Downtown. Just one word can give a New Yorker goosebumps – their mind immediately turns to the chaos that is Times Square, its American restaurant chains and hordes of tourists. If your office is located there, you’ll know that workers rush in at 9 a.m. and quickly leave at 5 a.m. to escape to friendlier and frankly cooler parts of town. But maybe New Yorkers could learn a thing or two from the tourists because, after all, when you think of the Big Apple, it’s the historic skyscrapers, the bright lights and the legendary restaurants like Patsy’s (where Frank Sinatra had a secret entrance) and the King Cole Bar (which saw Salvador Dalí and Marilyn Monroe) come to mind. And, for most of us, that’s what got us here in the first place.
The neighborhood’s food scene has both been molded and shaped by its changing fortunes. First with the completion of Grand Central Station in the early 20th century, quickly making the area the new center of American capitalism, and bringing with it some of the most opulent dining establishments of years to come (some of which are still the). Then, in the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, when expense account lunches and dinners were prevalent, and those in the C-suite charged obscene amounts to impress their customers, allowing posh places north from 34th Street to take to heaven. limit prices, because at that time, getting a deal was splurge. Spending account outlets were starting to run out anyway, but the pandemic has completely erased the neighborhood’s reliance on office workers. A few must-sees have managed to cling to life: Le Bernardin; Smith & Wollensky; Tide ; Jean-Georges. But Midtown was hit harder than any other neighborhood in the city.
Post-pandemic Midtown has an almost “if we build it, they will come” mentality. At least that’s what it looks like on the outside. In reality, many of these establishments have been in the works for a long time, but what has changed most is the caliber of chefs who are signing up – chefs who one would normally see investing in lower Manhattan are heading to the top of town to make a fresh mark. And, if you know where to look, the timeless spirit of New York, New York can be found in these new classics.
Here are, after months of tasting, the most exciting new additions to the hood, all of which are well worth the ride, whether it’s a subway ride or a long-haul flight.
From the chefs behind downtown’s favorite Frenchette, Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr are once again revisiting French classics. When the food hits the table, even the masterfully choreographed servers and elevated Art Deco design elements of Brooklyn-based Workstead fade into the background. Two must-haves: the leek vinaigrette that unwraps like a gift, and the Burgundy snails so perfect that I almost went into mourning when the last garlicky and buttered mollusc was torn from its individual ramekin. But it’s the pepper bison that will have you coming back again and again.
Chef John Fraser showcases Aegean cuisine at the chic Iris, a slight departure from the plant-based cuisine he is best known for. But don’t worry, there are plenty of vegetarian options left, like roasted carrots with garlic tahini and a torched grilled eggplant moussaka next to the table. But where Iris stands out is in its protein: there’s roasted whole quail swimming in a decadent sage and black pepper butter sauce and lamb chops marinated in mastic and black sesame. Do what I did and finish the meal with a perfect martini and Turkish delights from the desert cart.
Modern, stylish and downright delicious, 53 has a large Asian-inspired menu full of playful dim sums like truffled egg and foie gras dumplings and claypots, but don’t leave without ordering the black cod with jalapeño miso and coriander. Ahmass Fakahany, Founder and CEO of Altamarea Group, enlisted Singaporean chef Akmal Anuar and design firm ICRAVE to create a cohesive spirit between food and design that is a colorful celebration in a minimalist style. Inspired by its upstairs neighbor MoMA, the restaurant has partnered with the Friedrich Petzel Gallery to curate rotating installations.
Take the elevator from Fasano, which The New York Times calls “Northern Italy’s spending account” — proof that the clientele is still there — to Brazilian outpost Baretto. A lounge, designed by famed architect Isay Weinfeld, that plays jazz and bossa nova on the weekends while serving the most chic and discerning New Yorkers, expertly crafted cocktails and rich, homemade pastas. the hand of the eponymous restaurant of the brand below.
The late travel legend, TV host and chef Anthony Bourdain loved the UNESCO-certified Hawker Centers in Singapore. Prior to his passing (which we all still feel like a knife to the heart), Bourdain was striving to bring a true Singaporean-style street food market to New York. Taking the reins is his business partner for the project, KF Seetoh, who in September managed to bring eleven renowned Singaporean street vendors to the streets of Midtown, serving up iconic Singaporean delicacies like Hainanese chicken and chili crab. Alongside are US favorites like New York-based Lady Wong’s Calamansi cakes.
The lamb club
Located in the Chatwal, New York’s Best Hotel at this year’s Readers’ Choice Awards, the historic property has undergone a top-to-bottom renovation and is now led by Chef Michael White (former chef and owner of Altamarea Group, which operates the aforementioned Marea) with support from restaurateur David Rabin (Veranda SoHo) and Grand Tour Hospitality (American Bar and Saint Theo’s). With industry giants like these, one would expect this revival to be a stroll through nearby Central Park, but luring diners to a restaurant in the heart of Times Square with no outside access turned out to be a new challenge. Still, the restaurant’s story, with Thierry Despont’s bright red pops, struck a chord with the group. And they succeeded. When I dined next to the stone fireplace, I could feel history not only within its walls, the reminders of which line the paneling, but history in the making in every corner of the cabin. Expect an elegant spin on American classics such as black truffle crab cakes, blue crab and Calabrian chilli orecchiette, and of course, a New York strip.
Granted, this one, at the Ace Hotel, is a few blocks off limits, but a hugely playful menu combining contemporary French techniques with Viennese tradition is among the friends on this list. James Beard Award-winning chef Markus Glocker cooks up a delicious, butter-mature menu featuring familiar dishes with surprising flavors. Start with the gougère and the three-tier “beouf”, which layers the hand-cut filet mignon tartare with a drizzle of fresh horseradish, hazelnut brioche-crusted oxtail and real Lucullus de Valenciennes (liver beef tongue fat), all in the style of a seafood tower. Other fun twists include lobster sliders and a roasted beet salad that playfully references the Linzer bakery. But really the star of the show is the salted salmon crusted salmon with a scallop and parsley mousse.
Across the street from Saturday Night Live Studios is a four-story townhouse that Pete Davidson, Justin Theroux, Mark Ronson and Nicholas Braun transformed from what was once a celebrity hangout in David Letterman’s days into a celebrity hangout, reborn. But behind its doors lies a place worth considering beyond its Hollywood shine. It offers a cool, down-to-earth vibe with upscale touches like a truly impressive seafood tower and wagyu tartare topped with a generous helping of Kaluga caviar. But the real reason to add it to your Midtown list is its inventive bar menu filled with classics that have been turned upside down.
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