A Voce, 41 Madison Ave.; 212-545-8555; avocerestaurant.com; entrÃ©es $22 to $31. Chef Andrew Carmellini garnered raves heading the kitchen at swank CafÃ© Boulud. This year he’s struck out on his own, opening a modernist dining room with Eames chairs and olive leather-covered tables. His Italian-inspired cooking, though, is more rustic than ever. Creamy sheep’s-milk ricotta sprinkled with olive oil and fresh thyme, thick pappardelle with lamb Bolognese, and even chicken cacciatore are comfort-food bliss.
Blaue Gans, 139 Duane St.; 212-571-8880; wallse.com; entrÃ©es $7 to $24. Intimate and arty—walls are papered with gallery posters—this Austrian bistro in Tribeca has the feel of a neighborhood house party. Food is lighter and more refined than you might expect: an almost mousselike wiesswurst with a house-made hot pretzel; beet salad; trout and crÃ¨me fraÃ®che crepes; crusty pork “jagerschnitzel” with buttery spaetzle. Save room for deep, dark chocolate sacher torte (a special) and the flakiest of strudels.
Buddakan, 75 Ninth Ave.; 212-989-6699; buddakan.com; appetizers $8 to $17, entrÃ©es $14 to $47. We caught glimpses of Martha Stewart and Lucy Liu on our last visit to this pan-Asian hot spot, as big as a megaclub. We like it best for drinks—try the Heat, a tequila cocktail stoked with chilied cucumbers—and a plate of tuna spring rolls in the Library room, which glows with gold-painted books. If you’re settling in for dinner, request a table in the grand Chinoiserie room.
Cookshop, 156 Tenth Ave.; 212-924-4440; cookshopny.com; entrÃ©es $18 to $32. This newÂcomer to the trendy Meatpacking District feels like a farmhouse with its slatted wood ceilings and stone floors. Food is farm-pristine, too; a chalkboard lists the purveyors of the day. The menu allows for nibbling (duck-confit taquitos, blackened fava-bean pods) or dining (roasted porgy with grilled lemon and spiced fries, a pork chop with smoky onion mustard). Don’t miss the dark-chocolate layer cake with macadamia-nut-brittle ice cream.
Telepan, 72 W. 69th St.; 212-580-4300; telepan-ny.com; entrÃ©es $24 to $36. Amid the stately residences of the Upper West Side sits this celadon-painted dining room. It’s a foodie destination low on pretension: There are toddlers and jeans-clad twentysomethings; a four-course tasting menu is a relative bargain at $55; and greenmarket-obsessed chef Bill Telepan’s creations—smoky brook trout with blini; salmon with dandelion greens and artichoke—are quietly assured. Most memorable are his midcourses, such as a coddled egg with peppery collards and house-made scrapple, and pierogi stuffed with beet greens and ricotta.
If You’re Theater-Bound
Bouchon Bakery, Time Warner Center, 10 Columbus Cir.; 212-823-9366; entrÃ©es $9.75 to $30. Thomas Keller isn’t the only haute chef reaching out to the mass market, but he’s one of the bravest. His Bouchon Bakery—part sit-down cafe, part takeout stand—is plunked amid a noisy mall a few blocks from Lincoln Center. But the service is crisp, the pastries and oatmeal cookies delectable, and the sandwiches—especially cashew butter and apricot jam on buttered brioche—make the Sephora-bound throngs easy to ignore.
Esca Crudo Bar, 402 W. 43rd St.; 212-564-7272; crudo $13 to $16, entrÃ©es $26 to $35. Need to eat on the run? Check out the Italian-style sashimi, known as crudo, at this sophisticated seafood eatery. Try black bass adorned with toasted pine nuts, hamachi with pickled green tomato, or Spanish mackerel with crispy sage. Or order a crudo tasting for $30. In the main dining room, larger appetites can choose from dishes like a lemon-kissed salad of shaved raw porcini and arugula or spaghetti with mint, hot peppers, and lobster. Sea-salt-crusted branzino cracked tableside is a show itself.
Tintol, 155 W. 46th St.; 212-354-3838; tintol.net; tapas $5 to $15.50. Dark and narrow, this brick-walled tapas joint looks like something in a Madrid alley, not off Times Square. Cured meats, charred octoÂpus, and chorizo doused with grappa and set aflame at the table are terrific nibbles before a show or after (it’s open until midnight).
Blowouts and Bargains
Bouley, 120 W. Broadway at Duane St., 212-964-2525; Bouley Upstairs, 130 W. Broadway, 212-219-1011; davidbouley.com. At the elegant Bouley, a fixed-price tasting menu with such offerings as scallop-crusted halibut and chocolate-brioche pudding with prune-Armagnac ice cream rings in at $90. Across the street at Bouley Upstairs (entrÃ©es $4.50 to $21), where some seating is sushi-bar style, the experience is more high-energy. Look for sushi, sashimi, and Asian-influenced nibbles like grilled eel with cucumbers and seaweed along with Modern American takes like a bright salad of wild mushrooms with truffle dressing and Parmesan or sirloin on warm potato salad with a heady Cognac sauce. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see chef David Bouley at work in the open kitchen.
Daniel and the Lounge at Daniel, 60 E. 65th St.; 212-288-0033; danielnÂyc.com. The six-course tasting menu at the theatrically opulent Daniel is worth the $155. An evening in the more casual but still plush lounge is memorable, too. There, Daniel Boulud’s playful creations—many straight from the dining-room menu—are Ã la carte ($36 to $47). Even if you sample one course, you’re treated to canapÃ©s, bread, and after-dinner madelines. Still, dessert is hard to turn down: There’s one section for fruit confections, another for chocolate.
Jean Georges and Nougatine, 1 CenÂtral Park West; 212-299-3900; jean-georges.com. The luxe tasting menu is $125 and a four-course menu $95 at the gastronomic temple Jean Georges. But dine at the more casual, walk-in-friendly Nougatine—the terrazzo-floored room you walk through to get to JG—and plates like wine-and-soy-glazed veal and pork chop with spring onion are $19 to $38. The food is simpler than at Jean Georges, but the sensation of eating in a glass jewel box overlooking Central Park is the same.
Masa and Bar Masa, 10 Columbus Cir.; 212-823-9800; masanyc.com. Sure, you can spend $350 a person at Masa for a Japanese multicourse extravaganza featuring uni risotto; tuna tartare with caviar; lobster and foie gras shabu shabu —or you can head next door to Bar Masa, where sushi canapÃ©s, oysters with black truffle, maki rolls, and yakitori are sold Ã la carte $5 to $98. Both have a spare, Zen sensibility.
Only in New York
Blue Ribbon, 97 Sullivan St.; 212-274-0404; blueribbonrestaurants.com; entrÃ©es $13.50 to $102. Forget pizza or pancakes. The best after-hours repast in New York is at this bustling SoHo bistro, where everything from marrow bones with oxtail marmalade to a towering plateau de mer for $102 is served until 4 am.
Russ & Daughters, 179 E. Houston St.; 212-475-4880; russanddaughters.com. New Yorkers often argue about the best place for a bagel and smoked salmon (or sable or sturgeon). We line up for the marvelous varieties at this nearly century-old market.
Nowhere but New York can you find so many eateries obsessed with one food. Peanut Butter & Co. (240 Sullivan St.; 212-677-3995; ilovepeanutbutter.com) offers the crunchy or creamy spread in sandwiches, desserts, and milkshakes. Pommes Frites (123 Second Ave.; 212-674-1234; pommesfrites.ws) lets you dunk Belgian-style fries into sauces such as Vietnamese pineapple mayonnaise or hot chili paste. The new S’Mac (345 E. 12th St.; 212-358-7912; smacnyc.com) is devoted to mac ’n’ cheese, with versions laden with brie and figs or GruyÃ¨re and bacon.