“Would you like to go for an ice cream?”
At four o’clock on a late summer afternoon, the question was put to me by a close friend. It was a delightful prospect.
We walked a few blocks up Madison to 88th Street and happened into Via Quadronno, a newly opened branch of a chic cafe on 73rd Street. Although often crowded, at that hour the place was pretty much empty and we were seated quickly.
One small dish of ice cream, one of sorbet, an iced tea, a cappuccino.
$26. Or $34 including tip.
Welcome to the neighborhood.
But if you’ve lived here for a while, in the 80s and 90s on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, you know that there are plenty of alternatives for a snack or a meal that are very good or even excellent but not quite so pricey.
Francela (1429 3rd Avenue between 80th and 81st Streets, 212-335-0022) bills itself as a “gourmet market” offering “quick service Turkish food.” It is the latest creation of Orhan Yegen, described by Gael Greene as “uniquely eccentric, legendarily belligerent, and strangely compelling.” She expanded her comments saying, “If you’ve been around eating awhile, you may know Yegen as the restless Turkish dervish who cut a swath through dozens of Manhattan’s Turkish restaurants over the years, dazzling and then departing for the next spotlight.”
Well, whatever may be said about Mr. Yegen, this new effort is both successful and charming—a very pleasant place to stop for a quiet and delicious lunch or to order from the extensive take-out menu. I especially enjoy the attractive buffet where you get to select from a variety of specials and watch as they are piled onto a plate, the plate weighed, and the cost determined. Braised celery root . . . eggplant salad . . . braised artichoke . . . carrot yogurt—all served with delicious toasted Turkish bread. Yum. Also worth noting: the excellent soups.
Next door to Francella is a first-rate old-fashioned neighborhood pizzeria: Lunetta (1427 Third Avenue, 212-535-5700). The fare is much better here than at your average pizza joint, the prices reasonable, and the variety extensive. I’m particularly fond of the vegetarian option, which is piled with fresh broccoli, mushrooms, black olives, and onions in a fresh tomato sauce. And for those concerned, Lunetta even offers gluten-free selections. (This modest establishment should not be confused with the bustling and brand-new Pizza Beach across the street; I haven’t checked that establishment out yet, but it certainly does not appear to be an old-fashioned neighborhood pizza joint.)
The Barking Dog Restaurant (1678 Third Avenue at 94th Street, 212-831-1800) is a casual and cheerful place that boasts an outdoor patio where—guess what!—patrons are welcome to bring their dogs. It’s a wonderful concept and readers of this website will understand my enthusiasm. Mostly the food is simple but quite good—an extensive breakfast menu, impressive soups, excellent hamburgers. But be careful in ordering; recently I thought I was getting basic fish and chips but what arrived was a fish and chip sandwich: fried cod, French fries, and lemon slices stacked up and served inside a thick roll. Not surprisingly, the fries had become soggy and the lemon slices meant dealing with unexpected seeds in the mouth. This was not a lunchtime repast calculated to encourage a return to the restaurant. Fortunately previous visits were pleasant enough that I expect to overlook this glitch (and perhaps to read the menu more carefully in the future). The outdoor space on a quiet side street is certainly another reason to give it at least one more chance and the service has always been friendly and pleasant.
One more destination for a casual meal in this neighborhood is the comfortable and lively Bocado Restaurant and Wine Bar at Lexington and 87th Street (1293 Lexington Avenue, 212-289-9004). This is also a spot for a casual hamburger and, although it only offers wine and beer, Bocado is a tad more sophisticated than the aforementioned Barking Dog. The menu here has some enjoyable treats: artichokes with a blue cheese dip; a prosciutto and fig sandwich on flat bread; grilled salmon with Russian red kale and quinoa; and some of the best French fries I’ve tasted anyplace. As might be hoped for in a wine bar, the selection is intelligent and varied if not quite as extensive as might be expected. Also worth noting: among the beers offered was Schlafly beer from St. Louis. An excellent choice.
A more serious and pricey restaurant than the others mentioned, 83 1/2 (345 East 83rd Street, 212-737-8312) is the place you want to visit if you’re looking for a really first-rate meal in the neighborhood. A quick glance at the reviews received on TripAdvisor will attest to this.
83 1/2 offers food that’s up to the standard of almost anyplace else on the entire island of Manhattan. Having eaten here on several occasions, I can easily recommend the exquisite and delicious fare. Owner Vincenzo Mangiafridda is reported as wanting to open a restaurant that “spoke to his Sicilian roots. He sought a balance between the old and new worlds, a combination of classic Italian cuisine and modern presentation.” He has succeeded impressively in achieving this goal. Some recommendations from the menu: “cavoletti di Bruxelles” (an extremely generous portion of crisp and marvelously seasoned brussels sprouts); homemade ravioli stuffed with artichoke and ricotta; “cappelletti di branzino” (homemade cappelletti with a branzino ragù).
One caveat: if you’re sensitive to noise, make a point of visiting 83 1/2 at an off hour or when you can be seated outside. The restaurant is deservedly popular but quite small and it can get very loud.
And finally, no discussion of eating in this hood could be complete without a mention of Trattoria Pesce Pasta (1562 Third Avenue between 87th and 88th Streets, 212-987-4696). A comfortable and welcoming neighborhood Italian place, it’s been around for more than fifteen years and under the current ownership since 2009. With its excellent take-out menu and free delivery service, this is the place that has saved many a “what do we have for dinner?” evening. And the old-fashioned and delicious fare that arrives at your doorstep is truly a delight. Tired and hungry? Call up and in only a little time, the minestrone or pasta e fagioli will put a smile on your face. Find the refrigerator empty? The spinach gnocchi, linguine al pesto, or meat ravioli will do very nicely, thank you.
It’s sometimes said that this Upper East Side Manhattan neighborhood no longer offers the attractions it once did or can compete with the hip and happening restaurants of Brooklyn or the Meatpacking District. Well, it certainly isn’t hip and happening, but don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t eat well here. And you don’t always have to spend $34 for ice cream.