Let's say you have a bunch of people, plenty of money, and a desire to be shut off from the rest of humanity. While many restaurants have special, walled-off dining areas, here are a few which take the experience to truly insular extremes.
Still, to my mind, the defining New York restaurant, Gramercy Tavern is the crown jewel in Danny Meyer's restaurant group, partially as the result of chef Michael Anthony's amazing greenmarket cooking, and partially because of its incredible service, great cocktails, and Nancy Olson's superb dessert program. One caveat: the front room is all air and color and excitement, and the back room is a drab dungeon.
A modern take on a classic New York restaurant, City Hall centers on steak and oysters without ever going for the steakhouse / brasserie feel. It's large and well-managed, and so makes a great place to just relax away from the trendy / hectic dining scene further uptown.
Daniel is a hard restaurant to characterize. It's probably the standard by which all Michelin 3-star food in New York is judged, when service, atmosphere, wine, and everything else is taken into account. The food is precise, globalist, and executed with the very utmost extent of French technical skill. But from a purely culinary point of view, I always found it somewhat disappointing. When they do the kind of glorified Lyonnais or country French food Daniel Boulud does better than anybody else, the place is unbeatable; but too often I feel that there is no real point of view. Flavors and traditions jump from course to course, and you are left without a real sense of where the kitchen is coming from -- which is not to say the food isn't delicious. But it always seemed a little overconceived and perhaps a little overelaborate. That said, this is probably the ultimate New York restaurant experience.
Jonathan Waxman, though not a name to conjure with anymore, is still a true chef's chef and a giant in New York cooking history. His current restaurant, Barbuto, features superb simple American food (particularly a famous roast chicken) in a former garage on a beautiful corner.
A distinctly modern and urbane version of middle-eastern / meditteranean food, the brilliant Phillipe Massoud's Lebanese-inflected small plates restaurant achieves a level of cool usually beyond the reach of hummus and mezes.
I'm going to go ahead and bet that this is the only restaurant you'll ever go to in New York that has an in-house dietician working with the chef. There's an elaborate dogma behind the place, which serves a kind of elevated spa cuisine, but you wouldn't know it from the food, which while coming in small portions, tends to have very distinct and assertive flavors. The room is big and handsome, but don't expect to get out of here for less than $100 a person.
The owners of beloved West Village trattoria Dell'Anima move to a bigger space on West 10th Street.. For diners who loved the often cramped, overheated confines of Dell' Anima, this spacious sequel will come as a happy surprise. One with a big open kitchen, a raw bar, a cheese counter and many more seats. The food is seasonal, rustic, casual Italian food with an emphasis on pastas and medium-sized plates for sharing. And the scope of the menu is wide, ranging from throwbacks like spaghetti and meatballs and fritto misto to out-there dishes like Wagyu beef tongue and tripe bruschetta. Everything is complimented by a superior wine list devoted to small-producer, regional varietal wines selected by partner Joe Campanale.
Everything about Daniel Boulud's downtown eatery sounded ridiculous: its name, its sausagefest menu, it's elaborate compound hamburgers. But guess what: it's a fantastic addition to downtown, the sausages are extraordinary, and the burgers terrific.
A sequel of sorts to midtown's legendary San Domenico, this more modern downtown version still features some of the Emilia-Romagnan classics for which it's predecessor was justly famous.
It's sophisticated and urbane, with a teriffic cocktail program and very good food by Geoffrey Zakarian. So why doesn't The Lamb's Club get more love? Some people may find the room a little sterile, but more, I think, just can't believe that a hotel restaurant near Times Square can really be good. But it is.
Michael White's venture in haute provencal cuisine -- some Italian, some French -- is a culinary triumph, albeit in a somewhat sterile city. The room is big and quiet though, and makes a great spot for an elegant, sunlit breakfast.
The epitome of what people want from an urbane, of-the-moment bistro, circa 2012: twee and rustic surroundings featuring local and seasonal food prepared with surgical precision, each leaf tweezered into place with an almost religious respect. The costs are moderate, the service attentive, and the food superb, even by Manhattan standards.
When it was announced that Daniel Humm and Will Guidera of Eleven Madison Park were going to do the restaurant at the Nomad hotel, everyone assumed it would be ultra-refinedd modernist food, as at EMP -- but no! Instead Humm has gone for an understated, urbane, and traditional menu, albeit one prepared with immense behind-the-scenes innovations. The atmosphere is swanky and the food perfect every time out. I actually like Humm's food in a more dressed-down form. The Library lounge is a can't miss drinking spot.
It's listed here as Park Avenue Winter, but could as easily be Park Avenue Summer or Autumn -- the restaurant changes not only menu but its decor as well. This is one of the city's more accomplished and ambitious American restaurants, with gorgeous plating and masterful food that really does what so many claim to do: cooking seasonal food by the most rigid definition. It's expensive but worth it.