Chelsea, Flatiron, Gramercy, and Midtown West
photo by Robert Menzer
Most of the Mario Batali - Joe Bastianich canon is firmly rooted in Italy, but Batali also lived in Spain, and so in 2003, the duo opened Casa Mono and Bar Jamón near Union Square, unveiling one of the first homages to the region of Catalonia on U.S. soil. Both spots channel Barcelona, with their casual rhythms and relaxed hums, and at the ripe old age of 11, still command nightly crowds. The best way to experience Casa Mono is similar to how you’d eat at the more casual Bar Jamón: Grab a barstool — preferably one at the chef’s counter, where you can watch chef Andy Nusser’s cohorts at work — order a glass of wine or sherry, and move at your whimsy through cured meats and raciones. Classics include the fideos with clams and chorizo, the duck egg with truffles and mojama, razor clams a la plancha, and foie gras; upon further review, we’d add the pan con tomate and the bacalao croquetas to the list of dishes you should not miss.
Eleven Madison Park
photo by Dominic Perri
Sit down for dinner at Eleven Madison Park and prepare to be dazzled by presentations of NYC classics that verge on wizardry: Meals start and end with a black-and-white cookie; a Waldorf salad prepared tableside is presented in a dish that hides granola steeped in the same flavors; pastrami on rye is served with a house-bottled soda, the flavor of which is selected for you via a kind of game you play at the beginning of the meal. You’ll find all of the fine-dining boxes ticked here: Service is impeccable, food is pristine, sommeliers are deft at navigating the deep wine list, and the dining room is well appointed — a remarkable evolution from its roots as a large-scale brasserie. Thank Daniel Humm and Will Guidara for the current iteration; the relentlessly hard-working duo has pushed this place forward since 2006, when Danny Meyer brought them on to refresh the then-eight-year-old spot. They shaped it into a collaborative, New York–centric temple where kitchen and service staff work together seamlessly. The team continues to innovate, even to the point of flirting briefly with tableside magic after the partners bought out Meyer in 2011. Guidara and Humm have earned four New York Times stars and three Michelin stars for their efforts, not to mention a coveted No. 5 slot on the San Pellegrino list of the best restaurants in the world. Nine years in, the most remarkable thing you’ll find at EMP is the contagious enthusiasm for this kind of experience, a buoyant joy that makes you feel your (not inconsiderable sum of) money is well spent. With that energy, and with the owners’ constant vigilance, it feels inevitable that this place will one day be ranked the best restaurant on the planet, exactly what the owners intend.
Gahm Mi Oak
photo by Bradley Hawks
Amid the legion of 24-hour K-Town destination spots, Gahm Mi Oak would seem a bit subdued. There are fewer neon lights here, and nary a hissing, smoking tabletop barbecue in sight. The menu is a bit smaller, the prices a little steeper. But there are many compelling reasons to find a seat here: One is yook hwe, a dish of raw slivered beef tossed with crunchy batons of Asian pear; it eats like a Korean tartare, complete with a raw egg. There’s also the modum bossam, a plate of simmered pork belly, raw oysters, and effervescent radish kimchi that you wrap up in pickled cabbage leaves; it’s a good dish for a crowd. But the dish that reigns supreme — and the one you’ll have a hard time finding elsewhere — is sul long tang, a cloud-white broth imbued with the concentrated essence of long-boiled beef bones. Topped with ribbons of brisket, rice noodles, and a thicket of sliced scallions, the soup arrives unseasoned. There are pots of salt on the table, and your server will supervise as you adjust the soup accordingly. He may suggest a little more or give a startled shout if you’re about to turn the potage into something as salty as the sea. Bonus: This dish is a traditional hangover cure, if you’ve got bad decisions to undo.
photo by Nicole Franzen
A year before Danny Meyer’s Union Square Café hit a decade in business, the restaurateur partnered with an enterprising young chef named Tom Colicchio to open this Flatiron treasure, quickly garnering national acclaim. Now celebrating its 20th year, the kitchen is helmed by Michael Anthony, who took the reins after Colicchio left in 2006 to focus on his Craft empire. Anthony has valiantly carried the New American torch, ushering in an era of euphoric greenmarket worship. Incorporating European and Japanese techniques, his plating displays a restrained beauty despite flavors that are candid and bold. Take the chef’s raw and roasted root vegetables, an array of carefully prepared and arranged vegetation splayed across a wooden board. By manipulating each vegetable in multiple ways, whether charred in the oven, served pickled or raw, Anthony makes the dish feel almost educational. Few chefs can so deftly express the nuances of a parsnip. Gramercy Tavern feels timeless, whether you’re digging into upscale pub grub in the tavern up front or exploring the tasting options in the back dining room.
photo by Penner
For the followup to his midtown Korean tapas haven Danji, chef Hooni Kim — who has become something of an emissary for modern Korean food in New York — built Hanjan, a smartly dressed tavern just south of Koreatown styled after a joomak (a sort of Korean tavern). Kim serves a menu of beverage-friendly small plates, including fresh-killed chicken skewers, spicy cod roe stew, and a crisp green onion pancake called pajeon. Chewy rice cakes slick with pork fat are the perfect foil for mugs of makgeolli, a foggy rice beer that has a faint tropical sweetness. For a special treat, visit after 9 p.m. to sup on bowls of ramen (here called ramyun) 12 hours in the making. Kim boils down fish, pig, and chicken bones for half a day, creating a swirling, rust-colored broth smacking of chile and brimming with soft planks of chashu pork and springy noodles. If Hanjan's many boozy beverages (cocktails, soju, and, of course, makgeolli) don't have you spinning, this heady cauldron of soup should do the trick.
photo by Francesco Tonelli
After Will Guidara and chef Daniel Humm purchased Eleven Madison Park, the restaurant they’d all but perfected with über restaurateur Danny Meyer, they struck gold again with their sophomore act, an ornate palace of ingestible pleasures. The buzz surrounding The NoMad’s hedonistic chicken for two has yet to die down, and the truffle-and-foie gras-stuffed fowl deserves every last cluck of praise. But beyond the prized poultry and the absurdly good bread service (rolls were recently served with coins of zucchini baked into the dough), the restaurant’s various rooms deliver unique experiences that cater to all manner of occasions and moods. The airy main hall feels communal and cheery, while a fireplace nook is perfect for romance, down to the velvet upholstery on the chairs and banquettes. As at EMP, bartender Leo Robitschek’s cocktails are incomparable, and here they’re given a stage all their own by way of a dramatic bar and library where guests can while away an evening snacking on crudités and discovering the power of sherry. The hotel added a weekly reservations-only jazz show featuring cocktails and small plates in a room on the second floor. It’s an intricate operation with many different moving parts, and Humm and Guidara make it look effortless.
photo by Peter Mauss/ESTO Photography
When Danny Meyer, having firmly established his Union Square Hospitality Group, launched a hot dog cart in Madison Square Park in 2001, he had no visions of building an empire. But because his presence helped revitalize an underused part of New York City, he was soon asked to set up a permanent kiosk. So he opened Shake Shack, doling out juicy, cheese-paved burgers, thick shakes, and custard-based concretes at fast-food prices to the relentless hordes of Flatiron workers, burger pilgrims, and passersby that gathered day after day. In the years since, Meyer has become an international hamburger kingpin — Shake Shack has expanded to several states and around the globe. But no location offers the open-air charm of the original, where the crowds continue to congregate, lingering over burgers and beers from the moment the windows open until long after they’ve shuttered for the night.
Trestle on Tenth
photo by David Penner
The hat-tip to the High Line meandering along the other side of Tenth Avenue carries its own metaphorical weight: As a disused freight-carrying framework reveals itself as a pedestrian oasis, so does an unprepossessing Chelsea corner open into an eater’s Eden. The dining room at Trestle on Tenth — diminutive bar, comfortably scattered tables, low-key service — eschews ostentation in favor of a philosophy we’ll take the liberty of calling diners’ ergonomics. The menu betrays chef Ralf Kuettel’s classical European training but with an eye toward local seasonality and a commitment to care and feeding. His wine list is blessedly concise and vividly imaginative — a true standout. Kuettel’s Swiss, but “Fondue Sundays” notwithstanding, it’d be a disservice to label his food as such. To what nation should an appetizer of duck necks, hacked into three-inch lengths, dredged in a heady rosemary breading, and crisped to the meat-melting point, claim allegiance? We won’t even guess, but we’d apply for citizenship in a heartbeat.