Baji and TP are finally getting a vacation and coming to the city and Baji has requested recommendations even though I fully plan to have all meals and snacks with her during her stay. In no particular order:
Brunch – Supper (East Village)
If you're old and grumpy like me, your tolerance for supper at Supper (terrible service, annoying crowds, long waits, but wonderful, affordable food) died out circa 2004. (Mint butter pasta, I miss you!) Thankfully, brunch appeared there a few years later. Like the dinner menu, the brunch offerings are unique, delicious, and remarkably affordable. Bonus: no wait, no crowds, excellent service. Have the polenta and a side of bacon (those instructions are for me, not for Baji). $15 per person
Dinner – Frankie’s (Lower East Side)
One night a middle-aged female tourist came up to me on Avenue A and said she had just eaten at Supper:
"Strangest Italian food I've ever had. They didn't even have meatballs on the menu!"
We didn’t know each other; she just really needed to share. She did not find in me an understanding soul for her savagery. I felt truly sorry for her from the tips of my elitist NYC toes to the top of my supersnobby French head (or is it the other way around?). In any case, she would surely say the same about Frankie's, which has Italian food that is quite simple while being different from what you might expect if you were an uncouth chicken-parm eater slash mouth-breather (although it must be said that they do have meatballs on the menu). It’s a bit pricier than some of the other options here (except Nobu, duh). Main dishes are around $16, unlike Supper and Lil Frankie’s $11–$12. At Frankie’s, everything has been determined to be wonderful. Even should-be-boring steamed broccoli rabe evokes the same awe as the creme brulee (which is marvelous—and big!). $20–$30 per person
Another Dinner – Lil Frankie's, not actually related to Frankie's, but related to Supper (EV)
At Lil Frankie’s, one eats the rigatoni polpettini and one eats it a lot. $15 per person
Another Dinner II – Epistrophy (Little Italy/Soho-ish)
Just saying a restaurant is unpretentious is pretentious. But somehow, Epistrophe manages to cultivate a romantic, sort of scene-y aura that attracts pretentious Euro types while genuinely remaining unpretentious (although certain parental units have complained that it’s too loud). It’s damn good. And yet another example of “weird” (=normal) Italian food. No meatballs. $15 per person
Dim Sum – Mandarin Court (Chinatown)
Mandarin Court’s a little tricky: Some days lots of trays with many options come around frequently, and on other days, it’s just the same two trays over and over again. But either way, you will get a good meal (you just might not get baby bok choy when you want it). One thing to keep in mind when in Chinatown is that no one there (and probably no one Chinese, period) cares what you think, what you want, or when you want it. This is generally closer to charming than annoying because it's not an affectation. On the Lower East Side, the waitstaff with their "I'd rather be modeling" attitude work hard to deliver bad service; in Chinatown, it's effortless. They really don't give a shit. My point being: When the dessert tray at dim sum comes around at the top of your meal, grab your dessert(s) NOW. Don't expect the dessert tray to come around again when you're ready for it. And at Mandarin Court the service isn’t bad, just indifferent. Overeating will run you $10-$12 per person.
Burger – Royale (EV)
This one inexplicably never turns up on the best-of NYC burger lists. I don't get it. It is by far the best burger I've had in New York ($8, fries are extra but they’re kind of crap; onion rings aren’t much better). The service is great. Shake Shack (location: nowhere you need to be) is good too – their fries are amazing – but the lines are retarded and you should only eat there if you’re in the neighborhood around 5pm (or if you’re retarded).
Cupcakes – Sugar Sweet Sunshine (LES)
Repeat after me: Sugar Sweet Sunshine is the best. Magnolia is the worst. I don't even like cupcakes and yet I love the ones at Sugar Sweet. The trifle at Sugar Sweet is also insane. Seriously, NRA-card-carrying, shoot-people-from-the-bell-tower insane. Get it. But leave the shooting to the trifle (no worries, trifle has terrible hand-eye coordination and at worst will make you dance like Bugs Bunny when Yosemite Sam shot at him before being hauled back to the asylum, aka your belly).
Splurge – Nobu (the only reason to go to Tribeca, ever)
You must have: black cod with miso, rock shrimp tempura (times a million), ceviche, yellowtail sashimi, praline parfait for dessert, and then some sushi for good measure. If you’ve never been to Nobu, the waiters will tell you what to get and how much. Listen to them (the pricey specials can be avoided, though). It’s a splurge at about $100 a person, but for the best meal you’ll ever have, one you’ll think about for months to come, it’s unquestionably worth it. My only complaint about Nobu is their cheap-ass splintery disposable chopsticks. I have strong feelings about their subpar sticks and can work myself up into quite a state on this topic. But anyway, hot damn is it good. Don’t let anyone talk you out of getting two orders of the rock shrimp tempura (ahem, certain fathers of mine).
Snacking at a Dinner Place – Momofuku Noodle Bar (EV)
Marry Nobu, cheat with Momofuku. It’ll be awkward when your children are born with marked chicken-bun features, but worth it (especially if you didn’t get a prenup). $10 for two brilliant, valedictorian chicken buns
Japanese Takeout – Ogawa (location irrelevant)
The shrimp tempura roll awaits you and it does not bear hidden, insidious lettuce. Embrace the roll, love the roll, be the roll.
Comfort Food – Mama's (EV)
Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, the only meatloaf I am willing to eat, garlic-infused broccoli, etc. This place always strikes me as pricey when I’m paying, given that it's not really a restaurant, but you can easily make two meals from one, so it’s really not that bad. $12 for a main and two sides
Jerky – Jerky (?) (LES/Chinatown-ish)
Does this place have a name? I don’t know. It’s around Ludlow & Canal and all it sells is jerky. I don’t recommend the beef; it’s kind of boring. Chicken is not bad, but pork is really the way to go. And no, this one is not for Baji. It’s pricey at $14 a pound, but it’s the only time a stranger has asked to share my food on the street (yes, I shared and the stranger was duly impressed with the jerky).
Runner-up Splurge – August (West Village)
It’s in the West Village, therefore the service is excellent and the ambience is elegant yet warm. Just eat whatever, it’s sublime. $30 to $50 a person
Thai – Sea (EV)
Cute, affordable, tasty. The kind of place in which you might be tempted to order every single one of the appetizers. Know what happens when you do that? I do. It makes people uncomfortable, because apparently it’s what restaurateurs do when they’re sizing up the competition. And the people next to you will stare. Do it. $12–$15 a person
Banh mi – Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches (EV)
A very out-of-the-ordinary combination of flavors (to me) plus ingredients that when looked at closely (avoid doing so) resemble bologna and cat food equals: a virtuoso performance by a sandwich. Bravo. $5
Coffee will be had at Cake Shop and ice cream will be had at Il Laboratorio del Gelato, which I am frankly indifferent to and think is overpriced, but I am indifferent to almost all ice cream and all ice cream in New York is overpriced so I am not to be listened to on this front. Baji, I believe you will enjoy this place. And it’s still cheaper than that empire of heinosity Coldstone Creamery. Shudder. I got a cone there once and had thrown it away by the time I got to the end of the block.
What's that? Manhattan continues north of 14th Street and south of Delancey? I don't believe you.