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.