With more than 12,000 restaurants to choose from, where are in-the-know New Yorkers eating right now? From the Upper West Side to Chinatown, Anya von Bremzen picks Manhattan's best
For culinary thrill-seekers and casual chowhounds alike there's never been a better moment to dine out in Manhattan. The Great Restaurant Boom that began a few years ago shows no sign of abating, and these days for every celebrity-driven design showcase, there's a cultish small dining bar presided over by a young culinary alchemist or greenmarket guru; for each bite of o-toro tartare, there's a pizza that ferries you straight to Naples, or dim sum to rival the best in Hong Kong. A secret Japanese grill house?No problem. A quirky laboratory of experimental desserts?Just head downtown. Deciding exactly which table to book can be daunting, but don't worry: T+L has you covered. Let the feeding frenzy begin…
WORTH THE SPLURGE?
At L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon (Four Seasons Hotel New York; 57 E. 57th St.; 212/350-6658; dinner for two $210), the new Manhattan branch of the French chef's ever-expanding galaxy of haute dining bars, you'll bury your spoon into a silken cauliflower purée to unearth bits of lobster gelée and nuggets of sea urchin. You'll taste pristine tuna sashimi and pastry-wrapped langoustine and gasp, perhaps a little too loudly, at the tenderness of the house-cured pastrami embellished with curls of foie gras. True, the concept here isn't new—the same red-and-black color scheme; the same obscenely buttery mashed potatoes you might know from his Atelier in Paris or Tokyo—but Robuchon and Yosuke Suga, his executive chef, have a knack for making the familiar seem fresh. Book a spot at the bar, turn a blind eye to the occasionally bumbling service, and order a host of small dishes from the menu's left side. End with the "sucre" dessert: milk foam and violet custard inside a silvery sugar balloon bejeweled with raspberry gelée—it's the closest you'll ever come to sinking your teeth into a Fabergé egg.
Five years ago Tom Colicchio took a gamble on how much New Yorkers would be willing to pay to clear their plates of all clutter and devise their own dinners from a list of fanatically sourced hyper-seasonal foodstuffs. A lot, as it turned out. And while Craft (43 E. 19th St.; 212/780-0880; dinner for two $150) doesn't seem as radical—or expensive—these days, the bronze-hued room with cherrywood Craftsman tables has aged better than a porterhouse steak. Expect copper pans holding sturgeon fresh out of the Columbia River, roasted pasture-raised baby lamb—and a roster of sides that might include a chanterelle-and-sorrel risotto or dandelion leaves that were probably gathered by vegan priestesses under a full moon. Recently Colicchio opened Craftsteak (85 10th Ave.; 212/400-6699; dinner for two $160), a dimly lit retro-glam offshoot of his Vegas establishment, where a degustation of pedigreed meat will take a bite out of your children's tuition. Worth it?Not if you consider that even at $240 for two, a Wagyu Grade 7 steak is, well, only a slab of animal protein. We'd rather stick with the original.
And what does the $210-per-person tag on the tasting menu buy at Per Se (Time Warner Center, 10 Columbus Circle; 212/823-9335; dinner for two $420, service included)?A learned lecture on salt, illustrated with silver bowls of rare Hawaiian specimens to spike up your foie gras. An attention to detail that even Martha Stewart would find a little obsessive. You'll also be treated to squab, eggs, and butter from the boutiquiest farms in America, housemade chocolates in flavors like orange blossom, and a wine list as rich in well-priced German finds as it is in elite California Cabs. Though to anyone who's done much eating in Europe's avant-garde food temples Thomas Keller's cuisine will seem a bit tame, each morsel is uniformly delicious—be it an haute-farmhouse conceit such as caramelized fennel confit with pickled pluots, or the chef's signature butter-poached lobster-tail "BLT." Mainly, however, there's this: the love and graceful attention lavished upon you by the supernatural staff will do more for your ego than years of therapy.
A feast at Per Se will seem like a steal compared with an omakase menu behind the hinoki-wood counter at Masa (Time Warner Center, 10 Columbus Circle; 212/823-9800; dinner for two $800), Masayoshi Takayama's austere shrine to raw fish. Depending on his mood, Itamae-san might deliver the greatest culinary performance on earth, grumpily hustle you through the meal in an hour, or assign you to one of his minions without granting you so much as a smile (request to be seated in front of the chef when you book). A bowl of tuna-belly tartare frosted with caviar might give way to an exquisite salad that mingles microscopic slivers of truffles, sayori (needlefish), and astronomically expensive cured sea-cucumber roe. After that, you'll watch petals of fish couriered from Tokyo being draped over earthy, slightly warm rice balls—until suddenly the chef announces, "That's it." (Still hungry?Tough luck.) Some swear that Masa's glistening slices of o-toro, sea bream, and scallop are a ticket straight to Nirvana. Others compare their experience to visiting a celebrity plastic surgeon who, after a bit of virtuoso slicing and sculpting, pats you on the back and sends you off to remortgage the house. This might or might not explain why on our last visit, Masa was nearly empty.
The Museum of Modern Art serves as the ultimate backdrop for Modern (9 W. 53rd St.; 212/333-1220; dinner for two $164) from Danny Meyer, the city's most suave and hospitable food impresario. As with all Meyer establishments, the crew is tightly run yet relaxed, and the food—truffled pheasant velouté, hamachi braised in pink-grapefruit juice—creative sans gimmicks. The whole, in fact, would be perfect were it not for the whiff of corporate soullessness that comes with the package. Besides, as crisp as the Bauhaus-inspired room looks at night and as swell as it is to indulge in a $38 lobster salad with a view of MOMA's sculpture garden at lunchtime, there's no way around it: chef Gabriel Kreuther's Alsatian-leaning small-plates menu in the adjacent casual barroom is, well, more fun.
Korean-American chef David Chang learned a thing or two about American heirloom foodstuffs while working at Craft. Seven years ago, he went to Japan on a noodle tour, and then, in 2004, opened a spare, narrow dining bar of his own in the East Village. The rest is history. For all the brand-name chefs and trillion-dollar interiors around, it was Chang's Momofuku (163 First Ave.; 212/475-7899; dinner for two $65) that became Manhattan's zeitgeist restaurant, sparking a craze for bar dining and snagging every award and accolade in the process. There's always a wait for a stool here, but at the end of the wait are feathery Chinese buns filled with rich slabs of barbecued Berkshire pork; kimchee-zapped oysters; and smoky greenmarket specials proving that everything tastes better with bacon. Momofuku's ramen—thin, slurpable noodles served in a broth bolstered with more Berkshire hog and a runny poached egg—is a comfort-food classic destined to become as iconic as the matzo-ball soup at the sorely missed Second Avenue Deli. Chang's new casual offshoot, Momofuku Ssäm Bar (207 Second Ave.; 212/254-3500; dinner for two $70), has the makings of a new mini empire and serves killer late-night menus—go for a tasting of American country hams—after 10:30 p.m.
If any place can challenge Momofuku's supremacy, it's Degustation (239 E. Fifth St.; 212/979-1012; dinner for two $85), a new hit from Jack Lamb, the dapper owner of such dainty East Village boîtes as Jewel Bako. Presiding over the 16-seat counter in the slate-paneled room is 27-year-old wunderkind Wesley Genovart, whose résumé includes stints at La Broche, in Madrid, and Perry St., in New York. These influences come together in tapas-scaled triumphs such as foie gras in caramel water with grapefruit (très Jean-Georges) or tortilla de patatas, the Spanish omelette, deconstructed into tiny spud packets with an unctuous quail-egg surprise inside (muy Ferran). "Why did I just spend a fortune on a fancy dinner for two uptown?" grumbles the Hollywood-producer type on the next stool. Good question.
A semi-clandestine hangout of New York's top pastry chefs and Asian hipsters, Room 4 Dessert (17 Cleveland Place; 212/941-5405; dessert for two $25) is the edgy atelier of pâtissier-provocateur Will Goldfarb, who clearly relishes the role of a wisecracking, blowtorch-wielding patron. Claim a perch at the striped plywood counter, sip Riesling, and watch him put finishing touches on such whimsically outré creations as "red," which brings together beet sorbet, meringue, and hibiscus gelatin. Do ask Goldfarb about his days at El Bulli—or about the miraculous gelling properties of calcium chloride.
CHINA'S NEW DYNASTY
Descend the vertiginous staircase at Buddakan (75 Ninth Ave.; 212/989-6699; dinner for two $110), and tour the surreal grotto of lounges and dining nooks arranged around an oak-swathed central hall as lofty as Chartres Cathedral and as theatrically brooding as a Hollywood vampire flick. Christian Liaigre's design is a hard act to follow, but chef Michael Schulson heroically tackles the challenge of wowing hundreds of diners a night with elegant intimations of China that steer refreshingly clear of sticky-sweet fusion clichés. Dumplings filled with a vividly green edamame purée nestle in a shallow pool of Sauternes broth; aromatic beef tartare is dotted with slippery tapioca pearls. The fiery ginger-infused mao poe tofu is your reward for braving the deafening din and the maddening crush by the entrance.
With a loungy electronica sound track, jazzy cocktails, and Rat Pack nightclub–meets–mah-jongg parlor ambience, Chinatown Brasserie (380 Lafayette St.; 212/533-7000; lunch for two $70) seems like yet another brash faux-Asian canteen for the young and the restless. Then you taste the butterflied barbecued duck and braised "long-life noodles" with lobster—and suddenly you're in Hong Kong. Dim sum is dazzling here: ephemeral wrappers, each distinct from the next, enclosing succulent hand-chopped fillings such as shrimp and snow-pea leaves or seafood spiked with xo sauce. And this might be the only place in New York where ordering egg rolls makes sense. Come for lunch, when it's calm.
THE ITALIAN JOB
Uptown fans of Andrew Carmellini's refined global flavors at Café Boulud followed him south to A Voce (41 Madison Ave.; 212/545-8555; dinner for two $100), where the chef now celebrates his Italian roots in a tall, angular space that recalls a glossy Milanese boardroom. Woody Allen has just ordered spaghetti with speck and ramps. A posse of blondes with shrill laughs—ouch, the acoustics— are all having the sculptural Gorgonzola-and-beet salad. And everyone turns in their swiveling Eames chairs as waiters strut by with copper vessels of steamed bass and shrimp balls in a basil broth that fill the air with the perfume of Liguria. The duck polpetti slicked with cherry mostarda is a kind of dish your Modenese nonna would have prepared—if she had apprenticed with Daniel Boulud.
Squeezed into a white-on-white Clinton Street storefront, Falai (68 Clinton St.; 212/253-1960; dinner for two $90) is a Euro-chic neighborhood trattoria that just happens to harbor such adventurous notions as octopus with candied-celery garnish, or potato-and-sausage ravioli chased by a shot of apple consommé. The place is the uniquely personal vision of Iacopo Falai, once a pastry chef at Le Cirque, who can comfort with ricotta-and-spinach gnudi so light they practically levitate, or challenge with a brainy deconstructed tiramisu. As for the restaurant's quirky haute-homey vibe—the busboy who ceremoniously pours tap water into your glass of San Pellegrino, the sommelier who can't decide whether to smile or smirk—somehow it's all part of the charm. And did we mention the awesome raspberry jam bomboloni at Falai Pannetteria just down the street?
Even the most fervent Mario fans eventually OD on minted–lamb sausage ravioli at Babbo and crave a break from the boisterous bonhomie of Lupa, that most lovable of osterias. And so, they head to Del Posto (85 10th Ave.; 212/497-8090; dinner for two $140), the latest Batali-Bastianich venture, which reaches for old-world European grandeur—Amarones in mammoth decanters; $90 veal chop for two; a tinkling piano—but catapults you instead to a hotel lobby in Omaha. Why go?Because the pastas are wonderful—the chile-flecked linguine laced with sweet crab, the coarse-textured burnt-faro gnocchi—and the blood-orange jellies and fennel-scented biscotti from the Rolls Royce of cookie carts inspire a happy stupor.
TASTE OF ADVENTURE
Ready for your taste buds to be tickled and tackled, bewildered and charmed?Order a degustation menu at WD~50 (50 Clinton St.; 212/477-2900; dinner for two $105), Wylie Dufresne's stylish laboratory of experimental cuisine. The guy who made Clinton Street cool, Dufresne is the Ezra Pound of American cooking, and while much of this country's avant-garde food still seems to come out of a school chemistry kit, he achieves edgy brilliance with combinations like lamb chops in banana consommé with dehydrated olives, or a cassoulet reimagined with pine nuts and smoked octopus. Dufresne's dad, Dewey, lends a warm familial presence—ask him to recommend an aged sake or an unfiltered Rhône red—and international celebrity chef sightings (yes, that was French pastry prince Pierre Hermé in the booth) are virtually guaranteed.
The unstoppably creative young chef Shea Gallante spends much of his time serving simple poached squab to wine barons who decant a 1934 Romanée Conti from the legendary 110,000-bottle cellar at Cru (24 Fifth Ave.; 212/529-1700; dinner for two $150). When you go, though, order the chef's seasonal tasting menu and let Gallante break loose. He might dazzle you with swordfish poached in chorizo oil; improbably plush poussin slices in a pumpernickel broth flavored with brown sugar and caraway; or an ethereal mustard-tinged crème fraîche quenelle framed by vacuum-poached blueberries with a crunchy accent of croutons and pork-belly lardons. Then again, if your fancy Barolo calls for sweet-potato gnocchi in a seven-hour wild-boar ragù, Gallante is as fluent in modern Italian as any toque in America. Cru may well be our favorite restaurant in New York.
These days, Manhattan is a samurai battlefield of hyped-up, supersize Japanese feeding halls. The cavernous En Japanese Brasserie lures with esoteric miso pastes and freshly handcrafted tofu. At Megu, a Buddha ice sculpture sets the scene for $25 edamame and celestial foie gras chawan mushi from a menu as vast and challenging as Shinjuku Station at rush hour. No stranger to combat, Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto is outslicing them all at Morimoto (88 10th Ave.; 212/989-8883; dinner for two $140), where architect Tadao Ando's reverie of white canvas, concrete, and shimmering bottles softens the dinnertime pandemonium with a touch of Zen grace. The kitchen—almost—keeps up with the crowd; for the best experience skip the showy toro tartare and tuna pizza in favor of lamb carpaccio seasoned with ginger and shiso buds; crisp panko-crusted fried bread with an ooze of curried beef inside; and the clean, purist chicken-ramen soup. Do: splurge on a piece of o-toro sashimi. Don't: be alarmed if your date takes an eternity to reemerge from the bathroom—those robotic Japanese toilets are a sight to behold.
A paradigm shift?Book at the stylish Midtown gem Aburiya Kinnosuke (213 E. 45th St.; 212/867-5454; dinner for two $65) and feel as if you've scored a password to a secret grill house in a back alley in Tokyo. Doting Japanese couples and execs sans jacket-and-tie squeeze into green tea–hued banquettes to devour stir-fried eggs laced with Asian pickles and salmon cooked over fragrant houba leaves on tableside shichirin grills. The crew's English is minimal, but the peppered robata-grilled Kurobuta pork slices with yuzu paste and the addictive tsukune (dainty chicken meatloaf grilled on a paddle) aren't lost in translation. We also love Le Miu (107 Ave. A; 212/473-3100; dinner for two $75), an unassuming East Village storefront where alumni of Nobu, Bond Street, and Megu serve sparkling sushi and creative omakase tastings for half the Midtown price.
Upstairs at Bouley (130 W. Broadway; 212/219-1011; dinner for two $90) feels like postmillennial Tokyo filtered through Paris by way of Barcelona—all in a space no bigger than your kitchen at home. Those who find the cuisine at David Bouley's flagship (across the street) too aloof and high-minded will delight in the cheeky cross-cultural riffs being served from the open kitchen at this casual offshoot: tremulous tofu in truffled dashi (fish broth); an ingenious salad of smoked duck, eggplant, and bitter microgreens; the sweetest of crab and asparagus in a lemony cloak of emerald-green parsley sauce. From the sushi counter expect meticulous Japanese flair; desserts deliver Gallic voluptuousness. Prices seem amazingly reasonable until, giddy from the sheer deliciousness of it all, you start ordering every single dish on the menu.
Other chefs employ full-time science labs to achieve moments of alchemy that Jean-Georges Vongerichten can conjure with a flick of a whisk in his minimalist juxtapositions of simple ingredients. At Perry St. (176 Perry St.; 212/352-1900; dinner for two $140)—below his apartment in that glossy Richard Meier tower overlooking the Hudson—he explores the buttery textures of avocado and oyster mushrooms in a startling carpaccio; poises a gorgeous hunk of halibut on a soft pea raviolo and bathes it in mint-infused lather; turns roast chicken into a thrill ride with a touch of smoked broth and piercingly citrussy Meyer-lemon gnocchi. Over mint-and-chocolate soufflé you can ponder the following: Is Richard Meier's militantly Modernist space calming or clinical?Does the staff's friendliness excuse the strange lapses in service?And how can Jean-Georges preside over a global restaurant empire and still dazzle back home with simple red-snapper sashimi?
New Yorkers who've been moaning forever that there are no truly authentic tapas in their town cried Ole! when Tía Pol (205 10th Ave.; 212/675-8805; dinner for two $85) opened two years ago in the western reaches of Chelsea. Now they pack tighter than anchovies into the scruffy-chic room that seems to have been airlifted from Barcelona's Raval Quarter. Inhale the pungent aromas of pimentón and fried garlic. Gulp Manzanilla like Iberian pros over plates of daring chorizo-and-chocolate canapés, folksy blue-cheese croquetas, and the best adobo-marinated fried fish this side of Cádiz. Pray that today's special is the 12-hour roasted suckling pig—but arrive at sixish to avoid the stampede.
You won't have an easier time scoring a creamy faux-leather seat at Boqueria (53 W. 19th St.; 212/255-4160; dinner for two $90), a designer homage to Spain's greatest food market, with handsome tiled walls, tempting cheeses arrayed at the bar, and soft amber lighting that makes everyone look as if they've just returned from Ibiza. Chef Seamus Mullen grew up on an organic farm in Vermont and apprenticed with top Spanish toques. With a perfect sense of direction, he navigates you from tapas (bacon-wrapped dates with Cabrales are habit-forming) to media raciones (medium portions of, say, wild-boar terrine with candied almonds) to hearty shareable dishes such as black rice studded with rabbit and cuttlefish. Estupendo.
1. Pizza at Una Pizza Napoletana (349 E. 12th St.; 212/477-9950; individual pizzas from $18.95). The choicest ingredients—naturally leavened dough, Sicilian sea salt—and just four types of pies prove that less is indeed molto.
2. Doughnuts at Doughnut Plant (379 Grand St.; 212/505-3700; $2). These are doughnuts for aesthetes: big, moist yeast-raised beauties with natural glazes—grape-fruit, apricot—that actually taste of fruit.
3 Omusubi at Oms/b (156 E. 45th St.; 212/922-9788; from $1.50 each). Don't call them poor man's sushi. These fancifully wrapped, hand-shaped Japanese rice balls—try the smoked eel or spicy tuna filling—may inspire a craze of their own.
4. Cuban sandwich at Margon (136 W. 46th St.; 212/354-5013; lunch for two $9.50). Gooey and great, with a sharp sliver of pickle, loads of lechon, salami, and ham on mojo-splashed bread—what pressed sandwiches tasted like before the panino craze.
5. Masala dosa at Saravanaas (81 Lexington Ave.; 212/679-0204; $7). The quest for the laciest, most crisp-edged lentil-and-rice crêpe folded around spiced potatoes ends here, at Manhattan's most authentic South Indian restaurant.
6. Pulled pork at R.U.B. (208 W. 23rd St.; 212/524-4300; lunch for two $14.95, including sides). Berkshire hog is slow-smoked and spoon-tender, and the burnt ends—the fatty part of the brisket—are pretty good, too. The deep-fried Oreos are impossible to resist.
7. Pho at Pho Grand (277 Grand St.; 212/ 965-5366; lunch for two $8.50). The city's most delectable Vietnamese rice noodles, in a fragrant broth with beef. Garnish at whim.
8. Lobster Roll at Pearl Oyster Bar (18 Cornelia St.; 212/691-8211; dinner for two $40). At this West Village evocation of a New England clam shack, the pearlescent crustacean nuggets piled generously into a toasted hot dog bun will have you dreaming of a summer in Maine.
9. Pretzel croissant at the City Bakery (3 W. 18th St.; 212/366-1414; $3 each). Flaky croissant pastry meets the pretzel's savory smack. An object of great veneration among food-minded New Yorkers and just one of the many reasons to love City Bakery.
10. Gelato at Laboratorio del Gelato (95 Orchard St.; 212/343-9922; from $3.25). Don't let winter's chill stand between you and the Big Apple's smoothest, most wildly flavorful ice creams, from pomegranate to chestnut-honey.
Shaggy-haired hipsters roll out of bed and sleepwalk straight to Clinton St. Baking Co. & Restaurant (4 Clinton St.; 646/602-6263; breakfast for two $25), where the fluffy buttermilk biscuits and maple butter–slathered blueberry pancakes make you think you're still dreaming. Weekend waits can ruin the reverie, but on workdays the coast should be clear.
Morning light makes the burgundy banquettes and smoky mirrors at Balthazar (80 Spring St.; 212/965-1785; breakfast for two $36) look soft and romantic, and its almond croissants and apple galettes are the flakiest this side of the Seine. Over eggs en cocotte or plush brioche French toast, plot an attack on SoHo boutiques nearby—then return for a dozen oysters at lunch.
British-born Annie Wayte, one of New York's great unsung chefs, creates soulful soups and beautiful greenmarket salads at 202 (75 Ninth Ave.; 646/638-1173; breakfast for two $24), the whimsically rusticated café inside Nicole Farhi's Chelsea Market boutique. We love her full English breakfast—sausage, bacon, poached egg, roasted cherry tomatoes—served in portions dainty enough for you to still squeeze into that size-6 skirt from the boutique's racks.
The sybaritic Café Sabarsky (Neue Gallerie; 1048 Fifth Ave.; 212/288-0665; breakfast for two $25) is the place to fortify yourself with kugelhopf (raisin-studded yeast cake), dense Viennese bread with rosy slices of Bavarian ham, and frothy mélange (Austrian cappuccino).
Formal at lunchtime and romantic by night, the wood-paneled room at Le Bernardin (155 W. 51st St.; 212/489-1515; dinner for two $150) is as elegant as ever, with Eric Ripert's barely cooked haute seafood riffs—tartares, ceviches, carpaccios—tasting more vibrant and fresh with each bite.
The power lunch at Grill Room at the Four Seasons (99 E. 52nd St.; 212/754-9494; lunch for two $158) is still the one by which all others in the country are measured. Go for Philip Johnson's majestic Modernism, the decent roast duck, and more kingpins and bigwigs per square inch than you'll see in Davos.
Well into its third decade, the Odeon (145 W. Broadway; 212/233-0507; dinner for two $75) remains timelessly and effortlessly cool—with its much imitated Formica tables, vinyl banquettes, and easy-eating brasserie menu. Drop by for a late-night frisée aux lardons and a martini—or three.
Danny Meyer fans are evenly split between Union Square Cafe loyalists and the supporters of Gramercy Tavern (42 E. 20th St.; 212/477-0777; dinner for two $75). The latter swear by the creative cocktails, the succulent seafood stew, and the seductive aromas of grilling that waft from the open kitchen. The no-reservations front room is our favorite way to go, but get there early to snag a table.
A sommelier is on hand to explain the single-origin varietals, guide you through a 50-minute, 10-chocolate tasting—or recommend a dark rum- or brandy-spiked "choctail" at this outpost of the mythical French chocolatier, Michel Cluizel (888 Broadway; 212/477-7335), tucked into ABC Carpet & Home.
The hot chocolate from New York's own cocoa king, Jacques Torres Chocolate (350 Hudson St.; 212/414-2462) is rich and intense enough to qualify as an alternative energy source. Visit the West Village shop and dare to resist taking home a box (or two) of silky champagne truffles.
Kee Ling Tong's exquisitely crafted, globally accented confections—flavored with yuzu, balsamic vinegar, smoked salt—are handmade fresh each morning at Kee's Chocolates (80 Thompson St.; 212/334-3284) and sell out faster than you can say "lemongrass-mint ganache."
No fuss, no swagger, no reservation traumas…is Hearth (403 E. 12th St.; 646/602-1300; dinner for two $110) too good to be true?Not once you taste the suave, ingredient-focused Mediterranean cooking from Craft-trained Marco Canora. Grab the terrific potato gnocchi and anything with sardines, duck, or lamb in this brick-walled space that hums with an unpretentious neighborhood vibe. The opinionated wine list is presented by grape-savvy waiters who will obligingly pour you a free taste of that voluptuous 1990 Vouvray.
Greenmarket meets Grüner Veltliner at Wallsé (344 W. 11th St.; 212/352-2300; dinner for two $110), Kurt Gutenbrunner's Austrian hideaway decorated with paintings from Julian Schnabel's private collection. Try the chef's creative seasonal spins on the gemütlich fare of his homeland—grilled venison with caramelized turnips and fragrant elderberry sauce; satiny chestnut soup under a cloud of frothed milk—or go traditionally Viennese with an echt schnitzel or kavalierspitz (boiled beef), followed by the city's flakiest apple strudel.
The Spotted Pig (314 W. 11th St.; 212/620-0393; lunch for two $55), the hellishly hip gastropub that won a Michelin star for its earthy British-Italian cooking, is the Jekyll-and-Hyde of restaurants. At night, you'll endure sadistic waits, cramped seating, and indifferent servers who ignore your pleas for "devils on horseback" (a.k.a. bacon-wrapped prunes) and pot-roasted rabbit. Lunch, however, is absolute bliss—from the cozy warmth of the porcine-themed tavern to the high-octane smoked-haddock chowder, the epic Cuban sandwich, and gnudi that taste like ricotta dumplings from heaven. Order another pint of frothy-smooth Old Speckled Hen and—discreetly—study your neighbor's tattoos.
UPPER WEST SIDE
In a zip code that is better known for its quesadillas and oversauced pastas, Bill Telepan romances local farmers with refreshingly earnest flavors at Telepan (72 West 69 St.; 212/580-4300; dinner for two $105). A zeal for artisanal products shines through dishes like plump pierogi filled with beet greens and ricotta and roasted king salmon that makes you excited about the red fish all over again. The puffy cheddar gougères make up for the rather uncharming moss-hued room.
UPPER EAST SIDE
Fussy East Siders, who treat restaurants as an extension of their own dining rooms, flock to Sfoglia (1402 Lexington Ave.; 212/831-1402; dinner for two $90) for compulsively edible neo-rustic piatti. Saucy clams are flavored with dusky salami; gnocchi are dressed with chicken liver and hazelnuts. The sweet-savory pairings—risotto with prunes and crushed amaretti—are inspired by Renaissance recipes. Dinner reservations too challenging?Drop by at midday after a stroll through the Met.
Among the bumper crop of new openings, these are generating the loudest buzz. Long in the making, Morandi (15 Charles St.; no phone; dinner for two $100) is a collaboration between Keith McNally, the hipster brasserie baron behind Balthazar and Pastis, and Jody Williams, a self-taught chef who enthralled New Yorkers at Gusto in the West Village. Expect a perfect marriage of style and sustenance, and endless lines at the door.
Tables will be equally at a premium at the 45-seat Gordon Ramsay at the London (London NYC Hotel; 151 W. 54th St.; 212/468-8888; dinner for two $230), the stateside debut of the Michelin-starred enfant terrible of British gastronomy. (Our prediction: The small plates served in the the casual lounge section will steal the thunder from the main dining room.)
Another London act premiering at a New York hotel is Park Chinois (Gramercy Park Hotel; 2 Lexington Ave.; 212/920-3300), from Alan Yau of Hakkasan and Yauatcha fame. The crowd-pleasing haute-Chinese menu and stunning design should guarantee a packed house every night.
Further on the horizon, we are excited about the early-spring opening of BLT Market (Ritz-Carlton New York; 50 Central Park South; 212/308-9100), an airy and urbane spot dedicated to market cuisine from the gifted Laurent Tourondel of BLT Steak and BLT Fish fame.