Douglas Rogers, The Daily Telegraph, March 13, 2014
Few cities offer as impressive a range of restaurants as New York. With so many venues to choose from, determining which are the best of the best can be tricky. The selection below can be relied upon for exceptional cuisine, good service and an experience to remember.
Eleven Madison Park, Flatiron
The finest dining experience in New York, bar none. Swiss culinary genius Daniel Humm’s soaring space above Madison Square Park is grand enough: skyscraper ceilings, towering tree arrangements, sky-box dining suites. But the endlessly reinvented food is what you come for. The diagram menu that made the space famous has been replaced with a tasting menu dedicated to all local New York farm and sea ingredients: oysters, scallops, lobster, duck, and aged beef. The foie gras terrine with plum and bitter almond is a delight, and the sturgeon presented as take on a New York City bagel is mesmerising. Call months in advance to get a table.
The Lambs Club, Midtown
Set just off the lobby of the glamorous Chatwal Hotel, Geoffrey Zakarian’s luxurious new bar and grill is a tribute to the Lambs – the celebrated theatrical group which used to convene at this landmark, six-story Georgian building in the early 20th century. In the footsteps of Fred Astaire, WC Fields and John Barrymore, guests now dine at plush red leather banquettes under art deco lamps on seasonal interpretations of clubby classics such as Cobb salads, oysters on the half shell, and dry aged Delmonico steak. An equally swanky upstairs bar overlooking 44th Street features cocktails by master mixologist Sasha Petraske. Get a banquette in the centre - good for people watching.
The Restaurant at the Mark, Upper East Side
The latest from master French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten located in the fabulously restored Mark Hotel is the ultimate blue chip Manhattan experience: fine dining mixed with high-grade people-watching. At lunch, Upper East Side heiresses with dogs in their purses pick at salads, oysters and foie gras while their town cars idle outside; at dinner, Wall Street tycoons and Madison Avenue millionaires come for perfectly balanced Vongerichten specialities such as a tuna tartare and grilled black sea bass with fennel. The scene in the adjacent pink-lit bar area could have been choreographed by Vogue; take one of the cowhide chairs, sample a signature kumquat mojito, and check out the supermodels.
The 21 Club, Midtown
Opened in 1922 as a Greenwich Village gin mill before moving to its current Midtown location in 1929, at the height of prohibition, “21”, as it is affectionately known, is the last of the original speakeasies. Don’t let the “Club” in its name put you off. It’s open to all – although there’s always a uniformed doorman on duty, you can’t get in with jeans or trainers, and they only recently allowed men to dine without ties. In recent years, the chef, John Greeley, has attracted a foodie crowd with modish dishes such as crispy smoked pork belly, and a fancy new cocktail menu. Try the Southside, made with Tanqueray gin and muddled mint.
Torrisi Italian Specialities, Nolita
This cosy, 18-seat, brick-walled Nolita hideaway resembles a rustic-chic Italian kitchen. It offers a superb nine-course, fixed-price dinner menu consisting of homey Italian classics with modern twists. The menu changes regularly but recent delights included a squash tortellini in brodo pasta, and a seafood-inflected Bolognese di Mare. Try the rich, tangy Jamaican Oxtail main course. They open Saturdays and Sundays for lunch, which is a seven-course tasting menu. Sister restaurant Parm (parmnyc.com) right next door does the best gourmet sandwiches in town: try the eggplant Parmesan or the potato, egg and provolone on a roll.
Rao's, East Harlem
Possibly the most exclusive restaurant in America, Rao ’s is a century-old, basement, hole in the wall in a seedy part of East Harlem owned by Frankie Pellegrino: opera singer, Sopranos actor, and descendent of Charles Rao, who opened Rao's in 1896. Only open Monday to Friday, the restaurant's dozen tables and booths are "owned" by the customers, and you can only eat here at their invitation. You can, however, come in unannounced, sip a martini at the bar, and watch Yankee stars, politicians, celebrities, admirals and mob bosses dine together on exquisite old-country Italian fare (there's no set menu) while wise guys stand guard outside. It's one of the few places on earth where you can put a Tony Bennett CD on the jukebox – and watch the great man eat. The secret to getting a table: stay at the bar long enough and, if he likes you, Frankie may just offer you one.
In the heart of SoHo, this timeless French/American bistro from British-born restaurateur Keith McNally is a modern classic. Enter through the curtained doorway and you find yourself in a hallowed, gold-lit space of high ceilings, mirrored walls and tiled floors. Diners tuck into oysters and steak frites at cosy wood tables or red-leather booths in the main dining area, while designer-clad women and suited men wait their turn sipping cocktails and champagne at the elegant marble counter to the right. The raw bar is superb, as is the wine list, and don’t be surprised to bump into Uma Thurman or Gwyneth Paltrow checking their make up in the bathroom. They do a great breakfast, and have a bakery, too. Book well in advance.
The Four Seasons Restaurant, Midtown
The New York power lunch doesn't get any more potent than this. Not to be confused with any restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel, this stunning Midtown restaurant designed by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, has two main dining areas - the Grill Room and the Pool Room. The former is a clubby, walnut-panelled space, the latter more light and spacious, named for the marble pond around which tables are set under a canopy of trees. Look around in either room and you’ll see New York’s media, political and financial elite cutting deals over their white truffle risotto and poached halibut. The crisp farmhouse duck for two, served in the Pool Room, is a winner.
La Dolce Vita is transplanted to Manhattan at this Milanese eatery in the modernist 1951 Lever House building that once housed the power-lunch hotspot of that name. The sumptuous interior – red carpets, curved wood counters, Warhol originals on the walls - is the theatrical prelude to a menu of Italian classics and Japanese-inspired fish and sushi. Dishes to look out for include the octopus cavatelli, a seared European sea bass, and the Long Island duck with pears soaked in red wine. If you’re feeling really decadent, ask for the truffle menu. In summer, the rich and beautiful recline on couches on the al fresco terrace sipping prosecco and signature cocktails from house mixologist Cristina Bini. Fellini would approve.
Per Se, Columbus Circle
Master chef Thomas Keller’s Per Se is the urban interpretation of his world-famous French Laundry restaurant in Napa Valley, California. It's a hushed, earth-toned, glass-walled space on the restaurant concourse of the Time Warner Center, with stunning views of Central Park. Diners choose from one of two nine-course tasting menus – the Chef’s Menu or the Tasting of Vegetables. All ingredients are locally sourced or foraged, and while the menus change all the time, typical dishes include: oysters and pearls (pearls being white sturgeon caviar); Hudson Valley moulard duck foie gras; and risotto with Castelmagno cheese and shaved white truffles. While you’re there, ask for a tour of the state-of-the-art, $30 million kitchen. There are also five- and seven-course tasting menu options at lunch, and a first-come-first-serve à la carte menu in the smaller Salon section of the restaurant.
Jean-Georges, Columbus Circle
On the ground floor of the Trump International Hotel at Columbus Circle, the three-Michelin-star flagship of master chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten is a gorgeous, all-white space with floor-to-ceiling windows, sumptuous leather shell chairs, and great views of Central Park and Columbus Circle. Get a table in the middle of it all. The ever-changing, French/American/Asian-inspired menu includes such dishes as Santa Barbara sea urchin with black breads, caramelized foie gras with olive seasoning, and an outrageous crispy confit of suckling pig with smoked bacon marmalade. There are a variety of fixed-price and tasting menu options; opt for the seven-course Chef’s Menu (US$198), and make a night of it.
Momofuku Ko, East Village
Probably the most celebrated of cult chef David Chang’s New York empire, Momofuku Ko is also the hardest to get into. There are only 12 seats at the kitchen bar counter in this narrow East Village space, and you have to go online up to two weeks in advance for lunch, 10 days ahead for dinner. Good luck with that. If you do get in, you join eleven disciples sampling a bizarre 10-course (or 16-course at lunch) tasting menu that contains typically obscure creations such as egg yolk with caviar, all variety of pork belly, assorted kimchee and noodle creations, and possibly a deep-fried apple pie. It’s a mad culinary journey. If you don’t get in, there’s always his Momofuku Noodle Bar and Momofuku Ssäm Bar nearby.
Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare, Brookylin
They say Brooklyn is the new Manhattan. But if it was, then it would have more than one three-Michelin-starred restaurant. That three-starred restaurant is this one : an intimate, 18-seat corner kitchen in ultra-trendy Boreum Hill, on the edge of downtown. Chef Cesar Ramirez does an intricate, 20-course prix-fixe tasting menu ($225pp) that changes daily and is only determined hours before seating. That said, it usually includes Japanese-influenced delights such as needlefish with marinated onions, or Kumamoto oyster with crème fraîche. Book six weeks ahead to have a chance at getting in.
Is it food or is it art? Tiny, uber-fashionable tasting rooms are all the rage in New York, and the latest is this Tribeca space helmed by young superstar Matthew Lightner. He earned his chops under foraging master René Redzepi at Noma in Copenhagen, and under Andoni Aduriz at Mugaritz in Spain, and their influence is evident here. The 22-course tasting menu (the only option) changes all the time, but expect to sample amazingly presented creations such as lobster roll on a meringue, fried lichen served on a box of pebbles, cured swordfish belly delivered on a piece of tree bark, and charred leek with hay ash and sheep’s milk yogurt. Save room for a lump of chocolate 'charcoal' frozen in liquid nitrogen. What more to say?
Ai Fiori, Midtown West
Italian for ‘Among the Flowers’, the Michelin-starred restaurant of pasta guru Michael White is a temple of fine Italian and French Riviera cuisine in Midtown’s tony Langham Hotel. The sleek space – lush floral arrangements; white banquettes; sumptuous wood-paneled lounge – has a la carte, prix-fixe, and tasting menu options, and while the pasta is sublime, the fish and meat entrees raise the bar. New York food critic Steve Cuozzo described the Astice (butter poached Nova Scotia Lobster with rutabaga and Château-Chalon sauce) as “the greatest dish in the world”, and you can’t go wrong with the guinea hen Faraona, or the Vitello – a succulent Amish veal chop. Opt for the four-course prix fixe (US$94) dinner menu for the best variety.
These recommendations, and many more, are found in the free Telegraph Travel Guides app . The app features a complete expert guide to the best of New York by our resident expert Douglas Rogers, and also includes expert guides to destinations including Paris, New York, Malta and Amsterdam.
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