Memorable Eating in Manhattan

Twelve very good restaurants—including a trattoria by Mario Batali, a bistro from Daniel Boulud, and one tough reservation.

If you fall in love with Alain Ducasse’s Adour in New York, you’ll look forward to the DC branch, which opened this month at the St. Regis hotel. Photograph courtesy of Susan Magrino Agency

Hottest Restaurant in Town

Six months after opening, David Chang’s Momofuku Ko is still the toughest reservation in town. The Virginia-native-turned-Manhattan-überchef offers a fixed-price, ten-course meal for $85 to a dozen anointed diners each night—blogs are devoted to getting a reservation at the Lower East Side restaurant. Chang likes his music loud (Guns n’ Roses) and his food inventive: silky Long Island–fluke sashimi with buttermilk miso; crisp deep-fried sous-vide short ribs; marvelous frozen shaved foie gras with pine-nut brittle.

Momofuku Ko, 163 First Ave.; 212-500-0831 for voice mail; for reservations.

The Maestro at Work

Fabio Trabocchi’s innovative Italian food was never quite at home in Maestro’s gilded dining room at the Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner. Last summer, the celebrated chef took off for SoHo’s Fiamma, where exposed brick and a sleek bar are a hipper backdrop for the likes of Wagyu beef—alternating bites of carpaccio-wrapped mozzarella with delicately mounded tartare—and rustic pastas such as the rich Le Marche lasagna. Fiamma is more casual than Trabocchi’s former digs, but New York pricing makes the tab about the same.

Fiamma, 206 Spring St.; 212-653-0100; Three courses $85, five $105, seven $125.

Big-Name Chefs Loosen Up

The gratis starters from BLT Market’s kitchen—house-made pigs-in-blankets with a sliver of sauerkraut and a hot baguette slathered with pesto—are worth the trip alone. Part of Laurent Tourendel’s restaurant empire, this dining room in the Ritz-Carlton, with its views of Central Park, is an ode to farm-fresh, artisanal foodstuffs. The look is barnyard chic—farm tables and antique farm tools against a palette of coffee and cream. Food is earthy, too—buttery acacia-marinated Alaskan sea bass with wilted spinach and juicy porcini-crusted rack of lamb with baby vegetables.

BLT Market, 1430 Ave. of the Americas; 212-521-6125; Entrées $30 to $49.

Mario Batali has gone casual at Lupa, a boisterous trattoria in SoHo where diners sit cheek by jowl tippling Italian wines and sharing groaning boards of salumi—the lingua, testa, and speck are all made in-house. Other pleasures await, most notably house-cured tuna with cannelini, rabbit sausage, a perfect carbonara, and a peppery yet delicious bavette cacio e pepe, the classic pasta dish made with olive oil and black pepper.

Lupa, 170 Thompson St.; 212-982-5089; Entrées $11 to $25.

When three-Michelin-starred French chef Alain Ducasse opened his first stateside restaurant in 2000—a gilded palace in Manhattan that closed a few years ago—he was mocked for everything from the Versailles-high prices to the pretentious presentation of Montblanc pens with the check. Men still wear jackets to Ducasse’s seven-month-old Adour, and the least expensive appetizer, a vegetable “composition,” is $19, but the sensibility is less pretentious. Dishes—olive-oil-poached cod zinged with Espelette-pepper jus, duck breast with radish and lemon, dark-chocolate sorbet crowned with gold leaf—are inventive without being overwrought.

Adour, 2 E. 55th St.; 212-710-2277; Entrées $32 to $49, five-course tasting menu $110.

Daniel Boulud, of the haute-cuisine temple Daniel, was one of the first chefs to jump on the bistro bandwagon. But casual at DB Bistro Moderne means a $32 hamburger stuffed with foie gras. This year, the chef really loosened up with the opening of Bar Boulud, a no-reservations spot across from Lincoln Center. You’ll find a decadently oozy croque monsieur and a fabulous rendition of garlic-and-butter-drenched escargot. The reason to come is the charcuterie ($9 to $18)—lovely country pâtés, boudins, imported hams, and terrines. If there ever was a place to try headcheese, this is it.

Bar Boulud, 1900 Broadway; 212-595-0303; Entrées $18 to $34.

Late Night and Brunch Too

Pork in many guises, including a burger that gets a flavor ramp-up from fatback, is the star of the menu at Resto, a nouveau-Belgian bistro in Gramercy Park with a smart wine and beer list—even the glasses are works of art. For the intrepid, there’s a delicious (really!) crispy pig’s-ear salad with escarole and coddled egg. For the less adventurous, deviled eggs with green onion and pork toast are just as inspired. At brunch, Dutch Baby, a crisp lemony pancake, is a draw, as is Hangover Pasta with Gruyère, egg, and ham. Dinner brings meaty lamb ribs with yogurt and a bright new take on waterzooi, usually made with chicken but here done with shellfish. Desserts are compelling, too: a fruit-beer float with vanilla gelato and framboise lambic beer, chocolate bread pudding with banana ice cream, and a flight of Belgian chocolates.

Resto, 111 E. 29th St.; 212-685-5585; Entrées $9 to $24 at dinner, $6 to $12 at brunch.

Quick Bites

For pre- or post-theater drinks and nibbles, duck into Casellula, a snug wine-and-cheese bar with such cheese-centric fare as mozzarella-stuffed Peppadews and the Pig’s Ass, a sandwich dripping with Fiscalini cheddar and Fol Epi.

Casellula, 401 W. 52nd St.; 212-247-8137; Small plates $3 to $19.

Take a break from a Madison Avenue or SoHo boutique crawl at one of MarieBelle’s European cocoa bars/tea salons. Imaginative salads and crepes (we like the leek-and-goat-cheese) make for a light lunch. Chocolate is the main event: gelato, crepes, and eight takes on hot chocolate.

MarieBelle, 762 Madison Ave., Second Floor; 212-249-4588; 484 Broome St., 212-925-6999; Entrées $10 to $18, sweets $6 to $11.

Downtown, Shake Shack, the popular burger-and-shake carryout in Madison Park, has added luscious frozen custard in everyday vanilla and chocolate plus changing flavors such as plum crumb.

Shake Shack, Madison Ave. and 23rd St.; 212-889-6600; Burgers and hot dogs $2.75 to $8.75.

Feeling peckish during a stroll through the newly fashiony West Village/Meatpacking District? Batch offers East-meets-West grab-and-go sweets in a tiny space with glossy red walls and crystal chandeliers. Try the Chocolate Dragon devil’s-food cupcake with oolong-tea-infused caramel cream or the Chocolate Kissed, a luxe Whoopie Pie with hazelnut-chocolate ganache oozing out of dark-chocolate/hazelnut sandwich cookies.

Batch, 150-B W. Tenth St.; 212-929-0250; Sweets $1.75 to $5.

Need something more substantial? The New French, also in the Meatpacking District, makes a singular roasted-beet salad with Parmesan cream, sweet-savory crostini with chicken livers and dates, and meaty burgers and hanger steaks with perfect fries.

The New French, 522 Hudson St.; 212-807-7357. Entrées $9.75 to $26.

This article first appeared in the September 2008 issue of The Washingtonian. For more articles from that issue, click here.

Get More Fall Weekends

Fall Weekends 2008 Package

The Best Vineyards in Virginia and Maryland

Cute Shop, Hon: Great Stores in Baltimore

Biking on the C&O Canal

All Aboard: Fredericksburg

Delicious Day: Dining in Leesburg

Great Autumn Hikes

Chic and Cheap: NYC Stores

Getting into New York’s Sample Sales

NYC: Memorable Eating

Broadway Bound

Big Apple Bargains

What’s New in New York

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.