 

Dry-aged duck breast ($38) is a decent redeemer. I’ve seldom seen a duck I didn’t order, and Casino’s is a satisfyingly mid-range offering, with an acceptably crisp surface, serviceably rendered fat and mauve, prudently juicy interior. It is also more generously plated than most, and easy to share as a main for two.  

That small bar creates some great cocktails. The Casino cosmopolitan ($18) is a zag from the standard with framboise mixed with its citrus vodka and triple sec for a distinct riff on the perpetually almost-trending tipple. It also makes classic Manhattans ($14) and martinis ($18) to bet on. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Welcome home to a casually glamorous abode.

The Food: A crapshoot, with wonderful crudo, comforting pappardelle, serviceable dry-aged duck and lobster cioppino to avoid. 

The Drinks: Fantastic cocktails, plus wine and beer. 

Casino is located at 171 East Broadway. It is open daily from 5pm-midnight. 

 

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  • American
  • West Village
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Gab’s, which opened on Carmine Street in January, is doing a lot of things right. Its owner Gabby Madden, previously of Emmett’s on Grove and Lola Taverna, and its chef Nathan Ashton, (Mimi), are doing enough things right, in fact, to make it a good place to be, under the right circumstances. 

It’s pretty. The petite bar and larger adjacent dining room are awash in pops of orange and the proprietor’s own artwork is featured among the decor. The latter’s winding banquette is comfortable, and tables are just far enough apart to not be too close together. A long row of tables is suitable for large groups and the atmosphere’s convivial in any case. Fleetwood Mac fills the air. 

The sourcing is good. A fattoria salame ($24) from California’s Journeyman Meat Company tastes as fresh as any cured meat in imagination, slightly grassy with a little heat. Some of the preparations more specific to this kitchen are nice, too, like the kampachi crudo ($21), whose mild, buttery raw fish joined by a bright citrus and chile de árbol leche de tigre. 

But some of the larger investments are bad. Echoing an awful lot of self-billed new American restaurants, this one more granularly categorising itself as a bistro, seasonality amounts to some degree of menu rotation. A few months in, a halibut’s already been swapped with a striped bass ($36); the ribs with a côtes de porc ($42). The bass is alarmingly fishy for what’s typically such a gentle one, with a chewy finish. 

The pork sounds promising, described not dissimilar from the previous ribs’ recipe: gochujang-marinated, cooked sous vide for 24 hours and charcoal-grilled. Unmentioned: the curious, coarse coating on this edition’s surface. Its gritty, dry crust has a cinnamon challenge-like effect by virtue of its overpowering texture alone. The meat beneath does not emerge a diamond in the rough, either, whether absent its stated flavor to begin with, or leached by its moisture-sapping top coat. 

It’s all exacerbated by certain well-intended details’ neglect. Tables are topped with flowers, for example, and the decay beginning to devour a small bunch of pale roses near me recently carried that inimitable, mournful, dying-botanical aroma so swiftly it was more of a whack than a waft. The otherwise justly boasted-about housemade bread arrives below room temperature as though recently refrigerated. A Manhattan ordered on the rocks arrives up. 

Still, Gab’s real appeal at the moment is as a bar with apps, and some of the drinks give this an edge among the many, many other options nearby. The martinis ($21) are pleasant, prepared pretty much however you’d like and served cold enough in any case. And, in spite of my general position that all the good cocktails already exist, they’re creating some fun apparent novelties here. The Miss Moneypenny ($19) is made with a subtly interesting combination of gin, asparagus-infused vodka and Aocchi Americano that makes a suitable apéritif; wherever you’re having dinner. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Pretty, lively, and more Instagram than TikTok. 

The Food: Good small plates like the fattoria salame and the kampachi crudo; avoidable mains like the striped bass and côtes de porc. 

The Drinks: Beer, wine and cocktails like the somewhat unexpected Miss Moneypenny with an asparagus infusion. 

Gab’s is located at 76 Carmine Street. It is open Tuesday-Saturday from 5pm-12am.

  • Ridgewood
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Finally, a good martini. 

I have been grousing about cocktails in general and martinis specifically since they first started repopulating the trend space well over a year ago. One gripe is that most aren’t cold enough, gaining degrees as they wait to board for the short journey from bar to table. One solution is to simply sit at the former—one of my favorite configurations in any case, but not always realistic or even available. Another is the sidecar. 

Extra’s always special. A taste of brisket before you order by the pound. A big tin of milkshake overflow. And a miniature carafe packed in ice bringing the kingly power to top off one’s own tipple. Some of the best bars in New York City, like Brooklyn’s 15-year-old Clover Club, serve some drinks like this. But it’s lesser-seen at newcomers like Velma, which opened in Queens last month and shares ownership with Gordo’s Cantina. This additional vessel alone, carrying that splash more of gin or vodka and dry vermouth, served with your wish of dirty or a twist, goes a long way to make it my favorite new martini destination. 

Velma is a real neighborhood place with character and style. Up front, a pool table, a few roomy booths and high-back stools at the double-crescent bar top the black and white tiled floor under a painted pressed-tin ceiling. The small dining room in the back has aesthetic red sauce proclivities without feeling theme-y. It’s warm, inviting and familiar, with red-and-white checkered tablecloths and a collage of framed family photos covering one wood-paneled wall. 

The menu mirrors that conceit, with a lot of what you’d expect done just as you’d hoped. Apps include fried mozzarella, ($14)  and a pile of crispy outside, mild inside, golden calamari ($18), both served with—what else?!—a bright side of marinara sauce. Another starter, Velma’s caprese stack ($24), renders the standard salad vertical, towering with mozzarella, tomato and prosciutto among its primary ingredients. 

Pasta, mains and pies like cheese, potato, grandma and a couple of specials like the titular variety with jalapeños, shallots, pimento green olives and pepperoni follow similarly successful formulas. The spicy vodka rigatoni—more precisely, snail-shaped lumache in lieu of the stated tubes—is appropriately textured with a zippy little zing to the sauce, and perfectly plated for one with room for a few shared tastes, if not exactly heaping like at the red sauce spots of memory. 

The chicken parm ($27) is also wonderfully comforting, its thigh meat carefully butchered beneath its batter and pleasantly smothered by mozzarella and more marinara. Its only mild imperfection is that the breading can collect too densely in some places, but, in this setting, the effect actually makes it seem even more made with love. Velma's juicy chicken is likewise nice, aptly titled and rolled with prosciutto and mozzarella in a white wine reduction with crimini mushrooms. And a side of sautéed broccolini ($5), a curious miss in many kitchens, turn out great here, with tender stems and dainty florets in a hearty gloss of oil. 

That martini that really sealed the deal for me is joined by other classics like Manhattans and Negronis, plus some sips with more recent buzz like espresso cocktails and sbagliatos, all $16. The food and drink menus work as well separately as they do together. There are plenty of bars with snacks and plenty of restaurants with ostensible seats at the bar, but increasingly few that pull double duty as casually elegantly as Velma. 

Vitals

The Atmosphere: A real neighborhood place with character and style.

The Food: Pizza, pasta and pleasant red sauce classics. 

The Drinks: A good martini in a city running dry, plus more cocktails, wine and beer.

Velma is located at 584 Seneca Avenue. It is open Tuesday-Thursday from noon-9pm and Friday-Saturday from noon-10pm.

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  • Midtown West
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

If you aren’t tired of hearing about Rockefeller Center, there’s a decent chance you might be in the market for reservations at Rockefeller Center. In brief: Its potential as NYC’s next great dining destination has been percolating since about 2019; the bulk of its buzziest new spots opened by the end of last year; and the public and critical reckoning appears largely positive so far. 

Five Acres was among the famed footprint’s most anticipated arrivals for months before it began service on the rink level in December. Its talented proprietor chef Greg Baxtrom has operated a few Brooklyn restaurants with more renown than many places ever get since his 2016 solo premiere, Olmsted. This is Baxtrom’s first Manhattan venture. 

The dining concourse at 30 Rock has a number of entry points, including an elevator down from the sidewalk on the north side of 49th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues near the ice rink. Underground, Five Acres feels like the center of it all, its theoretical dining room delineated by winding potted plants overhead. Its pretty environment draws the eye up like at other Baxtrom properties; the similar greenery affixed over tables at Olmsted; the shelves of board games stacked up toward the high ceiling at Patti Ann’s; the fancy mushrooms that used to incubate above the bar at Maison Yaki, which has since become Petite Patate

The exposed, 65-seat area is referred to in a press release as an “open air” restaurant, one of the more clever PR euphemisms in recent memory. Although it is easy to get comfortable here, settling into smooth lines of textured, mossy-green banquettes, it is indiscrete. Not quite a fishbowl, but maybe a terrarium—and one that attracts a small but noticeable number of what seem to be fruit flies who are just as at ease in the verdant space. 

Five Acres’ menu is “guided by the seasons,” also according to a press release. Its winter, 2023 items are almost as winning as they are expensive. The smoked oysters Vanderbilt ($28 for six) are good fun and worth the price of admission. Their shells share space with smoked crème fraîche, shiso oil and a stained glass dandelion-hued tosazu gelée, which brilliantly enhances, rather than competes with the slippery bivalves. The lot’s also cloaked in hickory chip smoke and domed before an unveiling at the table. Enough time has passed since so much seemed to be suffused with plumes on trendy menus in NYC that the presentation is just such a delight, rather than dated, and it’s made even more welcome, of course, by the delicious, elegant one-sip combination that each half holds. The starter also encapsulates Baxtrom’s (who held positions at Chicago’s Alinea and NYC’s Per Se before striking out on his own) fine dining proclivities. 

The surf & turf crab cake ($34) is likewise mostly marvelously executed, its peekytoe crab’s gleefully brittle exterior about as shattering as the crown on a crème brûlée. The stated bone marrow in its aioli, however, is imperceptible, and the heart of palm hollow it’s served in, while a cute nod to the real thing, doesn’t add much other than wit. 

A trio of Maine lobster ($58) is also about a third unfulfilling whimsy, which would be fine and good if it didn’t total more than half a hundred dollars. That less-satisfying of its sections, a large, impressively constructed crustacean cracker topping a hearty dollop of aioli made with the sea creature’s eggs and knuckle served inside a cocktail glass, walks an odd line between earned showboating and well-meaning letdown. Its other components are much better, including its comforting and lightly rich pierogies in a satiny sauce and the butter-poached and otherwise terrifically unadorned headliner itself, which seems to make up the bulk of what reps say is about 4.5-oz of shellfish across the dish. Its texture’s fantastic and its simplicity is a breath of fresh air, quietly demonstrating real range. 

Grilled guinea hen ($46) is Five Acres’ most dynamic plate, and its least classically beautiful. It is a brick of meat; breast stuffed with confit leg mousse. The terrine is explosively game-adjacent and its accompanying root vegetable hazelnut financier is an excellent, slightly sweet accompaniment with a wonderfully caramelized bottom that’s a subtly telling detail.

Vitals

The Vibe: Fairly exposed in what can feel like a set in 30 Rock’s mall-like basement, but pretty enough with quickly found comfort. 

The Food: Seasonally driven, with press time standouts like smoked oysters Vanderbilt, crab cakes and grilled guinea hen. 

The Drinks: Cocktails, wine and beer. 

Five Acres is located at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, rink level. It is open Tuesday-Saturday from 8am-2pm and 5pm-10pm. 

  • East Village
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

The East Village’s restaurant saturation is rivaled only by its number of bars, and, now with this fourth neighborhood address, chef Ruben Rodriguez is operating a mini-empire in the area. Kōbo Mediterranean restaurant opened in December with menus influenced by Rodriguez’s formative years learning to cook in his family’s restaurant in Galicia, and later travels. 

The space is relatively large between 30 spots at the bar and 85 decently-distanced seats in the dining room, though sound travels easily under the high ceilings that add to the airy environment. It’s bright, even at night, with expanses of blonde wood across two-tops and more than a few configurations that could easily accommodate around six. It feels very casual. 

We’ve already established that NYC cocktails are having the opposite of a moment, but Kōbo’s are the closest to good I’ve had at a new place in a while. The addition of Moroccan black olive oil-infused vermouth to a martini ($15), gives it a silken sip, pleasantly softer than a standard dirty. It just needs to be colder. An old fashioned is nice with its bit of ginger, but fountain soda machine-like ice in lieu of bigger cubes makes it more like a quick-melting DIY minibar creation than anecdotally-slightly-under-market-value-libation. 

Everything on the dinner menu is intended to share, with three plates recommended per person, but fewer will probably be fine. Kōbo’s stated signature dish is its paella-like fideuà ($34), which swaps rice for thin, short pasta to give a totally different texture to squid ink, proficiently-prepared baby squid and obscured saffron all under a touch too much allioli. 

Housemade pasta is the kitchen’s continued focus, and the pappardelle ($23) is great; its long, flat ribbons swirling through pork cheek ragù. This is not a red sauce restaurant-sized pasta, and it’s an enduring curiosity that “shareable” is often incongruously synonymous with “small,” but some terrific even more petite options make this, and any of the items toward the end of the menu, a more complete meal. 

Kōbo’s Ibérico pork meatballs ($18 for three) are fantastic. They’re moist to the center, cloaked in a zippy sauce, served atop fluffy ricotta that cuts their near-richness, and served with a trio of bright shishitos. The broccolini ($14) is also successfully done, with tender stems and lightly crisp florets with bites as studied as brushstrokes. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Casual, bright and airy. 

The Food: Mediterranean-influenced mostly small plates with standout Ibérico pork meatballs, pappardelle and broccolini. Kōbo’s signature dish is fideuà. 

The Drinks: Cocktails, wine and beer. 

Kōbo is located at 202 Avenue A. It is open Tuesday-Sunday from 5pm-10pm. 

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  • Financial District
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Even just a couple of months after opening, Etrusca already delivers on what a lot of places promise. It is a neighborhood restaurant positioned, lion, witch and wardrobe-like, on the Financial District’s Stone Street, which has its own magical quality as Epcot-does-happy-hour. It has a true charm that cannot be faked—my god; think of the last time you saw someone try! It beckons return even as duty and convenience call me to others. And the “Tuscan mountain fare” menu authored by executive chef Elisa Da Prato, who previously operated an eponymous restaurant in Barga, Italy is fun, exciting and excellently executed. 

In lieu of the scooter stationed outside that old address overseas in a sweet snapshot, Stone Street’s stippled with outdoor dining setups from the surrounding sports bars and taverns in a way that makes it feel like last call at a mortgage company holiday party. Etrusca is a respite. 

Its interior is compact, daintily rustic and ultimately comfortable enough even without a booth or banquette in sight. White tablecloths are draped in unstuffy fashion and topped with candles amid properly low light that, with the hushed tones you’ll affect unless you wish to join conversations with the parties very nearby, create what feels like an effortlessly romantic environment. Wine bottles line shelves high on one sage-painted brick wall, and the bar’s not too far across along the other.  

The cocktail list is cleverly kept to a quartet: A Manhattan, a Negroni, a martini and a French 75, each $18 and performing blessedly as expected. There are also more spirits, and a much longer, wonderful wine list. 

Dinner is a two-page affair that should start with the show-stopping la tartare ($24.) Its hand-cut beef is more generously portioned than most raw meat in recent memory, mixed with house dressing, grazed with the faintest heat via New Mexico chiles, showered with grated cured egg yolk and served with a polenta crisp. It’s tender and bright and, thanks to Da Prato’s proprietary blend, wholly unique to this restaurant and among the highest ranking I’ve ever had. 

La tur ($18) is lovely to start with too, a previous special recently made permanent. A large wedge of the soft, mild, cow, goat and sheep’s milk cheese of Italy’s Piemonte region is electrified by onion ash, jet black cocoa, honey, olive oil and Calabrian chiles. Its presentation, taste and texture contrasts are an achievement. 

Five entrée options follow. The lumache al ragù ($32) is shockingly, in this moment, for Manhattan, at what is poised to become a trendy restaurant, abundantly plated. Another circumstantial surprise: its snail-shaped pasta is also boldly cooked to firm and stands up brilliantly to the cloak of sausage-rich red sauce that’s as at home here as it would be in any of that genre’s top spots.  

If I could predict popularity, I’d pin it on the fried quail ($32). Two petite birds are prepared with a mix incorporating ancho and fig leaf. They’re lightly battered and fried to the gentlest, crisp finish that yields like funnel cake and holds a little sweetness. Its juicy interior is another successful juxtaposition, and that the plate shines in particular among other stunners points to signature dish status. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Casually romantic and comfortable enough across the compact configuration of tables and chairs. (No booths or banquettes.)

The Food: “Tuscan mountain fare” with excellent beef tartare, lumache al ragù and fried quail.

The Drinks: A great short menu of classic cocktails, full bar and terrific, long wine list. 

Etrusca is located at 53 Stone Street. It is open for dinner Tuesday-Sunday from 6pm-10pm. 

  • Midtown East

The Hindenburg. The Titanic. The MTA’s weird, limited-run, commemorative sandwich collaboration. All transit catastrophes with notable culinary elements. And all sharing more in common with the new restaurant at Grand Central Terminal, Cornelius, than anyone would guess.  

The City Winery entertainment and hospitality venture started moving operations into Vanderbilt Hall last November with retail wine in refillable bottles among its offerings. Its stated “high-end” effort, named for old-timey railroad tycoon and daddy to both the site’s original hub, Grand Central Depot, and Anderson Cooper’s great-great-grandpop, followed in December. 

Cornelius takes “culinary inspiration from the exquisite tastes of the Gilded Age,” according to its website, with a “modern twist on familiar favorites.” Its menu is also apparently somewhat influenced by plates available to the richest passengers on that big, doomed boat, executive chef Zach Bondy (previously of Portland, Maine’s Black Point Inn and Mopho in New Orleans) seems to indicate in a New York Live segment.  

But the ode to wealth isn’t even upper middle classpirational.

“Fine dining” has become a nebulous distinction in New York. White tablecloths, which they have at Cornelius, have fallen out of vogue, as have snooty maître d' tropes and elevator music, which, as far as I can tell, they do not. Some of the city’s best and spendiest tasting destinations zag so far away from all that and toward some version of cool, in fact, that they veer toward “how do you do, fellow kids?” territory. The only constant is that anything hovering around the category is going to be expensive. And it's OK either way; affect casual qualities with a much higher price tag, or throw it back to those old clichés. But you have to deliver. Establish plainly, as Cornelius does in its public and press-facing materials, that a place is supposed to be fancy, and you’re authoring an expectation that must be executed. 

“It’s like a dining car,” a friend said, once we’d navigated the chaos of late rush hour right outside and reached Cornelius. It's nearest to Grand Central’s entrance at 42nd and Vanderbilt. We’d both been on separate long-distance train trips before, and both had the goofy, youthy illusions that truly dining in the designated hurtling metallic rectangle would be even a little glamorous. It wasn’t. Those notions had some basis in reality, or at least a version of reality regurgitated in movies, but whatever romance even might have existed at these moveable feasts of yore had become aspirationally aspirational at best; white tablecloths straining to signal something that wasn’t there.    

Some of Cornelius’ 75 seats are arranged into smaller sections like cozy compartments, and its inoffensive design is swiped in sepia tones. Undulating lines hark back to a more recent vintage than likely intended, and create a kind of staid, 80s business dinner tableau. The petite bar is pretty, as most backlit bottle shelves are. Images of local landmarks line the walls. 

Complimentary bread is one welcome relic, semolina with golden raisins and sourdough. They aren’t at all bad and they’d be even better with a good butter, but the butter here tastes like nothing; more of a carb lubricant. Still, it’s a warm and uncommon gesture when bread service sometimes ticks into double digits elsewhere. For all the posturing, Cornelius isn’t consistently priced as fine dining, either, but closer to nicer-than-normal night out. This is not to say its quality always conceptually tracks with its dollar signs, just that there are fewer of them than at restaurants actually occupying the genre. 

The salad Lyonnaise ($19), for example, is not only low on lardon but what’s there is more reminiscent of bacon bits than the hot, fatty pork that should be imparting whiffs of smokiness to the otherwise OK frisée, poached egg and truffle vinaigrette in the dish. That the rigid flecks are hard to detect is almost a wash, given how good they aren’t. 

A lobster strudel ($52; trailing only the $127 chateaubriand for two and the $59 linguine with truffle and caviar in cost) is harder to swallow. Although its shellfish is proficiently prepared, it never quite coalesces with its other primary components, snappy asparagus and a hug of pastry. Imagine, if you wish, a pizza. It is a simple pizza, with cheese and, let’s say pepperoni. But those items are married together with the sauce and crust, becoming one. Cornelius’ lobster strudel lands more like its parts were prepared separately, maybe even for separate recipes, and assembled after the fact. It just isn’t mingling. And, although it might sound “high end,” the “essence” listed as an ingredient on the menu (“a reduced and clarified stock that is spritzed on the dish as it leaves the kitchen,” a rep says) adds less than the time it would take to shrink even a single drop of bone broth. 

Like the fungus and fish eggs enhancing the pasta, some foodstuffs really just shout what you want to say when what you want to say is lux-u-ry, and foie gras is right up there with them. Here, it’s a fun little addition to the substantial crab cake ($33), which could be fairly shared as an app. Lentils are on the opposite and of the extravagance spectrum, capably prepared here and paired with a salty duck confit ($34) that has a good texture but enough of that prickly mineral to simmer an itch and approximately one square inch of crispy surface on its leg’s landscape of otherwise limp skin.  

Cornelius isn’t reason alone to enter Grand Central, which, historic and pretty in places as it is, can also just be a real pain. But enough people pass through every day that it doesn’t have to be a destination; it gets to be a location. 

It has a purpose, and that purpose is to be here whenever an expense account meal has to happen as close to the Terminal as possible, and it doesn’t get much closer than this. Its purpose is to have availability, of which there is plenty, when a friend from out of town is passing through, literally here, and has a couple of hours, max, to catch up. Its purpose is to be one of those countless anonymous spots you pass by a thousand times and maybe once improbably end up and get a funny story out of it. “A swipe date invited me to dinner in Grand Central Station,” you’ll groan, incorrectly. (It’s Terminal; Station’s where the choo-choos go.) Just bring your own butter. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Business casual. 

The Food: Self-billed fine dining taking “culinary inspiration from the exquisite tastes of the Gilded Age” that amounts to fair preparations of duck confit, incongruous lobster strudel, a lacking salad Lyonnaise and a pretty good crab cake. 

The Drinks: Cocktails are going down the drain citywide at the moment, and this is no exception. Try the wine. 

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  • Greenpoint
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Heat is a heck of a thing. It can be gauged a few ways. The Scoville scale is a generally accepted measurement that more or less assigns alarms to chili peppers. Bell peppers are at the bottom and Carolina Reapers are at the top, with tabasco around the slightly-high middle. 

Individual interpretations of heat are more subjective. You might be joined at dinner by somebody for whom nothing’s hot and somebody for whom everything is. And restaurant staff is trying to manage both of their expectations. It might all complicate sharing to a degree, but who thinks what is too spicy can also be a conversation accelerant. 

My preference is on the high side, so rarely does the promise of piquancy seem to deliver on its stated claims. But I’ve met my match at Kru.

Kru’s “modern interpretation of hundred year-old Thai recipes” first appeared in our fall restaurant preview last year. The married co-owners of Fish Cheeks, chef Ohm Suansilphong and pastry chef Kiki Supap opened this independent venture a few days later in September. In November, the nicely lit, handsome space lined with illustrations of Thai herbs and spices was listed among Esquire’s best new restaurants in America. In the last few weeks, it was introduced to the Michelin Guide and named a James Beard Award semifinalist in the best new restaurant category. And it has earned a position on my personal list of places that actually test the limits of my heat tolerance, even with some puzzling gaps. 

A staff member details every menu item once you are sat and settled; a unique routine that sounds somewhat daunting for all parties but only takes about two minutes, saves time on any Q and A later on and makes a first visit feel as informed as a second. Small plates are up top, then relishes—five dips with bounties of vegetables arranged like bouquets—mains and a couple of sides. It’s all described as more or less increasing in heat as you go down the row until reaching the final boss kaeng pa, with beef tongue featured in the avowed fiery broth. 

The first and thus mildest preparation, ma hor ($10) is specified as an ancient Thai ceremony treat. Two pink pineapple triangles and a pair of pineberries are topped with an excellent dollop of caramelized chicken, pork, prawns and peanuts, all pulverized beyond recognition and into an almost sweetly meaty marvel happily married to the fruit and doing right by the perfect party platter dish. Last in the sort-of starter category, signaling spice, the bone marrow ($17) didn’t get the message, apparently absent its listed chili paste and scant on its supposed turmeric. It’s also just skimpy, so you’ll have plenty of rice crisps left over for whatever’s next once you’ve scooped up the good enough, as silky as expected, quivering, buttery, but scant bits. 

Those relishes would be good with practically anything; the fruit and chips before them and especially their garden-lovely endive, Bibb leaves, carrots, cauliflower and accompanying halved soft boiled egg. There are crab, ham, and almond options, and in the middle of the lot, a cooling smoked whitefish variety ($24) with anchovy, shrimp and chili pastes, coconut cream and grachai, the mix of gentle and more pungent flavors combining into a dynamic dip that I’d happily have, with its accouterments, every day for lunch. It is curious, though not necessarily a detriment in this case, that it carries so little bite, given its menu position. 

Each of Kru’s five kaeng comes with rice and centerpiece ingredients like a half cornish hen or pork belly. The last two on the list, theoretically positioned as the hottest, are both terrific and could scarcely have a wider Scoville chasm between them. The pineapple-lobster selection ($38) is like a warm, borderline confectionary hug in a meadow on the nicest day; its primary components joining bright, fun flavors with an ideal texture on the deconstructed crustacean. Again, the missing scorch isn’t a deficiency here. You might even detect a spark in the back of your throat if you concentrate and conjure one, and the real elements at play are together creamy and near-rich and satisfying enough to not want improvement.  

At last lies the volcanic climax, the one true metric to define how Kru can deal heat, the beef tongue curry ($28). It is hot; bitty-bite, more white rice, yes, it was a good idea to keep the extinguishing leafy greens from the relish on the table hot, heat derived largely from Thai chilis. But it is not novelty hot like something from a segment on a mid-2020s Food Network show, rather hot enough to appreciate. It is so hot, however, that its intensity does dim some of its other parts like eggplant, baby corn and Thai basil that didn’t stand a chance. 

The beef tongue is also a brilliant base, with a dainty, satiny texture conceptually in a love/hate romance for the ages with all that permeating fire. It’s an exciting thing to eat, and to discuss.   

Vitals

The Vibe: Warmly industrial, roomy enough for large parties and cozy enough for pairs.

The Food: Hits from Kru’s “modern interpretation of hundred year-old Thai recipes” include a supremely hot beef tongue curry, milder pineapple-lobster variety, delightful ma hor and a great smoked whitefish relish.

The Drinks: Wine, beer, a full bar with on-menu cocktails best to avoid and smartly selected non-alcoholic drinks. 

Kru is located at 190 North 14th Street. It is open for dinner Tuesday-Saturday from 5:30pm-10pm, Sunday from 5:30pm-9pm, and lunch Saturday-Sunday from 12pm-3pm. 

  • Greenwich Village

If you pass by the intersection of Bleecker and MacDougal Streets in Greenwich Village, a pretty restaurant glows on its southwest corner. If you click around Figaro Café’s website, you’ll find a claimed established date of 1957, cool black and white photos and the names of purported previous visitors like Jack Kerouac, Lenny Bruce and Bob Dylan. If you pop in—reservations do not appear to be necessary at this moment, abundant as they are—you might find some reasons to return, though they will not be related to the food. 

Only those first and third points are relevant to potential present day diners, but, being that Figaro’s public and press-facing communications lean as far into its vintage branding as an imbiber on a bar stool at a place where the drinks come out quicker, the middle demands mention as well. The original Le Figaro Cafe operated at this address for most of the 51 years following 1957. It was a Blimpie and an ice cream shop between 1969 and 1975. When its penultimate revival closed in 2008, “there wasn’t any widespread outpouring of grief,” according to the New York Times. And, with history poised to repeat itself, “the appeal really wasn’t about the food.”

The location was briefly a Qdoba in the nearly decade-and-a-half before married couple Marta and Mario Skaric (previously of The Standard Grill and Benjamin Restaurant Group) and their business partner Florence Zabokritsky reopened it once more under the lightly edited name this past fall. 

Previous design elements are gone, according to the New York Post, but the reimagined space is attractive absent from its past. Pages from the French newspaper Le Figaro partially paper walls in an efficient nod to preceding decades. A nautical blue otherwise anchors the color scheme. It’s splashed behind the long, gleaming white bar to the left and across the plush upholstered banquettes to the right. There are a few particularly cozy nooks throughout, including one in the windowed corner up front, and the lighting’s just right all around. The room expands toward the back, which has larger tables conducive to groups.  

The menu could theoretically work for groups, too. There are enough options to choose from and they’re mostly fine enough to get away with being the person who suggested the place on an otherwise fun night. Things even begin promisingly enough, with complimentary bread that’s virtually disappearing from NYC restaurant tables. The rosemary loaf is warm and generous; flaky on the outside and almost doughy on the inside and as comforting as the most successfully executed pop-and-bake in creation. Priced items struggle to match. 

Colossal shrimp ($23.92) are nicely sized and attractively balanced four to a plate on a bed of ice with cocktail sauce and lemon that turn out to be necessary rather than simply expected. The color and texture are right, but they’re just a little fishy—just fishy enough to notice—though that can be quickly obscured by their accouterments. 

The beginning of dinner here seems fired at lightning speed, so the plant-based “scallops” ($21.84) might arrive before you’ve effectively doused half the crustaceans for palatability. These, however, are a welcome distraction, adeptly sculpted from king oyster mushrooms with pleasant, mildly earthy notes that make them even better than a basic bivalve alternative. Trios are served on a fennel purée that might be the best thing from Figaro’s kitchen. It’s über-creamy with a bit of fresh texture from charred ramps. You’ll want to reserve some bread for spreading, though you’ll need to be assertive to keep either from being collected too soon. 

This might all make a case for Figaro Café as more of a drinks and snacks kind of place, and it could still be under certain circumstances, but the cocktails are also just so-so. That the perfect martini ($16.64) isn’t quite cold enough does not inspire confidence in the other seven tini-takes that include a pumpkin spice espresso. A rye Manhattan ($17.68) is inexplicably thin, which, again, does not bode well for the bar’s signature recipes. They’re also a little slow to flow, incongruous with the plates’ too-swift pacing. Some enjoyable beer and wine varieties are also available, but a lot of stylish places serve enjoyable beer and wine. 

A lot of places also serve steak, many even in this immediate area. Figaro Café serves an OK 12-ounce, bone-in New York strip ($49.92) with chimichurri, flirting toward well-done. That it’s served to those specs when ordered au poivre, medium, eh, it’s really just half a degree of doneness, and these things happen, even at better restaurants. But the one-dimension sauce’s overwhelming whack of lime rarely does. Likewise the accompanying fries, pale as a naked potato and almost reminiscent of Wendy’s, but without the fast food charm and with more of the apparent recent residence in the freezer. 

The duck leg confit ($37.44) is similarly situated. The waterfowl itself isn’t too bad, tender enough under the surface, even with a skin that’s more crusty than crisp. But its bed of grits is curiously dry and neither preparation surpasses ambitious museum restaurant quality. Lovely as it is, the environment here couldn’t be expected to live up to that occasionally caveat-inviting expectation. 

Vitals: 

The Vibe: Pretty, comfortable and equally well-suited for intimate pairs or larger parties.

The Food: A wide variety of perfunctory seafood, steak, pasta, burgers, salads, poultry, pork chops and a few plant-based options. 

The Drinks: Serviceable cocktails, “spiritless’ drinks, wine and beer. 

Figaro Café is located at 184 Bleecker Street. It is open Monday-Friday from 11:30am-3:30pm and Monday-Sunday from 5pm-10pm. 

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  • Park Slope
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Every price tag in New York City comes with a caveat. This is below market rate. That wasn’t too bad. The other’s pretty affordable. For New York

Rana Fifteen, which Ahmet Kiranbay and Armando Litiatco opened in October, has one of the best deals in town right now. The Park Slope spot follows the duo’s seven-year-old Filipino restaurant F.O.B. a short distance away in Carroll Gardens. Its menus are influenced by Kiranbay’s upbringing in coastal western Turkey’s Izmir. Rana is Kiranbay’s mother, from whom he learned to cook and lifted recipes for his second venture. 

The 4th Avenue facade is as white as a science fair poster board and half as antiseptic, save for its cerulean signs. The wide inside is also appointed in gleaming pale shades, but lit low enough to feel like dinnertime in the evening. Exposed beams run between ends of the gently curved ceilings, mirroring dark hardwood floors below. A somewhat exposed kitchen is at the back of the dining room. 

A deal’s a deal, and it’s more rewarding when it’s actually good. “Fifteen” is for the Rana’s Table, fashioned after the multi-item çilingir sofrasi (from Turkish, locksmith table), which refers to the spread’s often accompanying raki and the spirit’s likeness to unlock its imbibers. (Rana Fifteen is BYOB while it awaits its liquor license.) For $39 per person (minimum two), the abundance includes all eight available apps, four meze, and an entrée, a side and dessert to share per pair. Almost all are very good. 

Plentiful plates are presented with casual pageantry, arranged this way and that to accommodate the bounty. The atom labneh ($12 if ordered à la carte) is dreamy-creamy with a bit of brown butter and bright (but not hot) with chilis. Tarama fish roe ($10) competes for the title of best spread, its bread base enlivened by the saline carp eggs. Both are terrific with the pita half covering a nice salad with seared halloumi ($12). 

On the solid side, the fried calamari ($12) is great; crispy, mildly sweet and tender, although lightly drizzled with an unnecessary sauce that skews too close to a roux. Fortunately, it’s mostly limited to the otherwise faultless squid’s top layer. The stuffed mussels ($14) are similarly situated. They’re welcome in an area where they don’t overpopulate menus, they’re proficiently filled with rice and currants and they’re fun to pop open, but they’re also flatly one note with what’s only detailed as “spices.” The kimyon garlic shrimp ($16), however, is a show-pauser. A few whole crustaceans entwined in their dish are rosy with a pepper glow and silken with a little butter, firm and fresh in their shells with a satisfying exterior crunch. Off-menu meze like a recent tomato effort, simply dressed in a way that might let a more ideal specimen of the fruit peak, are easier to forget. 

All six of the kitchen’s mains are available with the special, some with a $10 supplement. The tight half-dozen options, bookended by a cozily roasted half-chicken ($26 if ordered à la carte) and a stuffed eggplant ($18) could still easily appease a group, and the 45-seat space is arranged with potential for large parties. 

The Iskender steak ($30; no supplement in the Rana’s Table) is a nod to the red sauce-topped kebabs of the same name. This eight-ounce black angus strip, too, covers pita, which absorbs both traces of the tomato gravy and more of that enriching brown butter. This isn’t a how would you like it done? steak, but its finished close enough to medium, its flavors are pleasant with a kind of broad appeal, and the father-in-law figure in your life will likely enjoy it. 

An herb-armored branzino ($10 supplement or $36 à la carte) is a pleasure to share. (The restaurant adjusts Rana’s Table entrées for odd-numbered parties; three would choose two, five would choose three, etc.) Under an aromatic coat like it was dragged through the garden, the whole grilled fish is moist and easy to flake and imbued with the inimitable flavors of an open flame. 

That affordability addendum isn’t going anywhere, but the competitiveness of the city’s dining tide ebbs and flows. This moment is still (and again) a little challenging. Reservations are hard to get, pay-to-play startups seep up in dark corners, pop-in wait times ramble into hours and most new restaurants that promise or aspire to have an antidote don’t, instead turning otherwise comprehensible descriptions like “neighborhood restaurant” into an assertion in a press release or a box to check on an imagined platform. Rana Fifteen is a real neighborhood restaurant with real availability and a value that values guests. For … you know. 

Vitals:

The Vibe: Comfortable, inviting and low-pressure.  

The Food: Western Turkish with a terrific branzino and a nice steak among its crowd-pleasers, plus one of the best dinner deals in town right now.   

The Drinks: Rana Fifteen is BYOB while it awaits its liquor license. 

Rana Fifteen is located at 209 4th Avenue in Brooklyn. It is open for dinner Friday and Saturday from 5pm-11pm, Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday from 5pm-10pm, and for brunch Saturday and Sunday from 11am-3pm




  • Downtown Brooklyn
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

On a lucky day, you might wake up thinking of a certain dish and get it. I recently arose with a powerful desire for egg soufflé. In my daydream, it was light and airy, creamy and comforting. I must have remembered that Atti opened with one on its menu amid myriad other pleasures near Downtown Brooklyn a couple of months earlier. 

Self-described as “fine Korean BBQ,” Atti’s elegant environs still have an easy manner. Make a reservation for busy, weekend nights, especially for larger parties, or pop in by the host stand around brunch time. Swing a quick right past the stylish, neon-lit refrigerators to the lofty dining room, which can accommodate 80 in cozy, high-backed, blonde wood booths, the largest of which will fit about 10 people who are pretty fond of each other. Flat, brass-encircled grills are slightly sunken into table centers. 

The Atti han-sang ($64 per person with a minimum of two) includes three or four chef-selected meats and an abundance of banchan. Temperature-stable items are the earliest to arrive. Pumpkin is smoothly textured between pureed and mashed, a bit closer to the latter, and just sweet enough to convince squash skeptics to have another bite. The kimchi’s peak form and slightly spiced. And the little, glittering dried anchovies give a savory salt kick to everything they join. 

Nice white rice follows, wonderful with a duo of bubbling stew: a mild doenjang and a bolder kimchi with a little more funk and fire behind it. Then, the egg soufflé of heart’s desire, which, with the addition of water, salt and expert execution to its main ingredient, rises to all that I’d imagined in a pillowy, pale sunshine dome with scallions on top. It’s a love soufflé. 

Meats might include hanger steak, short rib, American Wagyu flat iron or ribeye all beautifully presented in marbled red and white. Carefully arranged into their quarters, they’re conversation-stoppers; petite, stock-model portions of beef. You almost don’t want them to go to the grill but servers control each round’s preparation to perfect doneness; an exacting process performed with ease. Restrained seasoning lets each cut’s unique qualities—suffused with satiny fat, or with ‘and potatoes’ familiarity, or buttery, rich, a little earthy, or some combination—shine. Their accompanying ssam is also stunning: leafy greens so fresh and crisp and flawless it’s like they were recently trimmed from a secret garden. 

A lot more à la carte options are available for a lot more money. NY strip’s $54; filet mignon’s $58. Or you could confidently spring for a luxe set with the $185 American Wagyu ribeye, filet mignon, short rib set, knowing how carefully the staff handles precious meats. Oysters, shrimp cocktail, jeon and a few other stews are also among the un-grilled options. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Cooly elegant, easygoing and peaceful with potential for larger party fun. 

The Food: The excellent Atti han-sang includes three or four beautiful, expertly-grilled meats and sensational banchan. 

The Drinks: Cocktails, a nice variety of Korean spirits, sake, wine and beer.

Atti is located at 294 Livingston Street. It is open Monday-Friday from 5pm-11pm and Saturday-Sunday from 11am-11pm. 

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  • Flatiron
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

As year-end lists circle the city like a cursed chain letter whose hastily dismissed consequences are nostalgia for something neither experienced nor previously desired, and enduring FOMO, it’s clear that 2022 is the year of the “pretty good” restaurant. It’s a particular kind of “pretty good,” said in a singsong tone infused with a noncommittal interrobang. Other phrases: the diplomatic “fine approaching good”; “okay!” (with that precise spelling and punctuation only); and, similarly “fine!” but only when optimistically intended. In Time Out parlance, at this moment, a “pretty good” restaurant is a low three stars. Many of the press release destinations that opened this year merit up to, but not exceeding these exclamations, and Koloman is one of them. 

Communications about chef Markus Glocker’s Ace Hotel-adjacent latest where “Parisian creativity” meets “Viennese tradition” started percolating around the spring and lingered long enough to appear among fall previews. The talented, decorated Glocker, who previously led Bâtard to 50 best, Beard and Michelin recognition, launching a new spot at an address with prior proven success, attracted expected attention, as well as positive reviews since its September opening. 

Previously dark with heavy wood and taxidermy in highly aughts-style as The Breslin, Koloman is brighter and breezier, like a Brooklyn brownstone renovation that strips decades’ worth of grit and grime from its bones. Its present aesthetic update harks back to the more recent twenty-teens, when it seemed like every other place was painted in beachy shades and festooned with potted plants. Though absent the time-traveling latter, surfaces gleam with bouncy lamplight, occasionally slick with what seems like food grease or speckled with crumbs at a large waiting table near the 29th Street entrance or on banquettes further back in earshot of the hotel’s Lobby Bar. Big, Narnia-like doors physically separate the erstwhile hotspot from the newcomer, though they can’t blot out the sounds of the one-time party hive wailing for its prime. 

Koloman’s menu is a mix of ambitious swings and well-placed bunts with scarce home runs. The eventually-arriving, included bread basket is a nicely-executed gesture, accompanied by a wonderful dollop of weightless butter, brilliantly encrusted in a thin layer of salt to give bite to a pat. 

Excellent gougères begin the priced-item lineup, which more or less starts with apps and expands to entrées. Mild bergkäse—raw-milk Austrian mountain cheese—is creamy inside the warm embrace of pillowy pastry, served three to a plate with a side of perfect, piquant horseradish spread ($15). They’re enough to dim the immediate memory of brushing that apparent detritus from an earlier party’s complementary carbs off a seat, but overpromise on the unevenness to follow. A lobster slider ($26, listed as a lobster “burger”) from the same column, for example, is satisfactory in preparation (though, context clues aside, not proportional to cost), but seems transported from a time when adding shellfish bits or truffle oil signaled little other than pedestrian luxury. Its scant side of crisp-ish potatoes aren’t bad, walking the line between wedge and steak fries, and served atop a spring time-y dip bejeweled with caviar as if by the tip of a magic wand activated once you remember the glorified garnish includes the fish eggs. 

The next section’s “unique take on a classic terrine” ($25) is a tempting proposition. Its short rib and tafelspitz (Viennese boiled beef) are joined by roast beef and layered with celery root and leeks, encircled by thinly sliced carrots and drizzled with pumpkin seed oil from a small copper pot. The tender roast beef is its primary, not unpleasant flavor, maybe even reminiscent of lovingly-made second-day leftovers, but it’s pronounced enough to obscure the supporting elements in what otherwise seems like a studied, intentional dish. Whatever the finishing liquid is trying to do, the droopy carrot edge does even less. It’s over-chilled, one note aside from clotted aspic, and best avoided. 

Although proving once more, even after that terrific horseradish, that condiments are not Koloman’s strong suit, the schnitzel Viennoise ($36) itself is good. Its veal surpasses most other fried foods I’ve had this year, which amounted to a micro-trend of overwhelming batter. Koloman’s contribution is prudently pounded and breaded, arriving light and golden. Neither its lingonberry nor sea buckthorn sauces are at all enriching—the former recalling the popular assembly-required furniture store; the latter too bland to recall anything—but a mist of lemon is more than what’s needed to enjoy the schnitzel, per se. Joined by a forgettable potato salad and brightly lovely cucumber medley, it’s large enough to make a main, if not explicitly situated among them.  

A reasonable person might expect, after scanning what precedes, that Koloman’s fourth and penultimate menu portion, followed only by the whole roasted chicken for two ($84), would include what’s sometimes euphemized as large plates. And that tracks here, but stops short with the grilled trumpet mushrooms ($32). About five to a plate with watercress, a smattering of crushed potatoes and seemingly freezer-fresh sauce vierge, they’d be more accurately presented as a side, and a so-so one at that. It isn’t even the size that matters the most, but rather the afterthought of it all. I’ve had plenty of fantastic fungi this year, but this one is a flashback to recent years, when even the buzziest of new restaurants’ plant-based options were limited to barely-seasoned cauliflower steak to pair with, perhaps, a zero-abv drink like a seltzer and nothing. 

Wisely rising to the spirit-free occasion, if not the plant-based one, Koloman does have a  “soft cocktail” offering ($15 each), plus a few non-alcoholic beer and wine options ($6-$8). Its boozier concoctions are fine, except for the ones that aren’t, underscoring my point that, in most cases, all the good cocktails already exist. Koloman’s martinis and Manhattans are squarely in the 49th percentile of the incalculable number I’ve had. Its listed “originals” are less palatable in this setting. 

The Bitter Truth hits each one of its listed ingredients of Japanese whisky, Campari, apricot, cocoa, salt and cereal, really lingering on the last one. It’s Everlasting Gobstopper effect wouldn’t be out of place at a dedicated cocktail bar, but it has no business near a dinner menu, where it could be mistakenly paired with something like the pretty good duck ($49), even with the appropriately mauve sliced bird breast’s thematically congruous crispy einkorn; sometimes spun into that typical morning meal. Another person who ordered it within eyeshot left the $21 original unfinished. 

Kolomon has a place high among 2022s spate of “pretty good,” “fine approaching good,” “okay” and flatly “fine” new restaurants. A fair amount of people need spendy places to take their moneyed parents. I bet it could be a decent place for a date, especially if you wish to return to not-too-far Murray Hill. And, were you within a three-block radius, there are worse places to dine. I just wouldn’t rush to the Resy notifications for this one. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Like an elder-millennial time traveled from 2009 to 2019 before opening a restaurant in 2022.

The Food: Excellent gougères and schnitzel Viennoise; must-miss short rib and tafelspitz terrine and mushrooms.

The Drinks: Perfunctory classic cocktails, avoidable “originals,” beer, wine and zero-abv options. 

Koloman is located at 16 West 29th Street. It is open for dinner Tuesday-Sunday from 5pm-11pm. 

 

  • Elmhurst
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Even prior to 2020, in spite of New York City’s second most popular nickname, great places to grab dinner in the middle of the night were a relative few. When Pei Wei and Bryan Chunton opened Zaab Zaab with chef Aniwat Khotsopa in Elmhurst, Queens this past spring, it was with the 2022-ambitious closing time of 1am. Zaab Zaab accrued enough accolades, like a Michelin Bib Gourmand to crowd out room for improvement in the months that followed. But it extended operations until 4am daily a few weeks ago. 

Its dining room is as intimate as a slumber party and traced with cheery hues as well as a detailed mural on the ceiling. Enter and there are five tables between a tightly upholstered banquette and backless but sturdy stools to the left. A large mirror creates the illusion of more space and reflects the physical effects (a single tear; a sharp inhale) of Khotsopa’s more heat-forward recipes. A bar, which serves mostly beer and wine, plus a couple of sake options (which are also spun into über–fruity cocktails) is to the right. A sidewalk patio up front is covered in inclement weather, and there’s a street shed past the curb.

Zaab Zaab promises “the true flavors of Thailand’s Northeastern Isaan region,” like its larb ped Udon, which is very good. Minced duck breast and gizzards are mixed with crumbly, plucky, ginger-adjacent galangal, fried garlic and lime leaves, mint, roasted rice powder, crushed chili and fish sauce, studded with fried waterfowl skin and served alongside leafy greens for grabbing or wrapping ($19.95). Its trio of duck creates a dynamic, pronounced flavor/texture pair, even among oodles of other ingredients. Never guess, because you might be among friends who find refrigerated aisle guac hot, but the larb ped Udon does not approach Zaab Zabb’s most fiery items, and instead seems like it would be acceptable to a mid-level tolerance. 

The gaeng om with beef shank ($18.95) is another contender for signature dish, significantly hotter, and among the most nuanced eye-watering experiences I’ve had in a long time. The meat is immersed in herbal curry braised with Thai eggplant, lemongrass, lime leaves, and galangal, adorned with an herb box worth of dill. The first sips of broth are brightly botanical and clear, conjuring soft, verdant images. Further dives catch chili that builds to a near burst. It’s the city’s best new soup and it’s terrifically fun to eat. 

Nuer yang ($24.95) is plated with a spectrum of capsaicin notes. Its flame-grilled, sliced Crying Tiger ribeye, with strips ranging from fatty to nicely marbled, is seasoned with a light touch that brings the earthy beef just to a volume that will get your attention. But its accompanying jaew duo amplifies the understated preparation with its alternately spicy and searing, and deeply bitter sauces. Each creates a totally different, singularly satisfying profile from bite to bite. 

A pile of wonderfully golden moo tod pla ra ($16.95) is similarly situated. Pork belly is marinated in fermented fish sauce before frying. It’s served exquisitely crisp with a subtle funk enlivened by more marvelous jaew; an ideal midnight snack that’s decadent and delicious, and the type of shared dish that just sparks fun. 

Greens and soothing, palate-zagging herbs like bitter sadao and Thai basil top tables to slake any alarms. A surprisingly mild som tum pla ra with shredded green papaya, bird’s eye chiles, lime, and the option to add black crab ($18) might do the trick, too, skewing closer to refreshing than bracing. Each of three som tum varieties are clay krok-pounded by hand to crack (not mash!) open fragrance and flavor before plating. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Welcoming in an intimate, colorful space.

The Food: Zaab Zaab’s promised “true flavors of Thailand’s Northeastern Isaan region” include an incredible gaeng om with beef shank to top soup all over NYC, terrific larb ped Udon and decadent golden moo tod pla ra.

The Drinks: Beer, wine and sake, plus a couple of cocktails that incorporate the latter and a great Thai iced tea.

Zaab Zaab is located at 76-04 Woodside Avenue. It is open from noon to 4am each day. 

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  • Park Slope
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Unapologetic Foods is the top hospitality group operating in New York City right now. Since last year alone, restaurateur Roni Mazumdar and chef/partner chef Chintan Pandya have opened and led Dhamaka to its status at 2021’s best new restaurant, followed it with newly Michelin-starred Semma, and began serving the city’s latest great fried chicken sandwich at Rowdy Rooster. Its coming attractions were obvious additions to this fall’s most anticipated new restaurants, including September’s Masalawala & Sons. 

Mazumdar opened the original Masalawala, his first operation, with his father Satyen Mazumdar on the Lower East Side in 2011. Although that iteration lasted a decade, it did not meet the younger Mazumdar’s intentions to serve homestyle recipes from his youth, instead offering locally expected items like chicken tikka masala by force of necessity, he told Resy. Now in Park Slope, again with his father, “this is the restaurant I wanted to open 10 years ago, but couldn’t,” he told the reservation platform. 

The Brooklyn location, billed as “a celebration of India’s yesteryears” opened to immediate popularity on September 22, and has maintained most of that momentum since. A (literal) couple of primetime weekend reservations are only starting to creep in at press time. Also an ode to the elder Mazumdar, who shares menu input with his son and Pandya, dad’s portrait appears on Masalawala’s Fifth Avenue awning. 

Inside, an L-shaped banquette opposite backless upholstered cubes is on the left. Arrive in advance of your companions for a test of character: slide inside to ensure your own comfort, or be a seat hero and work your core on the stump. Tables and regular chairs populate the rest of the vibrant, warmly lit space. There’s a patio in the back. 

Cocktails like the Bengali Renaissance (stirred with coconut-washed gin, turmeric, saffron, fennel and fenugreek, $17) and the Tagore’s Lyric (stirred with tequila, smoked bhut jolokia, roses and Himalayan salt, $17) are good and unlike anything else in the neighborhood, and little beyond. The same goes for the dinner menu, which even at just one page of consistent winners, can be reconfigured again and again over many visits. 

One advantage of an early reservation (the place is already buzzing shortly after the 5pm slots) is a greater chance of sampling the small plate category’s macher dim ($23), noted, at least online, as having limited availability. Myriad dynamic notes—Bengali fish roe, egg yolk, ghee and green chili with flavor-soaking kala jeera rice—are happily married in the petite dish that’s among the most seldom seen commercially available foodstuffs in NYC at the moment. 

Miss it with a later seating, and the same snack category’s dahi vada ($11) is a less-sung star (exclusivity like that of the macher dim is always going to gather attention), but its fermented lentil dumpling cloaked in yogurt with roasted cumin is a stunning combination of creamy tang, mild heat and slight sweetness, delivered cooly smooth on the surface and buoyantly spongy at its depths. It’s also a little indicative of what’s to come: masterfully spiced bites mostly without the more pronounced heat that many of us love and others love to comically detail like a fire-breathing cartoon character across the river at Dhamaka.

Selections from the mid-menu split the difference between shareable app and main. Its fish fry ($21) is closer to the former. Mild, white bhetki has a moist, flaky interior and crisp golden exterior, as delicious as it is basic in spite of alleged cilantro-chili, but enlivened by accompanying mustard. The larger keema kaleji ($19) is a knockout, the one to make a trip for, and order again and again even when all those other configurations await. Minced lamb and bits of liver are spiked with black cardamom, cloves and egg, disallowing any excessive gaminess or iron. It’s served with a duo of pao poufs for sandwiching, dabbing or grabbing, identical to the unforgettable varieties at Dhamaka and Rowdy Rooster. The bread’s neutral lightness is the perfect companion to the meaty richness.  

The echorer kalia ($28) is meaty, too, if you’re looking for that in a vegetarian dish merrily absent any invented animal flesh “substitutes” or “alternatives.” Its green jackfruit (often touted as one of those very things, but an actual plant that’s also great without the caveat) is blanketed in a mix of ginger, red onion and a panch phoron whose blended bouquet conjures whisps of smoke and sweet and the gentlest florals as though through a soothing soft focus. 

Most of these plates do not want for rice and Masalawala & Sons’ is exceptional on its own. It goes lovingly deep on the gawa ghee, to true, redefining, comfort food effect. The buttery, nearly nutty little bowl is soothing and profoundly fresh, like its dairy was churned by the very anthropomorphized grass-fed cow from whence it came. It’s delicious and soul-suffusing in Proustian fashion. 

Vitals:

The Vibe: Busy and buzzy but warm and inviting.    

The Food: “A celebration of India’s yesteryears” with wonderful macher dim, keema kaleji and unforgettably comforting rice.

The Drinks: Great novel cocktails, “mocktails,” beer and wine. 

Masalawala & Sons is located at 365 5th Avenue in Brooklyn. It is open Tuesday-Sunday from 5pm-10pm. 




  • Chinatown
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Corner Bar, a restaurant and bar on the corner of Canal and Allen Street downtown, seems designed to be ordinary. The cozy, kindly space at the base of Nine Orchard Hotel has little abstract character, but its bistro aesthetic successfully captures that intended category. It also encapsulates a category I think of as “restaurant in a movie that isn’t about a restaurant.” When an ingénue blows out birthday candles at a round table encircled by friends, it is at Corner Bar. When a brooding antihero stirs coffee as the rain falls outside, it is at Corner Bar. When a beleaguered career gal huffs onto a bar seat and makes a mildly quirky martini order to establish personality, it is at Corner Bar. And this is all fine. 

There is nothing irredeemably wrong with chef Ignacio Mattos’ Corner Bar, which followed his highly-regarded Estela and Lodi in June. That the bathrooms are in the basement is half-annoying but not uncommon at hotel and hotel-adjacent restaurants. And that it’s been particularly difficult to book a primetime reservation, even in these enduring years of reservation booking difficulty, is just a little vexing, especially with the benefit of hindsight given how regular the place is. All that aside, Corner Bar is fine in the lusty way a ’40s movie star would have shaped the word to improve its meaning from vague indictment to approval. It will do nicely. 

The inviting dining room, breezily, barely divided in two by an archway, has high ceilings, a handsome bar, wood finishes, gleaming white tiles and cafe curtains, bistro-ly. It seats 68 and tables are arranged tight enough to limit gossip, but not so much to require excess shimmying. Its menu aims to offer genre classics. 

To start, Prince Edward Island Lucky Lime oysters ($29/half dozen) are as attractively presented as expected. Pack ice into a tray, elevate it a little, and even this entry-level to a seafood tower gets me every time. And these midsized bivalves would still be good even closer to land. The duck foie gras terrine ($34) is also nice, as rich and buttery as hoped for and even served with a fun and spritely, glittering riesling jelly and half a caramelized apple. Its thick accompanying brioche points, while not an outlandish pairing, are a little too sweet and a little too greasy to let the foie gras dazzle. 

With the exception of the $62 hay-roasted chicken, which comes with salad greens, entrées are all on their own. Moules ($38) and steak are friteless. The Atlantic halibut ($44) swims only with its hollandaise. 

Reunited with their rightful skirt au Poivre or bivalve friends, the fries ($13) are very good; one of the things Corner Bar does best. They’re telegenically golden, brittle outside, soft inside and made to soak up liquid. The oversauced steak has plenty of it, befittingly pungent and made with Tellicherry peppercorns, but almost comical, then inconvenient, in quantity, and growing a bit viscous over a few bites. Like the foie gras vehicle, it’s a zag and a miss that obscures a shockingly hard-to-find perfect medium rare preparation (perfected here with the rouge to prove it) rather than enhance it. Uncloaked, its texture is impeccable, its deep, grass-fed beef flavor is abundant and its successful degree of doneness is a marvel.  I wouldn’t drain it entirely, but maybe ask for a dash less sauce than standard. 

A couple of promising pastas are among the mains, including a recurring lobster tagliatelle special ($38 for the appetizer size, which contains 2.5 ounces of lobster; $52 for the entrée size, with three ounces). The long, house-made ribbons are, again, finished to the ideal doneness with a light spring, but their coating of light red sauce skews too noticeably fishy and the lobster is cooked just to the legal limit before rubbery charges can commence.    

Corner Bar should have a rightful place in the middle of the road as an easy, chicer than most, every night kind of place, and a bar where drinks can turn into dinner. But it’s still a puzzlingly tough table and it’s priced more like a special occasion destination. The crowds will thin, but its unlikely prices will drop here or anywhere else in the city. It could split the difference by ironing out everything that makes it singsong-voice-good rather than lower-register-good, but that’s historically only slightly more likely. Until it seems more like an overperforming drop-in spot than an underperforming celebration aspirant, it isn’t worth going out of the way for. 

Vitals:

The Vibe: Bistro film set with flattering lighting.  

The Food: Nice raw bar items, excellent duck foie gras, good but oversauced steak, promising pasta. 

The Drinks: Slow-to-arrive cocktails, beer, a very long wine list and spirit-free drinks.

Corner Bar is located at 60 Canal Street. It is open for dinner Monday-Wednesday from 5:30pm to 10:30pm, Thursday-Saturday from 5:30pm-11pm and Sunday from 5:30pm-10pm. 

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  • Lower East Side
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

There are a lot of bars on the Lower East Side. Restaurants, too. It’s easy to meander all evening in search of a spot that feels just right. But it’s easier to make a reservation at Gugu Room on Orchard street and spend that time saved on sips and skewers. 

Gugu Room opened in May with press materials promising New York’s first Filipino-Japanese izakaya.” Previous occupant Tsismis hosted pop-ups in its final days, including what would become the space’s present iteration. The made-over interior’s once brighter hues are subdued with a new burgundy and black color scheme for more of a date-night ambiance. The old copper-topped bar fits in nicely with the refreshed look. Pop-in spots there seem a cinch to nab at press time, and booking availability is a breath of fresh air. It has real hero potential on those nights nobody knows where to go, or simply can’t get in.  

Chef/Partner Aris Tuazon (previously of Ugly Kitchen) and Chef Markee Manaloto’s (Kissaki)  long menu starts on the snackie side and expands to larger plates. The grilled skewers here are NYC’s new pierced meats to beat; available in pairs or by the hospitable grouping that speaks to a guest-focused operation and lately less-common care for value. A large sampler platter includes one each of Gugu Room’s six varieties ($22; choose four for $15). 

Each skewer’s seasoning amplifies its best form. The buoyant shrimp’s teriyaki baste is restrained enough to amplify its ocean-fed freshness. The yielding pork intestine’s banana ketchup barbecue sauce makes great use of its tangy sweetness. The longanisa, formed into spheres, has a pleasant citrus pop, and the pork belly, grilled chicken in more teriyaki, and ribeye with house-made steak sauce skew faithfully to those proteins’ expected flavors. They’re each distinct all on one plate—a quality that some other preparations don’t achieve. 

The agedashi tofu ($9) doesn’t approach its expected crispness, and its quickly softening bonito flakes further sap any snap, dissolving into sogginess. The truffled mushroom sisig’s ($20) listed trio of fungi—trumpet, shiitake and oyster—come out one note. Most of the preparations here seem designed to linger and chat over, but these lose a heap of appeal after about a bite. 

Spicy yuzu adobo ribs ($24) and hamachi kama ($15) are among better bets. The former is prepared with an animated mix of Asian soy, vinegar, garlic, yuzu and pineapple, piled generously and served with garlic fried rice. The latter is notably moist (as a somewhat sweet yellowtail collar should be but often isn’t), and light. 

Gugu Room’s cocktails are among few exceptions to the new rule that most places would be better off sticking to the classics. The yuzu gimlet combines its titular fruit with gin, orange liqueur and St-Germain to repeat round invitation, but other tipples like the Spicy Bingo ($15; mezcal, maraschino, plum bitters, apple cider, chili) are worth divergence. 

Plenty of new restaurants are easy to identify as good, but fewer merit obvious returns. Gugu Room’s menus, atmosphere and essence of ease make it a great one for the shortlist. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Casual, fun and welcoming with date-night potential.

The Food: Great skewers and a wide variety of small to large plates with standouts like spicy yuzu adobo ribs and hamachi kama.

The Drinks: Terrific signature cocktails, sake, shochu, wine and beer. 

Gugu Room is located at 143 Orchard Street. It’s open Tuesday-Thursday from 5pm-11pm, Friday-Saturday 5pm-1am and Sunday 5pm-10pm. 

 

  • Carroll Gardens
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Almost every restaurant space in NYC has its little history—weird midtown developments notwithstanding. There are the “cursed” ones, the curious ones and the classic ones. The one at 241 Smith Street, recently the cooly warm and wonderful Jolie, is now Ruthie’s. Proprietor Marc St Jacques also operates great Bar Bête, which opened down the block in 2019 with partner Joe Ogrodnek, who ran the excellent Battersby located between those two spots for seven years until 2018. 

So, at the corner of Smith and Douglass sits a building recently vacated by a beloved neighborhood bistro and newly occupied by a respected area chef with implied local market knowledge. That it oozes family-friendliness, especially before dark, is not unexpected in the area. And there wasn’t a very good burger place anywhere on Cobble Hill’s one-time restaurant row until Ruthie’s assumed the role in August.

The interior is newly stripped of its previous lived-in richness and looks about as plain as the inside of an egg carton. This is less noticeable when it’s crowded at primetime on weekends, but its too-bright lights bounce off white walls to suffuse the air on quieter school nights. The seats at the bar—which feels more oriented to dining than hanging out and drinking in spite of the rest of the place’s overall apparently casual conceit—are now fixed to the floor. There’s a long communal high-top with backless stools near the center of the room, and leathery banquettes have been swapped with wooden ones and tables to the right, and a few large, cozier (and more private) booths to the left. There’s covered seating outside.

Although only five of its one-page menu’s 23 items (which you could count as more considering variations on a grilled cheese or baked potato) are burgers, Ruthie’s is a capital Burger Place. The cheddar pickle variety’s ($20) thickly portioned patty has a mild funkiness that punches above an everyday blend, topped with horseradish mayo, sharp cheddar and the titular sweet pickles. The s.o.b. ($21) is delightfully untidy with Swiss, caramelized onions and bacon. The blue cheese is cloaked in that distinctive flavor and best left to those who have acquired the taste. And the tuna burger’s ($22) fish is so expertly prepared to a beautiful pink finish, it wishes to be unhooked from its bun, avocado, spicy greens and chili aioli and enjoyed on its own. None include fries, which is always worth an eye-roll, but, for $5 as an addition or $11 as a side, the medium-gauge beef fat potatoes are archetypal; each one possessing the ideal texture dynamic of crisp and soft, brilliantly seasoned and constructed to retain a good temperature to the last one. 

The rest of the menu’s divided into snacks, plates (which are basically sides or apps), soups and salads, “the rest” (those baked potato and grilled cheese options, plus a beer-battered fluke, again, sans its soulmate chips) and weekly specials. Its occasional incongruity (honey-roasted peanuts and popcorn would make more sense at a dedicated drinking bar, and we can save discussion of their $7 and $6 price tags for another day) helps Ruthie’s jump out as a Burger Place, even though those are outnumbered a few times over. Some of the majority are perfunctory, if tickling comfort notes, like the spinach and cheese dip with tortilla chips ($12). 

That same “plates” section’s seafood cocktail ($15) is a terrific mix of octopus, scallops, squid and avocado, all at the right firmness and brimming with freshness even in its cloak of zingy, low-heat-teasing sauce. It’s served in a functionally appropriate sundae glass that suffers the same aesthetic fate as most clear food vehicles, perhaps the most famously horrific of which is martini mashed potatoes and gravy: looking like a whole mess just a few bites in. This one’s tasty enough to gaze the other way, and it’d be even easier to do so if, again, the lights were lower. The Thursday pasta special ($23) also notably meets or exceeds much of what you’ll find at the many old and new Italian restaurants from here to Red Hook. Skinny spaghetti is made in-house, tossed with a mellow marinara and topped with one large, masterfully cooked, Parm-dusted meatball. 

Ruthie’s printed cocktail menu is limited to whiskey drinks like the smooth and not-too-sweet Toronto ($15), which incorporates Cynar, demerara and sassafras, and the bright smash ($16) with blackberry shrub, mint and lemon. It’s a little restrictive, but, being that it’s still a bar, you can order whatever, like the perfectly fine gin martini ($15). Beer on tap includes brews from nearby Threes and Other Half. Its sensible wine selection lists a couple of chilled reds that pair nicely with burgers. 

Vitals

The Vibe: An everyday kind of place with better-than-routine food; busy on Fridays and Saturdays and a little quieter on weeknights.

The Food: Very good burgers, great fries and seafood cocktails and some truly special specials. 

The Drinks: Cocktails, wine and beer. 

Ruthie’s is located at 241 Smith Street. It’s for dinner Tuesday-Sunday from 5pm-10pm. Brunch begins at 11am Saturday and Sunday. 



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  • Greenpoint
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

For people of a certain age, Cool World is a hazily-recalled movie poster flickering in the space between eagerly entering a theater and drowsily being carried out, set to a sort of aromatic soundtrack of popcorn perfume. It might have been a first exposure to something that wasn’t quite what it seemed—a cartoon—and especially wasn’t for those younger 90s babies—a sexy, noir human-imation, rated PG-13. 

Cool World is also now a restaurant at the intersection of Nassau and Lorimer that opened in July. That its name surfaced the same patina of nostalgia among the people I mentioned it to is apparently an unintended coincidence. Instead, the restaurant is inspired by a couple of Keith McNally brasseries from that same decade, executive chef Quang Nguyen (previously of Wildair and Cosme) told Resy.

That kind of brasserie also has its own patina of nostalgia. Low, honeyed romance light. Stylishly distressed mirrors. Sweeping space or at least the feeling of it thanks to wide windows or high ceilings, even if the actual seats are cramped. The remembrance of cigarette smoke past. 

Abandon those McNallyland expectations. Cool World, whose owners are also behind Dumbo viewstaurant Celestine, Rock Center’s recently previous hotspot du jour, Pebble Bar, and good Grand Army in Boerum Hill, does not hit those aesthetic notes. 

From the outside, its white facade beams opposite McCarren Park as if somebody turned up the contrast on Nighthawks. The inside’s too bright, too, for any restaurant genre, but at least in keeping with a creeping trend. It’s neither small nor large and the tables are a standard distance apart. Everything seems crisp and new and absent any of those classically Balthazarian elements. It wouldn’t have invited the comparison, had the invitation not been made. 

Dinner lands a little closer to Cool World’s stated conceit, if inconsistent across its one page menu. Certain serviceable staples like oysters ($24/half dozen) and steak frites, served here with umeboshi bordelaise and charred cippolinis ($34), would do just fine for a weeknight; easy to factor into semi-routine, as brasseries intended. 

Pastry chef Amanda Perdomo’s "pretzeled" Parker House rolls ($6 for two) are good, capturing the classic flavors and textures of the original, zhuzhed up with the essence of that NYC cart fave, sans the pesky knot. They’re wisely served with a wonderfully airy butter prudently low on the salt that seems to cloak some other items. 

The moules ($22), another expected brasserie staple, are appropriately plump in their shells and fortunately unspoiled by their slightly overly saline—just too much to discourage soaking their perfectly fine frites—broth. That the liquid’s a little shallow might be a feature in this case, letting the gentle bivalves be gentle bivalves, absent the concentrated oceanic wash below.

Excess salt is any confit’s natural predator, key as the mineral is to its preparation, and great care must be taken to keep it obedient. Cool World’s confit lamb shoulder ($32) doesn’t quite control the entry-level but quick-to-overpower seasoning at the expense of the otherwise nicely-textured, technically adept entrée. Its accompanying roasted cauliflower is on the opposite end of the taste spectrum but again, proficiently done with a fresh veggie snap. And the scallion sabayon bookends are clever in concept but quick to deflate from buoyant poufs seemingly intended to cut the rich confit to fallen deposits of near-tang. 

Classification aside, brasserie, bistro or neighborhood boîte these would be less than ideal finishes in any restaurant. But skill and experience are demonstrably present in the kitchen, evidenced by the doneness of a vegetable or the firmness of a mollusk. And, often enough, the most important, or at least most frequent boxes everyday diners want to check are the ease of entry and welcoming hospitality that blot out a lot of other categories and make a place a local go-to. Cool World has those, plus promise. Even if it might not at first be what it seems. 

Vitals:

The Vibe: Bright and daytime-y even in the evening.  

The Food: Good “pretzeled” Parker House rolls, raw bar items, moules frites with a broth salt-lovers might love and confit lamb shoulder even they probably won’t.

The Drinks: Cocktails, wine and beer. 

Time Out Tip: This is the rare new spot where reservations are still easy to come by; perfect for your been-everywhere friends.  

Cool World is located at 905 Lorimer Street. It is open for dinner from Monday-Thursday from 5:30pm-10pm and for brunch and dinner Friday-Saturday from 11:30am-3:30pm and 5:30pm-11pm, respectively. 

  • Carroll Gardens
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Self-billed “neighborhood restaurants” are on the rise and, that category’s increasingly nebulous meaning aside, Gus’s Chop House is among Brooklyn’s latest. The follow-up to five-year-old Popina a short distance away opened in August with press materials further asserting Euro bistro influences and sub-expense account spending. New to the former La Cigogne space, its configuration is more or less the same with a lighter coat of paint, fresh banquettes and other furniture and some new cosmetic accents. 

On the neighborhood note, it’s been—surprise!—a little hard to get a reservation save for shoulder hours, but things have recently eased up a bit and the elevated veranda, three indoor tables and 11 bar seats are set aside for drop-ins. A great local spot will have a good bar, and Gus’s does. It’s a fine place for superb, blessedly textbook Manhattans ($15) and martinis ($16), or/and romantically solo after-work steaks. 

Gus’s has a boeuf duo on its standard menu: a flatiron ($29) and a dry-aged NY strip ($68). A real gem of a tri-tip is only on the Sunday roast menu. The lower-sirloin cut gets the sous vide treatment with herbs and olive oil before a searing turn on the plancha for an uncommonly tender finish nearing incredible. It's sliced and plated with a brothy, appropriately calibrated mushroom gravy. The school night special includes a rich complement of sides like nice fries and Brussels sprouts, terrific creamed spinach and a lovely popover all for $36. 

This and other selections (chicken with its head and feet, fish and lamb for around the same price), give what sometimes feels like the saddest trombone dinner of the week more cheer for a relative value. The spread’s so generous you might want to save other snacks and apps for your next visit when a wonderfully juicy thyme and garlic marinated, binchotan-grilled pork shoulder ($28) is on offer. 

There is one curiosity among the starters. Picture an NYC chophouse shrimp cocktail. I’d bet a hundred dollars I can guess what you imagined. Gus’s poached crustaceans ($21) are served with cocktail sauce, as expected, but on a plate. Turned on their sides in a circle rather than regally perched on the edge of a glass, it’s a little like being handed a bouquet of half-deflated balloons, though the flavor and texture are fine. 

The hash brown with smoked trout roe ($17) is more fun and dynamic. Its crisp, golden block of fried potatoes is topped with crème fraîche and smoked trout roe, bright and bursting. It's a crunchy, creamy, effervescent must. 

In addition to its model, if it ain’t broke, don’t over-mix it cocktails, Gus’s lists a couple dozen bottles of wine priced from $48-$99 alongside more expensive varieties. Glasses are mostly in the teens, presented in a carafe-turned sidecar that looks like a healthy extra splash in the world of four-ounce pours outside these doors. Beer and a few zero-ABV drinks are also available. 

Vitals:

The Vibe: Comfortable and neighborhoody enough with destination appeal.  

The Food: Steaks and chops, a few fish and a head-and-feet-on chicken. The hash brown with smoked trout roe is a standout app. 

The Drinks: Excellent classic cocktails, wine and beer. 

Time Out Tip: Sunday roast is served with copious sides for a relative song: $33-$37, with a $165 prime rib outlier. 

Gus’s Chop House is located at 215 Union Street. It is open Tuesday-Saturday from 5pm-10pm and Sunday from 1pm-8pm. 

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  • Williamsburg
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

If you know anything about Laser Wolf, you know that it is incredibly popular and that nobody can get in. Chef Michael Solomonov’s Philadelphia import opened in May with the aim of “celebrating the flavors and colors of Israeli food,” via a variety of skewers and salatim. Pre-bedtime bookings have seldom been available since. 

The shipudiya’s casually flashy location with fantastic views from The Hoxton hotel’s rooftop level, credible accolades, a fun environment and good food have amounted to buzz that influencer content can’t buy. The hot new destination’s aspiring visitors, in fact, line up to wait for Laser Wolf’s vibrations when online reservation stakeouts fail, which they often do. 

Without a reservation, you might spend more time in the hotel lobby than the restaurant. Down a wide staircase, the queue to the host desk sometimes starts forming before Laser Wolf’s 5pm opening time. About a dozen bar seats set aside for drop-ins fill up quickly as lucky ones disappear behind elevator doors. A recent estimate for two was one hour, which ultimately doubled.

There are worse places to wait than The Hoxton’s large lobby. Its couches and chairs are comfortable enough, there is WiFi and a small bar serving hotel-priced beer, wine and simple cocktails. But, although I’m typically a champion of bar dining, I wouldn’t wait 120+ minutes to sit at Laser Wolf’s again, where the stools are fixed to the floor, lap space can’t comfortably accommodate leg-crossing, and elbow room is a little too narrow to fit the bounty most will order. 

The best way to enjoy Laser Wolf’s long, wide-windowed dining room is at a table. They have the view, and, more importantly, they’re better configured for the feast to come. The occasional booking for two will pop up after about 10pm, and sometimes a little earlier for larger parties. If the choice is between biding your time downstairs and eating late, opt for the latter. 

Order the prix fixe. Choose a skewer, and each $46-$52 option begins with a veritable pinwheel of salatim in 11 silver bowls with a flawless hummus at the center. Its olive oil surface gleams gold and vibrant parsley pops like confetti. Dip its accompanying pita, warm and soft between your fingers, like there’s more to come because there is: this and the whole platter’s riches are unlimited. 

The plentiful presentation personifies Laser Wolf’s warm hospitality, amplified by an accompanying card illustrated with a legend detailing what you’re about to dig into. Babaganoush, gigantes with harissa, Turkish celery root and green beans with matbucha are among the best, and those slower to consider for refills (fresh but perfunctory pickled green tomatoes and Persian cucumbers; cabbage with fennel and schug) are still pretty good. It’s all agreeably seasoned if not overly ambitious or unique in NYC to this restaurant alone. 

That the skewers come one to an order might seem paltry on paper, but, keeping in mind the shared spotlight with the salatim, they're appropriately portioned. Each is fired over an open kitchen’s charcoal grill; charred to enhance without overpowering. The beef and lamb koobideh’s ($48) grind achieves a sensational texture and keeps its meats’ distinct tastes intact. The chicken shishlik ($46) perfects its bird to juicy and tender effect that will persuade poultry dismissives. À la carte starters and mains for two (a dry-aged T-bone for $175; whole branzino for $120) are also available, but add-ons are unnecessary and there are enough additional terrific prix fixe sticks (steak for $48, tuna for $54) to plan your next several visits, which, at this wait of rate, will take several more seasons. 

New York city’s best new ice cream ends the meal. Peerlessly creamy soft serve is topped with a brittle, translucent sesame shell and a pair of cherries served in a petite paper cup that you can even take with you to give the next party a better shot. 

Vitals:

The Vibe: Fun, electric and so buzzy it practically vibrates. 

The Food: Mostly prix fixe with a variety of skewers preceded by a bounty of salatim including sensational hummus and baba ganoush.

The Drinks: Cocktails, wine, beer and arak. 

Time Out Tip: Laser Wolf is still one of the toughest tables in town. Be prepared to wait a couple of hours as a drop-in or eat late with a reservation. 

Laser Wolf is located at 97 Wythe Avenue. It is open Sunday-Wednesday from 5pm to 11pm and Thursday-Saturday from 5pm to 1am. 

  • Midtown West
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Getting to Hidden Leaf, by any other name, would be a little annoying. It does not have a Manhattan address in the sense that addresses on the island mostly follow common-sense formulas with accompanying intersections like, say, 33rd Street and 10th Avenue, which is an easier way to identify Hidden Leaf’s approximate coordinates than “75 Manhattan West Plaza,” its formal designation. Imagine trying that in a taxi. 

This is not the restaurant’s fault. As the big malls more swankily referred to as “developments” keep gobbling up Midtown West, rebranding it this or that, we’re going to end up with more made-up destinations. I recently traveled to this one from another, through no fault of my own, at nearby Hudson Yards, which sent my map app into a minor spiral and created more confusion and wasted time than if the locations had just been normally numbered.

Hidden Leaf is the latest restaurant from successful Brooklyn restaurateur Josh Cohen, whose popular previous ventures include Chez Ma Tante and Lilia. It opened in July, cocooned by a concrete plaza bounded by 9th and 10th Avenues and 31st and 33rd Streets and obscured enough inside the Midnight Theatre performance venue to invite obvious jokes about its apt name. It is joined in the cloistered rectangle by a Whole Foods and a Peloton showroom. The view of both from some of the cozy, intimate booths that line the roomy space is in contrast to its pretty interior. Chef Chai Trivedi’s (Buddakan, Tamarind) menu is influenced by southern China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam to successful effect. 

Beef for two has recently been in the news, as one famed NYC steakhouse lowered the price of its double porterhouse to $99 and, in a charmingly old-fashioned multimedia campaign, ribbed its contemporaries about their own higher prices. Hidden Leaf is not a steakhouse (it’s billed as “a shareable pan-Asian dining adventure”), but it serves a rather good 28-day dry-aged ribeye that is—and this almost never happens—actually big enough to split for $48. It would not be unexpected to see this explicitly advertised elsewhere for double the price. It's nicely buttery and appropriately funky but, crucially, that expected funk walks a line between subtle and truly pungent. It should please both those devoted and indifferent to the form. The broad appeal also speaks a bit to this part of town, and helps establish Hidden Leaf as an easy option for convenience-seekers (near some offices) and tourist-toting locals (near some sights). 

The wok-fried lobster with XO butter, rice noodle salad and wild mushrooms ($54) is also decently-portioned, though easier to finish for one. Its meat has as fresh an aroma and near-sweetness as any, fun to free from its shell like always, and the accompanying fungi are outstanding: plump, substantial and slightly earthy, paired wonderfully here, and even worth a plate of their own. 

Another seafood standout is listed among the starters, grilled halibut cha ca with turmeric and dill on a duo of skewers ($20). It’s light and flaky and laudably moist with a bit of zippy nước chấm. Rustic cumin lamb dumplings ($19) from the dim sum section are heartier with the punchy notes of their titular ingredients and suitable wrapper thickness. Wood ear mushrooms are also well-prepared with enjoyably chewy wok-roasted rice cakes coated in ginger-soy lime ($19) and grouped in the vegetable/tofu category.

“House classic” cocktails are mostly takes on standards. The Thimble Sipper (amchoor, Japanese whisky, bitters) supposedly “lifts the classic old fashioned,” but it turns out a little too sweet with less body and depth of flavor. A “szechuan spicy pineapple margarita” ($18) is fine, if apparently absent its stated fragrant numbing spices. Beer and wine are also available, as is a $7 carafe of sparkling water that’s unlimited, at least. 

It can feel a little unsettling to enter these seemingly prefab pockets, but Hidden Leaf elevates this one, and it’s a good spot to keep in mind for the next time you find yourself in the area. 

Vitals:

The Vibe: Stylish and a little sexy in spite of its concrete mall surroundings. 

The Food: Billed as “a shareable pan-Asian dining adventure” with standout steak and wok-fried lobster with terrific mushrooms. 

The Drinks: Cocktails, wine and beer. 

Time Out Tip: Ignore the address. Approach from around 33rd Street and 10th Avenue and head toward the Midnight Theatre facade: Hidden Leaf is inside upstairs. 

Hidden leaf is located at “75 Manhattan West Plaza.” It is open for lunch Monday-Friday from 11:30am to 3pm and dinner Monday-Saturday from 5pm to 11pm. 

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  • Flatiron

Chef José Andrés is known both for his work as founder of the nonprofit World Central Kitchen, which aims to provide meals amid worldwide crises, and for his hospitality ventures, which presently operate across North America and in the Bahamas. The latter has earned him a United States National Humanities Medal; the former, Beard and Michelin recognition. After returning from near-space last year, billionaire Jeff Bezos bestowed Andrés with the newly created Courage and Civility Award, which comes with a $100 million prize.

Andrés’ Zaytinya first opened in D.C. in 2002, and has two-and-a-half stars (“good/excellent”) in The Washington Post as of 2016. The Turkish, Greek and Lebanese-influenced restaurant’s NYC outpost opened in Manhattan with chef-partner Michael Costa and head chef Jose Ayalathis July. Its location at The Ritz-Carlton, Nomad, would be fine shortly after arriving in the area from out of town, a little fatigued, but still wanting to go “out” before a big day tomorrow. 

Around dinner, the 140-seat space is still bright, maybe not yet calibrated to the newly arriving daylight saving sunsets beyond the big windows outside. Restaurants, in general, are better served to mirror celestial patterns. Things dim a bit a little later, but by then you’re already calibrated for a dining room that seems more lit for brunch than evening feasting. 

These low-point highlights are a little more pronounced at the bar, where, don’t we all want to look twilight-kissed, at most? (Who ever looked beautiful holding a Manhattan in the sunlight? This is not rhetorical; I must know.) The area is pretty, though, curved up toward the high ceiling with shades of blue encased in circles influenced by the evil eye. Most of Zaytinya’s drinks are ok. Its Ankara rye club ($19) is too strong on the vermouth but otherwise fine unless you’re really looking forward to its promise of seemingly absent thyme, cumin and aromatic bitters. The Sidecar to Tangier ($19) is also a serviceable stated mix of the Greek spirit Metaxa, honey, lemon, orange liqueur and a “spice blend,” that all amounts more or less to A Cocktail.

Sadly, it also serves one of the worst cocktails I’ve ever ordered, made or been served. (Including the time I mistakenly shook a daiquiri with old milk instead of lime.) That cocktai is the Just on Thyme ($19) (thyme-infused gin, green Chartreuse, lemon, pistachio orgeat, aquafaba), and it is very bad. 

At the table, and a few days later, I politely described it as dishwater, but more visceral descriptions came, and come to mind. It’s a conversation-starter, at least, raising questions like how soon does aquafaba (typically chickpea water, frequently used as an eggwhite froth replacement) go bad, and could that be the culprit? Best case scenario, Zaytinya keeps the unappetising tipple on the menu, inspires a TikTok challenge and laughs straight to the bank. 

Mediterranean wine selections are the safer bet to pair with mezze, which is divided by spreads, flatbreads, cures and cheese, soup and salad, vegetables, seafood and meat and poultry. Zaytinya recommends three or four plates per person.

The taramosalata ($11) is terrific, bursting with titular teeny-tiny cured carp roe suspended in a blanket of puréed potatoes. It’s vibrant and fun to eat, spread on freshly baked, steaming pita. The Turkish-style pastrama ($11) is also interesting; four transparently thin slices are rich, pungent and exceptionally tender. There’s little else like it in NYC at the moment but the ability to count the addition of (tasty enough) apricots and pine nuts (4 and maybe about ten, respectively) feels a bit stingy for an extra $3. But, if those are pretty good, why the two stars, which in Time Out parlance mean “not good”? A lot of Zaytinya NYC’s hovers around average and, with the above exceptions, seldom zags up to even good’s shallow waters.   

Its hommus ($11) is a clear “it’s fine!,” with a solidly average texture and totally expected proportions of chickpeas, garlic and tahini. Six small, dense falafel balls ($14) also inspire unwelcome comparisons to street favorites, although their accompanying tahini is nicer than most. Four scallops ($21) are admirably prepared to a successful lower doneness than a lot of kitchens, especially in hotels, would shy away from. But aside from crossing the bar low bar of no grit or beards, even their pleasant accompanying chilled corn tzatziki with harissa chili crisp and chives doesn’t do enough to liven up the morsels or make them worth the table space. And the lamb baharat ($16), well that’s fine(!) too, if curiously indistinguishable from “red meat” in general, in spite of lamb’s typical distinctiveness. 

There’s a bit of a home team spirit that comes into play when spending money, and that sentiment is amplified when spending it with a known and respected entity. If it isn’t “good,” or good’s frequent, exaggerated stand-in, “great,” it feels like a defeat. You can’t win ‘em all, but Zaytinya NYC is best left in the visitors’ section. 

Vitals:

The Vibe: Bright and roomy spanning 130 seats with a mostly pale color palette and some vibrant splashes. A hotel restaurant that feels more or less like a hotel restaurant.

The Food:  Turkish, Greek and Lebanese-influenced mezze. The restaurant recommends 3-4 plates per person.

The Drinks: Mostly ok cocktails (avoid the Just on Thyme), wine and beer.

Time Out Tip:  José Andrés’ attractive cocktail bar, Nubeluz, opened on the hotel’s rooftop even more recently. 

Zaytinya is located at 25 West 28th Street. It is open for dinner Monday-Wednesday from 4:30pm to 10:30pm and Thursday-Sunday from 4:30pm-11pm. 

  • Midtown West
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

“Frenchette is impossible,” I texted a friend months after McNally Land alums Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr’s juggernaut opened in Tribeca. “Nothing is impossible,” he texted back. I was right and we ended up someplace else on that occasion, living to visit the talented duo’s polished, popular brasserie and handle its confounding knives (their design appears somewhat counterintuitively upside-down to fingertip-threatening effect) at other times."

Le Rock, the pair’s new, also mostly French effort, opened this July with Walker Stern (Battersby, Dover) as executive chef. The jury’s still out on the insular midtown village’s greater worthiness as a truly local locale, but Le Rock has a more reasonable claim as its marquee than any other legacy or newcomer. (Though it’d be neat if Rainbow Room became a regular restaurant again!) What the expense account spot does right it does very right, and what it does wrong is middling enough to more or less overlook. 

The former Brasserie Ruhlmann space, which I remember being a little too dark and a bit stout in spite of its sprawl, is now lovely—beautifully-lit and airy under high ceilings and Art Deco design elements. As Le Rock, the address has emerged, as if from marble, as what it’s clearly always wanted to be.

A revolving door spins into a glamorous but weirdly small bar area that still somehow takes up a lot of space. It’s anchored by illuminated panels fixed with bottle shelves that wish to reflect vintage dress. It’s pretty, but the configuration feels more like a waiting area, a place to pass through rather than a drinking destination onto itself. There’s room for 30, seemingly evenly split between the boxy bar and a few high-tops. The spendy trio of martinis ($26 with sidecar), including the nicely dry Super Sec with overproof gin and vermouth, and classic Manhattans ($18) are good; this just doesn’t seem to be the place, in spite of its aesthetic appeal, to linger over them separate from dinner arrangements. 

Most of the 130 seats in the larger dining room to the left are tightly stacked, recalling that pre-2020, pre-partition, pack ‘em in agreement Manhattan made some time ago that now, as then, will skew jovial or crowded, depending on your mood. There are also a few, more secluded tables on the periphery that, similarly, track as blessedly-spaced or annexed, also according to temperament. Mine lands on the former, and Le Rock’s best bet for that breathing room is in the back toward the left. 

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Before entrées, the dinner menu’s arranged in shellfish, appetizer and amuse sections, the latter more commonly preceded by “bouche” and signaling a purportedly complimentary (everything costs at the end of the day!) little bite that, here, are more like baby-apps ranging from $6 to $15 with a $45 caviar outlier. That category’s chicken liver mousse ($6) is an adept introduction to the kitchen, smooth and rich under gelée and an excellent spread for the great house baguette (included). Its grilled calamari and shishito brochette is a nosedive better avoided. Five pieces of the grilled squid encase bits of the famously finicky pepper on each $8 skewer. It isn’t bad because it doesn’t taste like anything other than the occasional lick of char or, if you get an active one, naked heat, but most bits are, predictably, untouched by capsaicin. The escargot ($25) is a more vibrant choice, dressed as expected in garlicky green and served in five petite cups under a crouton crown for each that makes flipping them out of their artificial shells easy and elegant. They’re also an ideal vehicle for the rest of the bread. 

Now, this would all amount to a pretty good restaurant so far, truncated bar notwithstanding. But Le Rock’s best plates are high enough above what most of its contemporaries are cooking to catapult it to the realm of very good. 

The agnoletti with corn and chanterelles ($24) sends pillowy pasta into a higher stratosphere of the form: a happy marriage of sturdy and dainty. If this is what pasta can be in NYC, it will be vexing to settle for less. Le Rock’s bison au poivre with terrific French fries ($60) is also imbued with buttery flavor and velvety texture. Both dishes approach that often overreaching cliché, “melts in your mouth” much more accurately than anything it’s ever tried to describe.

Le Rock’s sensational bison is tied with its own menu companion for the best meat I’ve eaten this year. The other is an incredible duck ($48), fragrantly spiced and prepared to that perfect deep pink they’d aim for in “waterfowl: it’s what’s for dinner,” commercials, if those existed. This one, too, is a masterclass of tenderness, deep and dynamic with its own juices and expert seasoning to amplify its natural savory sweetness. 

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I’m a fairly confirmed restaurant dessert denier. Outside of great diners or dedicated shops, they typically disappoint. But pastry chefs Michelle Palazzo and Mariah Neston's excel, including some real showpieces that actually deliver on their appearance. The profiterole’s ($16) a stunner, as is the assortment of sweets (better be at sixty-four freaking dollars), but all night, everybody’s eyes are on the baba cake ($20) with choice of soaking spirit (including classic rum). La Rock makes it one big bundt sliced to order, doused in booze and topped with a generous crown of fantastic whipped cream that all together gets us ever closer to wide acceptance of the word “moist.” Its presentation is rivaled only by its wonderfully finished product; refined and bracing with the exact amount of sweetness and punch for an adult palate. 

Nobody really knows what’s going to happen with Rockefeller Center. A Dimes Square-style destiny seems unlikely. But Le Rock’s mains are better than beloved Frenchette’s and most of its direct competitors. That and surprisingly decent availability at press time might make the micro-neighborhoods new crown jewel the best kept plain-sight secret (though still plenty busy!) across the complex.   

Vitals:

The Vibe: Lovely, loftey and spacious, but crowded and cacophonous, with a small bar up front.

The Food: French-adjacent with nice escargots and chicken liver mousse and excellent pasta, bison and duck. 

The Drinks: House and classic cocktails with a huge variety of natural wines. 

Time Out Tip: Le Rock has a few less crowded tables for two and small groups toward the back. 

Le Rock is located at 45 Rockefeller Plaza. It is open Tuesday-Saturday from 5:30pm to 10pm. 

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  • Midtown West

Blank Street Coffee first rolled into NYC in August of 2020: A mint green caffeine machine with beans on wheels and people to see by way of Williamsburg. In those late early days of the pandemic, when burgeoning hospitality ventures were more celebrated than they were scrutinized, the uh-oh alarms that previously sounded when suspected disruptors came to town were somewhat dampened. Instead, party lines about the company’s commitment to sustainability, local sourcing and that occasionally eco-friendly five-letter word for cash colorfully covering its very first vessel were the conversation’s loudest.  

A little more than two years later, Blank Street has more than 40 footprints, including that original little cart, another mobile purveyor and enough brick-and-mortar shops to evoke chatter in the town square cloud of social media and headlines like “It’s Not Just You — Blank Street Coffee is Suddenly Inescapable” in The New York Times. Blank Street, founded by friends Issam Freiha and Vinay Menda when they “realized they couldn’t afford the best coffee everyday, and the cheaper options weren’t nearly as good (a tough pill to swallow),” now operates more spots than “any locally owned competitor,” according to the paper. 

They are, as intended, fairly uniform; aggressively nondescript BLANK STREET font stamped on glass doors, walls, cups and at least one attempted meme. The affected anonymity is so successful that, on one recent midtown visit, I would have walked by had it not caught my friend’s keener eye. A large orange and white steam-pipe outside added to its ACME aesthetic, like the whole facade was hastily erected by Wile E. Coyote in another hungry effort to capture the Road Runner. 

Inside, there are a few stools at a large, sidewalk-facing picture window and a couple of high top tables opposite an iPad register beside a pastry case, all reminiscent of a Potemkin village for millennials. We were told that the pastries are from Pain D'Avignon (Blank Street also lists King Street Baking Co, on its website). An afternoon almond croissant ($4.25) was fine; flaky and buttery enough at its peak and chewier like ricciarelli at the ends. 

The beans were described as “generic” by a barista, but their final product is distinctive. The medium-roast Brazilian/Nicaraguan “Speed Dial” blend is intended to have notes of milk chocolate, almonds and strawberries. Charred embers of the former two are perceptible only on suggestion under an unpleasantly funky aroma. Speed Dial’s (small, $2.75) most obvious quality is an acid bite in spite of a splash of whole milk. The cold brew’s (small, $4.25) temperature mutes any sharp notes and it’s an acceptable vehicle for artificial energy. 

That the drip is not to my taste is not why I’d avoid Blank Street. Its funkiness powerfully reminds me of what I used to get at an entry-level expensive, yuppie-trendy shop that I formerly frequented because it was convenient. A lot of people liked more about it than I did. A successful cup of coffee is more subjective than a lot of other food and drinks. I enjoy spendy, novelty-priced varieties, coffee cart bodega brews fairly equally. But I can’t recommend Blank Street Coffee in good conscience because it is all taking and no inviting. 

Although a lot of people live in midtown, it is not considered “neighborhoody.” Another location in leafy Brownstone Brooklyn with that esteemed designation even more clearly demonstrates an inhospitable conceit at the company’s top level.

Blank Street’s mere existence raises a question that was answered more than a decade ago: What should a coffee shop in NYC be? If BS had stayed in trailers, its stated must-haves (“1. much smaller locations (without skimping on culture); 2. investing in technology; 3. quality experience for baristas”) [Sic] would be easier to swallow. But a shop needs to have reasonably comfortable seats, WiFi and a bathroom, even as the first two are mere niceties and the last is only legally required in food service businesses with 20 or more seats and dates later than 1977. It all just adds a little dignity to the whole transaction. 

While its address could fairly be expected to swing cozier, this location has every appearance of intentionally uncomfortable design. The aesthetics are immaterial at this point; each BS is more or less neutrally whatever. This one has a couple of seats outside and some fake potted plants with papery green leaves inside. One small local detail cracks through like a rosebush on the side of the highway; the interlocking black and white floor tiles are identical to what’s underfoot in apartment bathrooms all over this part of the borough. 

None of the seats here (less than 20!) are substantial enough to relax into. Like in midtown, the backs of three stools at a counter that looks out on the sidewalk are too low; the one on an eight-foot banquette is more of a tailbone pillow suggestion. Convince me that the round tables here are not engineered for inconvenience. At about 21 inches high, they’re almost knee-level, just short enough to preclude laptop use or elbow leaning or leg crossing or any function other than supporting a drink. The whole arrangement recalls a car dealership or bank lobby. 

The cappuccino (small, $3.75) is inoffensive. At every location, they’re made on identically programmed machines for consistency. I prefer a little more foam but what’s there is nice and velvety enough, if a little less compact than ideal, and it’s all fairly within the proportions of a cappuccino. Like funk-lovers, there are plenty of people who’ll prefer a manually-pulled espresso drink, but the automation seems necessary given all the distracting WiFi and bathroom-related questions the staff must field from a steady stream of guests. The machinery is also fortuitous in the event of technology disturbances like, say, when Square cuts out and payments must pivot from electronic.

In the absence of answers that speak to what a cafe in NYC should be, there is no reason to enter a Blank Street Coffee. If you do, to save a little trouble: The perennial WiFi network “FBI Van” might be in the air, or a 30-minute trial from a large internet service provider (one hopes); customers might be advised to try the facilities at the Starbucks nearby and bring cash, just in case.

Vitals:

The Vibe: Commissary. 

The Food: Pain D'Avignon, King Street Baking Co, and King David Tacos are among Blank Street’s suppliers. 

The Drinks: Café standards. 

Time Out Tip: A limited-run pumpkin spice latte is among Blank Street’s seasonal fall offerings. 

Blank Street Coffee has several locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn. 

  • Lower East Side
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Heat and spice are not necessarily synonymous. 

Overheard at Potluck Club, which the team from Milk & Cream Cereal Bar opened on Chrystie Street in June: “Is this going to be spicy?” It is going to be skillfully seasoned, yes, which does not answer the question, I know. But with few exceptions, Potluck Club’s Cantonese American menu items are not intended to be “hot” in the fiery, peppery sense more typically associated with, say, Sichuan cuisine. So, if you’re wondering out of caution, do not worry. Otherwise, plan to ignite another day or ask for extra jalapeños with your salt and pepper chicken ($25). 

The reimagined plate could fairly be described as deconstructed, topping boneless fried thighs amplified by white pepper and a five-spice blend with the green pickled slices, capsaicin somewhat reduced from the process. The chicken is crispy and juicy, portioned to fit between scallion biscuits and spread with a bit of accompanying chili-plum jam for a little DIY sandwich. The biscuits arrive in pairs, their photo-ready surface enticingly gold with flecks of veggie green, abstractly rectangular in handmade fashion. They look delicious, and their best bites are as light and buttery as they appear, with a few drier, denser tastes in between. 

The braised short ribs with kabocha ($38) rise above as Potluck Club’s imperative dish. Inspired by a preparation by head chef Zhan Chen’s father, they’re wonderfully rich and easily separated from bone, fat rendered to silken effect. They’re recommended with sensory-recalibrating with white rice ($3), fluffy and faultlessly executed.  

A few items are plenty to share between a couple, so come with a crowd to try a little more without the commitment to takeout containers at the end of the night. Potluck Club is exceedingly conducive to larger parties. A row of tables easily reconfigured for groups or those even-more-easily-overheard parties of two leads to the bar under a marquee that reads “HERE FOR A GOOD TIME NOT A LONG TIME,” and curves toward the wider dining room. The whole space is attractive, with murals and high-gloss finishes and flattering lights and splashes of sea and coral shades. It all looks like the place to be. 

There are a dozen items on Potluck Club’s dinner menu at press time, with plenty of details to recommend them. The jellyfish tiger salad is daintily arranged with Chinese celery, cilantro, scallions and showered with sesame seeds. A modest tabletop toss mixes its snappy, refreshing flavors. The tea egg supplement ($3) in the XO fried rice with shrimp and sausage ($19) is among the best I’ve had. And the Spicy eggplant ($16) from veggie section is, as billed, one deliberately hot option. Its slices are fried, coated in doubanjiang-garlic sauce and topped with cilantro and fried shallots. It’s a great nightshade, firm and tender and a little creamy with enough of that stated bite to assert itself without shouting. The shallots are terrific, too, giving the already ideally-textured dish a dynamic crunch. It’s likely suitable for most—perky not tear-springing—and a bit more rice can slake sensitive palates. 

One dessert, a tower of swirled pineapple soft serve ($7) harks back to the team’s first operation and, with the additional sprinkle of pineapple bun crumble, the attention to texture that gives some of Potluck Club’s best bets that status. There’s also a fortune cookie on top, but time flies fast in this fun environment, and you may have already glanced up at the message. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Casual, fun and easy (probably easiest when you make a reservation since it’s pretty popular) with the room and the mood for groups. 

The Food: Cantonese American plates with a “newish take on old classics.”

The Drinks: Beer and wine.

Time Out Tip: Potluck Club is great for large parties, but email events@potluckclubny.com to book for 8 or more. 

Potluck Club is located at 133 Chrystie Street. It is open Thursday-Sunday from 5:30pm-10pm. 

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  • Soho
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Michelin is a 133-year-old French tire company that began publishing guide books to promote road tourism in 1900. It began awarding stars to restaurants a couple of decades later. The stars only began to shine in NYC this millennium, and 65 spots are presently pinned with the anonymously chosen honor, mostly in Manhattan, with 10 in Brooklyn and one in Queens. Many people believe that the restaurants they like are worthy of inclusion, and that the restaurants that they do not like are not. Everyone is correct in every case. 

Oxomoco, in Greenpoint, is a Brooklyn “Mexican, contemporary” entrant, with one star signifying “High quality cooking, worth a stop!”. (Two means “Excellent cooking, with a detour!”; three means “Exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey!”) Its bavette is one of the finest I’ve had in NYC, it served frozen drinks years before an avalanche of similar-echelon destinations started last summer and it's one of Time Out New York’s best restaurants in the city

In March, Oxomoco’s executive chef-owner Justin Bazdarich followed it and Michelin Bib Gourmand recipient (that one’s for “good value restaurants”) Speedy Romeo with Bar Tulix in Soho. Bazdarich partnered with restaurateur John McDonald (Mercer Street Hospitality) to open the coastal Mexican operation in the space vacated by McDonald’s longrunning Burger & Barrel. Bar Tulix’s menu is influenced by Bazdarich’s “years of traveling throughout Mexico,” according to a press release. 

The polished dining room seats 65 across deep green banquettes, booths, tables and floral-patterned chairs, under attractive lighting warm on varying visions of rouge, high-shine tiles and glassy accents. In frequent restaurant-speak, it’s jewel-toned. In further shorthand, Bar Tulix is also already Michelin-noted, one of 25 additions to its radar published in July that precede both the Bibs and the stars in a sort of pre-pre-engaged fashion that indicates that it might have a more realistic chance of ending up among either than unmentioned ventures. The rubber company/recommendation behemoth/constellation maker’s imprint is so deep that even this low-stakes, passing attachment invites musings on its worthiness. 

Bar Tulix is solidly good, and people who want to feel OK about allocating going-out money here (where a lot feels like it’s a few dollars more than it should be, even in the context of recent headlines) will have fonder feelings than those for whom the guide carries super-luxe connotations. 

The cocktail menu illustrates both notions on the nose. Its $29, 24 Karat cocktail is fine. Reached through a representative, Bar Tulix management attributes the price tag to premium ingredients. The extra añejo tequila (a spirit particularly conducive to sipping and aged for at least three years, 36 months in this case) doesn’t make enough of a splash in the chiltepín chile-infused Grand Mariner, turmeric agave syrup (“100% blue Weber agave and hand harvested from fields in Guanajuato”) and lemon blend to justify the cost, nor does its presentation—poured into a glass and garnished with citrus—seem worth the spend. A classic margarita ($18) is much better and merits second and third rounds, its freshness clearly apparent compared to the synthetic mix you might sip elsewhere. An extra dollar to make it spicy, however, doesn’t, really, and seems only to alter the color of the salt rim. 

Baja guacamole comes in “single” ($17) or “double” ($29) servings, and the former is suitable for two. It's attractively assembled with an abundance of queso fresco, a bounty of cilantro, seemingly a whole serrano pepper windowsill harvest and a couple shots of salsa verde, all obscuring the avocado buried beneath. Its a tasty combination, but light enough on the anticipated primary ingredient to zag expectations. It tastes good, but that fickle fruit in its prime at the bottom of the bowl is surprisingly paltry. The accompanying tostadas are great, and plated in a large enough quantity to break apart and last until the end of the dip with a little extra to sample the nice salsa trio's ($12) ascending heat that maxes out at a pleasant, low-simmer. 

The clam toast ($20) is a hit. Manila bivalves simmer in a broth of Monopolio lager, garlic ancho and butter before their excellently textured interiors are extracted and layered over the thick bread’s surface crunch and softer center. It’s well-portioned between two slices.

Skip the three masa-encrusted branzino tacos ($31 for three, hospitably offered to redistribute to four for sharing), which could be any fried fish beneath an adept batter. The cochinita pibil ($34), though outside of Bar Tulix’s stated seafood focus and from a ways away on the protein spectrum, is the better entrée, its rich roast pork imbued with evenly melted fat and perked up with pickled red onions delicious by the fork-full and piled into corn tortillas. There’s also likely enough to share here, and even take home, depending on how you begin. 

Choose wisely and you’ll be rewarded with appetite space for the esquites, another one of the kitchen’s best that tops a generous dish of plump, sweet corn kernels with Cotija and Chihuahua cheese, epazote, scallions and chives. Go ahead and take a chance on that guac, now that you know what to expect, add the terrific toast, too, and you'll have enough of this fantastic side and the great pibil to enjoy today and maybe even fashion into a special little breakfast tomorrow. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Slick, stylish and local-enough in a touristy part of downtown. 

The Food: A coastal-Mexican menu with nice shellfish bites like the clam toast, land hits like cochinita pibil and excellent esquites. 

The Drinks: First rate margaritas and a forgettable $29 tipple. 

Time Out Tip: Bar Tulix recently introduced brunch service on weekends. 

Bar Tulix is located at 25 West Houston Street. It is open Sunday-Wednesday from 5pm-10pm,  Thursday-Saturday from 5pm-11pm, Saturday and Sunday from 11am-3pm for brunch and Friday-Sunday from 3pm-5pm for “afternoon tacos.” 



  • Red Hook
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

If you visited Van Brunt Street in Red Hook once or twice prior to the winter of 2020, it might have seemed like the nautical hamlet’s main street was abundant with places to eat and drink. If you visited 10 times or lived nearby, you’d be well into repeat bar seats and reservations before too long. The apparent plenty was a little deceptive, but almost all of the options were pretty good. The Good Fork, at the base of a brick walkup a few blocks from the water’s edge, was among the best of the bunch. 

Chef Sohui Kim and her husband Ben Schneider opened The Good Fork in 2006 and earned acclaim for Korean-style steak and eggs, chicken and waffles and croque madame at brunch, duck confit, burgers and excellent pork chops at dinner and dumplings whenever, with more overlap here and there. Significant damage during Hurricane Sandy caused the restaurant to close for two months at the end of 2012. 

The next pause would be longer, about two years, due to the pandemic, though a smattering of pop-us bloomed in the interim before a full reopening as The Good Fork Pub last month. Kim and Schneider, who’s fun Korean BBQ restaurant-cum-karaoke bar Insa is a few miles away, also opened one of 2021’s best restaurants, Gage & Tollner, (with St. John Frizell, their hospitality neighbor from Fort Defiance up the block) during the break. 

The Good Fork Pub’s old address is as familiar as its new moniker, with some modifications. Up front, the bar is longer, with fewer tables in the narrow, brick-lined space. It’s a good place to have a drink and achieves the public house intent. The wider, windowed patio dining room farther back is as sunny as ever, should you have hydrated enough the night before to invite the high noon rays to light your face. And the back garden’s capacity has expanded to accommodate more guests outdoors. 

Kim created the menu with head chef Dan Clawson, previously of nearby Pizza Moto. It’s briefer than before but as detailed as ever, with house-cured bacon on the BLT ($19), and an actual veggie burger ($18) in this, the unending era of faux-bloody im-believable this or that. 

Obvious standouts stand out. Kim is a fried fowl champion, with documented hits at the other two operations and previously under this very roof. The fried chicken sandwich with gochujang, mayo and red cabbage on brioche ($18) has an ASMR crunch and a glossy magazine-ad caliber juicy interior that reminds why we thigh. In an area that people love to claim is hard to get to (there is a bus stop one minute away), it’s worth traveling for.

Likewise the wonderful “Korean (by way of Philly) cheesesteak sandwich,” whose only petty crime is explicitly calling it a sandwich, which is implied in the city of brotherly beef but, sure, may be worth spelling out in the borough of deconstructed classics and other culinary surprises. The Good Fork Pub’s contribution to the conversation is a combination of gochujang short rib, American cheese and kimchi mayo on a hero. The understated-to-the-point-of-imperceptible kimchi purportedly present in the mayo is another misdemeanor, but the whole decadent sandwich is still rich and delicious, even in the absence of what could be that welcome element’s more assertive presence. Like a lot of life’s promises, if it hadn’t been mentioned you might not know to miss it. And at least one Philly-by-way-of Brooklyn husband approves of the finished product. 

Yes, The Good Fork Pub’s menu is truncated compared to its previous iteration. The erstwhile accolades that helped make it popular also made it a little tough to grab an impromptu table. The new conceit, including the interior rearrangement, actually makes it easier to pop up to the bar and order fantastic snacks to supplement your beer, wine and cocktails. The soy and beet-pickled seven-minute eggs ($10), with their fresh flavor and creamy center, give a glow to the jarred tavern staple. Their accompanying housemade crisps also polish the potato chip form. 

The bar snack to beat, one that I wish were sold in party quantities so that I could dazzle my friends and best my acquaintances at the next fête, is the kimchi beer cheese with fried wontons ($8). The dip vehicles are an accomplishment: light and crisp while standing up to the spritely, airy blend without shattering until the first bite. It's portioned to share and best to try when you have a little time to spend, as the sensational pair will inspire you to order more from the rest of the menu. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Carefree, comfortable and casual with drinks and snacks that will make you want to stay for dinner.  

The Food: Great bar food like the kimchi beer cheese with fried wontons and larger plates like the “Korean (by way of Philly) cheesesteak” and the fantastic fried chicken sandwich.

The Drinks: Beer, wine and a full bar. 

Time Out Tip: The dining patio’s a little warm on the hottest days.  

The Good Fork Pub is located at 391 Van Brunt Street. It is open Tuesday-Sunday.

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  • East Village
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

If we were attractive, successful but sexily unsatisfied near-youths in a film, dinner would be set at Nudibranch. The new restaurant, which operated as a pop-up for six months prior to opening its 34-seat space in March, is both physically and fantastically in the East Village, the latter in the sense of seeming to have sprung from a sort of idealized notion of downtown cool. The vibes are on. 

It looks a little like a chic, farmhouse library, with a long high-top parallel with the bar near the entrance, a banquette along the far right wall and a row of wood grain-patterned tables in-between. It’s almost equally white and oak-hued across surfaces of exposed brick and shining tiles. Potted plants and a few populated book shelves are poised throughout. It’s electric, but humming, not blaring, surprisingly roomy considering the small space, and, in an infrequent acoustic feat, more or less fine for a low-stakes private conversations. 

Owners Jeff Kim (Atoboy, Eleven Madison Park, Momofuku Ssäm Bar) and Matthew Lee’s (Jua, Jungsik, Momofuku Ko) $75 tasting offers several options across three courses, plus occasional specials and planned seasonal tweaks. A duo of pear wedges from the Union Square Greenmarket is an amuse bouche for the stone fruit’s season, sprinkled with a bit of not particularly additive granola that blasts the bite back to breakfast. 

The first official round’s frog legs are a runaway hit, four juicy handhelds fried to pale golden perfection and topped with beautifully perfumed galangal, ginger, kaffir lime and lemongrass. As simply pleasing as the same category’s littleneck clams are (in spite of their fancy dress in ramp, jangajji, plum and a fingerprint of cab), and against the ever-tempting hamachi, this is the choice to beat. Nudibranch could go fast casual with these amphibious babies, hit Shark Tank and rank in single-digit millions from sports arena, shopping network and licensing sales for quite some time. Nice legs. 

Selections from the mid section are a tick less impressive under this high bar. Shrimp gets a citron kick and it’s paired with more granola. Promising soba is too improved with the addition of marvelous uni ($20 extra). The noodles are studiously prepared with a bright, umami dusting of bottarga, but, instead of veering into gilded lily effect with the two sea delicacies, it all needs the supplement to sing.

Plates ascend again in the last section, which includes a deftly executed grilled steak with Thai basil chimichurri and a buttery finish that’s in a sensation class with that earlier urchin, reaching to top chophouse heights, great aside from forgettable accompanying taro sticks. And stylistically undersold as “mushroom” on the menu, Nudibranch’s are the best I’ve ever had, essential not only to this address, but also to a dining zeitgeist where perfunctory plant based efforts often wilt. An earthy purée at the bowl’s base is crowned with a silken egg yolk that, blessedly, does not recall morning meals. Impeccably prepared fungi varieties like trumpet, hen-of-the-wood and hon shimeji are imbued with flavor and alternately buoyant, crisp, plump texture and an impact that runs over their combined square inches by a mile. It ranks high among NYC’s best new menu items. 

The Vibe: Buzzy and library-cool without the required reading. 

The Food: Many selections across three courses for $75. Order the frog legs, add the uni if you get the soba, and do not leave Nudibranch or NYC without trying the sensational mushrooms. 

The Drinks: Cocktails are $17 each and some pleasing bottles of wine start at $60. Glasses and beer are also available. 

Time Out Tip: Nudibranch will be on break from August 23 through September 7. 

Nudibranch is located at 125 First Avenue. It is open Tuesday-Thursday from 5:30pm to 10pm and Saturday-Sunday from 5:30pm-10:30pm.

  • Carroll Gardens
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

It’s always a good idea to have a backup plan. For sure if you’re dining without a reservation, but even if you’ve booked a table, an international superstar’s party could suddenly occupy half the space or a more typical visitor’s companion could arrive so inordinately late that it has a butterfly effect on the rest of the evening’s shift and even the lives of generations to come.   

Cafe Spaghetti opened on the western edge of Carroll Gardens or the eastern reach of the Columbia Waterfront District, depending on realtor-speak whims, in May. There’s an abundance of other, older Italian restaurants all around the former neighborhood and a few in the latter, including charming, 118-year-old Ferdinando’s Focacceria across Union Street. Cafe Spaghetti is chef Sal Lamboglia’s first independent venture after terms at Bar Primi in the East Village and its related operations. 

Inside, the people are happy. I think that this is because, for the past couple of months, it’s been a tough reservation to get. And, on a recent Friday evening, the quoted pop-in wait time was two hours. The exclusivity has cooled even more recently and tables are a little easier to come by at OK times on weeknights and further into earlier and later hours on weekends. 

“Inside” is a metaphor. The majority of Cafe Spaghetti’s seats are situated in a street shed (25) and on the rear patio (40), with a tidy bar and smattering of two- and a few more-tops in between (about a dozen). The front’s more or less what you’d imagine, though handsomer than many similar setups. It approximates pre-vaccine pandemic, sit-down staging more successfully than a lot of buckle-your-seatbelt arrangements, even in sonorous proximity to the BQE. The long, narrow interior would be a terrible place to detail discrete schemes, but fine if you subscribe to the second half of the popular schoolteacher adage. And the manicured back, where umbrellas bloom like inverted petunias, is perfectly serviceable, save for one corner for four that visitors seem quick to vacate apparently due to air conditioner exhaust from a large unit overhead.   

Are your friends, like…odd? About restaurants, I mean, because everybody’s odd about something. But are they oddly competitive about eating and drinking? Always first to ask if you’ve been here or there yet, or having some contrary opinion just for the sake of having a contrary opinion, or treating heat and its friend spice like a test for good taste? Well, you may order the spaghetti Pomodoro ($18) absent fear of scrutiny at Cafe Spaghetti. It is the titular item, after all, lightly coated in tomato’s rouge embrace with a kiss of Parmigiano and basil. 

Pasta’s the thing to beat here, though secondi like chicken Milanese ($28) and eggplant Parm ($24) are also available. A fleeting lobster linguine special ($32) does right by the storied crustacean, preparing its meat to studious tenderness and coating the tangle of accompanying strands in a purposefully thin sauce that my pal thought had a hot kick and I did not and that’s just a palate for ‘ya. A rightfully permanent orecchiette with salsiccia and broccoli rabe ($21) gives the household staple aplomb, with the greens’ low-simmering, bright bitterness, savory sausage’s bite and little ears’ satisfying slight chew. When it’s easier to come by, this is the one you’ll come back to. 

The detail’s in the details, and the ones that make a place good can go unnoticed in a climate of heightened expectations that hot commodities like this can create. Cafe Spaghetti’s food is quite nice, like a lot of places. It’s also notably welcoming once you’ve gotten through the door, theoretical or otherwise. Have you endured paltry wine pours lately? Me too, with sips that skew closer to tasting rations than at some actual tastings that I’ve been to. Here, wonderfully chilled Tuscan Chianti ($16 a glass) and a mood-making Piedmont rosé ($14) flow comfortably. 

That bit of increasingly rare hospitality in a sub-4-oz pour world goes a long way. It’s an invitation to return, even just for a spell at the brief bar for antipasti like the superior cacio e pepe rice balls or homey meatballs in sugo that skew closer to what tops tables the fondly monikered “red sauce” spots in the area, whether you manage to slip in alone or you’re waiting for a late-arriving friend. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Summer in the city by way of a Brooklyn side street. 

The Food: Italian, including a go-to orecchiette with salsiccia and broccoli rabe, nice specials like lobster linguine and crowd-pleasing meatballs. 

The Drinks: A respectable wine list, plus beer and a few light mixed drinks. 

Time Out Tip: Patches of ground in the back are graveled, but you can probably still navigate them in heels.

Cafe Spaghetti is located at 126 Union Street. It is open Tuesday-Saturday from 5pm to 10pm and Sunday from 5pm to 9pm. 

 

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  • Cobble Hill
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

There isn’t any one single quality that makes a restaurant a “neighborhood place.” The indistinct phrase seems to want to indicate a destination that isn’t too expensive (subjective), where you can reliably get a table (increasingly unlikely in even the most unexpected of places) and you can bring more or less anyone, except for, maybe, your boss’s wife whom you have been tasked to impress in a Bewitched-style madcap caper. 

There’s also a less tangible element, an X factor if you’re a hotshot Hollywood agent or a je ne sais quoi if you’re a moneyed 23-year-old with a pack of airport Gitanes, that makes a place feel neighborhoody or homey or, sometimes even just figuratively, comfortable, and newly opened Nabila’s in Cobble Hill has that, plus some of the other stuff. 

The family-owned Lebanese restaurant opened on Court Street in May. Nabila is Nabila Farah, who was born in Lebanon and runs a catering company in Virginia. She partnered with her son Michael Farah, formerly in finance, to open their Brooklyn venture. Luis Auhet (Eleven Madison Park, Dovetail, Meadowsweet) is Nabila’s chef de cuisine.

Its sweet corner spot is the kind of intersection that a location scout would be lucky to spy early on an assignment and then spend the rest of the day pretending to work. You will, in fact, frequently see those ALL CAPS neon flyers and the film trucks that follow populating the block. The address seems to need to be a restaurant, the opposite of those apparently cursed venues we can all recall, and it was serviceable as Watty & Meg for many years before closing in early 2020. An unloving Time Out writeup about the previous occupant called the greater area’s offerings “famously mediocre,” a truth that comes and goes and seems somewhere in the middle at the moment. Nabila’s is the type of addition that can help recalibrate things back to good. 

“Have you dined with us before?” Nobody asked me that here, but you’ve been asked that before, right? And maybe your friend says, quietly, just to you, something like “I’ve been to a restaurant before,” to imply that the very question is uncalled for. But then there’s some zag and you could have used whatever explanation to begin with.

Nabila’s operates 99% like a standard, sit-down restaurant. You will sit down, for example, especially if it’s closer to opening, before the place crowds up. There are rows of sidewalk seats outside. The large, lofty space inside is bright and highlighted by the sunshine streaming in through tall windows. A few tables are up front, plus specialty pantry provisions for purchase, a register and counter decorated with an abundance of prepared menu items. 

Everything here is made before service and throughout the evening rather than to order, which you’ll do all at once back at the register, including drinks, and pay. This adds the faintest seam to adding rounds, but it’s also a fine excuse to get a bottle because you’re alive and summer can’t last forever. (Glasses start at $12; bottles $42; beer $6.) There is standard table service from there, so it’s only the ordering schema and the batch cooking that could merit a visitors’ quiz. 

Plan most of what you want (a fun challenge for larger groups) before you head up, but save some table space for something good to spy. The harak osbao ($12) is eye-catching, a lovely blanket of green lentils, crispy onions, crunchy bits of pita and plump pomegranate seeds. It is also very good, and likely responsible for many repeat guests. Here, it's light, and each ingredient is performing at its height to achieve a precise blend of flavors and ace texture.

That’s from the “other mezze” section, which is on the menu between dips, small bites, large plates and desserts, with more vegetarian and gluten, dairy and nut-free options than typical. It's a gift to be able to order from each section, and the simple, expert hummus ($7) is great to start, letting those little individual chickpeas swirled beyond recognition into one wonderful sum fulfill their dip destiny unencumbered by more than a bit of lemon and tahina. The small bites are all $2.50 or less so go nuts, but the sfeeha ($2) is a favorite, with concentrated, convincingly garden tomato notes simmering over the more savory beef with a bit of cayenne and green pepper in a pleasant little two-bite shell. 

The mains are substantial and easy to share. The lamb with freekeh ($21) and the chicken hashweh ($17) will, like the harak osbao, probably mint regulars. Everything at Nabila’s is well executed, so the meat is tender and moist and all that—the technical skill here is of an elevated class—which makes the restraint and willingness to season to enhance while otherwise letting the ingredients sing, all the more noticeable. The braised shank breaks apart easily and has a lean richness, and the roast bird recalls fowl’s finest. The former’s slightly puffed accompanying grain’s gentle spring is uncommonly magnetic, inviting taste after taste after you more or less already know what it tastes like. The latter’s basmati is also nicely finished and bolstered by seasoned beef. Additional dip-accompanying pita is offered throughout. 

Relatively inexpensive with a high quality for value, not-too-hard to get a seat at times and inviting, Nabila’s has distinct neighborhood hallmarks worth taking a detour toward. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Bright and lofty; a little more cafe-style up front with a larger dining room in the back. 

The Food: Billed as “Lebanese home cooking” standouts include the harak osbao, lamb with freekeh and the chicken hashweh.

The Drinks: Beer and wine. 

Time Out Tip: Menu items are made prior to opening and throughout the evening, and Nabila’s gets crowded quickly, so visit early if you can. 

Nabila’s is located at 248 Court Street. It is open Wednesday to Sunday from 5:30pm to 10pm. 

 

  • Park Slope
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

New York City has almost as many pizza places as it does assertions, superlatives, clichés and burlesque analogies about the official food of the five boroughs. Each of those slice shops and pie emporiums contribute a little piece to the moveable feast that this international pizza capital is famous for. 

The best ones are beloved for a few foundational similarities. NYC's finest pizza, in its most common, Central Casting form, handles well with a crust that’s neither floppy nor rigid. It is substantial but easy to fold, which is especially important for anyone who is presently or wishes to become mayor. Its sauce stops shy of sweet. Its cheese produces a telegenic pull in instances where pull is expected. And its toppings adhere; none of this sliding around like a Fisher-Price baby’s first hospitality business business. Any place that achieves and exceeds those core tenets is, like roasted garlic, anchovies or bitterly divisive pineapple, extra. Brooklyn DOP, which opened its Park Slope storefront in June, successfully executes the critical basics and brings a bit more to make it a good new addition to the never crowded, always expanding field. 

Brooklyn DOP first began as a pre-vaccine pandemic project. Locals Thomas Gian Ardito and Jason Rocco D’Amelio, who each had formative experience in food service before embarking on careers in fitness and and finance, respectively, demonstrated a knowledge of food science, fixation on detail, love of ingredients and burgeoning brand identity in closeup on Instagram. Back then, pies were acquired via DM or at the occasional pop-up. Now, they’re sold alongside slices in a long, narrow space that looks like a classic NYC pizza parlor outside of the monosyllabic first name genre. Its tomato red facade is emblazoned with mixed and matched typefaces promising Margherita, Sicilian and grandma varieties, plus beer and wine. The register’s up front, oven’s in the back, with exposed brick, vintage-effect photos, a row of counter seats and a couple of half moon two-tops throughout. There’s a dining shed off the sidewalk and a no-bones patio in the back with a few tables under umbrellas and an unvarnished wood banquette that might snag delicate fabrics or exposed skin. Most recently a Luke’s Lobster, Brooklyn DOP seamlessly slides in and feels like it’s been at this address for a long time.

Pizzas displayed behind glass in the brief window between bake and plate are more styled than the ubiquitous standard; each surface more carefully arranged than at an everyday stop and scarf spot. A just-finished grandma slice ($4.50 or $32 for a whole pie) is crackly on the bottom with a dainty, lacy interior crust and harmoniously portioned sauce and mozzarella imperatively amplified by a Parmigiano-Reggiano that gives the thin square its uniquely beckoning bite and flavor dimensions. 

This is, of course, outside of that typical cartoon slice; the piping triangle that almost anyone who’s ever had one would recall when asked to conjure the form. Brooklyn DOP does nice takes on those, too, though they seem slightly smaller than the familiar. Its Giusepp’ ($3.75/$25) is closest to that memory, though notably better–more technically adept with more carefully selected components–than the median. Its Margherita ($4.50/$30) is painted with portions of sauce and cheese and kissed with flecks of fresh basil that prove how important all that focus on apparent minutia is to the big picture. It takes a satisfying slice and sends it careening up to good. And, reconfigured once more to right angles, the Sicilian ($5.50/$35) could obscure a pea from a princess, high and light as it is, topped with pepperoni cups that get pleasantly just a little crispy at the edges. 

The counter service spot would land just as nice as it does even absent its origin story, but food and drink ventures that got going after the industry came to a halt in early 2020 and before it formally started moving to the point it is today are also interesting to consider through rose-colored notions of resilience, hope and perseverance. Any place would have needed all that, and more, plus a little luck to survive and thrive into this present moment. Brooklyn DOP also has one more element that sets it apart from its peers—one that got a lot of us through that same period that lingers still. Alcohol. Pair your pie with a few rounds of beer or wine to inspire your own assertions, superlatives, clichés and burlesque analogies.  

Vitals

The Vibe: Cute and classic NYC pizza parlor style with a whisper of nostalgia. Counter seats and a few two-tops are inside with room for more in two outdoor dining areas.

The Food: Better than standard pizza by the pie and slice.  

The Drinks: Wine and beer on tap and in cans. 

Time Out Tip: Groups of more than a few can fit more comfortably outdoors.

Brooklyn DOP is located at 237 5th Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn. 

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  • Nolita
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Daisuke Nakazawa was already known to many from his appearance in the film Jiro Dreams of Sushi when the restaurant emblazoned with his name opened in the West Village in 2013. It was virtually impossible to get into at first, and after, and, it seemed like it may as well have cost a million dollars at the time. (The 20-ish course omakase is presently $150 per person in the dining room and $180 at the counter, which today is hundreds less than many of its peers’ price points.) When I finally got to visit, it was like temporary entrée into a parallel universe where Spanish mackerel, fatty tuna and eel achieved nature’s ideal form; unlike anything available back in the real world. It was disarming, and still ranks high among eating and drinking experiences I’ve had before or since.

Nakazawa opened Saito with partner Hitoshi "Jin" Fujita (Sushiden, Sushi Nakazawa) and head chef Daniel Tun Win (Inakaya, Prime Grill) this past May. The tidy space seats six at tables near the entrance, with room for a few more at the open kitchen-facing counter a little farther back. A separate, narrow, brick-lined dining room to the left can accommodate about 18. Both areas are lean and crisp in warmly-lit shades of white and gray. It is an exceedingly hospitable operation executed in what appears to be effortless fashion that could be studied as an industry model. It’s also curiously easy to book at the moment, even as less impressive affairs are packed. So do that

Half-a-dozen clear, cold sake varieties are available by the glass ($16-$21), and each pick is satisfying enough to start at the top of the list and sip your way down. There, you’ll reach one unfiltered variety ($16) and a lychee-infused pour ($15). A few small bottles start at $37 and larger ones soar from the $80s to aspirational territory. 

The menu’s easy to configure into snacks, app/main format or a DIY tasting. The sculptural toro tartare with caviar is so beautiful to look at it invites first-bite hesitation; the knowledge that once enjoyment of the thing moves between senses, from sight to touch and taste, it’s all over. 

Try to skip the existential pause and enjoy your $35 worth. Look: you have two halves of an elegantly pressed mochi rice biscuit about the size of the inside of a handshake. Its base is pressed to the edges with silken bluefin tuna. The generous dome of pearlescent fish eggs at the center is knighted with a glimmering fleck of gold. It seems like a sin to smother it all with the shell’s floral-imprinted top half, but the hollow sides join to marvelously envelop the smooth layer of fish and vibrant caviar and, sure, you wouldn’t “know” the flickering glimmer was in there, too, but you know the flickering glimmer is in there, too. Yes, this is a bonkers amount of money to pay for a few bites. It's also a bit of luxury for considerably less than those mid-triple-figure menus elsewhere; a culinary equivalent of the lipstick effect

The crispy rice is also a pleasure. Deep fried, pressed sushi rice is topped with spicy tuna ($20), salmon ($20), ikura ($25) or uni ($32). The latter excellently marries the crispy, lightly chewy base with plump bits of full-bodied urchin that could, to be fair, elevate almost anything.  

Bowls are less practical to share. That can be nice, and they are nice, if not among Saito’s most noteworthy options. The mini chirashi ($20) is a pleasant mix of raw sliced fish like salmon and tuna and exuberant ikura over rice. Even with the fun, bursting red roe, its smaller-than-standard surface area minimizes what's typically a kaleidoscopic effect, and makes it a little too reminiscent of a (still better than than normal) grab and go office lunch. The same category’s Wagyu don ($28) lets Wagyu do what Wagyu wants: pack more inimitable, abundantly buttery flavor and texture into a few slices than many other cuts can do at five times the size. Expensively. It isn’t shaking any notions of the spendy beef, but it will please your Wagyu devotee. The fried section’s juicy, lightly-coated karaage ($16) swings back into practical sharing, and skews closer to essential dish status.  

Saito’s sashimi for two ($40) is a knockout. Selections will vary, and items like bluefin tuna, king salmon, sea bream and amberjack are, as expected, expertly sourced and unquestionably high quality. Three slices of each are served alongside brightly perfumed, wonderfully grainy wasabi. Its consistency is a small, giant, telling detail that pulls the whole place’s essence and apparent intentions into focus, all in the space of a thimble; another keyhole peek at the triumphs Nakazawa and his teams bring to NYC. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Exceedingly inviting in a small, but comfortable space. 

The Food: Excellent sashimi, great crispy rice with uni, a good karaage and a sensational toro tartare with caviar as a splurge. 

The Drinks: Terrific sake by the glass and small or large bottle, plus beer and wine.

Time Out Tip: It’s rare that a highly recommended restaurant such as this has available reservations, so take advantage fast. 

Saito is located at 72 Kenmare Street. It is open Tuesday-Saturday from 5pm-10pm.

 

  • Lower East Side
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Although anything can be romantic—a newsstand in the rain, the bow of the Staten Island Ferry, the Red Hook Ikea parking lot—relatively few restaurants and bars actually are. It takes a lot to conjure real chemistry. In love and hospitality, the right combination of lighting, aesthetic appeal and the yearning for more can make magic. Ye’s Apothecary, which opened in June, has all of the substance, style and intangible qualities that often kindle infatuation. It is New York City’s best new date place. 

The Szechuan tapas spot follows the same team’s well-regarded Blue Willow restaurant, which opened in midtown at the end of 2020. Both are attractive, but Ye’s Apothecary is exceedingly pretty, even dark as it is before the sun sets outside the subterranean space. It has mild speakeasy proclivities (as is law in 2022), situated down a staircase on a relatively quiet (or at least less frenetic) stretch of Orchard Street, and ideally authored menus to turn "getting to know you" into a little more. 

Descend and make a sharp right: a cinematic bar is over your shoulder, set with gleaming emerald tiles and a few seats facing illuminated shelves as studied as a still life. The expanse of the long, jewel-toned venue is to the left, where elegant light fixtures float above banquettes and candlelit, marbled tables. It’s all very intimate, both as a euphemism for manageably tight and as a mood. You will be able to hear surrounding conversations, which all seem to be following the same uneasily promising first date script, but expert design and brilliant atmosphere helps that chit-chat track cute. It’s all very polished but stops shy of feeling overproduced. 

Ye’s Apothecary has as venerable and varied a dinner menu as any more languid destination, but tables here turn over much faster, indicating that those apparent dates went much worse or much better than they appeared. The excellently calibrated options are equally suited to order one or a few, or strain bear hug-sized two-tops with veritable banquets. The potstickers ($15) are wonderful in all scenarios. Goldilocks-density wrappers with swipes of pan-kissed gold encase juicy beef or pork for dual acts of texture in about as many bites. The chili filet-o-fish ($22) is also a stunner. Mild and moist cuts of seafood are coated in a sensational crust with a gently building heat that’s hard to stop returning to. And the Singapore duck fried rice ($24) is a nice, familiar, larger plate. 

The architecturally arranged “thirteen spices” soft shell crab ($26) is serviceable. It's battered too thick to identify the typically unambiguous crustacean at a glance, and it tastes more of fried than anything else, which seems to be emerging as a theme at restaurants citywide. It is still adeptly executed even in the absence of that titular baker’s dozen of flavors. Though not unpleasant, and a better-than-bar-food comfort contender, it’s a little disappointing to bite into what could be almost anything during the starring item’s fleeting season. A pile of Szechuan beef ($16) is also even sweeter and more rigid than expected, landing like a candy apple. It still has some merits as a snack and could be fairly paired with something like a dry martini. Many of the drink menu’s great, detailed cocktails skew a sketch sweeter. 

Beverage selections from the beautiful, boozy jewel box are as lovely as the area suggests. The plum martini ($18) is a vibrant joy, fragrant and blooming with stone fruit notes and bracing strength. The rye-based Lost Hours ($18) is also a kicky tipple, imbued with chile liqueur and star anise bitters. And a dedicated gin and tonic menu (each $18) suffuses the simple classic with interesting bitters, tea elements and herbs. It all creates plenty to talk about on a date, whether you’re destined to simply pass in the night, or one day purchase Swedish furniture together. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Exceedingly pretty, intimate and romantic with a quick pulse; NYC’s best new date destination. 

The Food: Billed as “Szechuan tapas” with a sensational chili filet-o-fish and wonderful beef or pork potstickers, plus a great truffle mushroom salad and a nice larger plate of duck fried rice.  

The Drinks: A wonderfully detailed dedicated gin and tonic menu, fragrant standouts like the plum martini, plus beer and wine. 

Time Out Tip: Reservations are strongly recommended. A high two-top at the far end of the space is particularly intimate if you don’t mind the backless stools. 

Ye’s Apothecary is located at 119 Orchard Street. It is open Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday from 5pm-midnight and Friday-Saturday from 5pm-1am.

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  • Financial District
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Chef Daniel Boulud’s last NYC restaurant opening, Le Pavillon in May of 2021, seemed like a huge deal at the time. It was among the hospitality industry’s splashiest early post-vaccine pandemic premieres—it landed a lovely location in a flashy new midtown skyscraper and elected officials attended a ribbon cutting ceremony for the occasion like it was some kind of midwestern supermarket, rather than the latest on a long list of a celebrity restaurateur’s Manhattan—and worldwide—ventures. The spendy spot’s fanfare was kind of quaint. Then, its mere existence launched a smattering of ‘the way we whatever whenever’ internet word casseroles, and the dining public responded by snapping up La Pavillon’s $125 (now $135) three-course tasting reservations. 

Boulud’s Le Gratin had a more routine introduction to its Financial District address last month. It’s one of those returns to normalcy that people keep wishstablishing: that an excellent restaurant can open without ever severing a single ribbon must mean that New York is back, baby. Again. 

Le Gratin’s sidewalk-level room at The Beekman hotel was previously occupied by Augustine. It feels more like a suite that can accommodate the shy side of 100. Crescent leather booths up front in view of the blushing bar that fit four and feel luxuriously roomy for two, banquettes, and untethered tables all awash in mild amber hues are quick to fill. Slightly fogged mirrors, dainty floral fixtures in handsome dark finishes, more blooms splashed across gleaming tiles that stop short of recalling grandmom’s bathroom and the high-set illuminated Roman numeral clock that divides the space between the front and the back are all familiar from before. 

It's romantic in vaguely precise ways. This is where you’d visit in the midst of a secret, shared with someone unexpected, at what seems like an inopportune time that turns out to be the perfect moment, amplified by nice cocktails like the au soleil (gin, lemon, Grand Marnier, mint, Angostura) and the le début de la faim (rye, Bonal, Campari). This quality comes on stronger a little later in the evening, though the operation is conceivably just as suitable for more festive-than-most business dinners or after-work drink rituals, and, given its location, you’re liable to spy the occasional tourist. But the unifying hallmark here is character. Le Gratin, even while borrowing considerable style from that relatively recently vacated venue, from with a famed chef who could be simply cutting cookies by now, has the hard-to-come-by essence of being a place. Plenty of restaurants get by on that alone, and for years, but Le Gratin’s food is also exceptional. 

“I would have all of that again,” my own, very expected someone said the other night, right after I’d ordered dessert. “Right now.” This, after not-so-secretly wondering if my order design was overly ambitious. 

Le Gratin’s French menu is influenced more specifically by Lyon, Boulud’s hometown. Created with chefs Guillaume Ginther and Jean François Bruel, both of whom previously worked at Daniel, the titular technique appears somewhat sparingly, but brilliantly. The quenelle de brochet au gratin ($32) is essential to Lyon, a staffer says. A cylindrical pike dumpling achieves sensations of airy lightness and buoyant texture to ‘how’d they do that’ magic trick effect. Its preparation is challenging enough (though I’ll spare you a summary of pages 184-190 of my edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking) to champion dining out at all, even before considering the rich Gruyère-mushroom béchamel that fills out the dish. 

Generally, don’t-try-this-at-home recipes are second only to the hope that a purveyor will produce something unlike anything commercially available within a reasonable distance on the list of reasons to go out. Le Gratin’s quenelle isn’t its only example of that promise fulfilled, and it’s joined by similarly outstanding offerings. Escargots are made half a hundred ways around town, and here their expert selection suggests individual, labored inspection. They're lightly fried and plated with an herbaceous spinach coulis and terrific three-bite triangles of pig trotter as smooth as swine can be with a crispy exterior ($24). The appetizer abstractly evokes items from the lowkey food film Defending Your Life. Everything here is so good that you’ll search for reasons to reduce the options. The crabe Marie Rose ($28) is on the lighter side of starters, with plump bits of shellfish, improbably ideal avocado, lettuce and grapefruit, but maybe you had seafood salad for lunch. Likewise, the trout roe that tops deviled eggs ($14-$22), or maybe you’re pacing yourself toward the mains. 

The gratin dauphinois comme marie makes a strong case as Le Gratin’s own essential dish: impeccably executed cheesy potatoes available as a standalone side ($14) or served as a matter of course with the spit-roasted chicken (half $37, whole $70), or as a choice with the pan-seared Dover sole ($85) or the côte de boeuf for two ($180). It’s also wonderful to pair with the sliced duck breast ($39), marvelous at the recommended medium-rare, which comes with its own sparse assortment of spring vegetables like a spritely asparagus stalk, a couple of earthy carrots and a mellow turnip that cuts the duck’s concentrated flavor. 

Do order ambitiously; dinner comes but once a day and evenings this exquisite outside of explicitly fine dining destinations, like Boulud’s Daniel, are even fewer and farther between. But calibrate for executive pastry chef Kristyn Onasch’s comprehensively splendid desserts like the choux et prune à la crème ($15), with chantilly that practically floats, and a near-sweetness you’ll keep going in for as if to seek another kiss. Just maybe save that action for those later hours when La Gratin assumes its more romantic posture. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Effortlessly romantic at dinner hour and beyond, but equally adept as a business or after-work destination. 

The Food: Excellent French fare with a focus on Lyon. The quenelle de brochet au gratin, escargots with pig trotter, gratin dauphinois comme marie and duck breast are highlights among highlights. 

The Drinks: A full bar with some well-crafted cocktails, wines by the glass and sub-$100 bottles and a couple of beer varieties. 

Time Out Tip: The door marked WC leads you through a labyrinth before you reach the bathroom, which is down a flight of stairs, but you’ll pass through a lovely atrium to get there. 

Le Gratin is located at 5 Beekman Street. It is open Tuesday-Thursday from 5pm-10pm and Friday-Saturday from 5pm-10:30pm. 



  • Bedford-Stuyvesant
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended

Last year around this time, shortly after the post-vaccine portion of the pandemic began, so many restaurants, culinary events and fledgling supper clubs were purportedly dinner party-adjacent that it seemed like a trend. Instead, everything became a speakeasy concept, and the whole living room thing turned out to be PR synchronicity. Whether they were unspeakably expensive, logistically convoluted or just totally divorced from that stated intention, few of those purportedly homey destinations landed as anything other than (often pleasant!) places to exchange money for goods and services. 

I went to my first real dinner party in quite a while shortly before those places started opening. I brought wine, the host was charming, I barely knew anyone, the food was good and the evening made it seem like social life could be easy again. Dept of Culture is a closer approximation of that night than any of the places that had promised they would be. 

Longtime hospitality professional Ayo Balogun opened Dept of Culture a short distance from his cafe, The Council, in January. Balogun also began hosting a pop-up dinner series influenced by convivial dining experiences in Nigeria a number of years ago. His latest venture is similarly fashioned, and with 16 spots mostly around one communal table (a few are at the kitchen-facing counter), Balogun serving as each seating’s host (there are two nightly) and a BYOB policy (spiced, tomato-based obe ata appears here and there, should that inform your selection) it delivers on the promise that erstwhile almost-trend foretold. 

Dept of Culture’s four-course tasting menu ($75) takes notes from north-central Nigeria. A staffer switches records between rounds. The menu in the small, comfortable space lined with family photos, changes every couple of weeks but the pepper soup is frequently served and it’s one of the best things I’ve eaten so far this year. Red snapper (or sometimes another seafood variation) is suspended in a vibrant broth with stained glass translucence. Sprigs of cilantro settle under the surface like aquatic flora. Balogun, who details and contextualizes each dish, mentions its heat intensity, but the caution only seems necessary for the most spice averse—it's more bright and fresh and it is fiery. 

The generously-plated wara ati obe might be next, a cumulus cloud of mild raw milk curds in that bolder red sauce. Its juxtaposed flavors are nicely balanced, the wara’s yielding texture lays the groundwork for future cravings and it’s an item seldom seen on NYC restaurant menus. The penultimate course could be the gbegiri, another texturally dynamic preparation with more fish bits, corn and yams combined into a satisfying stew of a conclusion. And dinner typically finishes with dodo, a deep golden plantain under a dollop of vanilla ice cream, after a couple of hours that seem to fly by like at any fun fête. 

Dept of Culture is this genre of intimate dining’s most successful address and the whole operation makes it look effortless. It is, of course, a little harder to win a reservation than it is to get invited to a pal’s place. But you still get to bring your own wine, and odds are the food’s a lot better, too. 

Vitals

The Vibe: Welcoming, intimate dinner party style and charm. 

The Food: A frequently updated, seasonal four-course tasting with menu items influenced by north-central Nigeria.

The Drinks: BYOB.

Time Out Tip: Dept of Culture plans to host visiting chefs in the near future. Details will be posted to its website and social media accounts

Dept of Culture is located at 327 Nostrand Avenue. It has seatings at 6pm and 8:30pm Wednesday-Sunday. 

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