Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Little Miss Hit List: Restaurants

Friends are always asking me for restaurant advice and honestly, I really enjoy giving it to them.  It always inspires me to try a new meal or have a fun night out.

Typical email:
Hey Seri - I have friends and/or family going to NYC and they are looking for some great spots to eat…

So over the past 10 years I’ve come up with several repeats.  Repeats are restaurants that I go back to over and over again because I cannot live life without them.  Sounds dramatic, but that’s how I feel about food.  I just love it…when it’s really good.  Oh…and these are all downtown.  Sorry, I’m biased.

In no particular order…

LMP favorite restaurants:
1.)  NOBU (Tribeca) – I'm addicted to their sashimi. I often order the yellowtail with jalapeño as an appetizer AND for dessert.  I’m sick in the head, I know.  You need a reservation OR you can walk into Nobu next door without one.  
Alternately, Sushi Yasuda has by far the best sushi in town.  No scene here, just biz men and fresh, incredible food.
2.)  Strip house – my favorite for steak + scene.  I go annually for a holiday dinner with my friends from J.Crew and look forward to it year after year.  For just steak I recommend Peter Lugars in Brooklyn where the steak is buttery, juicy and to die for.  Make sure you get the "schlag" with your “hot fudge Sunday” for dessert…
3.)  Budakkan – trendy, Asian/fusion.   I wouldn't have otherwise suggested this except my friends were in from Toronto this weekend and asked me if they should go there.  I said it's ok and it wouldn't be my first suggestion but they would like the menu if they did go.  Well they went and loved it.  So you know I thought for out-of-towners, this place is pretty great.  It's a total scene with extravagant decor in a space so big you'll get lost looking for the bathrooms.  The food is tasty and the people dining around you are typically gorgeous.  Not a bad combo for a night out on the town.
4.)  La Esquina – probably the coolest Mexican spot in NY to date – very hard to get a reservation so if you do, don't screw it up. You enter through their take out store front which looks like a greasy dump.  You head through an unmarked door to find the host and as long as your name is on that list you're as good as in.  A real hot spot where the food is terrific and the scene is uber cool.  Check out Southside for some dancing afterwards…right next door.
5.)   The Little Owl – AMAZING comfort food here.  The meatballs are a MUST.  The guys who started this restaurant are on a total boom right now.  Fedora, Jeffrey's grocery market & oyster bar and Joseph Leonard are all on their list of phenomenal restaurants.  Each is very tough to get into…give a call to get their policies and then schedule accordingly.  Whether you make a reservation a couple months in advance or go early or knowing you’ll have to wait for an hour during which time you could enjoy drinks at the bar!  Last time a friend of mine dined at Joseph Leonard Madonna was eating there.  Sorry, I had to tell you that because I think that’s pretty cool.
6.) Lil Frankies – this east village cash only place is wonderful, cheap, serves wood burning oven pizza and a few pastas along side many delicious wines.  They don’t take reservations…so go early or late…we last went after seeing American Idiot on Broadway around 10:30pm which was a perfectly quiet time there to chow down there.
7.)  Flex Mussels – friends of ours took us to this eatery a little while back at the location uptown.  About two weeks after they opened up right by our apartment on 14th street.  I was quite excited.  A slew of mussel dishes to choose from each one better then the next. LMP pick dish:  Arcadian gumbo sauce, shrimp, andouille.
8.)  Schiller’s – always a cool vibe and good time at this place for any meal breakfast, lunch or dinner.  French bistro food where they serve fantastic steak frites in the lower east side.  Genius restaurateur Keith McNally is the man behind this goldmine along with a few other of my favorites:  Baltahazaar (for an incredible brunch), Pastis (for afternoon wine, oysters and celeb watching), Pulino's (his latest pizza hang out) and Minetta Tavern (for any time you can get in).  Um…and Pravda…I love this vodka bar.
9.)   La Bottega - for the summer time.  This place is the best possible spot in town for dining and/or drinking al fresco.  Huge Chinese lanterns fill the sky at this Maritime Hotel oasis of a restaurant.  I love every item on the antipasti menu which are great for sharing with some bottles of wine.  If you're out for the night and starting here…check out the Cabanas upstairs for a cocktail after dinner…before hitting Hiro in the basement for some dancing.
10.) Mary’s Fish camp – BEST lobster roll in town. You cannot make reservations and this restaurant is TINY. So I suggest you go at an off time like 4pm on a Saturday or better yet during the week in the late afternoon if you can...otherwise you’ll wait forever.  But seriously, you've gotta go.  Their shoestring fries are too, unreal.
11.)  Shake Shack – my personal favorite burgers in town.  I so love this place but forget going here on a nice day...the trick is to go when it’s rainy and/or gloomy...sounds weird but it’s the only time you won’t have to wait (for an hour minimum).  You can also try off hours like 3pm during the week if you can and/or go later at night.  They are open year round and have heat lamps when it gets cold out.  The shack burger is fantabulous but my fave is the shroom burger.  It's a Portobello mushroom stuffed with cheese and fried.  The cheese literally oozes out when you bite in.  Heaven on a bun.  The bird dog (think that's what it's called) is a souped up chicken dog topped with lots of goodies like cucumbers and tomatoes.  I always order this bad boy for my LM.
12.)  Blue Smoke – my favorite for good ol' Texas BBQ.  Great for groups and family dinners.  Also a Danny Meyer restaurant (forgot to point him out for Shake Shack…) who is another great restaurant guru running his empire all over town.
13.)  Hill Country Chicken - so this place recently opened and my first time there was like a dream.  Fried chicken ONLY.  There are no other options for your protein.  Literally.  So be prepared and don’t say I didn’t warn you. With some really delish sides (such as cheesy fried mashed potatoes) this place is totally a heart attack in a basket but so gosh darn good. 
14.)  Meatball Shoppe - Though I have yet to eat at this establishment I know their balls are top notch because I have a friend who had the most brilliant idea of hiring them to cater for her hubby's birthday.  It's supposedly a causal spot and the food is truly delicious.
15.)  Blue Ribbon - a classic for me.  I have been frequenting this restaurant since I moved to NYC in 2001.  This restaurant is just so good.  And I have been forever going for their PuPu platter.  It's a shmorgis board of things such as chicken lollipops, pierogies and ribs which come served on a platter with a little grill on top so you can add some extra char if you'd like to.  It's a cozy place and gets packed so again you'll have to go early, late or at prime time when you'll have to be prepared to wait at least an hour…so what?  Just have a few glasses of wine. 
*I also love Blue Ribbon Bakery for brunch.  Very similar menu just a different scene with a very warm and neighborhoodly type feel.  My hubby's favorite here:  The duck club sandwich.  He gets me to BRB almost once a month by 11am so we can wait in line for the 11:30 opening and be the first ones in to avoid the line…
16.)  Boqueria - The most fantastic Spanish tapas.  I always love this place for a meat + cheese board and a bottle of Rioja.  They have a location in Soho that I love for meeting up in the evening and they have another locale on 19th between 5th & 6th which I love going to if shopping on lower 5th Ave and need to fuel up to get back out there… 
17.) Joe's Shanghai:  Downtown Chinatown.  The best Jerry.  The best.  They are known for their soup dumplings which are out of this world BUT you need to know how to eat them.  If you're a rookie then please ask for assistance when they arrive at your table.  If eaten incorrectly you will burn your mouth when the soup breaks through and you will ruin the rest of your meal.  The other dishes that are a must have:  sesame chicken, string beans with beef, shrimp with meat sauce and I love their spring rolls.
18.)  Dim Sum Go Go - I live for dim sum.  Particularly on lazy Sunday mornings for brunch. Totally looks like a commercial place but it's nice and clean inside and you get to order off a menu so they are not overcrowded with the push carts.  My favorite dish is the pan-fried noodles with beef, oh and the pork buns…steamed and/or roasted.
19.)  Mermaid Inn - I like seafood but it's not the top of my list…ya know?  But sometimes I still want to eat it.  So when I’m looking for a light fishy meal, this place is perfection for dining from the sea.  They have the freshest and tastiest seafood dishes.  They actually serve the next best lobster roll in the city (well not according to my husband…theirs is the best to him!) next to MFC. And now have locations that have popped up all over the city. I am still true to the original in the East Village…especially when the weather is warm and the back garden is open.
20.)  Locande Verde - so I finally got to this restaurant back in February with some friends who were visiting from Toronto.  I had been dying to go but it was impossible to get a reservation.  I finally got one through American Express but think I had called three months in advance to arrange.  Bleck.  But boy was it worth it.  The food was great and I loved the scene.  Truly lived up to the hype.

Also to make note of…

Mario Batalli:  I admire this man so incredibly much.  He's brilliant.  Just brilliant.
So let me give a brief recap of a few of my faves here…
* Babbo - My hubby and I almost always hit this place for a special occasion.  The food is off the charts, the service is top notch and the wine is spectacular.  My favorite dish is the squid ink pasta.  Also…very challenging to get a reservation so plan in advance.
* Eataly - have you heard of this place?  It just opened this year and is not normal actually.  I don't feel like life is real when I'm in there.  It's a massive space where they have markets full of fresh seafood, meat, veggies + fruit, wine, you name it.  As well as 3 full service restaurants (pizza, fish, meat) and a rooftop beer bar. Um, hello?!  UNREAL!  The LM and I frequent this place together…quite a lot because you must go at off times…otherwise it’s literally like being in the central park zoo. 
* Lupa - so my husband is totally in love with the food at this place.  There was a short while when we were going every other weekend and I OD'd on the food there so I haven't been able to go back for about a year now.  But it is indeed, truly amazing there.  Dim lit, great for a date, rustic, Italian delights that will not disappoint.
* Otto - my all time favorite local spot.  Literally down the street from my apartment I've been going to this restaurant for over 5 years consistently for their antipasti specials, pizzas and olive oil gelato…which sometimes I just order for delivery…

A very special place - 
So the most extraordinary restaurant that I've been to in NY, actually in my life, is Blue Hill at Stone Barns.  Chef Dan Barber is behind this farm to table treasure.  Involving a  fancy night out, this place is for those who enjoy adventurous dining and who don't mind driving 45 minutes outside the city to eat here.  

To try…here's my list of places other people have recommended to me…or that I've walked by and want to check out…
·      Brooklyn Fare - a chef's table that is supposedly off the hook delish.  And you can BYOB!  Which I love because we enjoy drinking good wine and these restaurants mark it up so much…so to bring your own…bingo!  Note…they only take reservations on Monday's at 10:30 for the next 6 weeks out…you've gotta be on your game to get in here.
·      The Highliner
·      Buvette
·      The Fat Radish
·      Balboosta (Mediterranean in the west village)
·      Veneiros (for dessert)

For up to the minute hot spots check out Urban Daddy.  I subscribe and am constantly finding new places that I want to try like…
·      Salina's - indoor/outdoor tapas in Chelsea.  Looks beautiful and delicious
·      STK Rooftop – steak + outdoors.
·      The Mussel Pot - supposedly they have a nice brunch.

     Have a favorite restaurant you want to tell LMP about?  Let me know...