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Departures is published by Meredith Corp. and owned by American Express.
In New York, we go out to eat. It’s just what we do. With an array of notable restaurants stretching across the five boroughs, it just makes sense that you'll want to try as many as you can. And frankly, the impetus to cook, while ambitious, is never all-consuming, especially when the world’s most treasured restaurants lie mere inches from your front door.
If you're looking for a New York meal for the books, check out these eleven institutions.
What is there to say about international superstar chef Eric Ripert’s flawless French seafood emporium that hasn’t already been said? Proud recipient of three Michelin stars as well as four stars from The New York Times, the midtown institution has been defining New York’s fine dining scene since opening its stately modern doors back in 1986. And, judging from the most recent stream of accolades—number 36th on this year’s World’s 50 Best list, La Liste’s 2018 Best Restaurant in the World, too many James Beard nods to count on one hand—as well as all the thoughtful, inventive, and pristinely-executed dishes that continue to delight and enthrall diners at every seating (you’ll never look at monkfish the same), this American Express Global Dining Collection partner appears to only be improving with age.
It’s all about theatrics inside the majestically restored Midtown space—an American Express Global Dining Collection partner— that once housed the historic Four Seasons, one of just a handful of landmarked interiors in all of New York City. Major Food Group’s Mario Carbone and crew pull out all the stops when it comes to presenting their updated classics, from cuts of fork-tender prime rib to pasta a la presse, a lavish dish featuring an aromatic duck and vegetable jus extracted tableside with the aide a gleaming antique hand crank press. And the setting, all dark wood, dramatic uplighting, and floor-to-ceiling windows draped in ornate thin gold strands, is just as grand as the menu.
What happens when one of New York’s top Italian restaurants also happens to be one of the city’s very best, period? It secures a spot on both of our lists, of course. This cozy all-day neighborhood joint is as relaxed, welcoming, and charmingly rustic as your beloved grandmother’s kitchen—that is, if your grandmother also averaged a three hour wait during peak dining times. Thankfully the soulful dishes cooked up by co-owners Rita Sodi and Jody Williams (Buvette, I Sodi, Bar Pisellino) is proof that good things indeed come to those who wait, whether they’re in the mood for vibrant green insalata, perfect folds of housemade tortellini stuffed with smoked ricotta, or crispy fried rabbit doused in rosemary and garlic.
Husband and wife team Junghyun and Ella Park of Atoboy fame are behind this two Michelin-starred Murray Hill prix-fixe where artfully crafted graphic flashcards take the place of a standard menu, spelling out the ingredients of each magnificent, fine-tuned course and providing notes on its inspiration. From guk, a delicate introductory soup showcasing fresh seasonal seafood and layers of umami complexity, to jorim, a heartier serving focused on slow-cooked proteins like flaky turbot or Wagyu beef (jorim means braised in Korean), Park’s 10-plate lineup pulls mightily from traditional Korean cuisine while simultaneously pushing culinary boundaries with modern finesse and careful restraint. Inside the lustrous wood-lined dining room, guests perch along the u-shaped 14-seat counter, studiously approaching each elegant dish with the same care and attention to detail with which it was created.
Perhaps Contra chefs Jeremiah Stone and Fabian von Hauske weren’t intending to outdo themselves when they opened this industrial-chic Lower East Side wine bar just steps from their decorated New American prix-fixe but intentions be damned—the bustling, unpresuming space has been subtly nudging its posh big sister out of her spotlight since day one. Inside, a cluster of tall communal countertops beckon to culinary pilgrims like sirens at sea, spellbinding them with à la carte standouts like beef tartare, a Pollack-like splatter of succulent beef laced with smoked cheddar and brazil nuts and set aflame with a dab of fresh horseradish, or ribbons of squid and lemon, tossed in potato flour and masa, fried golden and glistening, and served with matte black squid ink aioli. Wine director Sam Anderson smears the icing on the proverbial cake with a substantial array of all-natural, sulfite-free bottles representing both established and up-and-coming regions around the globe.
A bucket list no-brainer for gourmands the world over, this white tablecloth fixture changed the game when it took over the stunning Art Deco landmark Metropolitan Life North Building as a member of Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group in 1998. Much has changed since then at this American Express Global Dining Collection partner, including a transfer of power from Meyer to lauded chef Daniel Humm and restaurateur Will Guidara in 2011 and a swanky head-to-toe makeover in 2017, but the pure passion and remarkable skill emanating from each of the tasting menu’s 10 exquisite courses keeps EMP as relevant as its first day, if not more. Expect an experience, not merely a meal, and make sure to savor every last bite of that savory caviar cheesecake—you’ll be dreaming of it for years to come.
Chef Daisuke Nakazawa, who cut his teeth as the apprentice in the hit documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, helms this multi-award-winning West Village destination. Opt for a spot at the chef’s counter and sidle up to the master’s low-slung expanse for one of the city’s most exciting omakases, a journey that takes diners through the ins and outs of high-end seafood from hay-smoked Alaskan sockeye salmon nigiri enriched with an intoxicating kiss of peaty smoke to translucent sliver of aori-ika, Japanese big fin reef squid, layered with shiso leaf and finished with a speck of tart, earthy umeboshi. And while the premium sake pairing might sufficiently prime the palate, don’t disregard beverage director Dean Fuerth’s collection of fine imported tea including a particularly impressive competition grade Tenkuu Sencha from Kyoto.
A veritable time capsule of old school New York swagger, this 134-year-old steakhouse has seen generations of Midtown movers and shakers pass through its hallowed wood-paneled walls in pursuit of dry-aged porterhouses, steamed whole Maine lobsters, and famously gargantuan mutton chops. A recently reordered collection of yellowed playbills, prints, and gilded portraits line the space, holding court beneath the restaurant’s signature clay pipe-strewn ceiling and setting a vibe that’s equal parts winsome and whimsical while the broad circular tables provide ample room for the massive cuts of meat and requisite dry gin martinis that await.
Mexico City native Enrique Olvera is the mastermind behind this upmarket Flatiron addition—an American Express Global Dining Collection partner—focused on elevated Mexican fare prepared with cheffy technique and more than a few surprises. The clean, streamlined space is loft-like and cavernous, with illuminated built-in shelving and lush green potted plants of all shapes and sizes popping against the cool gray and blonde oak palate. Don’t miss the duck carnitas, a mound of salt-cured duck braised until supple in condensed milk and Mexican Coke and served atop impeccable homemade tortillas. As one the city’s most Instagrammed dishes, rest assured it’s just as delicious as it is photogenic.
Upon first inspection, this Tribeca hotspot from Keith McNally protegees Riad Nasr and Lee Hanson appears to be your average corner brasserie: trim maroon leather banquette dotted with two-tops, wooden ceiling fans spinning lazily above a long zinc bar, and understated Art Deco touches like the curving, wood-framed backbar and ribbed tarnished bronze support beams. But peer a little closer and you’ll soon see how this celebrated neighborhood go-to is anything but mundane. The menu traipses through Europe’s culinary landscape, combining French standards like oeufs en meurette swimming in rich Bordelaise sauce, golden-skinned duck frites, and rabbit terrine with toasted baguette and sharp Dijon with curious plays like diver scallop crudo topped with roasted corn and fruity ají dulce chiles, pork schnitzel crowned with huckleberry preserves, and a 50 day dry-aged bone-in New York strip fit to rival any uptown steakhouse. Throw in a few craft cocktails and a bevy of expertly selected natural wines and it’s safe to say you’re far from French onion soup country.
Chef César Ramirez’s three Michelin-starred French-inflected omakase might have fled Brooklyn for the shiny new thick of Manhattan’s Hudson Yards development but that doesn’t mean that it’s lost its street cred. The new digs are bigger and sleeker, yes, but you’re still sitting down to a formal two and a half hour meal in the rear of an unassuming grocery store and the dozen or so plates placed in front of you still manage to strike a balance between painstakingly beautiful and unpretentiously scrumptious. This is food that tastes good, presentation with cheffy precision but without overstated flair, never letting creativity stand in the way of flavor. Each dish comes together to fully honor its component parts, whether it’s black truffle-topped uni flown in all the way from Hokkaido or a frozen corn soufflé that dissipates like a feathery cloud as soon as it touches your lips. The 7,000+ bottle wine cellar doesn’t hurt, either.