Eat around in New York, from Harlem to the Battery, from the Goethels to the Tappan Zee, and you'll see an endless array of beef, pork, veal, lamb, and chicken. You may even see a few ducks. But when you get an urge for elk, bison, or boar? A venison chop or some snake meat? Where do you go then? Fret not. Citysearch has you covered.
Make no mistake: this is the original New York gastropub, and you could make the argument that is defines the genre as well as anyplace anywhere. The beer selection in both the locations is outrageously wide, with literally dozens of exotic, expensive, and rare brews, both imported and domestic. And the food is far more ambitious and far more complex than anybody seems to realize, including both a full-bore barbecue program as well as a half dozen innovative game specials every day. There may be better restaurants and better pubs, but to me, this is the ultimate gastropub.
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.
The most striking thing about this game-heavy gastropub isn't its meaty menu -- although, admittedly, that's striking indeed -- isn't the food. It's the unlikely location, on the far end of Henry Street (hence the name) a couple of blocks from the BQE. The burghers of Brooklyn Heights aren't know for their avant-garde tastes, but Henry's End is such a warm and welcoming place that they will even get with the program and have some elk carpaccio or board steaks, even if they aren't too sure about it.
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.
Public is one place that definitely deserves the "better than it has to be" award. The room is the very essence of the retro style pioneered by the influential design firm AvRoKo -- no surprise, since its founder, Adam Farmerie, is the brother of Public's chef-owner, Brad Farmerie. The latter does adventurous modernist food made with far greater care and imagination that one would expect from a restaurant this pretty on such a chic block of Nolita. The cocktails are also very high-concept. Some nights you'd rather have a steak and a Rob Roy -- and if that's the case, go someplace else. Public doesn't take the easy way.
New Yorkers who consider Blue Hill to be the ultimate expression of twee, refined locavore food have clearly never been to Mas (farmhouse), a very fine, very stylish, and very pretentious restaurant that nonetheless serves some of the best food in the city. The name is cringeworthy, and no one will be getting portions larger than what a well-behaved 9-year-old might expect, but for a certain kind of diner this is an ideal place to experience American food at its best and purest.
Here's the main thing about Freemans: it's really cool. Not cool in the way of too many New York restaurants, whose sleek designs and haughty hostesses try way too hard; this is an effortlessly funky room at the end of a secret, one-way alley, which serves A+ rustic American food (including a laudable number of game dishes) and some great cocktails. The cat is out of the bag at this point, and Freemans is nobody's secret, but you still have to want to go there, because it's really not easy to find. But it's worth the effort.
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.
Brooklyn's let-it-roll style works well in the case of barbecue, which is best served in dressed down, funky environments. Unfortunately, it also requires a lot of precision, which Fette Sau doesn't always lay down. The food is excellent, and there are meats smoked here you won't find elsewhere, but they sometimes sit around too long. Go early when they first open, and look for the pork belly if they have it.
What started out as a place best known for its Belgian beers and great burger now has taken its place as one of the city's premier purveyors of whole animal cooking. Their "large format feasts" are perfect big groups of carnivores, and there's a meat bar next door called Cannibal. And of course the Belgian beers haven't gone anywhere.
Bareburger has come out of nowhere over the last few years to win the city's naturalist gourmet hamburger sweepstakes -- admittedly, a contests with few entrants. Still, given how many upscale burgers have appeared in the last decade, this groovy minichain, with all-natural Piedmontese beef and a whole line of game burgers (elk, bison, and more). The look is Berkley Nouveau and the prices are much better for the quality of their product than you will find at swankier joints.