Here are the highlights of culinary finds on an October weekend in New York -- all south of Midtown in the Flatiron District (and Madison Square Park), Chelsea and the West Village - and all definites for your next visit in a variety of neighborhoods:
All-day/all-night, but we love for breakfast and brunch - French Roast, 78 W. 11th Street (6th Ave.): I haven't had a Salade Frisee Lardon since a trek through France's provinces many years ago, but this version with poached egg emerged perfectly for brunch. A more American-style smoked salmon eggs benedict was another tasty selection. Something for everyone from an ample traditional French bistro menu coupled with stalwart "American bistro" choices in the high-energy, yet no-rush atmosphere where savoring good food is encouraged with customer-friendly attention. There's another location uptown at Broadway and 85th.
Friday night, Wednesday night, any night - Wong, 7 Cornelia Street (7th Ave.): The New York Times calls this Asian Fusion resto thrilling, and we agree. Thus, the repeated visits. This is Simpson Wong's third restaurant, and all you need to do is look at this slide show to be tempted. The flavors mount in elaborately nuanced combinations discovered in each bite of, for instance, lobster egg foo young, crispy tile fish, Asian pear salad, ginger jasmine rice and duck ice cream. The menu changes along with the specials so be prepared for exploring.
Hors d'oeuvres, dessert and enough for the main course -The John Dory Oyster Bar, Broadway at 29th Street: Having read the lauding and complaining reviews, we had to check it out, despite the no-reservations policy. Their website is a bit indifferent, deliberately "cool," perhaps because of the hip ACE Hotel to which it is attached. For happy hour - a half dozen (East or West coast) raw oysters and sparkling rose Prosecco here and poached lobster and charming Prosecco across the table. One could assemble enough light bites for a meal as well. Then we noticed the desserts. OMG! So it was off to dinner and back here for dessert - a decadent chocolate Eccles cake to be shared and accompanied by port and espresso. We found the entire experience huge fun - from the solicitous front door staff to the built-in visuals (artsy mismatched bar stools and ocean kitsch decor).
Special occasion, party, date night - Recette, West 12th at Greenwich Street: Though titled with the French word for "recipe," this is anything but an old-style French restaurant. The kitchen is barely big enough to move around in, which must be why the food is delivered immediately when ready and what comes forth is imaginative, elegant and subtle. We're encouraged to order several small plates and a couple of large plates per table - even at nouvelle cuisine portions, that's still a lot of food. We especially loved the wild arugula salad with mint and hazelnuts, spot prawn crudo, grilled dorade (tender almost sweet Mediterranean fish) with wheat berry risotto in mushroom juice, braised rabbit fregola with leek fondue and wild mushrooms and roasted fall vegetables. When we noted the tattoo-emblazoned cooks, we thought simply, "they're serious about this." And so are the results, seriously fine dining.
Easy, low-key Sunday night - Les Halles, 411 Park Ave. South: This is an warm, dependable, comfortable classic French bistro with what you'd expect on the menu - except for one item - the killer French fries that are Anthony Bourdain's favorites. And now we know why! When in New York, I often order moules marinieres because they seem to be the freshest mussels I can find anywhere in the States. These had a slight hot spice to the broth, not at all overwhelming, that nicely balanced the pungency of mussels. I swore not to indulge in the fries after three days of culinary adventure but was completely powerless.