Updated, Spring 2013
What's New York without knowing where to eat -- and particularly seasonal and regional ingredients wherever possible? This list is a continuing work in progress -- classy but comfortable get-togethers, suitable for friends, family and business...So stay tuned and more shall be revealed as time goes on...
Alfama, 214 E. 52nd St. (between 3rd and 2nd Aves., Midtown) - delectable Portuguese specialties in an comfortably animated setting - not too loud, not too intimate. I would return again and again for the marinated olives, chorizo and kale soup, grilled octopus, Branzino and more, including very reasonable prices.
Fig & Olive, 10 E. 52nd St. (between 5th and Madison, Midtown - simply delicious olive oil-infused Mediterranean dining, and in this location, a cozy but lively atmosphere that is neither too small to be cloying nor too large to be noisy and uncomfortable; there are other locations in the city, including the Meatpacking District.
Rouge Tomate, 14 E. 60th St. (between 5th and Madison, Midtown), seasonably inspired modern American cuisine combining world flavors with huge wine list; cavernous high-ceiling space but with tables comfortably separated so you can talk and enjoy your companions.
Park Avenue Summer, 100 E. 63rd (between Park and Lexington, Upper East Side) - recommended but not attended yet.
Bistro Milano, 1350 Avenue of the Americas (Midtown near Theater District), Northern Italian cuisine with outdoor cafe on 6th Avenue, open 7 days a week, expansive menu and reasonably priced for Midtown.
DB Bistro Moderne, 55 W. 44th St., between 5th and 6th (Midtown near Theater District), connected to the charming European-style City Club Hotel, next to the stalwart Algonquin Hotel and across from the hip Royalton Hotel, a well-situated high-energy French-American bistro popular for business lunches and casual or celebration dinners, where I always stop at least for an appetizer and glass of a charming wine. The wait staff, led by Maitre D' Leslie Affre, is welcoming, smart and attentive.
Cafe Condesa (183 W. 10th St., off 7th Ave. at West 10th) - You might walk right by this one-room storefront featuring Latin American cuisine and the cooks working in the tiniest of spaces just across the bar - but be sure to go in. The place is small but they don't overbook and the pace is easy. Nicely priced but inventive dishes, like the succulent roasted rack of lamb with chimichurri sauce and Red Snapper Veracruz. Great for pre-theater dining ahead of the cozy West Village performance spaces.
Commerce (50 Commerce St., off 7th Ave.) - upscale American with European accents, this West Village bistro is super-lively - actually quite noisy - but serves excellent food and tons of fun. People pack in, but don't go if you want a quiet evening. This is the place to get jazzed, eat well (we chose all-American pot pie and lamb ragu) and start out on the town. It's close to several small neighborhood theaters for a pre-show bite. One a speakeasy, later a grange hall, the historic decor and murals, Commerce is a very uptown-downtown venue.
Jane (100 W. Houston St., just east of 6th Ave.) - A truly neighborhoody vibe and perfect for a Sunday night at the "$15 Sunday night special." Every night the menu is eclectic American - steak frites, a pot of warm mussels, mushroom truffle soup, gnocchi and other homey dishes served with easy but attentive service. A place to return over and over with a dependable but not overpowering range of choices.
Special occasions and celebrations:
Blue Hill Farm, 75 Washington Place just off Washington Square (Greenwich Village-West Village), tel. 212.539.1776. This is my top pick in Manhattan to date, with inventive seasonal menus created from the abundant ingredients of Hudson Valley farms and Blue Hill Farm in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Located a few steps down in an English basement on a quiet street, the relatively small space is intimate, unhurried and so popular it's hard to get a reservation (start calling 30 days out); the atmosphere, while stylish, is not "snob," and diners, here for the food, are into each rather than displaying for "show." I am still savoring the featured farm egg appetizer, which changes personality according to the season, such as the soft poached egg served on morels, potatoes or greens.
Crispo (240 W. 14th St. between 7th and 8th Aves.) - Warm, friendly and animated, Crispo is to date my all-around favorite for terrific food (Northern Italian) and vast selections of wines, beers and cocktails -- all enhanced by attentive, personable service. Tables are spaciously separated in the mid-size trattoria, softly lit and cozy with rustic plank floors and brick walls, yet at 150 seats a comfortable space for a casual friends or business dinner or a festive night out. The New York Times calls its spaghetti carbonara the "best of the form." Too many yummy choices to mention.
Union Square Cafe, 21 E. 16th Street at Union Square (Gramercy district), a critical success for nearly 25 years and an anchor of Danny Meyer's expanded resto realm, which includes Gramercy Tavern. With consistently rendered, uncommon combinations that are always good and "real" food that doesn't strive to overly impress, you feel well-cared for, whether for a business dinner around a large round table, a smaller family graduation celebration, as a tourist or simply a foodie looking to try out one of the best. It's a place where you can keep going back.
Craftbar, 900 Broadway at East 20th St., just above Union Square in the Flatiron-Gramercy district and near the Flatiron Building and one of the Craft restaurants in hot cities across the U.S.. It's lots of fun with a tempting variety of creative but not overly drawn small and large plates to share. For our large plates we opted for choices including mussels, choucroute and salt cod in simply delicious preparations and imaginative wine and beer options to match. We did find that going early was a good move since it gets busy and noisy.
Porter House New York, on the 4th floor of the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle (West 59th and Broadway near Lincoln Center, Upper West Side) - spectacular views of the city, large roomy booths and tables, luxury dining and the best steaks ever by the former executive chef of '21' and Windows on the World.
And see my blog article on the Meatpacking District, for Spice Market and other suggestions.
I use Open Table and Urban Spoon for reservations and ideas, and find their reviews trustyworthy and from different perspectives. But not all restaurants use their reservation services, so it's important to broaden your resources. The New York Times dining section, New York Magazine and Travel + Leisure are additional sources that I like to balance out ratings and gain deeper insights to specialized dining opportunities.