Nobody is supposed to care too much about it -- but every chef in New York knows who wins the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef of New York. After all, these are the Oscars of the food world. And like the Oscars, many are nominated but only a few have been chosen. Here they are.
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.
Alfred Portale helped transform food into show business at this immensely influential restaurant, where food rose up into towers and new flavors knocked out diners in the 90s. He, and it, are still around and still producing great food day in and day out. So why haven't you gone there?
Whether you swoon for its 4 star food, or find it, as I do, somewhat over manicured, there is no question that this is one of the great restaurants in America. The room itself has a grandeur that is unmatched and the level of service is unparalelled. So is the price, so maybe come here on an expense account or with a wealthy uncle.
Mario Batali's flagship hasn't lost its fastball; its vivid, ballsy take on Italian food continues to constantly change and impress.
Prune was an original, and its whole aesthetic -- the no frills decor, the funky, unvarnished food, the cool music -- has been imitated endlessly. But there's something special that adhere's to the original, and the food has never declined (or gotten better). In its own way, Prune has become as much of a New York institution as Katz's across the street.
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.
The consummate greenmarket restaurant (well, it and Gramercy Tavern) presents a kind of zen-like simplicity in both the room and the food. While the proteins are very good, it's in the produce, all grown for the restaurant, that is the star of the show. For that reason, and given the seasonality that is almost a religion here, you'd do better to go in spring or summer.
Tom Colicchio has become so famous from Top Chef that you could be forgiven for assuming that his flagship restaurant is just another phoned-in cash cow. But in fact the restaurant still strives as hard, and with the same religious devotion to the ingredients, as it did when it opened ten years ago. It's not the liveliest room in town, but
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.
Momofuku Ko might have been the most praised, hyped, and discussed restaurant in New York over the last ten years, and its nominal chef, David Chang, the most lionized. So it's hard to get into, but the food is really good. There is no service or comfort level to speak of.