4 Charles Prime Rib
Popular with ladies and art dealers who lunch, this is a chic Upper East bistro located just off Madison Avenue. The Mediterranean cuisine has Italian and French influences.
Since its opening in 1982, Arturo’s has been one of the most authentic Italian restaurants in the city. The coal oven pizza has garnered a cult following, and Neapolitan pizza lovers should look elsewhere. Thick, crusty and bold, the pizza ironically mirrors the restaurant’s mish-mosh of staff and locals, who sit at the bar and tell stories about old-time New York while eating an entire pie in one sitting, nightly. Everyone seems to be named Tony. Even better, there’s a piano stringing out tunes—make sure to clap.
Serving inventive and elegant Italian, Babbo is the Batali/Bastianich restaurant. Northern Italian fare is traditional in technique but not necessarily in ingredients, which tend to come from Union Square Farmer’s Market as much as Italy. Simply, you cannot go wrong with anything pasta. Babbo’s wine list is extensive and offers delicious value bottles. Note reservations must be made weeks or months in advance and only the bar is reserved for walk-ins.
Some mornings, there is no more restorative act than having breakfast at Balthazar. Just walking into the bustle and flow of that big Soho eating room is a mood-changer. The power of owner Keith McNally’s theatrical vision—great gilt-framed mirrors tilted to reflect the human swirl, tables of dark wood well-worn by life’s dramas (think La Bohème’s Café Momus)—makes this not so much an American version of a French brasserie as a glad and glittery place that’s seen it all. Or at least everything since 1997. It’s this obvious stagecraft that makes Balthazar doubly endearing.
And of course those vast bowls of creamy café au lait, the soft-boiled egg in its shell with crispy toast “soldiers” for dunking, and the breads from the restaurant’s own exemplary bakery, next door: each gives one courage to face the day. But there’s more. Onion soup gratinée at 4 p.m., or at midnight, or for weekend brunch. Classics like choucroute and bouillabaisse, steak frites and duck shepherd’s pie, towering Parisian plateaus of shellfish. Here’s a place that can be what you need it to be, almost any time of day.
Located directly across Broadway from Lincoln Center’s main entrance, Boulud’s casual eatery offers a full bistro menu featuring classics such as coq au vin, escargots and steak frites. But the real star of the menu is the wonderful selection of charcuterie. The pâtés include a to-die-for beef cheek and the chef’s specialty, fromage de tête; ask the expert sommelier to match your dish to a wine from the restaurant’s cellar. Although the vins come mainly from the Rhône Valley and Burgundy, offerings also include lesser known varieties from outside the region.
Open since 1906 and a favorite location for Woody Allen movies, this old-world restaurant is decorated with 18th-century Piemontese furniture and antiques. The staff is well accustomed to the theater crowd and will get you out the door in time for the curtain.
On the 7th floor of New York’s most stylish department store, this restaurant draws ladies who lunch and midtown shoppers. The enfilade of rooms face Central Park and has been glammed up by LA designer Kelly Wearstler to create the atmosphere of an elegant Park Avenue apartment. Its Gotham Salad is a popular favorite for good reason. It’s also open for tea and drinks and is a good spot for an early bite, since it stays open until 8 p.m. during the week.
Blue Ribbon Brasserie
Blue Ribbon restaurants are always three things, warm, sophisticated and rich in chef spotting. Open until 4 AM, this New York institution is especially known for its late-night dining scene, home to after-service diners. Regulars include chefs such as Bobby Flay and April Bloomfield. Treat yourself to the restaurant's raw bar selections, caviar, and Champagne.
This Nolita mainstay is a great choice for breakfast or brunch (don't miss the baked eggs and avocado toast). On nice days you can sit outside on the street and observe the crowds strolling Mott Street. There’s a second branch of Gitane in the Jane Hotel (113 Jane St.) as well.
Passersby can expect to see a line out the door of Café Habana on almost any day of the week. This old-school Dominican diner is extremely popular for both its delicious Cuban food and its history. Owner and founder Sean Meenan built the place after being inspired by a storied Mexico City café where, legend has it, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro plotted the Cuban Revolution. Although there tends to be a substantial queue—especially on the weekends—the grilled corn and waffle on a stick are worth the wait.
The Midtown power-lunch set adore this modernist dining room decorated with Warhol silkscreens. A seafood-heavy menu is overseen by longtime Sant Ambroeus chef Mario Danieli.
One of New York’s most celebrated culinary temples, headed by star chef Daniel Boulud, this restaurant was designed by Adam Tihany (of Per Se and Le Cirque fame). The dining room and bar area look fresh and inspired, while still preserving such beautiful original details as 18-foot coffered ceilings, balustrades and arches. Special touches include large modern chandeliers with handmade Limoges tiles, a series of large contemporary art works by Spanish artist Manolo Valdés, and circular banquettes that help create intimate dining spaces.
The French menus are inspired and include often-changing, three- or six-course prix fixes and à la carte dining. The sleek bar area, complete with comfortable sitting areas is a great spot to order a night cap and dessert, though one insider avowed that at Daniel, sticking to one course requires a lot of discipline.
Despite the family feel of this Upper East Side classic, (its sometimes haughty vibe can be off-putting if you’re not a part of the “club”), moneyed and high-powered regulars have been frequenting this old-school spot for years. But this air comes with any restaurant that knows its worth, especially one that that can rely on its food to keep people coming back. One regular once pre-ordered 300 veal meatballs, just one of the dishes that excels amid a menu featuring homemade pasta and northern-Italian favorites.
This Midtown Mediterranean joint specializes in simple, fresh fish, as evidenced by the sprawling display of just-caught seafood, from which diners can select their meal. To maintain the purity of the fish, Estiatorio Milos goes light on sauces, serving most dishes in the traditional Greek style: grilled, with olive oil, capers and herbs. The stark white dining room with billowy cream-colored curtains pairs well with the Greek cuisine. Know that the seafood is priced by the pound and can get quite expensive.
Felice’s warm, relaxed ambience with subdued lighting, exposed brick walls and leather seats feels like that of a wine bar tucked away on one of Florence’s streets. The restaurant serves classic Tuscan flavors paired with excellent wines. There is another location farther up on the Upper East Side (1593 1st Avenue; 212-249-4080).
This was the first collaboration of “dream team” famed restaurateur Danny Meyer and chef Tom Colicchio (it opened to huge fanfare in 1994), and it remains top of foodies’ lists for very good reason.
Some of its appeal is easy to nail down. First, there’s the ambiance: an American tavern with the collegial hospitality implied in that tradition but raised to a serious level of sophistication. The wood floors resemble those that were once covered with sawdust but heavy velvet curtains add a rich touch, and the antique sidetables groan with luscious floral arrangements, even in winter. Antiques and a great collection of paintings bring warmth and whimsy to each of the dining rooms. Second, of course, the food consistently elevates market bounty to masterful heights, even though Tom has moved on.
During an autumn visit I had the carrot soup with cashews, followed by butternut squash risotto with brussels sprouts and the tastes of harvest and whispers of oak resurrected memories of autumns past with each bite. When my companion and I asked to share a tarte tatin for dessert, the waitress brought a second plate with two extra scoops of apple and sour cream ice cream, so we could split the tarte in two but have our own ice cream. Danny Meyer’s philosophy of hospitality spawned a best-selling book on the topic, but it’s the final ingredient in the magic mix.
As I waited in the foyer for my friend to get his coat, I noticed a stunning landscape painting of trees. When I looked at the right corner and noticed it was signed by a painter that I admire greatly, Stephen Hannock, I exclaimed to the maitre d’, “Oh, you have a Stephen Hannock.” She smiled, “Yes,” she said. “Actually, he’s having lunch in the dining room right now.” My eyes opened wide, “Really?” She offered to show me another one of his works in the private dining room and then brought me to his table. I got to tell him what a fan I am, and as she had assured me, he was such a nice guy that he didn’t seem to mind the interruption. Walking out the door, I felt as much appreciation to the maitre d’ for making the moment happen as I did for the moment itself.
Tip: The front room, known as the Tavern, which is where the bar is, takes walk-ins so if you can’t get a reservation, try snagging one of these tables.
Nautical wood paneling lends a yachty aura to this restaurant, the Cipriani family crown jewel. The tables and chairs are so small that they seem designed for life below deck, yet the crowd still packs in nightly. The chef does turn out exquisite pastas, veals and salads. Standouts: the artichoke and avocado salad, the veal piccata and homemade raviolis. Prepare yourself for intense people-watching though. The crowd truly verges on Felliniesque with extreme hairdos, face lifts and implants on parade. A typical night’s gathering might include Charlie Rose, Mica Ertegun, Linda Wachner and various wealthy widowers in the company of much younger Russian ladies.
Upon leaving the fashion industry, Italy native Rita Sodi dreamt of opening a restaurant where she could recreate her mother’s traditional Tuscan recipes. As a result, I Sodi was born and has since become a neighborhood favorite of West Villagers. The small, changing menu serves a combination of Italian classics such as lasagna and salt-baked branzino that are sure to transport diners to the Tuscan countryside. The restaurant also prides itself on its specialty drink, a negroni, which comes in four different variations. Reservations are recommended.
Il Buco specializes in Italian and Mediterranean-inspired small plates, and does so exceptionally. The cluttered, charming restaurant oozes farmhouse chic with rustic wooden tables, low-lighting and copper pots dangling from the ceiling. The seasonal menu is constantly changing, which may explain why it is still hard to secure a reservation (the East Village spot opened in 1994.) Still fresh and exciting, Il Buco proudly offers a long wine list and the friendly wait staff is well qualified to help you through it.
Il Mulino has been one of the highest-rated restaurants in New York since the 1990s. The Italian spot prides itself on the authenticity of its expertly crafted dishes, which are inspired by the fertile region of Abruzzo. The restaurant puts a sophisticated spin on the Abruzzese tradition of using only farm-fresh ingredients by combining old Italian recipes with exemplary service and an elegant interior. Despite the white-gloved atmosphere, the restaurant nurtures gusts with a home-like vibe.
This classic Upper East Side institution serves what is considered by many to be the best burger in NYC. Open since 1972, the no-frills spot channels a laid-back, preppy vibe, which can be refreshing in a neighborhood teeming with Michelin stars. Usually packed to the gills, J.G. Melon is the perfect stop for an indulgent, family-friendly meal—or a late night snack (it stays open until 3 am). Fun fact: the revered restaurant makes a cameo in the Academy Award–winning film Kramer vs. Kramer.
Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten has created a wealth of renowned dining establishments around the world, but his namesake restaurant is the jewel of the empire. Jean-Georges presents exquisitely crafted dishes blending French, American and Asian influences, which have won the restaurant three Michelin stars. The local farmer’s market is the driving force behind the seasonal menu that includes a three-course prix-fixe menu and two six-course tasting menus. Fabulous service, tableside preparations and floor-to-ceiling windows with breathtaking views of Central Park all contribute to an unforgettable dining experience. Guests are expected to dress for the occasion, so gentlemen are required to wear a jacket when dining. The restaurant also asks that guests avoid wearing jeans, sweatshirts and sneakers.