Eating out in NYC
New York City is one of those cities where you get blindsided if you lose your grasp on it for even a second. That’s how long it takes for a venue to open or close. Bad reviews, bad food, bad service, or a visit from the sanitation department are just a few of the reasons that multiple venues don’t survive.
During a recent trip to Manhattan I was excited to try a bunch of venues, most of which opened the month before. Some stood out like a shining star; others didn’t live up to the hype - or simply just failed to impress on multiple levels.
First on my list to try was Upland, located on 26th Street, just east of Park Avenue South. The restaurant opened in 2014, with a ‘Californian cuisine’-theme, which I’ve always found difficult to interpret, beyond the wine list. In this case there was pizza and pasta galore, and I was served a mean beef tartare. But the highlight for me was the burger. It was so good I ate it for lunch on two consecutive days! Yes, I am serious. From the bun all the way through to the meat and the sauce, it was one of the best burgers I had eaten in a very long time. The scene at the bar was a lot of fun. It’s moderately noisy and the perfect point from which to view the entire restaurant and its wonderful interior design.
The next venue on my list, Casa Apicii, has received a lot of hype but sadly failed to deliver on a single dish. The Italian restaurant can be found on the garden level of a 19th century Greenwich Village townhouse, and serves chef Casey Lane's seasonal cooking. Unfortunately I wasn’t particularly impressed by any dish. In fact, the best thing here was the service and the house branded iPhone charger.
Another restaurant that we tried, Megu, is one that has been trying to make a resurgence. The plush Japanese chain closed its two Manhattan locations two years ago before reopening on West 16th Street in the Meatpacking district last year. Note I said ‘trying’, because on my visit it failed, and miserably. We had bad service, bad food and bad attitude. Bye bye, Megu!
Thankfully, the next two venues restored my faith in New York’s restaurant scene. Pasquale Jones and Le Coucou are very different in terms of venue and cuisine, but are spectacular and not to be missed. That is if you can snatch a reservation, which is borderline impossible. Almost every savvy New Yorker is trying to eat at these venues right now, so if you know someone, ask the favour because it’s worth it.
I’ll start with Pasquale Jones. Located on the corner of Kenmare and Mulberry, in a trendy area of Soho, PJ is so cosy – and by that I mean matchbox small - that you can smell the truffle off the pizza on the table next to you. That’s what we started with and I’d advise you to do the same. The pizzas are wood-fired to 'Napoli perfection'. This, coupled with the extensive but eclectic wine list, sets the tone for where you want to proceed further down the menu.
We skipped the pasta and went straight into the mains and ordered the ribeye for two – which was also wood-fired. I like my meat cooked medium as it allows the slivers of semi-cooked fat to burst in your mouth, mixing with the charred top-layer of the rib eye – and this generous portion did just that. I’m also happy to say that the service was tremendous, and they operate a no tipping policy.
On the corner of Lafayette and Howard street you’ll find a very minimal, simply designed space, with a diffusion of Danish design and NYC realism (as they like to put it) that real estate Mogul Aby Rosen has converted from a Holiday Inn into the 11 Howard hotel, one of the coolest spots in Lower Manhattan. This is the home of Le Coucou and it has changed the hospitality industry in Soho.
Upon checking in to the restaurant, we were directed to a very unique-looking waiting space, which is their bar. Three bartenders made sure our cocktails were served with love and in some of the most beautiful crystal stemware I have seen.
Dinner was for six people. The ambience was created by beautiful, comfortable furniture in a well thought-out space. It wasn’t crammed, the room temperature was perfect, you knew you were going to have a great experience and we did. The rest you need to experience yourself. Let me tell you what to order though, as the menu is different.
Start with the veal terrine, foie gras and chicken. I also enjoyed the sweetbreads. For the main course we had the rabbit, sole, and the lamb. They all had their own exotic preparation, the aromas were divine and the flavours lingered long in the mouth. For dessert we had the selection of cheeses and the chocolate mousse. We were is gastro-heaven.
The wine selection is very special here, with a huge offering of old- and new-world wines, but with a focus is on the U.S. wines. We were guided by the sommelier who picked a beautiful pinot noir.
As if that weren’t enough for one night, 11 Howard also houses the almost as fashionable bar, The blond. Curious? Go find out. There’s a guy with a black bowler hat at the entrance and if you can get to him through the crowd in front of you, great. Now figure out how you’re going to get in. If it fails, then you could do worse than visit Paul’s Baby Grand in the Tribeca Grand hotel. It’s a short walk away, which you’ll probably need after a meal like we had. Not that it’s easy to get in here either. Welcome to NYC!
And, of course, we mixed these trips to newer venues in with visits to the old classics, the ones that have stood the test of time and the others that have a cult following around them.
The Gramercy Tavern in the Flatiron District, has long been one of my favourites. It’s not the best place to grab a bite in Manhattan but it is solid and leaves you satisfied and comfortable. Also, the wine list is spectacular. I prefer the most casual setting in the tavern or the bar as opposed to the dining room, and my favourite bites are the calamari fried rice and the ‘off the menu’ burger. You’ll never see it on the menu, but just ask for it after you have heard the daily specials. Oh, and the service is stellar.
This was the last stop on my trip before heading back to Dubai. I’ve been visiting New York two to three times a year since 2000 and have seen the drastic changes that have taken place in the city. There are literally thousands of choices but I have a word limit so I hope this snapshot will serve as a handy starting point for your next trip. I wish you a good trip, be it for business or pleasure. Hopefully it will be both!