Logan recently posed an interesting question that he thought might be helpful to you guys. Now that I’ve been working in in the city for almost a year, what three dining discoveries have I made that would come in handy for someone planning a visit? It didn’t take me long to compile a list and narrow it down to my top three of the moment. Hopefully these suggestions will help everyone from the most experienced New York visitors, to the first timers.
1. Snack 105 Thompson St.
This little neighborhood gem in SOHO was an extremely recent find of mine, two days ago in fact. I was in the mood for Greek food, and I found Snack just over 4 blocks from my office. A very simple storefront displays a humble four tabletops and a food counter displaying some tasty looking Greek pastries. The menu has all the staples you’d expect, Skordalia, Saganaki, Dolmadas, along with interesting choices like Roasted 1.0 portobello mushrooms, red peppers & arugula with a spicy feta spread on sriracho bread. All the sandwiches are named like versions of software, which can only mean they’re constantly tweaking and improving their recipes. I chose a crisp classic Greek salad (meaning no lettuce) and a side of Skordalia (a puree garlic, potato, olive oil, and lemon juice). All the ingredients were at the peak of freshness, which meant the taste was off the charts. In all honesty, having been to Milo’s and sampling some of the finest Greek food Manhattan has to offer, Snack is easily the next best thing, and at a fraction of the price.
2. Da Nico 158 Mulberry St.
When you’re in the mood for some real homemade Italian food, you’ll find it here. Hidden amongst the myriad tourist trap Italian wannabes in Little Italy, Da Nico is serving up some super fresh cuisine, with a respectable wine list chockfull of some kick you in the teeth reds that stand up to the most robust of red sauces. On a recent visit with my family, we were seeking out a plate of Lobster Fra Diavolo to rival the much touted (by my father anyway) Randazzo’s. While it wasn’t on the menu, our waiter didn’t bat an eye when we made our request. We were met with a manhole sized bowl, overflowing with a whole lobster, fresh clams, mussels, scallops and shrimp. Underneath this ocean’s bounty was a pile of perfectly al dents linguine, and the whole affair was covered in a devilishly spicy pomodoro sauce. With great service, food and atmosphere, you can’t go wrong with Da Nico.
3. Eleven Madison Park
The first two entries are excellent, casual dining experiences with fantastic food that will definitely make for a memorable time. But if you want a dining “experience”, the kind of meal that you’ll be talking about as one of the finest of your life, make a reservation at Eleven Madison Park. Upon entering, you’ll be greeted warmly by the maitre’d and the soaring ceilings of the dining room. I have to say this was one of the most beautiful restaurants I’ve ever been to. Almost immediately our waiter was at our side, throughout the meal, he made us feel like we were his only table that night. He also served as our guide through the extensive tasting menu. You’re presented with a nicely designed card (which sets the tone for the whole experience) with a matrix of ingredients. The four rows represent the four main dishes. You choose from a variety of proteins, for instance for my first course I was given the options: trout, crab, quail; 2nd course, ricotta, snapper, lobster; 3rd course, chicken, pork, lamb; dessert, pear, strawberry, chocolate. Since the menu changes so often, I won’t bother going into detail about each dish, but you get so much more than the four dishes you choose up front. Normally a fine restaurant provides you with one or two amuse bouches, but that’s not enough at Eleven Madison Park, no we were presented with no less than five. Live scallops with orange zest, a cold pea soup with Parmesan frozen in liquid nitrogen, oysters, homemade cheese puffs, and my favorite, a beet and goat cheese lollipop. The meal was fantastic and far surpassed my expectations, the wine pairings were perfect for each dish, expertly chosen by our waiter (and sommelier). A highlight was during my duck dish, which was served whole and roasted with skin so crisp and meat so succulent. They proceeded to carve and serve the breast tableside, but to my dismay they took the legs back to the kitchen. Only after I had neatly devoured what was on my plate did the legs reappear, only now they had been cooked confit, in fact I couldn’t even see the meat below the creamy white duck fat, out of control.
Before dessert was served, another round of amuse bouches were brought to the table, an array of chocolates, macarons and caramels (I’m not doing these justice by giving such boring descriptions, they were unreal). Following dessert, we were asked if we’d like a coffee or aperitif, my father chose an espresso along with a cognac, I joined him in a cognac as I was in the mood for a nice warming drink. Rather than pouring us two glasses in the back, our man returned with an entire bottle of fine cognac, and plonked it right down on the table so we could pour ourselves as much as we liked.
This has become pretty long winded but I had to give this place its due. Eleven Madison Park is easily in my top 5 dinners of all time. Usually those experiences break the bank, but you could easily have a very special night for under $300. Like I stated earlier, this is an “experience”. Something that may not happen again, something you will surely never forget. That’s the beauty of this great city, it is what you make of it in every way, especially food. Adventures range from ultra expensive, to the cheapest of cheap. These three restaurants alone are a shining example of the range that NYC has to offer. Such a broad spectrum, there’s a gem out there for everyone.
So those are my picks, those are the places I would highly recommend to anyone planning a visit to my city. I’m sure there will be more great places to come, so feel free to ask. Enjoy!