By James Gilfoil, M.D.
I know, I know, it’s tough going back to the Big Apple so soon. Well, Wall Street has bounced back a bit thanks to all your tax dollars, so you ought to feel real good about that. Try to put your bitterness aside, though, lest it spoil your eating, for Gotham is still the restaurant capital of the world. And here are some suggestions about where to drown your sorrows and appreciate the bounty.
What’s the word—Thunderbird, oops, wrong jingle. The word in New York this year is Italian or maybe it’s “Eatalyan.” It seems like every good restaurant that’s opened in the last two years is Italian, and, on top of that, this great new Italian food court and high end market has opened across from Madison Square Park. Eataly is a bit like the Ferry Building in San Francisco. With four restaurants and all the gelato and espresso you can handle, it’s a must. Warning! The crowds can be overwhelming.
My first choice in dining this year would be Del Posto, from Joe and Lidia Bastianich and Mario Batali, the same people behind Eataly, Babbo, Lupa, and Casa Mono. Maybe it’s shorter if I list what they’re not behind. Anyway, Del Posto—their high end Italian—hit the big time this year when it earned its fourth star from the New York Times. So what, you say. It’s the first Italian restaurant to be so honored in 36 years. That’s a very big deal. Italian food is basically a peasant cuisine, and it’s wonderful, but, as opposed to French cuisine, the high end is very difficult to do well. Eat a high end Italian meal with some wonderful eggplant dish and you can’t help but compare it to the great eggplant parm you get from your local Mama Mia’s. You’ll be thinking that wild nettle sformato was good and all, but was it worth $16? Or I can do much better risotto at home. Here’s the place to try high end Italian again. Del Posto is warm, inviting, and elegant at the same time. There’s a great staircase and good music from the piano. A five course meal is $95 and the seven course extravaganza is $125, and there’s an exhaustive Italian wine list. You’ll need to enlist the sommelier’s help with that one, especially to ferret out some bargains. Since this is necessary for you to attend the convention, at least the beleaguered taxpayer picking up part of your tab this time won’t be you. Take that, Master of the Universe!
Next I would venture over to Central Park South to Michael White’s Marea. If you read my article last time, and I know you did, but you just forgot what I recommended, you’ll remember that Michael was doing some great pastas at the reasonably priced Convivio, which is great with a group. His Alto is very good, too, but much more formal than Convivio. Marea is high end seafood, and, boy, it’s some good seafood, featuring turbot and an outstanding salt-baked branzino. There’s nothing quite like a salt-baked whole fish. Well, there may be some things that are better, but we’re not going into that now. There’s some competition between White and Batali as to who is the more authentic Italian chef, especially with both of them having spent time at some very good restaurants in Italy. You know how to resolve that issue.
Perhaps the most appealing of all these new glam spots in New York is Danny Meyer’s Maialino—Italian for “little pig”—a nickname Mr. Meyer earned when he was in Rome. Anything Meyer touches turns to gold—Union Square Café, Eleven Madison Park, the Modern, Grammercy Tavern, Shake Shack, and his homage to barbeque Blue Smoke. Go to the website and you’ll see how appealing Maialino is. You’ll want to eat every meal there. It’s supposed to be a Roman trattoria, and it’s a bit like Pizzeria Mozza in LA, except there’s no pizza. It has all the great roman pasta dishes—amatriciana, carbonara, con sal e pepe. And then there’s the roasted suckling pig. Oh, it’s wonderful! It’s $72, yes, but it’ll feed three, and there’ll be some left over for sandwiches the next day, and, with the typical Meyer touch, the restaurant will give you the bread to take home with you for those sandwiches. He did write a book on hospitality and helping diners have a memorable experience. Be seduced!
Another good Italian newcomer is Locanda Verde, which you might keep in mind in case you can’t get into any of the above. Scott Conant’s Scarpetta in the meatpacking district is also excellent—I love his goat. Don’t forget Drew Nieporent’s terrific Corton, in the old Montrachet space. I hear I had a wonderful meal there at the last ASAP meeting. I do know I drank an awful, and I do mean awful, lot of very good wine that evening and what dishes I do remember were very, very good. That attractive blonde young thing kept bringing me more wine to taste, then she put the gun to my head and told me to drink it all. And you know what, I did. Corton had just opened before our last meeting, and it’s garnered nothing but much deserved stellar reviews since. This needs to be high on your list, as does one of my all time faves, Terrance Brennan’s Picholine. My last meal there remains one of the highlights of my gastronomic life. The food was fantastic, and I do remember it. The cheeses blew my mind. Brennan almost single handedly started the cheese craze in this country, because he loves the stuff and didn’t care if he lost money on it. You’ll taste some cheeses you can’t get elsewhere—I still remember an English Berkswell—described as “what Manchego—the great Spanish cheese—wishes it could be.” And Picholine is much more reasonable than the other four star restaurants in New York.
My favorite of those four stars remains Le Bernardin. Though I like Jean George, I prefer his more casual places—JoJo, the one that started it all, and Spice Market. Another Danny Meyer spot, in case you haven’t tried it, is Eleven Madison Park, which much like Del Posto, recently earned its fourth star. The setting is spectacular, and the food has improved dramatically over the years. And, if you’ve hit it big in the recent stock market runup, give L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon a try. Afterwards, hopefully you’ll be chastened and look back on it as wonderful and decadent, but most of all a “real learning experience.” Hopefully you’ll have lots of them as I plan to this March.