You might not believe it to read the papers, but there are high-end fine-dining restaurants in New York not owned by people named Boulud, Vongerichten, White, or Ripert. One of the city's proudest boasts, in fact, is that only in New York could a world-class restaurant go unnoticed? But some do, and these are a few of them.
Chefs have come and gone but a few things remain the same about Veritas: the food, French inflected but unmistakably modern, will always be very good and very grown-up; the wine program, as the restaurants name might suggest, is at its very heart and includes some of best and most obscure french bottles in the city; and the atmosphere will always be more low-key, more relaxing, and just generally chiller than the other great New York restaurants. Veritas knows what it is.
The final word in Greek seafood, or maybe even just seafood, in New York, Milos is a restaurant dedicated to the noblest of culinary goals: taking the best product that can possibly be had and doing as little to it as possible. Milos takes this to an extreme, serving impeccable seafood jetted in that day with just some lemon and salt, if that. It's an ultra-clean, ultra-light, ultra-delicious experience -- and ultra-expensive.
Kaiseki isn't for everybody. The most intricate, subtle, exquisite and demanding form of Japanese cookery requires great patience, respect, and a willingness to pay a lot of money for many courses of not-especially-filling food. Descended from the even more complicated tea ceremony, kaiseki restauants, of which Sugiyama is the preeminent example, serve a series of delicate and tiny dishes to diners of a certain temperament. The flavors aren't bold and the portions aren't big, and you have to sit there forever, but for the truly discerning it can be a glimpse of paradise.
The first, and still the greatest, of the city's ultra high-end Chinese restaurants, Shun Lee has been up against it from the first. Why, people ask, should I pay $100 for Chinese food when I can get it delivered for eight? Because this is Chinese food as it was made by the country's great chefs, not the Cantonese workers who created the cantonese gunk we all know and love. This food is exquisitely prepared, sourced, and cooked to a level completely on par with the best French and Italian food in New York.
A very fine seafood restaurant in midtown, Oceana largely caters to corporate clients, but it's worth a special trip at night. The room is not exactly bewitching but the place is usually full, and the reason is that it's a kind of Le Bernardin lite, an extremely refined kitchen that spares no expense in sourcing fish from around the world. You can usually get a seat at the bar.
Anita Lo's critically lauded Asian food takes aim for, and hits, the sensibilities of serious gastronomes. The food is mature, delicate, elegant, and not that much fun. The cooking is calibrated to be just so perfect in every bite, to look beautiful, to make sense (foie gras soup dumplings = east / west, luxury / poverty). But it comes in tiny portions and doesn't deliver the kind of whallop a certain kind of vulgarian (i.e. me) likes most at dinner. But it's a great place to take a lady of a certain age, or a visiting chef or food writer.
Contrary to popular believe, Jack's Luxury Oyster Bar is still open and still one of the best tasting menus for the money in New York City. The food, now as when it opened, is orderly, tidy, concentrated bursts of flavor, served in a jewel-like romantic space. A contemporary classic.
GILT is a strange case. One of the city's most ambitious, advanced, and best kitchens produces some of the most startlingly good food to diners in a freakishly strange and beautiful room -- and nobody knows about it. Maybe it's because it's hidden in the Palace Hotel, a private preserve of rich eurotrash types. Whatever! Go there when you are eatin on an expense account or with a rich friend looking for something different. Because this place really is.
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.
Stark, sparse, austere, monastic: those are the kind of terms you generally see 15 East described with -- so pared down is this no-frill sushi temple that it doesn't even have a name! There is literally nothing here to distract you from the business of eating very, very, very good sushi, that costs much, much, much money. It's really not for dabblers and dilettants. This room is for people who care about sushi to the exclusion of everthing else -- whether they own restaurants or eat in them.
John Fraser's heroic effort to single-handedly bring haute cuisine to the Upper West Side has largely succeeded, thanks to his unpretentious but precise cooking. His Meatless Monday menu is so good that even I can eat it.