A Golden Collection of Fancy to Fancy Free Restaurants in Manhattan
Karen Holly Berliner
Close your eyes for just a moment.
Now wander through your memory for an image, an occasion; even a faint snapshot of a memorable meal that you’ve had. Perhaps you’ll conjure up an icon eatery once visited for a holiday brunch or a romantic dinner date, where you cuddled, sipped and dined fireside. Wherever that special dining spot is, take a moment to recollect the feeling and let yourself go there.
Now open your eyes.
Imagine having the chance to make more dining memories still. Maybe you’re craving satisfying, wholesome fare but looking to indulge in a little well deserved luxury as well. Whatever the reason, enjoying a meal at a great restaurant is the perfect way to capture moments, but picking one in a city that boasts thousands of choices can be a daunting task at best.
In that spirit, Upscale Living magazine has gleaned a well-rounded sampling of some of our favorite dining destinations, deliciously sprinkled throughout the ever evolving culinary landscapes of Manhattan.
Chef Daniel Boulud’s db Bistro Moderne
55 West 44th Street
The word “Bistro” is clearly over used these days. Often in order to stay A-listed and in vogue, this term gets frivolously tossed around like its constituent catch phrases; comfort food, artisanal; even farm to table: although pretty and politically correct, the corresponding food falls short of the description when it’s set before you.
Read: Emphatically not the case here.
The bistro title isn’t a gimmick at db’s rather, it’s their bottom line. Located in the bustling fashion and theater districts of midtown, the French cuisine here sustains its authenticity, yet defers to the flavors of a demanding and contemporary American market. The result: a well-executed partnership between new generations of Parisian bistros whose classically-trained chefs offer creative cuisine within a relaxed and informal setting. This triumph is because of the artistry of renown Chef Daniel Boulud.
His 120-seat dining room feels inviting and familiar via carved furniture, metal bead curtains and hand- rubbed plaster walls, all offset by the warmth of amber colored glass, fabric-wrapped ceiling panels and olive toned velveteen upholstery. Chef Boulud has achieved an atmosphere of gravitas balanced with levity, of playful creativity, without compromising the seriousness of the patriarchal roots that its family tree commands. (Restaurant Daniel)
The seasonal menus, prepared and beautifully plated by Chef Laurent Kalkotour, highlight the quality of fine ingredients used. Waiters bring inventive signature dishes to the table, such as their very popular – and legendary – DB burger, a veritable achievement of freshly-ground sirloin generously stuffed with red wine braised short ribs and foie gras, then piled high on a house-made toasted parmesan bun. The larger “Royale” version (adding decadent, shaved black truffle) with a bountiful side of pommes frites and you have the beloved classic hamburger lifted to a divine place. At the end of the meal, Pastry Chef Jerome Maure‘s offers delicious confectionary treats such as Chestnut Bread Pudding with vanilla spice poached pears, chestnut crumble and pear sorbet. Undecided? Freshly-brewed coffees come accompanied by house made madeleines, gently choosing for you. For traditionalists, feel free to dine by the book here, adding a selection of fromage, such as Brie de Meaux, Roaring Forties Blue and Humboldt Fog goat cheese, casting just the right finishing touch.
An Olive by Any Other Name …
35 West 64th Street
Extravagance. Opulence. Decadence. Terrence Brennan opened this elegant restaurant across from Lincoln Center and named it after a green Mediterranean olive. After two decades of satisfying patrons and boasting a complete redesign a few years back, Picholine is all the more refined today – if refining perfection is possible. Lush lavender velvet drapes, gray mohair banquettes, a grand chandelier and surprisingly comfy seating await. Chef de Cuisine Jonathan Mailo offers a wide array of flavors simultaneously savory and tangy, always with a little extra surprise or “kick” to surprise and delight patrons. Try the seasonally inspired pumpkin bisque with chestnut crémeux and cranberry with marshmallows or the foie gras “jelly roll” with heirloom beets, pickled apples and horseradish. For the adventurous, order the wild partridge or grouse, if available. It is cooked to tenderness and complete with the menu note, “birdshot may be present.”
The diverse wine list is endless with selections in every category; the cheese service sublime, all varieties served in a cheese cart filled with extraordinary selections from Welsh Caerphilly to Rogue River Blue from Oregon and Constant Bliss from Vermont. The desserts here are remarkable too, like apple “pain perdu” with apple confit, ginger-apple cloud and cinnamon streusel ice cream.
Pristine Simplicity in Dining
65 East 55th Street
Restaurant Aquavit offers four distinct rooms to suit your mood and appetite. The Dining Room with its soft elegant atmosphere; The Bistro with its lively vibe, bold colors and rustic Scandinavian bistro menu; the Bar and Lounge with its airy atmosphere and waived wood ceiling – the perfect spot to enjoy a signature cocktail and a nibble – and the Private Dining Room, which can accommodate more than a party of 50.
The ambiance of Aquavit is as wholly Scandinavian as the fare, a setting of muted woods contrasted by stark white walls harmonizing to create a calm and serene effect.
Executive Chef Marcus Jernmark showcases his talents and commitment to quality and authenticity, always building on the fundamentals of Swedish culinary tradition. His Swedish meatballs are plump with a great peppery kick; his herring in curry, cream and vinegar is revered among the best in New York. The hay-smoked sweetbreads, the venison tartare and the Arctic char are all hits here as well. Not to be missed is Aquavit’s famous Sunday smörgåsbord, a traditional Scandinavian buffet of cured, pickled, and smoked seafood dishes, charcuterie, salads, and more. Their Swedish pancakes with Lingonberry whipped cream are to die for.
Share a Plate, Share a Smile, Share a Journey
Sojourn UES, NYC
Food here is custom made for sharing, from the deliberate sections of a blushing tangerine effortlessly ready for divvying up; to a grilled shish kebab – an edible totem pole layered with favorite meats and vegetables that encourages a playful round of “one for me and one for you.”
In every culture, the experience of dining has been one of sharing, whether with friends, family, or sitting at a communal table breaking bread with others. Take this archetype and expand it to a restaurant; its vibe, the atmosphere, the set up, and of course, the food and you have Sojourn; a New American spot serving globally influenced dishes.
Enter the foyer into the unexpected journey that awaits you via a welcoming passage out of the bustling, sharp hawks of the Upper East Side and into an alcove warmed with textured stucco walls cast in dim lighting. Once in, one feels the restaurant is a delightful secret about to be shared. A sprawling well-stocked copper bar reveals itself; a perfect spot to take off your jacket, relax and settle into. Early bird guests are treated with new and traditional cocktails (think Mojito or Classic Martini) along with signature concoctions such as their Louisville Slugger: a blend of bourbon whiskey (Maker’s Mark), muddled thyme, lemon, and Vermont maple syrup.
Sip for a while, share a little idle chit chat with the bartender and enjoy the simple pleasure of not having to rush. If this is all you’re after, then it’s plenty good here. If in fact you’ve arrived with an appetite, take a few steps to your left and allow yourself to be coaxed further. Rich wooden slotted double doors open into the dining room, where chic ambiance shares space with an almost rustic den atmosphere cloaked in oak and cinnamon hues. The more one looks and listens, the more the intensely the mood is defined. There’s flattering candlelight about, cozy seating nooks; simple and unassuming wood tables, comfortable throw pillows dispersed about; a candlelit corner showcase of wines and eclectic music from Mozart to Cat Stevens. In a town where tapas small plates or full sized dishes seem commonplace, Sojourn’s delightfully presented medium-sized plates are much akin to the tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears; not too small, not too big, but just right, a perfectly delicious excuse to share.
The menu and wine list change frequently, reflecting the freshest and most seasonally inspired ingredients; offering a truly diverse international menu with obvious authenticity. Start with some crispy, deep fried oysters with a dip and follow by splitting a couple of entrées such as the squid ink “black” pasta, complimented with fresh chunks of sweet lobster meat. Add the grilled octopus salad, sautéed Swiss chard, fingerling potatoes, red onion, black olives, capers, a red wine vinaigrette and a nice helping of octopus cooked to perfection – a lively and earthy mosaic full of textures and tastes. The duck breast is moist, tasty and generously portioned.
End the night with warm churros, complete with a velvety dark chocolate dipping sauce or equally as dreamy is the ricotta cheesecake with a traditional graham cracker crust and a whole berry compote topping. Compliment dessert with a glass of Port.
Oh, and don’t fret: You don’t have to share if you really don’t want to.
Oui, s’il vous plaît
Beaumarchais in the Meatpacking District
There was no mistaking it: I could hear the strains of jazzy music from down the block. Not in an invasive, driven sort of way; more like a subtle, provocative lure. I followed the sounds until I was a storefront away. It was then that I could make out the tune: “The groove is in the heart – the groove is in the heart – No, I couldn’t ask for another – Your groove I do deeply dig … No walls only the bridge – my supper dish, my succotash wish.” And then the visuals kick in and jive so perfectly with the music; that, rather than walking through the entrance,
I stroll in from the patio and become part of the atmosphere, where folks were supping and sipping on their first cocktail of the evening. I am the restaurant and the restaurant is me, flirting shamelessly – with the music, the diners swaying to it, the endless stream of people passing through. I grabbed a cocktail menu offered to me like the membership card to an elite, avant garde club and order a mojito: not just a standard mortar pestle lime and mint leaf type, but a sassy concoction – a “firefighter” with jalapeno infused maestro dobel tequila, lime juice and a drizzle of pomegranate juice.
There I sat and enjoyed the easy-does-it glaze over vibe. I felt my stress melt away like soft serve ice cream, all smooth and creamy. Op art in bold primary colors dared me to look, like a playful rough-house challenge. Very Andy Warhol. With no glance necessary, my attentive waiter was there, taking my order sans pad and by heart. In minutes, the parade of cooked to order dishes came, in perfect succession, wowing me further. The Canard au Fenouil; seared duck breast with spring garlic puree, sweet pickled spring garlic, duck rillette and turnip was a first for me, and certainly memorable. The more I ordered, the deeper I fell. And while I wasn’t looking, two people begin to dance together at the bar upfront. I believe they were strangers not 10 minutes earlier. Now how do you like that?