You've heard of celebrity chefs, the kind that patrol their dining rooms in immaculate whites, making chit chat with the big shots. And you've heard about "hot" chefs, for whom the foodies make a beeline. But there some other chefs that may not be boldfaced in the blogs, but whom their peers have supreme respect for. Here are a few of them.
Although not as widely known, or loved, as some of the city's big-name sushi restaurants, Toshio Suzuki's Sushi Zen is a true purist's palace, as its nearly all-Japanese clientele will testify. You won't get dragon rolls, and you won't get away cheap, but what you will get is great sushi.
There are basically three great seafood restaurants in New York: Marea, Le Bernardin, and Esca, and the latter is by far the most comfortable and casual of the three -- not to mention the cheapest. Chef David Pasternack's relationship with local fishermen is legendary, and he has mastered the art of getting out of the way. There is no simpler, or better, seafood anywhere.
In a city where wood-burning ovens and rustic Italian food are common, Peasant has an unusually large number of devoted admirers. Maybe because it was the first, or because the atmosphere and food, under the direction of Frank DeCarlo. Getting in can be a hassle, thanks to all the regulars, but you can usually get a seat at the bar.
As I always warn when writing up a sushi restaurant here, ignore all the negative reviews. An overwhelming majority of diners know nothing about sushi, and are conditioned by strip mall restaurants. Sushi Yasuda is one of the best sushi restaurants in America. Pure, stripped-down, expensive, and not disposed to currying favor with dragon roll-loving yahoos, you go there, put yourself in their hands, and say thank you afterwards.
New York's most famous modernist restaurant is entirely the expression of its chef, the brilliant Wylie Dufresne. Why? Because he's in the kitchen every night, tasting every dish and expediting ever order, that's why.
Kuma Inn is one of the truly original concepts to emerge out of New York's increasingly derivative restaurant scene in recent years. Billed as "Asian tapas," it's in fact an eclectic small-plates restaurant that expresses the vision of one man: its talented chef-owner King Phojanakong. Half Thai and half Fillipino and trained under David Bouley, he's come up with food that is utterly unpredictable and, for the quality you are getting, really cheap.
Get it straight: there isn't a better, more straight-forward chef in New York than Marco Canora, whose restaurant is utterly committed to simple, perfectly prepared season food of the very highest order. Also, don't miss out on pasta, which is the open secret of Hearth's greatness.
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.
Tocqueville is the great New York restaurant everybody forgets about; the one that falls between the cracks. As it's name implies, its the kind of restaurant that gets appreciated most by other chefs. A labor of love from its chef-owner Marco Moreira, the French-inflected food is luxurious, idiosyncratic, and totally timess; Moreira cooks as though he didn't care what year it was, and he doesn't. But his kitchen if one of the best in the city, for those who know about it.
A small place, a committed chef, a lot of pork and seasonal produce served with the utmost simplicity: Trestle on Tenth is a very humble restaurant, but also a very good one. It's in a remote part of town on the far west side, and isn't much to look at, but if you love good cooking and wholesome ingredients it's worth going out of the way for.
Pretty the much the perfect New York neighborhood restaurant. It's hidden away on a curving sidestreet in the west village; it has a perfectly preserved art deco decor; a great drink program; and, most important, one of the best chefs in New York, if not the country, in the criminally underrated Harold Moore. It can get noisy though, so come for an early dinner.
The food, like the room, is somewhat austere here, but if you are a serious student of gastronomy, you probably can't afford not to see what chef Paul Liebrandt is up to -- such is his influence and reputation among New York chefs.
This high-concept take on Mexican food from Alex Stupak was the last thing anyone expected from the former wd-50 dessert whiz. But it was a hit from the moment it opened, owing to its original, ultra-tight, and utterly awesome take on one of the least explored, but most loved ethnic cuisines.