Giardineara with Parker House rolls at Lindens. Courtesy of Lindens

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New York City has some of the most exciting culinary experiences to be had, from classic fine dining to trendy and new. As a restaurant reviewer and NYC resident, I schedule my social life around finding top places to discover. Here is a baker’s dozen of my favorite dining spots.

If Fine Dining Is Your Passion

Le Bernardin

Scallops at Le Bernardin. Photo by Meryl Pearlstein
Scallops at Le Bernardin. Photo by Meryl Pearlstein

Le Bernardin is the kind of restaurant that inspires romantic proposals. Turning the concept of seafood dining on its head, Eric Ripert and Maguy Le Coze’s revered formal restaurant is one of the most awarded restaurants in the New York dining scene.  

The three Michelin-starred Le Bernardin redesigned its hushed, elegant interior some twelve years ago, but other than the cosmetic uplift and the addition of a lounge, nothing much has changed since the restaurant opened in 1986. There’s no reason to: this is culinary perfection and a superb choice for an all-important night out. Seafood, done up in Ripert’s inimitable French style, stars here. The presentation and service are superb.

Order a three- or four-course prix fixe tasting menu and choose from “almost raw” selections like scallop with black truffle slivers or thinly sliced taragai with saffron gelée; a “barely touched” medley of shrimp custard, uni, razor clam, geoduck and langoustine in a smoked pork dashi broth; and “lightly cooked” main dishes like baked snapper with charred green tomatoes in a Baja-style shrimp sauce or pan-seared fluke in an urchin-bouillabaisse emulsion.

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Each dish is preceded by a presentation of the evening’s bread selection – the brioche is so buttery that you might mistake it for an early dessert. But there are desserts as well and they’re equally sublime with choices like a chocolate waffle cone with Peruvian chocolate ice cream; citrus “madeleine” of vanilla Genoise sponge, lemon mousseline and berries, or a slow-roasted apple with canelé ice cream.

You could go this route if you’re not overly hungry, but I’ve always found that the eight-course Chef’s tasting menu with a wine pairing shows off Le Bernardin at its finest, a hit parade of signature dishes like ethereal Osetra caviar on a “potato cloud” and poached lobster in miso-sake lobster broth.

An equally exciting vegetarian tasting creates beautiful dishes with truffles and seasonal veggies like peas, wild mushrooms and white asparagus. The not-so-secret “closer” to the meal is Le Bernardin’s signature “egg,” an eggshell filled with sinfully rich milk chocolate pot de crème, caramel foam, maple syrup and a sprinkling of salt.

As you might expect, Le Bernardin has one of the most extensive wine lists in New York City. Master sommelier and wine director Aldo Sohm is justifiably famous, ranked the number one sommelier in both New York City and the world, and his unusual wines are always breathtaking.

Dress appropriately and splurge – you only live once. Mark your calendar for when reservations go online – tables are tough to secure, for good reason.

For a more relaxed meal of the same caliber, Le Bernardin’s lounge offers a small menu that samples the fine-dining experience with both exciting new and signature choices: the extensive bread service, small plates like hamachi tartare and Peruvian-style scallop ceviche, a warm lobster roll on a black truffle bun, and Le Bernardin’s caviar selection.

Gabriel Kreuther

Gabriel Kreuther Signature Sturgeon & Saurkraut. Photo courtesy of  Gabriel Kreuther
Gabriel Kreuther Signature Sturgeon & Saurkraut. Photo courtesy of Gabriel Kreuther

At Gabriel Kreuther, Chef Gabriel Kreuther’s fine-dining homage to his Alsatian upbringing comes with panache as well as culinary fireworks. The gorgeous art-decorated dining room is filled with intricate floral arrangements, hand-painted wall coverings and crystal storks hanging from the ceiling.

Reminiscent of timber homes in Alsace, reclaimed wood beams encircle the dining room and add a touch of homespun romance that melds seamlessly with the sophistication of the restaurant’s cream-colored banquettes.

As befits a member of Relais & Châteaux, Gabriel Kreuther’s dining experience is a luxurious one. Your meal is a symphony of dramatic plates presented with attention to detail in every regard. Choose three courses, four courses, or the Chef’s tasting menu.

For the ultimate dining experience and an insider’s view of the restaurant’s culinary masters at work, book the Chef’s Table which sits in the middle of the kitchen.

Caviar and truffles adorn many dishes on the seasonally changing prix fixe menus. Start your meal with a first course of citrus-cured tuna loin, accompanied by cucumber ponzu, a nori taco and blood orange snow.

Prepare your video camera as a lifted cloche reveals fragrant applewood smoke enshrouding a sturgeon and sauerkraut tart topped with caviar. Hay-smoked, two-week-aged Long Island duck breast offers a different kind of smokiness.

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Desserts, like much of the menu, are refreshed frequently as well, but you can expect the likes of citrus panna cotta with citrus dacquoise, katafi tuile and pomegranate sorbet; or chestnut Mont Blanc, an almond and vanilla cake with tobacco-infused Chantilly served with red currant sorbet.

Wine pairings are exceptional, curated from a list including unusual varietals from Alsace and the Old World. You also have a choice of 28 distinctive wines by the glass. The restaurant’s bar and lounge offer à la carte and prix fixe dining options featuring classic French and Alsatian dishes like country sausage, pâté and tartes flambées in a less formal setting.

The full wine selection is available along with a menu of craft cocktails such as the multi-country Bartholdi, a mix of suze (France), Roku (Japan) gin, creme de flora (Italy) and cremant d’Alsace (Alsace).

Whichever room you choose, you’ll enjoy a two-Michelin-starred meal you’re sure to remember and recommend to those you want to impress.

Vestry

Burrata. Photo courtesy Vestry
Burrata. Photo courtesy Vestry

Vestry earned a Michelin star in its first year despite opening during a pandemic. The latest New York City restaurant from Australian chef Shaun Hergatt, the SoHo eatery is sexy and chic without feeling formal. Don’t expect the usual here as creative presentation is one of Hergatt’s hallmarks.

Hergatt has always had a penchant for mixing fun with elegance. His menus are as colorful as his accent, and here he infuses a Japanese sensibility in both food and drink. Hergatt uses seasonal and foraged ingredients whenever possible. His artfully constructed spring menus incorporate ramps, fiddlehead ferns, peas and white asparagus in soup, salads and mains.

Start with a choice from the raw bar like Hokkaido sea scallops with Meyer lemon and trout roe, or razor clams with pickled grapes and cucumber. Add something green with chilled green asparagus with gribiche (a traditional, mayonnaise-style French sauce), yolk purée and miner’s lettuce; or squash blossom stuffed with Carolina white prawns and saffron aioli.

Then, to get the full seasonal effect, select Australian lamb or smoked spring chicken, two rich dishes each accompanied with spring peas and other veggies. A seafood highlight is butterflied wild branzino for two, also served with spring vegetables and saffron couscous.

Vestry’s cocktail menu is equally tempting with fun names to match. Try “The Pale Violet,” a pretty mix of gin, bergamot and lime, or the “No One Gets Me Like You,” a vodka, gin, yuzu and ginger beer libation that fits with the Hergatt sensibility.

The Euro-centric wine list includes an extensive sake selection as well. You’ll want to select an after-dinner cocktail or fortified wine from the many offered to accompany luscious jasmine panna cotta with dulce de leche or Vestry’s homemade cheesecake with Honeycrisp apples.

For Culture Lovers

Tatiana

Tatiana dishes. Courtesy of Tatiana
Tatiana dishes. Courtesy of Tatiana

Lauded as one of the year’s best new restaurants, Kwame Onwuachi’s ode to global cooking focuses on African and Caribbean dishes, melding flavors and seasonings that are both unusual and appealing. The attractive (and pricy) restaurant by the former “Top Chef” contestant is tucked into a first-floor corner of the newly redone David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center.

Tatiana invites a well-dressed clientele who appreciate not only the performing arts but also the talents of world cooking. In a setting harmonious with the artistic hall where it is located, classy metal curtains and purple “clouds” set the stage for elegant dining with a view onto Lincoln Center plaza.

The menu veers sharply from the room’s quiet ambiance with its exciting tapestry of dishes and wines spanning the globe. Drawing from the chef’s background in several multi-cultural Bronx neighborhoods, Mom Duke’s Shrimp is an outstanding heads-on Creole preparation, while braised Afro-Caribbean-style oxtails continue the global sojourn with rice & peas and chayote squash.

Egusi dumplings filled with Jonah crab in a Nigerian red stew are a must-order even if you’ve never been to the country they hail from. What could have been another mundane pile of greens, Tatiana’s green goddess plate elevates salad to a new level, mixing Caribbean saltfish with Japanese shiso and creating an herbal umami halo.

For another island sensation, Tatiana’s sofrito roasted chicken will recall a trip to Puerto Rico using the popular Latin-Caribbean blend of tomatoes, peppers, onions and garlic to full effect.

After enjoying these intriguing dinner choices, it’s a misstep if you don’t leave room for one of Tatiana’s creative desserts. Rum cake, so popular in the Caribbean, is covered with honey sweet cream with blistered gooseberries.

Acknowledging the culinary contributions of New York once again, Tatiana serves Harlem Chocolate Factory’s white chocolate cheesecake with French vanilla mousse, chocolate ganache, and a graham crumble.

Cocktails mix spirits from the Caribbean, the Americas and Asia with unusual flavors. “The Suntory Time” reflects the multicultural orientation of the restaurant mixing Suntory Toki whiskey from Japan with Cynar and vermouth from Italy.

The wine list presents varietals from The Americas, Australia, New Zealand and the Old Country including a long selection of what Tatiana terms its “reserve list.”

Reservations are extremely difficult to come by but the restaurant does accept walk-ins and has limited bar seating.

El Fish Marisqueria

El Fish Marisqueria tacos de langosta. Photo by Marconi Gonzalez
El Fish Marisqueria tacos de langosta. Photo by Marconi Gonzalez

An exciting new pre-symphony, pre-ballet or pre-opera choice, Julian Medina’s El Fish Marisqueria sits just two blocks from Lincoln Center.

The Mexican seafood-centric bistro rocks an elegantly cool design with blue and green décor that subtly evokes the ocean — it might remind you of a higher-end seafood shanty done up Manhattan-style with well-spaced tables and an oyster bar in the rear.

El Fish goes far beyond other NYC seafood restaurants. The menu is diverse and inventive, ranging from ceviche to raw bar selections along with Platos Fuertes like pan-fried lobster with Mexican fried rice and pinto beans, or Fajitas Norteñas, an inspired combination of dry-aged New York Strip with uni butter and roasted peppers with an optional lobster tail add-on for those who can’t commit to seafood only.

On the smaller side, tacos de langosta are a wonderful starter as are carnitas de atún rubbed in chiles for a burst of heat. Medina’s Schnitzel de Pescado is an unusual swordfish preparation accompanied by pomegranate-jalapeño Israeli salad and mashed sweet plantains. Mango crêpes make a delicious coda to the meal.

The beverage list is extensive, highlighted by Medina’s signature Chef’s margarita, a chile-rich mix of tequila, Aperol, pineapple, and chiltepin pepper; a pear mezcalita rimmed with worm salt; and Mexican artisanal beers. Wines include vintages from Europe, South America, the Americas and Israel.

Whether you order uncooked or elaborately prepared dishes, El Fish understands the timing demands of a Lincoln Center audience with timely ordering and presentation. The restaurant is also open for post-concert dining.

On the Casual Side

Soledad

Soledad bar dining. Photo by Meryl Pearlstein
Soledad bar dining. Photo by Meryl Pearlstein

I have to admit I’m quite partial to any restaurant that Chef Julian Medina opens. In addition to El Fish Marisqueria, I recently visited his new El Verano in Southampton and I frequently dine at Toloache in Manhattan’s Theater District and on the Upper East Side, each offering elevated Latin cuisine in beautiful settings.

Medina’s newest Mexican restaurant, Soledad, sits in a very unassuming part of the Upper East Side, and this time his menu is quite different: Soledad honors recipes passed down from Medina’s grandmother and mother, enhanced with a very multi-ingredient Medina spin. Look around – many of the recipes are displayed on the walls of the restaurant.

The bar scene at Soledad is as lively as the restaurant is colorful, drenched in shades of pink and lavender that recall the flowers of Mexico. You might want to dine here on the early side before it gets too noisy.

The restaurant has only 15 tables, so planning is important. Ask for a booth up front and start your meal with one of the creative beverages offered like the gorgeously green mezcalita de cereza made with pistachio-infused Amaras Verde, Cointreau and aquafaba; two-tone, fruit-filled Sangria; or a glass of white, orange or red wine from Mexico. Soledad also offers an extensive selection of mezcals and tequilas.

It’s fun to go with a small group as many of the dishes are designed for sharing. Start with the must-order albondigas (Ibérico pork meatballs with spicy tomato almond salsa), lobster birria tacos, and tiradito de atún enlivened with peanut butter leche de tigre and chili sesame seeds crunch salsa.

Then decide on a couple of mains like enchiladas Soledad, a familiar dish but smothered in Medina’s mother’s signature salsa verde, crema and queso fresco; or Michoacán-style carnitas with an unusual chocolate habañero tamarind salsa.

Be daring and try the luscious chicken Milanese breaded with ground grasshoppers and amaranth, further enlivened with poached egg, truffle salsa macha and contija cheese. It’s a winner.

A delicious twist on two breakfast favorites, chilaquiles-style smashed pee wee potatoes make a flavorful side. Give your evening a sweet finish with Medina’s version of pineapple upside-down cake, here called borrachito de piña, glazed with rum and topped with amarena cherries.

Misi

Cauliflower at Misi. Photo by Meryl Pearlstein
Cauliflower at Misi. Photo by Meryl Pearlstein

Missy Robbins’ second Brooklyn restaurant is a triumph with pasta, veggies and more. Located in South Williamsburg, a block from the Brooklyn waterfront with extraordinary views of Manhattan, Misi encourages sharing small plates from an inventive menu of vegetable antipasti and handmade pastas “inspired by simple Italian cooking.”

A dream for vegetarians as well as those following a gluten-free diet, the pasta menu is elegant and varied with choices like traditional-ish tortelli filled with mascarpone spinach and ricotta salata, or a gluten-free and fabulously delicious chickpea pappardelle with rosemary, garlic and lemon.

Misi’s vegetable combinations are exciting as well and they may leave you thinking about actually going meat-free. Be sure to order the marinated leeks with anchovy and pistachios in a blood orange vinaigrette, and a springtime favorite, white asparagus with guanciale, pecorino and pecorino — they’re nothing like you’ve had before.

Don’t worry if you prefer meat choices, spaghetti alla chitarra with braised lamb and pepperoncini is delicious as is the melt-in-your-mouth Bistecca a la Romana, a special that seems to appear frequently on the menu.

For dessert, your choice is one thing: gelato. But it’s likely to be the best gelato you’ve ever had and in surprising flavors as well. During one visit, I enjoyed peppermint stick gelato, a flavor I rarely find in New York.

The European-focused wine list spans the Mediterranean and Adriatic with unusual choices from Italy and Croatia plus selections from Austria and Hungary. Non-wine drinkers can choose from creative Italian-influenced cocktails and an extensive menu of aperitivi.

If you can’t score a table – reservations are hard to come by – there are two bars with side-by-side stools that you can book. The décor is Brooklyn Contemporary, a relatively unadorned stage for highlighting Robbins’ beautiful dishes and for focusing on your conversation and catching up.

Miznon, HaSalon, Shmone and Malka

The Dinosaur at HaSalon. Photo by Melissa Horn
The Dinosaur at HaSalon. Photo by Melissa Horn

Chef Eyal Shani has an enormous following from Israel to New York City and beyond. Shani’s sense of humor and way with Mediterranean cuisine has made his fast-casual Miznon restaurant in Chelsea Market a magnet for diners addicted to the whole roasted baby cauliflower and “folded” cheeseburger pitas served there.

The menu is pure fun, too, with categories like “vegetable creatures,” “plates, bags and other instruments” and “ocean creatures.”

We can now thank him for also bringing Manhattan a sit-down, date-worthy restaurant with a more refined international menu, HaSalon. Additionally,  Shmoné, Shani’s Michelin-starred restaurant offers an of-the-moment, market-driven menu; and Malka is a welcome kosher restaurant with prix fixe menus and a private dining area.

You’ll enjoy reading the whimsical menu nomenclature and subtext as well – they’re entertainment all by themselves. For example: “I know it’s controversial but it might be the best Caesar salad you ever had” adds character to what could be a familiar salad creation. Or “melting veal cheek that reminds me that I’m a genius.”

My favorite is HaSalon’s “dinosaur.” Bring someone with you to share this mammoth steak, a fire-roasted tender chunk of beef on the bone – it’ll make you smile in more than one way.

HaSalon is a special evening that you’ll need to plan for. The restaurant only books dinner Thursday through Saturday with two seatings, offering a dining and entertainment experience ranging from sedate with Classical music for early diners to a full-on dance party for the late-night set.

Wines for all of Shani’s restaurants are concentrated on vintages from Europe.

Skirt Steak

Skirt Steak group. Photo courtesy of Skirt Steak
Skirt Steak group. Photo courtesy of Skirt Steak

This well-priced restaurant from Executive Chef Laurent Tourondel is for steak lovers. Skirt Steak’s prix fixe menu is the attraction for this buzzy, rustic restaurant around the corner from Madison Square Garden.

A great choice for quick dining before a concert, dinner here requires some planning, too, as no reservations are accepted for parties under seven and lines form as soon as the doors open (or even before).

If you were ever a fan of Paris’s famed steak frites bistro Relais de Venise L’Entrecôte , (now back in NYC with enormous lines), you’ll understand Skirt Steak’s straightforward concept: along with your steak with Béarnaise sauce, you get unlimited handmade fries and simply dressed field greens.

The only decision you make is how you want your meat cooked. That’s it, all for $45. If you have a companion who absolutely hates steak, you can order a cauliflower dish (but, honestly, why would you do that?). A selection of beer on draft, red and white wines, and seasonal cocktails by Beverage Director Jason Hedges is available.

Desserts are additional and are served with flair from a rolling dessert cart. Choose from Paris Brest, walnut carrot cake, strawberry rhubarb cheesecake and more from next-door L’Amico, also from Laurent Tourondel.

Lindens

Ravioli at Lindens. Courtesy of Lindens
Ravioli at Lindens. Courtesy of Lindens

Attracting a local downtown crowd, Lindens offers a sophisticated dining room that’s both buzzy and comfortable, a neighborhoody space for enjoying modern American cuisine at a reasonable price.

The menu is varied so you can focus on pizza if you’re in a casual mood or find something more substantial that will please meat-eaters, seafood lovers and vegetarians alike. A must-order is Linden’s thyme Parker House rolls, a nod to the beautiful creation from Boston’s acclaimed hotel.

Go more gourmet with standout starters like hamachi crudo with jalapeño and citrus paprika sauce, or an oyster sampler with three unusual dressings. From the main course selections, Chef Carsten Johannsen’s gorgeously brined half chicken is what culinary dreams are made of — the bird is made tender and juicy with a spicy kick from a delicious three-peppercorn rub and served atop a creamy garlic puree.

Ravioli changes by the season with fillings like kabocha squash or heirloom carrots, turned into a dish that will make you forget red-sauce squares forever.

Cocktails and wines, like the food offerings, are well-priced (and fun) so you can sample a few. Try the edamame daiquiri for something entirely unexpected.

The wine list is varied with sparkling, white, red, rose and skin contact selections from Europe with a couple from California. For dessert, go flat-out comfort with the just-baked, warm chocolate cookies – they go perfectly with a post-dinner alcohol-free shot of milk!

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Meryl Pearlstein

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