"Jean Georges" rings out to gastronomes across the globe; "Nougatine," not so much. And yet it has the same kitchen and is in the same space as its more-famous sibling. Is it an isolated case? No, not at all!
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.
The food is just as good and the room twice as lively; why pay extra?
For all its asian inflections and supremely elegant simplicity, the food at Le Bernardin is potent to the point of richness -- a testament to chef Eric Ripert's vision and balance. Service is impeccable and the sommelier, Aldo Sohm, the best in the country.
Jean Georges' more casual, less expensive sibling is an annex within the restaurant; if you didn't know better, you might just think it a lounge.
The less-expensive Bar Masa is for people who want to eat Masa's sushi but can't afford the price of Masa. The experience is very different, but very fine in its own right. Still, it feels like dating Khloe Kardashian.
Danny Meyer's restaurants are all great, but none have had the urbanity and social cachet of this superb effort on the ground floor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Modern is so good, with such original cooking and such impeccable service, that it would automatically be the best restaurant in nearly any other city.
Craft's first and arguably best spinoff, this restaurant is misnamed. Yes, it has a very big and very accomodating bar but the room itself is gigantic, just as big as Craft, and the menu could by no stretch of the imagination be considered bar fare. It's actually the same kind of simple, painstakingly sourced food as its parent, but a little edgier and a little more dressed down.
The most ambitious, elaborate, and expensive of the Mario Batali group of restaurants, Del Posto offers superb food, wine, and service, but there's no question that the room's size and formality are more than a little intimidating. It looks, and feels, like nothing so much as the main dining room of a vintage ocean liner. Eating at the bar is the way to go here.
Generally considered a clubhouse for elderly grandees, Le Cirque remains a top-flight New York restaurant, with unfailingly excellent food and flawless service. More people should go there.
Though it has moved from its East Side townhouse and chef Charlie Palmer is long gone, Aureole still has much of its old authority as one of the preeminent exemplars of the so-called New American Cooking. Now that everybody does it, Aureole has responded by becoming more global and eclectic -- after all, it began with originality and originality drives it still. The room, it has to be said, is unmistakably sterile and corporate. Go anyway.
Maze is a more casual, swankier, and less buttoned-down adjuct of Gordan Ramsay's eponymous restaurant at the London hotel. Which is just what you need, given the former's characterless poshness and stratospheric costs.