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Top Picks for Dining in Manhattan - Updated 2018

Note: This blog item combines many of my New York "food finds" over the years from previous blog items and updates information in previous references, including (sadly) several closings.


Fig & Olive, 10 E. 52nd St., between 5th and Madison (Oct. 20, 2013)

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.

Bistro Milano, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, at W. 55th Street near Theater District (Oct. 20, 2013)

Northern Italian cuisine with outdoor cafe on 6th Avenue, open 7 days a week, expansive menu and reasonably priced for Midtown.

Bond 45, 221 W. 46th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue (July 27, 2018)

Yummy Italian trattoria for easy lunch and dinner in the Theater District. Tables and booths are ample, and the new location is across from the Marriott Marquis, which is appealing to conference attendees. Service is solid and dependable. A menu that is very long and something for everyone. Good for business travelers.

Nomad (North of Madison Square Park)

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).

 John Dory oysters v2John Dory fish tank v2John Dory light v2


Little Beet Table, 333 Park Avenue South (Oct. 10, 2016)

Little Beet Table's vegetable-forward menu is a refreshing change from the rich, heavy fare often layered on at dinner in Midtown Manhattan. The vegetable plates and carefully selected fish, poultry or meat are complimented with 3-4 unusual ingredient combinations that result in tasty but not overwrought dishes. The casual decor also brings with it easy-going, friendly, personalized service - the care that goes with "from my garden to your table." 

The Manhattan location at 333 Park Avenue South is a tidy hideaway; it can get a bit loud, but not boisterous, as enthusiastic diners enjoy each other's company against the acoustics of the earthy stone and wood decor. While this beautifully crafted soup presentation was one of my selections during a spring visit, I can't wait to check out the new fall menu - and already have my eye  on the Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Lemon-Parsley Gremolata and Sea Salt.

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Shake Shack, Madison Square Park (Feb. 22, 2016)

Danny Meyer's global enterprise, which began as a hot dog stand in neighborhoody Madison Square Park across from the Flatiron Building, is probably worth the 30-plus wait in line, even if to tell the story. Great burgers, fries and of course shakes, a kaleidoscope of New York families, office workers and tourists - and now, we read, a 63-restaurant international food chain, slated for an IPO and listing (in January 2015) on the New York Stock Exchange. Meyer, of course, is the visionary behind Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern and more high-end eateries in the city.

Vini e Fritti 30 E. 30th Street, off Madison (July 27, 2016)

Vini e Fritti is a Roman-style wine bar with small plates. I often stay around the corner at The Roger Hotel, and Vini e Fritti is an easy light bite, covering for a light supper, after a day of travel. The Italian wines balance out the inventive fried and non-fried small plates. I especially liked the Baby Artichokes (though they erred slightly toward greasy), the pork ribs and the pancetta sandwich. The menu changes with the seasons, but you can count on 7-10 options in each category. Especially delectable is the no-tip policy - in this day and age, it's remarkable to have attentive service (the "quid") without the "pro quo."

Gramercy, Union Square, East Village

Gemma, 335 Bowery, 212-505.7300 (July 27, 2018)

I've met up with friends in the Lower East Side at Gemma's busy bar a few times for drinks, but I was happy to be able to pop in at the last minute as a solo business Womantraveler for a light dinner at one of the bar tables. I agree with the New York Times' assessment that "Gemma has an unlabored panache that makes an evening go down very easy." In the dining area's tables and banquettes, conversations were animated but the spacious distance between tables clearly contributed to conversational dining. The trattoria menu offers some interesting pastas, which I often couple with an appetizer for a complete dinner - this time the Spaghetti alle Vongole with cockles (instead of clams), but I was really tempted by the Pappardelle al Ragout (short ribs, parmesan cheese and rosemary). The citrus dressing on the Insalata Mista (mixed green salad) was a standout, the fruity accents a moderating balance with the slightly bitter little gems. A long selection of Italian wines, including many by the glass, is most welcoming.

Grey Dog Restaurants (Feb. 22, 2016)

When out and about in the city, especially for breakfast or lunch and some amazing prices, let's hope there is a Grey Dog near you. Get in line for huge portions and imaginative food combos. We checked out both the University Place/NYU (90 University Place) and Nolita (Mulberry Street) locations, and there are other locations in Chelsea and the West Village. Here's the type of creative combos you can expect in the sandwiches - Herb Goat Cheese & Avocado with Walnut Pesto, Celery & Arugula, or Sliced Granny Apple with Turkey, Brie & Raspberry Mustard. Truly a meal in a sandwich!

Follia, 179 Third Ave., at E. 17th St., just east of Gramercy Park (July 27, 2018)

Follia is the type of neighborhood restaurant where you can dine any night, comfortably, without pretense and with dependably good food. Sunday night? Let's not cook and instead go to Follia? Wednesday night? Long day at work, let's meet up at Follia. That's a special blend of qualities and makes Follia one of my go-to places when I'm in Manhattan for business and staying on the East Side or visiting family there.

West Village, Chelsea

Commerce, 50 Commerce St., off 7th Ave. (Oct. 20, 2013)

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.

Cookshop, 10th Avenue and W. 20th Street (Feb. 22, 2016)

As a frequent traveler to a food-powered city like New York, the question is - do I return to a favorite neighborhoody spot or try something new? Ideally both. Here's why Cookshop  is on my list as a regular go-to dining experience.

Launching a recent dinner was a surprise wine find. As a resident of Northern California, where Wine Country options are extensive, I was surprised to learn that the sommelier's choice was a Pied a Terre Sauvignon Blanc. Being leery of something too citrusy, I was happy to find it well balanced and delicious. And then I come to find out that, while it appears on several high end San Francisco restaurants, it's more widely distributed on the East Coast. Clearly there are times you have to leave home to discover what's especially appealing right in your backyard.

  • Cookshop's brand emphasizes local and seasonal. Today as the "farm to table" claim is expected, Cookshop consistently delivers fresh regional ingredients. On this late winter evening, the local fish option was Long Island Porgy, which I wouldn't expect to see far and wide, which made the selection more inviting. This particular critter was prepared with ruby grapefruit gremolata, roasted cauliflower and castelvetrano olives. Not your usual garnishes either, but a winning medley. My guest and I shared a side of roasted Brussel sprouts with Duqqa spices and hazelnuts, again not part of the rule book. Kicking off our meal was another inventive combo - a salad of Crimson Crisp and Pink Lady apples, tardive, fresh herbs, sunflower seeds, lemon and olive oil.
  • The locals consider Cookshop a place to dine regularly as well. In a city where there's an endless list of competitive alternatives, that's a filter that keeps this lively, friendly West Village location on my "preferred" list.

Cornelia Street Cafe, 29 Cornelia Street (Feb. 22, 2016)

A culinary landmark since 1977, yet still delicious and unassuming, Cornelia Street suggests a neighborhood French bistro but amplifies with dishes evoked from Americana to Asia as well. Not only that but there are more than 700 cultural performances here a year. It's the type of place you'd love to have just down the street for frequent visits. Read Chef Dan's blog for more of the flavor.

French Roast 78 W. 11th Street at 6th Ave. (Oct. 20, 2013)

2013 Autumn 022I 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. 

Special occasions and celebrations:

Xfarm 2 NYC

Blue Hill Farm, 75 Washington Place just off Washington Square, Greenwich Village/West Village), tel. 212.539.1776 (Oct. 20, 2013)

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. (Oct. 20, 2013)

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, (new location in 2018) 101 E 19th St, New York, NY 10003 (Oct. 20, 2013)

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 - if you can get in. The booking wait time is even longer in the new location.

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 (Oct. 20, 2013)

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.