Optimistically Cautious

Monday, November 19, 2007

Eating (in) the Big Apple

Even with the Rockefeller Christmas Tree, the Fifth Avenue shop windows, Central Park, Broadway, and the possibility of catching the filming of Sex and the City, I can't tell you what I'm more excited about - the sights or food of New York.

As I research the epicurean wonders of the Big Apple, I'm quickly finding that the tourist attractions seem to be exclusive of the city's great eats. The vast majority of the restaurants I have my eye on are in neighbourhoods we won't necessarily have a reason to visit - Chelsea, the West Village, the Flatiron district, the Upper East Side, the Lower East Side. An unlimited Metro pass is great, but at what point does it become nonsensical to waste time on a return trip to a personally unproven establishment? Moreover, I'm finding that it is near impossible to make reservations - with the uncertainty caused by the Broadway strike, and tours that may or may not be sold out on the days we planned for on paper, much may be shifted between now and then.

So from my reading/scanning of the Chowhound boards, New York Magazine, food blogs, and the more conventional guidebooks (Frommers is the best at offering pointers for reasonably-priced fare), here is a selection of some of the restaurants I'm interested in (but not necessarily will get to; all the more reason to come back to New York, no?).
  • To make it to one of Bobby Flay's three Manhattan restaurants is at the top of my list. I haven't made up my mind yet, but I'm leaning towards Bar Americain for brunch (the dining room looks spectacular).

  • Babbo, Mario Batali's crown jewel, is often cited as the most difficult of all places to get into, but I'd actually much prefer Italian from a low-key spot like Becco, which offers an incredible $16.95 prix fixe lunch of all-you-can-eat tableside pasta.

  • Other four-star prix fixe lunch steals include most of Jean Georges' empire (Perry Street and JoJo look intriguing), and the oft-complimented Eleven Madison Park (run by the same owners of another popular dining destination - Gramercy Tavern).

  • Pizzerias are ubiquitous in New York, but Lombardi's, the island's oldest, seems to drum up the most recommendations.

  • Besides Magnolia, who some say raised cupcakes to an iconic status in New York, City Bakery and Clinton Street Bakery (biscuits!) are also on my radar.

  • I'd be more than happy spending a day wandering from restaurant to restaurant in Greenwich Village - home to the very cute Peanut Butter & Co, A Salt and Battery and S'Mac (a diner that only serves variations on macaroni and cheese).

The only given at this point (and if our flight is delayed, then forget it), is the Burger Joint, a greasy spoon located behind a "brown curtain" in the lobby of the ritzy Le Parker Meridien (from the way I've seen it described, it honestly sounds like the veil Sirius Black fell through in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix). So if all goes well, we should be able to beef up on cheap burgers on our first night in town - sustenance before Mack hits the only sure thing in New York - the 24 hour Apple Store.

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