I’ve been cutting back the calories these past few weeks, which means I am constantly thinking about food. And as far as I can tell, NYC = food. You can’t go a hundred feet in that city without being tempted, and yes, I have been known to succumb to the cannoli at Central Park’s Merchant’s Gate kiosk; why do you think it’s all water and crackers this week?
With apologies to Adam Platt, I’ve come up with my own little amateur list of yays and nays in the nabe, and here it is in no particular order. Let the hungry games begin!
Landmarc at Time-Warner Center
10 Columbus Circle, 3rd Floor
I begin here because here we begin every visit to the city. We have not arrived until we stow our bags at our apartment and walk over to Landmarc. Since our flight usually comes in around 8 or 9 pm, it can be late-ish by the time we are seated. No matter; Landmarc is always bustling and it’s a great fallback, default, when noplace-else-suits option for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Yays: steak frites and spaghetti carbonara. Nays: can be LOUD! Ambience: not really. The only restaurant I’ve been in that uses rebar as a design motif. Does not take reservations except for larger parties. Standout: manages to have a bar scene and is kid-friendly. It’s worth borrowing a young’un just to get the free after-dinner cotton candy. Also: wine by the half-bottle or bottle only. Desserts are bite-sized, so you can indulge without (quite as much) guilt.
Bouchon Bakery at Time-Warner Center
Just steps away from Landmarc is Thomas Keller’s popular and affordable bakery and casual eatery. The bakery is take-out and the lines can get long. The sit-down dining area overlooks the atrium entrance of Time-Warner Center and Columbus Circle beyond. It is a great place to get lunch or a light dinner. The chicken soup is terrific, the country pate is satisfying and they’ve recently added mussels to the menu, which is the same for both lunch and dinner. Wine list is equally casual and wallet-friendly, although the pours by the glass are perhaps overly conservative.
A Voce at Time-Warner Center
A Voce changed hands awhile back and is so much the better for it! Great vibe! Great menu! Sleek and hip but not the least bit off-putting. The Hamachi Crudo and Pollo al mattone were big hits with our group. If the dessert menu doesn’t hit your sweet spot, walk across the street for the awesome gelato at From on Broadway at Central Park South.
Nougatine at Jean-Georges
1 Central Park West (Trump International)
Love, love, love Nougatine and not just for the proximity. Their three-course prix fixe lunch is now emulated all over the city. At $32 (the price recently went up a bit) it’s still a bargain. Service is usually excellent or beyond, although can sometimes be a bit slow. We have not yet ventured into the adjacent fine-dining Jean-Georges, but if you want to go all white tablecloth it’s another option. Yays: views of the Park; the shrimp salad; molten chocolate cake. Nays: it can be hard to get a reservation. Ambience: casual chic. Minimalist decor and always a ginormous, breathtaking floral arrangement at the bar. Standout: their homemade sodas – I recommend the lemon ginger! Heads-up: a renovation has been announced at Nougatine, so there will be change. Oddly, I can’t get their web site to open on my computer, so can’t provide a link. For reservations, go to opentable.com or call – just be sure you tell them which side of the restaurant you’re reserving for.
1900 Broadway between 63rd and 64th
This was another go-to for us. Fun place to sit outside in warm weather if you don’t mind a bit of Broadway bus fumes with your meal. Inside, an energetic (read noisy) bustle of Lincoln Center concert-goers at dinner. I say “was”, because we noticed big changes at Fiorello’s this last trip. Their hang-over-the-plate pizzas have apparently gone through the dryer and shrunk, except for the price. Same with the Caesar salad, which used to be big enough to share. Takes some of the fun out of the experience and, while it was never cheap, the ding to the wallet makes you think twice about going here, when there are so many other neighborhood options. Yays: lasagna like no place else; love their Sangria. Nays: halving the portions and doubling the prices has been noticed, you guys! Ambience: neighborhood casual, although there will be some theatre-going glam. Standout: the ultimate raw bar! Heads-up: Unless they’ve shrunk this, too, they serve chocolate mousse that is brought to the table in a chilled champagne cooler, along with a giant side of whipped cream. You’ll want to share. Also: outside tables are very close together, which makes for great conversation with whomever sits next to you. Probably not a great place to argue or propose, though.
P. J. Clarke’s
44 W. 63rd (between Columbus Ave. and Broadway at Lincoln Center)
This is one link in a NYC/WDC/Las Vegas and Brazil (!) chain. Serviceable casual fare. Yays: Great for comfort food. Nays: Nice but not special. Ambience: neighborhood saloon-ish. Standouts: macaroni and cheese, yum! Also: cheerful vibe here. Could be anytown, USA. Good option for families.
Ed’s Chowder House
44 W. 63rd (between Columbus and Broadway)
Just next door to P.J. Clarke’s in the Empire Hotel, we go here for the occasional Sunday night bowl of chowder. While you generally find the best of everything in NYC, our take is that the chowder is good, maybe very good, but not great. Still it’s a nice alternative when you’re Frenched and Italianed out. Yays: um, let me think. Nays: well, truthfully, it’s a bit meh by us. Neither the food nor the service are particularly inspired. Ambience: casual, can be loud.
20 W. 64th Street between Broadway and Central Park West
A favorite new find! Daniel Boulud is Mr. Ubiquitous, with no fewer than five NYC restaurants. The only real misstep we’ve experienced is DB Bistro Moderne in the theatre district, which was more or less atrocious. But Boulud Sud more than makes up for that disappointment. The menu is billed as “vibrant Mediterranean” and it’s a fresh, spacious new option for Lincoln Center concert-goers. Yays: I loved the hummus appetizer and the service was outstanding. Nays: you can get lost on your way to the subterranean restrooms, which are shared with the adjacent Bar Boulud. Ambience: streamlined chic. Interesting: the dinner menu is arranged by provenance: de la Mer, du Jardin, de la Ferme. Also: Good option for a pre-theatre dinner date – the tables are spaced far enough apart that you can actually carry on a conversation.
43 W. 65th Street (between Broadway and Central Park West)
I don’t know about you, but I’m always iffy about trying a new place for Chinese. Angie introduced us to Shun-Lee and it’s a great find. Very popular, very busy, very good. Yays: Clever zodiac light fixtures on the ceiling. Nays: only been there once and had a great experience. Ambience: casual, lots of families.
35 West 64th Street (between Broadway and Central Park West)
Gentlemen, get out your wallets! This is, by my lights, a special-occasion restaurant. It is no-holds-barred French, so you will find menu items like Liquid Foie Gras and Sweetbreads Saltimbocca, so depending on how evolved your palate may be, you can go here or take the safe option of a burger at P.J. Clarke’s. We’ve only been to Picholine once, so I’m not really qualified to give you a review, but it may be your most elegant option close to Lincoln Center (aside from budget-busting Per Se) and you will definitely want to dress up a bit here.
There’s more, lots more, but I’m out of time and, truthfully, starving now. I’ll update this from time to time so check back if you’re looking for dining options in the Columbus Circle/Lincoln Square area.