From culinary genius to classic restaurants to street snacks, Douglas Rogers savours the city's finest dishes.
New York's dining scenes change fast, with trends and movements springing up all the time. At the height of the recession came a wave of gourmet burger bars such as Stand in the West Village serving $US10 ($A9.98) burgers; now southern comfort joints are hip, be it good ol' barbecue at The Cardinal, a funky East Village duplex ($US20 for a rack of Memphis-style ribs), or upscale southern fare such as red snapper with grapefruit gremolata at Marcus Samuelsson's Harlem hot spot Red Rooster.
New York chefs are innovative. The artisanal and locavore (local food) movement is the rage the world over. But what to do in a city of skyscrapers? The executive chef at the Soho Grand, Richard Farnabe, grows herbs, vegetables, micro greens and more than 27 varieties of heirloom tomatoes on the 17-storey hotel's roof.
Whatever the trends, there are always the classics: oysters at Grand Central Oyster Bar in the railway terminal's basement, going strong since 1913; or a porterhouse steak at the Brooklyn institution Peter Luger (established 1887), for my money the world's finest steakhouse. Bring cash, though. Steak for two costs $85 - and they don't take credit cards.
Here's where up-to-the-moment dining is taking place.
Eleven Madison Park is the finest of New York dining. The domain of the Swiss culinary genius Daniel Humm, the restaurant's soaring space above Madison Square Park is grand enough: skyscraper ceilings, towering tree arrangements, skybox dining suites. But the menu is what really inspires: rather than a choice of dishes, you get a diagram and a list of ingredients - chevre, chives, foie gras, squab - and the waiter helps you choose which combination you want. Torchon of foie gras laced with cocoa, anyone? 11 Madison Avenue, four-course dinner costs from $125 a person. See elevenmadisonpark.com.
The Restaurant at the Mark is the new place of French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and is the ultimate up-scale New York 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 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. 25 East 77th Street, dinner from $US80 a person. See themarkrestaurantnyc.com.
The Lambs Club is set just off the lobby of the glamorous Chatwal Hotel and is a tribute to the Lambs - the celebrated theatrical group that used to convene at this landmark six-storey Georgian building a century ago. In the footsteps of Fred Astaire, W.C. Fields and John Barrymore, guests dine at plush red leather banquettes under art deco lamps on clubby classics such as Cobb salads, oysters on the half-shell and prime Delmonico steak. An equally swanky upstairs bar features cocktails by Sasha Petraske, a master mixologist. 132 West 44th Street, dinner from $US80 a person. See thelambsclub.com.
Tomoe Sushi in the West Village has queues so expect to wait 30 minutes for a table. The restaurant has the freshest fish in town and a menu that features everything from giant clams and tuna belly to succulent sea urchin and a 16-piece plate of assorted sashimi ($US36). The Onigoroshi sake ($US5 a glass) is a perfect accompaniment. 172 Thompson Street, two courses and sake from $US50. See tomoesushi.com.
Prime Meats in Brooklyn is the work of Frank Castronovo and Frank Falcinelli, the two Frankies who set up the cult Italian-American restaurant Frankies Spuntino. They have outdone themselves with their latest Carroll Gardens opening: a gorgeous, wood-panelled, 19th-century-style German-American eatery. The pork belly and braised beef brisket in red cabbage are out of this world, while bar staff in bow ties and braces mix cocktails such as the Applejack Sazerac or the Ruben's Cooler. The period look and country soundtrack add to the warm welcome. 465 Court Street, two courses and a glass of wine from $US45. See frankspm.com.
Abboccato in Midtown is by the Livanos family, which owns the fine-dining Greek hideaway Molyvos (molyvos.com) and the upscale seafood emporium Oceana (oceanarestaurant.com). Abboccato is an elegant Italian restaurant serving handmade pasta and regional dishes including an Umbrian-style quail stuffed with mortadella and Sicilian-style grilled octopus. The location is perfect for post-theatre dining. 136 West 55th Street, dinner from $US40 a person. See abboccato.com.
J.G. Melon opened in 1972, is popular with a preppy set and is famous for its burgers and Bloody Marys. Its tin-pressed ceiling, wood counter and veteran staff are part of the charm - and its cheeseburger is one of the juiciest in town. 1291 Third Avenue at East 74th Street, cheeseburger $US10. If the wait for a table is too long, try the equally venerable P.J. Clarke's, 19 blocks south at 915 Third Avenue. See pjclarkes.com.
Torrisi Italian Specialities has the best lunch sandwiches in the city. This cosy new 18-seat gourmet deli in NoLita (north of Little Italy) resembles a rustic Italian kitchen but sandwiches such as eggplant parmesan or potato, egg and provolone taste as though they've been prepared by master chefs. For dinner, a four-course fixed-price menu costs $US45: expect homey Italian classics with modern twists. 250 Mulberry Street, sandwiches $6-$10. See torrisinyc.com.
Dos Toros Taqueria is a fast-food place in funky surroundings serving Mexican food made from super-fresh ingredients, and with friendly service. The menu is a simple list of burritos, tacos and quesadillas and there are three locations. One burrito may keep you going all day. 1111 Lexington Avenue near 77th, meals $US6-$US10. See dostoros.com.
Feed the family
Locanda Verde in Tribeca joins plenty of family-friendly neighbours: the venerable Walker's and the funky Bubby's have long been popular with the Prada push-chair brigade. Locanda Verde (meaning something like Green Eatery), actor Robert De Niro's latest venture, is inside his Greenwich Hotel. Brunch starts at 8am. Sample an exquisite selection of pastries and try the lemon ricotta pancakes or corned-beef hash and eggs benedict combo. Lunches and dinners are bountiful Italian fare: the chef, Andrew Carmellini, makes a garlic-crusted chicken that can feed a football team. 377 Greenwich Street (corner of N.Moore Street), three-course dinner from about $US50 a person. See locandaverdenyc.com.
Qantas has a fare to New York from Sydney and Melbourne for about $1785 low-season return, including tax. Fly to Los Angeles (about 14hr), then to New York (5hr 15min); see qantas.com.au. Australians must apply for travel authorisation before departure at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov.
The Soho Grand's lobby has vaulted ceilings, towering columns and velvet curtains. The hotel is on West Broadway, in the heart of downtown but within easy walking distance of Tribeca and the West Village. Double rooms cost from $US350 ($347) a night. See sohogrand.com.
The Standard is a Meatpacking District hot spot. A tall, narrow slab of a building, it may look reminiscent of a 1970s-built British council block but its stylish restaurant-bar and rooftop club lounges combine Los Angeles-style flash with NYC glamour. Rooms overlook the Hudson River or straddle High Line Park and cost from $495 a night. See standardhotels.com.
The Ace Hotel's coffee shop, Stumptown, attracts creative industry types. The hotel's 260 rooms range from "suites" to "smalls" to "bunks", and are as eclectic as the clientele. The West 29th Street neighbourhood is not great, but it is central. Rooms from $259 a night. See acehotel.com/newyork.
When eating there
Tip well. Doubling the tax on your bill is a useful guide. Don't be afraid to slip the bar tender or waiter $20 before you sit down — you'll be amazed at the results.
Dining is theatre, so do say hello to those next to you.
Do order a second bottle of wine. Don't order any cocktail you've seen on television — unless it's a gin martini seen on Mad Men.
Book, especially at weekends.
- Telegraph, London