As we head into 2017 the question on many a New Yorker's mind is "where should we go to eat?" Luckily for you, the Wine Chef did a lot of "research" and worked hard at finding some of the best spots in NYC! My list of recommendations includes only restaurants I dined at in 2016. Many of my favorite places (Le Bernardin, Gramercy Tavern, Babuji and Marta come to mind) are not listed because I didn't make it back to them in 2016. There are just so many places to try and only one Wine Chef! Please let me know in the comments section below what your favorite restaurants are and don't forget to scroll down at the end for all the appetite-increasing photos, all taken by me. Happy New Year and may your 2017 be filled with epicurean delights!
TOP NYC SPECIAL OCCASION RESTAURANTS: These restaurants are beautiful places with excellent service, delicious and creative menus, and a great wine list. I've listed them in order of preference, with the first two being tied for #1.
#1 Atera, 77 Worth Street - I took my daughter Colette here for her 25th birthday and, while I was expecting a fine-dining, tasting-menu-only experience, what took me by surprise was how fun and hip the place is. There are only 12 seats at an elegant bar facing the kitchen so there is a lot of interaction with the chefs. Each dish was truly a taste sensation and a pure delight to experience while listening to great music in the background and chatting with the friendly chefs and servers. I found it to be a unique experience with such sophisticated cuisine in a relaxed setting. I LOVED it and so did Colette.
#1 Bouley, 163 Duane Street - What can I say?! David Bouley is a genius and dining at Bouley is an incredible experience. Try and dine here before it closes later this year as this is truly fine dining at its best. I couldn't resist trying (only a bite or two each since I didn't want to ruin my appetite!) every one of the dozen or so warm breads from the bread cart that comes around as you are waiting for your first course to arrive. This was my birthday dinner with my husband and we were lucky to procure a bottle of the hard-to-find Clos Rougeard Loire Cabernet Franc from the extensive wine list. The staff is so gracious, the room is so beautiful and the food and libations so exquisite that you feel as if you are living in a fairy tale for a few hours.
#2) Eleven Madison Park, 11 Madison Avenue - This gorgeous, high-ceilinged restaurant has a tasting menu that kept me and my husband busy (and extremely happy!) for four hours!! At one point during the meal we were even invited into the kitchen to see the goings-on and have our photo taken. Reservations are hard to come by but if you can get one, you will not be disappointed!
#3) Aureole, 135 West 42nd Street - My husband and I dine at Aureole every year for our wedding anniversary and it always delivers a wonderful dining experience. We do miss the more charming and intimate original Upper East Side location, but the food and attention to detail is a constant year after year no matter the location.
#5) The NoMad, 1170 Broadway ( at 28th Street) - The NoMad restaurant in The NoMad Hotel with its sleek and sexy dining room makes you want to settle in for the evening and enjoy it all: the food, the drinks, the people watching. But make no mistake about it....you are here for the roast chicken, THE best in NYC! It is stuffed with foie gras and truffles and presented table side, showing off its crispy skin. It is taken away and returns ready for plating. The dark meat arrives on the side mixed with a delicate, lemony cream sauce.
#6) Gabriel Kreuther, 41 West 42nd Street - A beautiful and elegant restaurant with Alsatian-inspired cuisine, excellent service and many interesting selections on the wine list. I took my husband here to celebrate his birthday and it has a very "special occasion" feel and delicious food.
#7) Marea, 240 Central Park South - We took our three grown daughters here recently and, ten minutes into the meal, my middle daughter exclaimed, "I could fine-dine every night". This restaurant makes you feel pampered and happy with beautifully prepared seafood, pasta and more. The wine list has some wonderful selections and the sommelier is very helpful. It's also a fun bar at which to have a drink and a bite.
FUN UPBEAT PLACES WITH GREAT FOOD, WINE AND COCKTAILS, AND GOOD SERVICE (in alphabetical order):
ABC Cocina, 38 East 19th Street - This beautiful and glamorous space in ABC Carpet & Home has a wide variety of excellently prepared Latin American fusion dishes to share. The eclectic wine list is fun to peruse as well. I always order the Lopez Heredia white Vina Gravonia, a white wine from Rioja. The cocktails are also fabulous, especially the margaritas. Favorite dishes include raw shaved fluke, grilled maitake mushrooms, sizzling shrimp, corn and crab fritters and chicken with rice.
Atlantic Grill, 1341 3rd Avenue - This Upper East Side standby is still an excellent choice for a seafood dinner. The fish is always fresh and interestingly prepared and the sushi rolls are a good choice as well.
Bergen Hill, 64 Cooper Square - I've only eaten at this stylish, candle-lit restaurant once, but I thought the food and the wine list were both excellent. We sat at the bar overlooking the small kitchen and the chef was so friendly. Watching him prepare the dishes was like observing an artist at work in his studio.
Cafe Altro Paradiso, 234 Spring Street - This is the sister restaurant to Estela and I almost didn't include it until I was reminded of the gnocchi I had there and I thought, how could I not?! It was served under shavings of creamy, earthy, and luscious castelrosso cheese with the most flavorful roasted tomatoes and smoky pancetta. The gnocchi just melted in your mouth and the flavors really popped! Sitting at the pretty marble bar, chatting with the friendly bartender about the interesting wine list was also very enjoyable.
Clinton Street Baking Company, 4 Clinton Street - I only ate here once for brunch but it was AMAZING! The blueberry pancakes were to-die-for. Get a side of cheesy polenta too. Yum!
Coopers Craft & Kitchen, 169 8th Avenue - I've never actually sat for a full meal here but I can tell you that the Monday night $1 fish tacos are some of the best in New York. Crispy warm fish filets covered with cabbage and a chipotle mayonnaise sauce paired with one of their many selections of craft beer ($5 beers on Monday - Friday 4-7pm) is my kind of night!
Cull & Pistol Oyster Bar, Chelsea Market, 75 9th Avenue - This is my all-time favorite spot for the best oyster happy hour in Manhattan. Get there early (by 3:45 pm) on Mondays through Fridays to snag a seat at the bar. Order the house white wine of the day (usually around $28 per bottle!) and watch your oysters and other fresh seafood being expertly prepared. Every day there is a selection of 10 different fresh and briny oysters to choose from. A MUST-HAVE warm appetizer is called Pistols on Horseback. Click here to read more!
Dante, 79-81 Macdougal Street - I can only talk about my one time at this cozy Greenwich Village restaurant which serves amazing cocktails and has tasty small plates. It was a bustling spot that night and the servers were so friendly and accomodating. Try the burrata, octopus, or cioppino.!
Estella, 47 East Houston Street - This busy Nolita restaurant serves creative, shareable and delicious food. Try one of their many selections of off-the-beaten-path wines by the glass or the bottle. You won't go wrong here!
Gato, 324 Lafayette Street - Bobby Flay's hip and hit of a Spanish tapas restaurant (lots of dishes to choose from!) is always a fun and lively spot to sit at the large bar or comfortable tables to catch up with friends and family. There are delicious cocktails and a nice selection of reasonably-priced wines to complement the food.
Indian Accent, 123 West 56th Street - I only dined at this high-end Indian restaurant in the Parker Meridien hotel once for a friends and family night right before it opened. I was able to try just about every dish on the menu as well as several of the wines and inventive cocktails. Everything made a great impression on me, including the lovely space and I cannot wait to go back!
Injera, 11 Abington Square - I was introduced to this cozy, candle lit Ethiopian restaurant by a friend who took me for my birthday. The food was really delicious, especially when paired with a dark Ethiopian beer. I love the way of eating everything here (except the yummy creme brûlée for dessert) with your hands by scooping it up with delicious Injera flatbread. The servers were all so friendly and warm, making for a wonderful evening (Thank you Graham!).
Ippudo (East Village), 65 4th Avenue - Ok so the wait here can be almost 2 hours! Don't sweat it. Just put your name down and take a walk in the fun neighborhood. Grab drinks at Acme or Lafayette and before you're even half way through your second martini, they will be texting you that your table is ready. By this time your appetite will be primed for one of their fantastic and filling ramen dishes as well as lots of great appetizers like chicken wings, pork buns and crudo.
Jeffrey's Grocery, 172 Waverly Place - I also only dined here once, sitting at the busy bar with a friend, and the food was amazing. Everything was just bursting with flavor and there was a nice wine and cocktail list. Get the clams with tomato served with a garlicky and crusty bread! I can hardly wait to go back and I hear they have a great oyster happy hour as well!
King, 18 King Street - I celebrated my birthday at this lively new restaurant with a dear friend. We sat at the small bar and had such a fun time. My excellent dirty martini started off the night right and the food and wine were so good! (Thank you Harry!) Read more about it here.
La Esquina (aka Corner Deli), 114 Kenmare Street - I just love this Mexican brasserie so much! The food is fresh and inventive and the scene is fun, fun, fun!! I always start the night off with a spicy jalapeño margarita. The last time I was here I tried the tortilla soup and it was fantastic! The tacos are amazing. Get the incredible cheesy corn-on-the-cob too! Really, everything is delicious and it's actually a good value as well! I'm going again this week and my mouth is already watering!
L'Artusi, 228 West 10th Street - a beautiful bi-level restaurant with a long bar and excellent Italian food, particularly the homemade pastas. Great cocktails, an extensive wine list and a great, bustling scene!
Leuca, 111 N. 12th Street, Brooklyn - Andrew Carmellini's new place in The William Vale hotel in Williamsburg is a beautiful space with delicious pastas, wood-fired pizzas and many more dishes. I've only been once for a pre-opening dinner but I look forward to returning. Head up to Westlight, the bar at the top of the hotel, for a delicious cocktail in a beautiful setting with amazing views before heading downstairs to dine at Leuca.
Nougatine, 1 Central Park West - This more casual sister to Jean-Georges next door is always bustling with high energy. I've heard mixed reviews but I have always had a good meal here. The wine list and cocktails are top-notch as well.
Paowalla, 195 Spring Street - This new Indian restaurant by Floyd Cardoz was another birthday dinner with a dear friend and I really enjoyed the warm, vibrant atmosphere and creative Indian cuisine. A paowalla is a man who drives a bread cart up a road, selling bread. The many varieties (naan, poori, etc) are served as a starter with choices of several tasty chutneys. This is a great spot to share many dishes and basically walk out stuffed and happy!
Pasquale Jones, 187 Mulberry Street - This fun new spot downtown has two large wood-fired stoves. Don't miss the clam pizza and wine-braised pork. I've sat both at the bar and at a table and enjoyed both experiences. Read more here.
Pearl Oyster Bar, 18 Cornelia Street - One of my all-time favorite restaurants which transports me to the coast of Maine every time. I always order the creamy, bacon-infused clam chowder, the meaty, bursting-with-flavor lobster roll and the best-ever butterscotch parfait. In the summer, I also have the blueberry pie!). A transplanted New Englander's heaven!
Peter Luger, 178 Broadway, Brooklyn - I'm not much of a steak-eater but, I must say, the Porterhouse here is quite amazing. Don't miss the creamed spinach, hash browns, and excellent desserts with "schlag" (whipped cream). And don't be intimidated by the brusque waiters which are part of the charm of this long-time NY institution.
Pizzeria Sirenetta, 568 Amsterdam Avenue (between 87th and 88th Streets) - A wonderful addition to the Upper West Side's dining scene. This warm and welcoming spot serves up excellent pizzas, pastas and more. Read more here.
Racines, 94 Chambers Street - This fabulous little restaurant with its Parisian flair, delicious food and friendly staff is a favorite of mine. It's a lot of fun sitting at the small bar overlooking the kitchen to take in all the action if that's what you're in the mood to do. There's an excellent selection of organic and biodynamic wines as well. I'm going back next week and I can hardly wait! (Update: I ate at Racines on January 12, 2017 and it was as fabulous as ever. Make sure to ask for Arnaud's help when choosing the wine and you will be guaranteed a perfect complement to your meal. And PLEASE order the chocolate caramel tart for dessert.... the best in NYC!!)
Rouge Tomate, 126 West 18th Street - The new location of this restaurant is a beautiful space to settle in and enjoy the vegetable-centric cooking. I love sitting at the long, comfortable bar, relaxing with a cocktail before pairing some interesting wines with the inventive and delicious food. See more about Rouge Tomate here.
Sadelle's, 463 West Broadway - I only ate at this Jewish appetizing restaurant once for brunch but I will definitely go back. Everything was delicious. The Tower, with its amazing bagels, fabulous cream cheese spreads, smoked salmon, fish salads and thinly sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, was heavenly. Don't miss the cheese blintzes either ... SO good!
Saxon and Parole, 316 Bowery - I love sitting at the bar here, chatting with the friendly bartenders, sipping well-made and generous cocktails, trying interesting wines by the glass and sharing a wide variety of delicious plates with friends. Always a fun spot with a great vibe. Read more here.
Sushi of Gari, 370 Columbus Avenue - The sushi here is alway fresher than fresh and beautifully presented. There are a couple of other locations but I have only been to the one on the Upper West Side in 2016.
Toloache, 166 East 82nd Street or 251 West 50th Street or 205 Thompson Street - These upbeat Mexican restaurants always deliver great margaritas along with creative and fresh cuisine.
The Dutch, 131 Sullivan Street - Andrew Carmellini's five year old restaurant is still going strong. The bar is a nice, lively spot to have a drink before heading off to your table. The food here is always tasty (oysters, fried chicken) and the service is definitely with a smile!
Untitled At The Whitney Museum, 99 Gansevoort Street - This sleek space feels casually elegant and the food is always sophisticated, creative and just plain delicious! Read more about Danny Meyer's seasonal American fare here.
Upland, 345 Park Avenue South - This beautiful brasserie always satisfies with its hearty cuisine and upbeat atmosphere. Excellent cocktails and wine list. The bar here is a lot of fun to dine at and I hear at lunch they have one of the best burgers in town. My best friend and partner-in-crime took me here for my birthday dinner if that tells you anything!!
THE WINE CHEF'S BEST VALUE OF 2016:
Yee Li, 1 Elizabeth Street - A friend of mine from the wine business was in town visiting from France and a bunch of us took him to this unassuming spot in Chinatown. Being the winos that we all are, we brought many bottles of wine (no corkage fee!) to go with several courses of tasty Chinese food and I think it all came to about $30 per person! The lighting is too bright and the wine glasses are horrible but the food is really good, really cheap and you can bring as much wine or beer as you wish, stay as long as you like and have a grand old time!
OTHER CHOICES TO CONSIDER:
Being a member of the wine trade and media I get many invitations to lunches and dinners. Most times there is a set menu and so it is a different experience than when I go out to eat with friends and family. But I would be remiss if I didn't mention the following restaurants which provided great meals and settings for learning about wine, and, above all, delivered a great dining experience.
And there you have it. Many excellent NYC dining possibilities awaiting you in 2017! Happy New Year!!