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A Bite of the Big Apple

July 14, 2008
Stories and Photos by Phyllis R. Sigal Design Editor

How many restaurants are in New York City?

Too many.

Too many from which to choose.

Article Photos

Too many to ever try in one's lifetime.

Too many expensive ones way beyond my limit.

Too many bad ones that will be closed before I even get to them.

Fact Box

Helpful Web Sites

nycvisit.com/RestaurantWeek

www.frommers.com

www.newyork.citysearch.com

www.nymag.com/restaurants

www.nyc.com/restaurants

www.new.york.diningguide.com

www.foodsofny.com

www.tourdefrancenyc.com

www.foodnetwork.com

Just too many.

But what a great hobby: to attempt to try as many as possible.

I've been traveling to New York City for years, and here is a sampling of some of my recent dining adventures.

There are many ways to choose a restaurant in the Big Apple.

1. By proximity. So, you're going to see a play in Times Square. You want to have dinner nearby. (Well, if that's your choice, beware of the pre- and post-theater crowds and the tourist-inspired prices.)

2. By cuisine. In the mood for Thai? American? Seafood? Greek? Steak houses? Dim sum? Pizza?

3. By chef. Of course lots of celebrity or well-known chefs have settled in NYC. Daniel Meyer (Tabla, Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe, Eleven Madison Park, Blue Smoke). Bobby Flay (Mesa Grill, Bar Americain). Mario Batali (Babbo). Daniel Boulud (Daniel). Thomas Keller (Per Se). "Iron Chef" Masaharu Morimoto (Morimoto). (But remember, just like with designer jeans, you're usually paying something extra for that name.)

4. By neighborhood. You want to hang out in the village for the day. OK, so where to eat? Shopping in Soho? Where's the best lunch spot. Bargains on Canal Street? Where's a cheap spot at the end of the day?

5. By ambiance. Looking for a romantic spot? A family restaurant? Outdoor dining?

A great bar?

6. By price. That one's easy. Most Web sites list the restaurants by dollar signs. The hard part may be finding one with few dollar signs.

We're always looking for value. We like to find the ones with lots of stars (for good ratings) but just one or two dollar signs.

Some favorites:

Luke's Bar and Grill: We happened upon Luke's Bar and Grill while we were in search of outdoor dining on a sunny April day in the city.

We started at 124th and headed south and about 50 blocks later, we finally landed at 1394 Third Ave. It was worth the walk ... just for the onion rings alone. They were skinny and lightly battered - my favorite kind! I had Prince Edward Island Mussels, that were perfect. My husband, Bruce, and I split a traditional Roquefort salad, with a crisp wedge of iceberg, blue cheese, tomato and balsamic vinaigrette. My son, Leland, had a delicious shrimp and avocado salad with a tarragon vinaigrette. The service was excellent, and our waitress was generous! She brought us a second glass of wine, which she said was "on her."

"Why?" I asked her.

"Because I like you guys!" (And her tips, I'm sure!)

Other selections on the menu included a Cobb salad, the Mike Wallace Meatloaf, boneless short ribs, free range roast chicken and a barbecue pulled pork sandwich.

We tried Kefi, 222 W. 79th St. between Broadway and Amsterdam on the Upper West Side, a Greek restaurant, based on a recommendation from Frommer's Web site (frommers.com). They had us from " slow-cooked comforting lamb shank on a bed of orzo." In fact, all four of us at the table ordered that, and it was fall-off-the-bone tender and delicious. Frommer's rated Kefi a three-star, two-dollar-sign restaurant.

Another "find" from Frommer's is Celeste, at 502 Amsterdam Ave. between 84th and 85th on the Upper West Side.

This is a two-star, one-dollar-sign eatery. I may have to add at least another half a star at this place.

It's very tiny, and once inside you feel as if you've landed in Italy. All the waiters are native Italians, which certainly adds to the charm. They don't take reservations, and the wait can be long, but it's worth it. Luckily, it was a 60-degree November night when we were standing outside waiting to be led to our table.

The pizza is amazing; the fresh pastas are yummy; and the prices are ridiculously reasonable. Leland has been back there about three times since our Thanksgiving-eve dinner.

One of my goals is to continue to increase my "life list" of celebrity chef eateries. So far on the list is Spago in Beverly Hills, Calif., (Wolfgang Puck), Blue Ginger just outside of Boston in Wellesley, Mass., (Ming Tsai, who used to be a chef on Food Network), Morimoto in Philadelphia (Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto) and Mozza in Los Angeles, Calif., (Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich).

Now I can add Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill, 102 Fifth Ave. between 15th and 16th avenues in New York City, to the list.

What a master he is. I love him on the Food Network, and I loved his restaurant and its menu.

We went for lunch, which is always a great way (read: affordable) to try a pricy place.

The Southwest colors and modern decor are all part of the charm, as was the professional and attentive waitstaff.

And by the time the appetizers' first bite was experienced, my tastebuds were exploding: spiced tuna and salmon tartares with red and green hot sauces; yellow cornmeal crusted oysters; Sophie's chopped salad (named after Bobby's daughter); and blue corn pancake filled with barbecued duck.

Entrees included a pressed roasted pork sandwich with grilled red onion, arugula, ancho mayonnaise and Southwestern fries (daughter Amanda said, with apologies to her dad the cook, "This is the best pork I've ever had."); cornmeal crusted chile relleno with sweet red pepper sauce (chile relleno aficionado Bruce's comment: "There is no reason to ever eat another chile relleno."); and Leland and I had seafood entrees, grilled red snapper and grilled mahi mahi, both of which were drizzled with delicious sauces.

I was hoping to catch a glimpse of Bobby Flay that day, but he wasn't there. Angelo Pietrunti, general manager at Mesa Grill, did say that when Flay's in New York, he is at the restaurant.

"He travels a lot. But when he's in New York, he's here. He's very hands on," Pietrunti said. "Everything that happens in the restaurant is Bobby."

Flay came on the restaurant scene in 1991 when he won the James Beard award; in 1992, he opened Bolo, which no longer exists. He also owns Bar Americain in New York as well as Mesa Grill Las Vegas and Mesa Grill Bahamas. Bobby Flay Steak is located at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City.

"He's a great guy to work for - down to earth. He never forgets where he came from. He's very approachable," Pietrunti said. He said Flay's so approachable that he actually "hangs out too much in the dining room!"

Prime Burger is a fun place at 5 E. 51st St. between Madison and Fifth on the Upper East Side.

The seating is in old school desks with the arm that swings in front of you. There are also counter seats. For $4.25 you can get a delicious burger. Add the seasoned curly fries for $3.25 and an egg cream for $2.50 and you've got yourself a great lunch for $10.

What's an egg cream, you ask? "An egg cream is a classic New York City beverage consisting of chocolate syrup, milk and seltzer (soda water), probably dating from the late 19th century. It is associated with Brooklyn, home of its alleged inventor, candy store owner Louis Auster. It contains neither eggs nor cream."

Prime Burger has been around since 1938. And according to the menu, "our homemade cakes and pies are luscious beyond words."

Norma's at Le Parker Meridien, 118 W. 57th St., is known for its extravagant breakfasts. Its catch phrase is "breakfast like never before." My family treated me there one Mother's Day for a decadent meal - there was no need for lunch or dinner that day!

Breakfast is served all day, and the menu includes such specialties as: Waz-Za, which is described as a waffle with fruit inside, fruit outside and a crackly brulee top; Johnny Applecakes, with caramelized apples and a berry syrup sauce; Norma's super blueberry pancakes with Devonshire cream; caramelized chocolate banana waffle Napoleon; fois gras brioche French toast with asparagus and mushrooms. Or try this: the Zillion Dollar Lobster Frittata, that comes with seruga caviar. The regular, which comes with one ounce of caviar is $100; the super size, with 10 ounces of caviar, is $1,000! The menu says, "Norma dares you to expense this."

Norma has a sense of humor as well as good taste.

For the thickest filet mignon I've ever seen, try Uncle Jack's Steakhouse, with two locations in the city: one at 440 Ninth Ave. and another at 44 W. 56th St. It was 1 pound of the best steak I think I've ever tasted.

And I'd be remiss if I failed to mention Maxie's Grill, located at 233 Park Avenue South on 19th Street, where the menu is split into "Burgers" and "Not Burgers."

I recommend the southern fried pickles, the ahi tuna salad and, for dessert, the fried chocolate chip cookie dough. And, of course, all of the burgers, which are the house specialty.

Oh, and if you do happen to visit Maxie's Grill, ask for "Leland" to be your server. (And, please, leave him a big tip!)

Chelsea Market and FooD Network

I only need two channels on my television. Channel 49, the Food Network, to watch a zillion great cooking shows, and Channel 8, West Virginia Public Television, to watch my 6:30 a.m. exercise lady (to work off what I've eaten because I've been watching Food Network.)

I had the chance to take a tour of Food Network during my last trip to the Big Apple, thanks to arrangements made by Julie Cassidy, daughter of Pat and Mary Ellen Cassidy of Wheeling. Julie is a freelance producer, and works on such shows as "Making the Band," "Project Runway," "Top Chef" and "The Next Food Network Star."

Food Network is located in Chelsea Market, the original tenant of which was Nabisco. In fact, the very first Oreo was baked in this building. The market site actually holds 17 buildings, the interior walls of which have been knocked down and renovated, to house a variety of food emporiums.

The Food Network is located on the third floor of Chelsea Market.

Filmed in the studios in New York are "Iron Chef America," "The Next Food Network Star," "Paula's Party," "Tyler's Ultimate," "Rachael Ray's 30-Minute Meals," "Emeril Live" and "The Essence of Emeril."

I was most amazed at the studio where "Iron Chef America" is filmed. One might expect a huge stadium-sized arena, from the looks of the television show. But, no. It's not a very big place at all, which proves just how magical television is. And "Iron Chef America" is filmed in the same room as "Paula's Party." Check out both shows, and I bet you would never guess that!

According to Joe Moseley, who took us on the tour, Food Network has grown over the years. From 30 million subscribers, there are now 100 million, and the network is international. Besides the cooking shows, there is an abundance of Food Network merchandise - pots, pans, glassware, tableware, knives and more, and a magazine will be introduced this coming fall.

NYC RESTAURANT WEEK

Twice a year, a number of New York restaurants participate in NYC Restaurant Week, offering prix-fixe lunches for $24.07 and dinners for $35, a steal at many of the fine dining destinations.

Visit nycvisit.com/RestaurantWeek for a listing of participating eateries. NYC Restaurant Week Summer 2008 is July 21-25 and July 28-Aug. 1.

 
 
 

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