Saturday, April 15, 2006

Midtown East

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Ammos Estiatorio [52 Vanderbilt Ave. (bet. 44th and 45th Sts.) 212-922-9999]
It will be all Greek to you at this new and beautiful restaurant in Midtown, but that's a good thing! You must start with the Greek Spreads before you even begin to think about what else you are going to order. Served with small, warm slices of pita bread, these spreads each have a unique and satisfying flavor. As for main courses, I greatly enjoyed the Arni Souvlaki (essentially lamb and vegetable skewers), but any type of fish, the crabcake sandwich (Kavouri), and the salad with grilled chicken were all excellent alternatives. The place is a little pricey, but the setting is lovely and the food is too.

Brick Oven Pizza 33 [489 Third Ave. (at 33rd St.) 212-545-9191]
The perfect end to a night in Murray Hill, this pizza is delicious. Again, the fresh mozzarella is probably the best slice, but they are all excellent (albeit expensive).

Chola [232 E. 58th St. (bet. 2nd and 3rd Aves.) 212-688-4619]
Delivery from here may take forever, but at least the food is very good when it finally arrives. In-house dining is even better of course, offering a wide variety of dishes at pretty high prices.

The Dining Concourse [Grand Central Terminal]
A convenient meeting place, and the food is decent too. There are an array of options here, most slightly overpriced, but still able to provide a solid meal for much less than a restaurant would charge. For pizza, you can get a good slice (or two) from Two Boots. For a good deal on Italian pastas and sandwiches, try Paninoteca Italiana. For your classic Chinese combination platter, check out Feng Shui. Obviously Hale and Hearty is always a reliable choice as well. Finally, have a crepe, some gelato, or both for dessert from Ciao Bella Gelateria!

Django [480 Lexington Ave. (at 46th St.) 212-871-6600]
Fantastic French fare is on offer at this beautiful midtown restaurant. A great place to take a client (or to be taken out by a client), I recommend the prix fixe for lunch. Eat upstairs in the luxurious main dining room if you can, or rent out the special tent for an event. The food is extremely rich and filling, but that also means it tastes good. I had soup and fish as my meal and enjoyed every bite.

Dos Caminos [825 Third Ave. (at 50th St.) 212-336-5400]
This is a chain of expensive Mexican restaurants around the city. The food is good, but the prices are simply too high for what you get. The $12 guacamole for two comes closer to feeding one person and the Asada tacos, while excellent, should really fill you up if they cost $14. The setting is trendy, but if you care about value, you should probably go somewhere else.

Fukumatsu [212 E. 52nd St. (bet. 2nd and 3rd Aves.) 212-754-4840]
Here's the run-down: The must-have item here is the dinner box special. It will give you a good variety of well-prepared classic Japanese specialties, while filling you up for a reasonable price. Basically, it's a solid neighborhood restaurant, but I wouldn't make a special trip there.

Fusha [1065 First Ave. (at 58th St.) 212-752-8883]
A sort of Japanese-Thai fusion restaurant, this relatively new place serves very good food at not overly expensive prices. I especially recommend the Chilean sea bass with black bean sauce or the Thai Chilean sea bass.

Grand Central Oyster Bar [Grand Central Terminal (42nd to 44th Sts. bet. Lexington and Vanderbilt Aves.) 212-490-6650]
This place has a lot of hype, but I was not overly impressed. There was an extensive oyster menu, but the soups were very disappointing. Maybe it was because we went late at night, so I would give this place one more chance before dismissing it. Either way, the oysters are good.

The Huddle Cafe [280 Park Ave. (bet. 48th and 49th Sts.) 212-450-2000]
Open only to NFL employees, the NFL cafeteria is quite an exclusive lunch destination. Commissioner Goodell is a regular (as was Tagliabue), as are most employees. Prices are dirt cheap, especially for any sort of salad or side dish. Food is markedly better than in most cafeterias. I am especially fond of the pasta salads, grilled chicken sandwiches, antipasti, and various daily specials.

La Giara [501 Third Ave. (bet. 33rd and 34th Sts.) 212-726-9855]
A surprising find in the vast Murray Hill wasteland, La Giara provides good Italian food at reasonable prices. Start out with the Bruschetta (or maybe the Panserotti) before trying one of the many pasta dishes. I greatly enjoyed the Pappardelle with duck meat and I sampled the Capricci with bufala mozzarella and tomatoes, which was as tasty as you might imagine. The service is friendly, albeit a little slow, but overall you should have an enjoyable meal here.

Le Colonial [149 E. 57th St. (bet. Lexington and 3rd Aves.) 212-752-0808]
Fantastic and authentic Vietnamese food is served in a wonderful setting that feels like Saigon (at least I would think so). Every dish I have eaten here has been good. This place is high class, so bring a full wallet.

Le Perigord [405 E. 52nd St. (at 1st Ave.) 212-755-6244]
To put it simply: go during Restaurant Week. The food is good, but not worth the normal $62 prix fixe rate. On the plus side, however, my family and I were greeted by a friendly French maitre d' who complimented me on the quality of my spoken French. As for food, the Butternut Squash soup was especially delicious (and the baguettes were some of the better this side of the Atlantic). The chicken was a little dry, but I have a preference for dark meat. The salmon was better. Finally, dessert was typically rich.

Morton's, The Steakhouse (Happy Hour) [551 Fifth Avenue (entrance on 45th St.) 212-972-3315]
Yes, they even do Happy Hour at steakhouses. And this is one of the better ones. The tiny burgers and mini steak sandwiches are absolutely delicious, as are the shrimp and oysters. Prices are extremely low, especially considering the fact that someone with a small appetite could definitely call this his dinner. Happy Hour runs from 5-6:30 PM and from 9:30-11 PM Monday-Friday.

Mr. K's [570 Lexington Ave. (at 51st St.) 212-583-1668]
One of the top Chinese restaurants in the city. Expensive, and popular among celebrities (they keep personal chopsticks for the famous people who visit), Mr. K's is a great example of fine Chinese dining. Make your parents take you there.

Notaro Ristorante [635 2nd Ave. (bet. 34th and 35th Sts.) 212-686-3400]
Exactly what you expect from a good New York Italian restaurant. Prices are reasonable and the food, albeit perhaps not overly creative, simply tastes good. As far as I know, this is one of the better options for Italian in the neighborhood. The ambience of the restaurant is nice as well. I recommend the Pappardelle in a tomato sauce with arugula and goat cheese.

Oms/b [156 E. 45th St. (bet. 3rd and Lexington Aves.) 212-922-9788]
A very good and unique lunch option, Oms/b specializes in rice balls. For the uninitiated, a rice ball (at least at Oms/b) is basically a small pyramid of rice wrapped in seaweed and containing one filling of fish, meat, or vegetable. It is reminiscent of a sushi hand roll. These rice balls are the main attraction here, but the small restaurant also offers traditional Japanese dumplings, soup, salads, and more. I recommend the menu Set A, which allows you to choose any 3 rice balls and any soup (I like the Miso) for $7.50. And if you like seaweed salad, their version is tasty and just $2 extra. Of course you can always go a la carte if you prefer. My favorite rice balls that I have tried were the Lobster Salad and the Eel. I also enjoyed the Shrimp Dumplings. But the selection changes daily, so look around and try what seems fresh. My one concern is that I wish that each rice ball was packed with a little more meat/fish.

Original Soup Man [4 E. 42nd St. (at 5th Ave.) 212-599-5900]
Terrific, unique, severely overpriced. Hale and Hearty is almost as good for half to two-thirds the price. That said, I tried the Crab Bisque and it was great because it was completely different from a traditional bisque, making it more interesting to eat. For those who are wondering, the staff is pretty friendly, and unfortunately you will not actually see the Soup Nazi there.

Peking Duck House [236 E. 53rd St. (bet. 2nd and 3rd Aves.) 212-759-8260 or 28 Mott St. (bet. Chatham Sq. and Pell St.) 212-227-1810]
The Peking Duck is excellent, the rest of the food is pedestrian. I tried the special dinner where you get one duck and two entrees for four people. You are better off with two ducks. Worth a trip to either location just for the delicious duck.

Oriental Noodle Shop [135 E. 45th St. (bet. Lex. and 3rd Aves.) 212-697-2353]
I wasn't sure whether or not to include this place, but then I realized that I needed to provide the working classes of midtown with more lunch options. This place doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel, but it does provide solid, cheap Chinese food very quickly. So don't expect anything high class, but you should get your money's worth.

P.J. Clarke's [915 Third Ave. (at 55th St.) 212-317-1616]
Totally old-school New York. And totally fantastic burgers. Bar in the front, tables for eating in the back. You can even enter on 55th Street (the Sidecar entrance). Also, the staff is friendly and they serve burgers until 3 AM.

Rosa Mexicano [1063 First Ave. (at 58th St.) 212-753-7407]
The guacamole is to die for at this trendy, upscale Mexican eatery. The rest of the food is delicious as well (and I recommend the trademark frozen pomegranate margarita as a drink). For main dishes, I was especially fond of the Enchiladas de Jaiba and Mixiote de Cordero (lamb shank presented in parchment paper). Let me warn you that this place is only open for dinner and is ALWAYS crowded (there are other locations on the Upper West Side and in the Union Square area).

Sakagura [211 E. 43rd St. (bet. 2nd and 3rd Aves.) 212-953-7253]
Such good food, and such small portions! This extremely authentic Japanese restaurant, located in the basement of a midtown building, will not let you order sushi deluxe, because sushi is not even served here. But excellent and creative dishes are certainly on display. Most of the dishes are served tapas style and the food arrives extremely quickly. Try the roast deck negimaki and the deep fried shrimp balls to start. For more entree-like fare, I suggest the toro with citrus ponzu sauce and the even better beef with citrus ponzu sauce. The beef comes raw and you must cook it with lard on a hot stone. It is remarkably flavorful. I topped off my meal with a bowl of udon noodles and mushrooms. Unfortunately the only problem with this restaurant is that if you have big appetite, you will leave hungry unless you spend at least $50. All this and I haven't even mentioned the sake. Sakagura offers an extensive sake list, even going so far as to suggest appropriate pairings of food and sake. It is definitely a classy restaurant (and apparently it has quite the lunch special too).

Shun Lee Palace [155 E. 55th St. (bet. Lexington and 3rd Aves.) 212-371-8844, also Shun Lee West at 43 W. 65th St. (bet. Columbus Ave. and Central Park West) 212-595-8895]
These two restaurants serve excellent Chinese food in classy settings. The prices are rather high though, so these can't be places that you visit regularly. I especially like starting with the Sizzling Rice Cake soup. Another good dish is Neptune's Net, and most of the beef dishes are delicious.

Sparks Steak House [210 E. 46th St. (bet. 2nd and 3rd Ave.) 212-687-4855]
Despite a fantastic wine list, this "not-quite-Luger's" -y hideaway, is not quite as good as Luger's. But it still serves up a terrific sirloin in a classic steakhouse setting and is more than worth a visit if you do not want to make the trek to Brooklyn. I suggest starting with the Fresh Bufala Mozzarella with Sliced Tomato and then going straight to the steak. Wine lovers will also appreciate the vast selection of bottles available.

Sushi Yasuda [204 E. 43th St. (bet. 2nd and 3rd Aves.) 212-972-1001]
Treat yourself to a uniquely fantastic sushi dinner here and you will not be disappointed (and if your wonderful girlfriend takes you, things will taste even better...). The fish is fresher and more diverse than at any other sushi restaurant this side of Tokyo. Make sure to choose your fish wisely and look for the freshest fish of the day (they give you a menu for this). I also recommend trying some of the fish that you don't normally see, such as Tasmanian Trout, Fluke, or White King Salmon. If you can afford it, certainly try the Omakase. The decor is spare, but classy.

The Yale Club [50 Vanderbilt Ave. (at 44th St.) 212-716-2100]
See how the other half lives at this fine dining experience. Choose from one of three dining rooms: the Tap Room, the Grill Room, or the Roof Dining Room. The Roof Dining Room is the fanciest, but I usually take my meals in the Tap Room. The two best options here are both lunches: Sushi Tuesdays (an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet) and Seafood Fridays (an all-you-can-eat shrimp, oyster, and crab claw extravaganza). I also recommend Pasta Pasta on Thursday. Note: Meals taste better when you are wearing a suit.

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