The New Yorker’s food critic answers readers’ questions on dining out in New York City. Send your queries to email@example.com.
I’m the mother of a seven-month-old, and I desperately miss fine dining. We have no regular babysitter yet, so I’m seeking something good enough to justify leaving the baby with my husband and dining alone at the bar—but not so buzzy that said husband will be pissed that I went without him. Manhattan preferred.
A nice thing about the buzziest, biggest-name restaurants is that they often offer slightly more casual dining options, like separate bar menus or sister spots. Something in this vein might be perfect for you to enjoy an evening out solo.
Atla, for example, the less formal of the Mexican chef Enrique Olvera’s two New York restaurants (I recommended the other, Cosme, in a previous advice column), has a huge, inviting bar, but one of the little café tables would work nicely, too. The portions are on the small side, so you can savor not having to share them with anyone. The guacamole—which comes with one huge chip, just for you—is a must. I also love the fish Milanese and the arctic-char tostada, and everything pairs beautifully with the excellent cocktails, which are mostly made with tequila or mezcal. Try the killer “overproof” margarita or the cheerful limonada, which features mezcal and rum, plus Meyer-lemon syrup and soda, and tell your husband you’ll take him to Cosme sometime.
The same goes for the restaurants by the chefs Jeremiah Stone and Fabián von Hauske Valtierra. Save their Lower East Side tasting-menu hot spot Contra for date night, and go on your own to their nearby wine bar, Wildair, instead, where most of the seating is reserved for walk-ins, and the menu of small plates—fantastic housemade bread with olive oil, beef tartare with cheddar and horseradish—is easy to navigate alone.
For an exciting bar menu within a buzzy, upscale restaurant, you can’t do better than the revamped Momofuku Ko, which has earned endless accolades since it débuted, last year. Get the stellar cold fried chicken with a glass of champagne, followed by a slice of Japanese cheesecake, on any old night. If you’re feeling flush, go back with your husband on a special occasion to have the two-hundred-and-fifty-five-dollar-per-person tasting menu in the dining room.
Finally, you could try Cervo’s, a lovely restaurant on the Lower East Side that has mostly flown under the radar since it opened, a couple of years ago. (And, if you find yourself in Brooklyn, it has a sister restaurant, Hart’s, in Bed-Stuy. A wine bar, called the Fly, specializing in rotisserie chicken, will open soon nearby.) An unusually large portion of the stylish, narrow space is devoted to bar seating, which makes it feel especially welcoming to a solo diner. The Spanish-Portuguese, seafood-centric menu features a nice mix of elegant small plates—blowfish tails, tortilla Española—and heartier options, like a half chicken with piri piri and French fries. If you can’t finish it all on your own—or you’re feeling generous—save a drumstick for your husband.
My wife and I have an anniversary coming up. I’m taking a day off from work, and we are planning to go out to lunch. I’m not someone who likes spending a lot of money dining out, and I’m not particularly comfortable in fancy restaurants. But we want this to feel like a special occasion, and we are willing to splurge.
Taking off a weekday to celebrate your anniversary with lunch instead of dinner is a brilliant idea—there’s no more delicious or romantic feeling than having a leisurely and indulgent midday meal while everyone else is at work. One great option is King, in SoHo, a relatively new but impressively timeless-feeling spot. The Italian-ish menu, which changes every day, is always exciting and blessedly small, so that ordering feels easy and not overwhelming. Get the carta di musica—a super-thin crispy flatbread glistening with olive oil and a daily-changing topping (chili, butter, and anchovy, perhaps)—a salad, and then share two entrées and a couple of desserts, including semifreddo, if they have it. Throw in a pasta course after the salad if you want to go all out. It’s simple, elegant, comfortable, and utterly charming.
Indian Accent’s makhan malai.
Photograph by Daniel Hambury / eyevine / Redux
For a midtown option, I’d recommend Indian Accent, a formal but fun, sleek but comfortable outpost of a New Delhi restaurant from the chef Manish Mehrotra, in the Parker Meridien hotel. At lunch, for ninety-five dollars, there’s a beautiful and extremely unusual nine-course chef’s tasting menu, featuring dishes like Kashmiri morels with walnut powder and Parmesan papad, sweet-pickle ribs with dried mango and onion seeds, and a wonderful version of the milk-based dessert known as makhan malai, here a sort of airy, elegant pudding made with saffron, rose petal, and almonds. (And, if that feels too expensive, or like too big of a meal, you can get two courses for thirty-five dollars instead.)
Uptown, you’d do very well at Flora Bar, on the lower level of the Met Breuer, one of my favorite buildings in all of Manhattan. The dining room is sleek and spare and the menu is full of splurge-worthy classics—a cold seafood platter, a fancy burger, caviar with crème fraîche and potato chips, jamón ibérico de bellota—plus an ever-changing roster of innovative seasonal dishes.
And, if you’re the kind of couple that likes adventure, why not take a romantic ride on the 7 train out to Flushing? Guan Fu, housed in a luxury mini-mall, is a Sichuan restaurant fit for a special occasion. The dining room has a serene, palatial quality, with ornate, carved wooden panelling; extra-wide, cushioned wooden chairs; and elaborate tableware, including custom-designed chopsticks. The service is warm and gracious, and the menu full of tantalizing, unusual dishes that are gorgeously presented. The high-end seafood options—crab, lobster, and turtle—are almost as luxurious and transporting as an actual getaway.