RESTAURANTS: GO, CONSIDER , STOP
Edible enlightenment from our eatery experts and colleagues Monie Begley, Richard Nalley and Randall Lane, as well as brothers Bob, Kip and Tim.
After agonizing through months of capricious lockdowns and arbitrary capacity restrictions that had no basis in science, the excellent eateries of the Big Apple are open and bustling—with new ones arriving. Challenges remain, primarily with personnel; so many old hands have moved away or on to new occupations. And Covid-19’s variants have power-hungry bureaucrats itching to impose new restrictions. So eat and enjoy while you can!
1 Vanderbilt Ave. (Tel.: 212-662-1000)
Chef Daniel Boulud has created the star of the season in this new glass-enclosed second-floor space with views of breathtaking Grand Central Terminal. Along with unique cocktails at Bar Vandy, “Bites”—caviar, lobster rolls, a foie gras parfait, soft-shell crab tempura—are on offer. The dining room is ringed with 20-foot olive trees and a variety of lush plants. The chef’s passion for seafood and vegetables shows in the “Mer and Terre” menu, which abounds in classic and updated French dishes. To start: Osetra caviar with potato blinis, Billi Bi creamy mussel soup, wood-fired octopus, Vidalia onion tart or roasted beets. For mains, try buckwheat-crusted sea scallops, grilled Dover sole or grilled strip loin—and be sure to order from the dizzying array of vegetable dishes. The eye-popping Meyer lemon tart is a must. Service is welcoming and enthusiastic, and it’s all offered for a three-course prix fixe of $125.
160 East 46th St. (Tel.: 212-883-7373)
Its glamorous open-air rooftop bar rescued this establishment during the pandemic, allowing the Aretskys to set up dining tables with plexiglass partitions to create a rooftop dining experience that was an instant success. The swellegant downstairs dining room is now open again, and at present the same menu is served in both areas. Service everywhere is impeccable. There’s an alluring list of wines by the glass, including PernandVergelesses, a white Burgundy, a Bandol rosé from Provence and a superb Gevrey-Chambertin. Some of the menu classics: glistening and briny East and West Coast oysters; a perfect Caesar salad; grilled branzino; Niman Ranch rum-and-pineapple babyback ribs; 35-day dry-aged grilled sirloin; and puffy golden onion rings. Save room for the mountainous hot-fudge sundae—a good table-share. Have a glass of Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé to top off dessert.
1 Central Park West (Tel.: 212-299-3900)
Jean-Georges hasn’t missed a beat—the food is beyond sublime in this sleek setting with a Scandinavian vibe. If you’re healthconscious, try the kale salad with tangy lemon vinaigrette. Otherwise, go for the tuna tartare on an avocado base with a ginger marinade, veal Milanese on a bed of arugula with diced heirloom tomatoes or poppy seed–crusted salmon. The buttery, chewy crusty rolls are irresistible, which makes partaking of the butterscotch pudding with salted caramel and crème fraîche even more obscene. Any svelte post-pandemic selves will soon be a thing of the past!
20 Hudson Yards (Tel.: 646-907-1970)
This sleek cousin of the classic on 55th Street is packed at lunchtime without an empty seat in the house (or the bar). Given the spectacular view of the Vessel and the superb fare, that’s not surprising. Grilled octopus with capers, onion and Santorini fava, big-eye tuna tartare or the Greek salad make sublime starters—or, in the case of the latter, an excellent main course. The tuna burger with daikon radish salad is delectable, and the lightly fried zucchini sticks are positively inhalable. A perfect way to end a perfect meal: either the karidopita (Greek walnut cake) or the Greek yogurt topped with crumbled baklava.
1150 Broadway, at 27th St. (Tel.: 212-685-4500)
This is one of four such establishments in the city, and all are consistent in their food, bistro décor and overall vibe. It’s certainly 21st-century: You access the menu on your phone. Standouts: shrimp and grits, avocado toast with poached eggs and spicy red pepper, and the salmon with golden beets, Yukon potatoes and Savoy cabbage. For dessert, have either the sticky toffee pudding, the hot-fudge sundae or the strawberry pie. Service is friendly and efficient. The Smith is a solid bet for a very good meal.
Uva Next Door
1484 Second Ave., between 77th & 78th Streets (Tel.: 917-472-7921)
Designed as an authentic Italian trattoria, this spot feels like it’s been around forever but in fact courageously opened in April. Massimo Lusardi, a scion of the Lusardi restaurateur clan, is the driving force here, but this is a family affair with father Mauro and uncle Luigi. The place is casual and always packed, with hip music playing until the late hours. Start with a basket of light, crispy calamari served with the house marinara sauce, or try the slightly spicy tiny lamb meatballs. New to a Lusardi menu is oven-fired, thin-crust pizza—don’t miss sharing one mid-meal. (Especially delicious: Pizza Zio Vittorio with tomato sauce, mozzarella, grape tomatoes, sliced prosciutto, arugula and shaved Parmigiano.) There are a half-dozen handmade pasta choices, and main courses include the sublime cauliflower “di Veneto” and offerings of chicken, fish and lamb chops. Don’t leave without a taste of the tangy orangeand-thyme semifreddo or a bite of the torta caprese, a flourless chocolate brownie. For a pre-dinner cocktail or a refreshing nightcap, have the “Hugo Spritz” with Prosecco, St. Germain elderflower, soda, lime and mint.
55 East 54th St. (Tel.: 212-759-5554)
The experience at this sleek Greek restaurant is Olympian. The outdoor setup is among the most sophisticated in the city, and the food and service are impeccable. The lavraki (sea bass with lemon capers) is perfection; the chicken lemonato is moist and mouthwatering; and the shrimp skewer with onions, peppers and lemon potatoes disappears almost as soon as it arrives. The three desserts are delectable. Order one of each and share.
21 East 62nd St. (Tel.: 212-980-6700)
Back and as popular as ever with the Midtown lunch crowd. For starters, try the baby artichokes with avocado or the refreshing octopus salad with frisée, olives and slices of orange. The whole-lobster salad as a main course is divine. Tarte Tatin is superb, and the vanilla bean ice cream drowned in espresso kills two birds with one perfect stone. If you aren’t driving, there’s also a wonderful selection of grappas.
24 West 55th St. (Tel.: 212-767-0555)
Closed for over a year, this spot is the home port for stellar media, publishing, music, theater, movie and even finance and law mavens left homebound and adrift. But in April, after celebrating 30 years of power dining in New York, chef-owner Michael McCarty—originator of California-cool cuisine—reopened, and clients flowed back in. Legendary general manager Steve Millington greets guests with his broad smile and bag of anecdotes, and Joana Andrade handles the crush at reception. Splurge on a tray of chilled oysters, littleneck clams and giant shrimp. Pizza and Korean BBQ steak tacos have been added to the menu, and the California Cobb salad is consistently nominated as the best in the city. The creamy sweet-pea risotto is generous enough for the table. Salmon in beurre blanc with fava beans is ideal for those working off their pandemic weight gain. Then order some cookies and fresh berries, and kick back and watch the passing parade.