. . . shall we have dinner tonight?
It’s a question frequently asked by friends here in New York as well as by out-of-town visitors. What kind of food and, more importantly, which restaurant? The answer changes with some regularity. A place that was wonderful a few years or months or even weeks ago is often not quite what it was and other establishments have superseded it in the personal pantheon of Manhattan favorites.
At the moment, the following is a random selection of the local places that are currently among the chosen. I should also add that since I’m no longer paid to review and since an accompanying expense account no longer exists, I am particularly partial to eateries that offer what one great pal refers to as “good value.”
The first establishment which comes to mind is Brasserie Magritte (1463 Third Avenue, 646-449-0606), a small and welcoming corner of Belgium between 82nd and 83rd Streets. I have already mentioned this restaurant in an earlier edition of the website (Issue 15, March 24, 2014), but it certainly deserves a lengthier plug. The fare here is robust, uniformly delicious, and beautifully presented. Their beef dishes are especially tasty and their onion soup may be the very best example of that particular treat that I’ve ever tasted on either side of the Atlantic. There is also a staggering selection of Belgian beers—some of which, like Blanche de Namur, have delighted even this non-beer-drinker’s palate. I do find that the place can be a little too busy on weekends, but that’s easy to avoid and, if necessary, a bit of noise is a small price to pay for such excellent eats in so charmingly decorated a space. The homage to René Magritte, the Belgian surrealist—clouds painted on a pale blue ceiling and light fixtures in the shape of derbies—is quite delightful.
Across town at 2607 Broadway is another place which was also briefly mentioned in Issue 15, Regional (between 98th and 99th Streets, 212-666-1915). This unassuming neighborhood spot offers specialities from the various regions of Italy and, to date, everything sampled has been absolutely first-rate. To start, I’d suggest a “Piatto Misto” for the table. Here you get to select from an impressive array of Italian cheeses and “salumi” that are presented on a wooden board and provide the best imaginable accompaniment for cocktails. Other suggestions: the “Orecchiette Rapini e Salcicce” (ear-shaped pasta with sausage broccoli rabe, garlic, and olive oil) and the “Pollo All’Emiliana” (breast of chicken with prosciutto di Parma and parmigiana in brown butter and zucchini). It also pays to listen to the specials. They are usually excellent recommendations.
In the same Upper West Side area is another gem: Awadh (2588 Broadway, 646-861-3241). It is quite possible that this is currently the best Indian restaurant in Manhattan. Their website offers a bit of history: “Awadh, once a princely state, is among the most ancient of Hindu regions. . . . When chef/owner Gaurav Anand first visited the city of Lucknow in the Awadh region, the historical legacy and the vibrancy of Awadhi cuisine changed the course of his life forever.” How lucky those of us who live in New York are to have this extraordinary place as convenient as it is. Go and be prepared for sampling a variety of Indian fare like you’ve probably never experienced in the past but will be anxious to do so again and again.
Posto at 310 Second Avenue (18th Street, 212-716-1200) may be the most unusual pizza place anywhere. This is quite different than the deservedly celebrated DiFara in Brooklyn (where you might just taste the best traditional pie you’ve ever had in your entire life). No, Posto is far from traditional. Here the crusts are paper thin and the ingredients unexpected—pineapple slices? Portobello and shiitake mushrooms? Shredded chicken braised with chipotle sauce? But wow! Everything tasted was scrumptious and even worth tolerating the rather noisy space.
In the early seventies, the place where all who thought of themselves as young up-and-comers frequented was Il Vagabondo (351 East 62nd Street, 212-832-9221). The often-cited feature at that time was the bocci court that ran down the side of the main dining room. Alas, somewhere along the line, Il Vagabondo seemed to be forgotten and nobody mentioned it anymore. A few months ago, however, a friend happened to walk by the venerable establishment and suggested we try it again after all these years. We did. And I keep going back.
Il Vagabondo is a classic Italian restaurant with traditional food, courteous waiters, and a comfortable ambience. It’s one of those places where everyone seems to be treated like an old friend even if they’ve never been there before. The original restaurant space has now been expanded and there are two additional rooms; my favorite is the center one looking out on a private patio. And yes, they still have the bocci court.
Another re-discovered old-timer is the very glamorous and excellent Le Colonial (149 East 57th Street, 212-752-0808). The truth is that the food and presentations here are now better than they ever were—undoubtedly due to the efforts of Ron Hsu, the young chef. In the past, nobody went to Le Colonial for the quality of the dining (think Mr. Chow’s), but now it is a major reason for going there. The fare is uniformly superb and it fits in beautifully with the glamorous setting, the exquisite presentations, and the impeccable service. That’s a lot of superlatives for a place that was until quite recently easy to have forgotten. Le Colonial is better than ever. And although the crowd may not be quite as glitzy as it once was, the New York Post has reported that Bruce Springsteen was recently seen there so things might be changing.
All the above mentioned establishments are worth considering for a pleasant and satisfactory meal. There may well be lots of other suggestions in the future, but for the moment this list should provide a good variety of choices for locals or visitors.