I’ve been covering NYC’s restaurant scene for five years now. And while that might not be a timestamp worthy of a legacy, I’ve learned a lot.
I’ve learned that sometimes there’s simply nothing that can be done to save an icon. But also, that legends can (and do) reemerge in full glory. I’ve learned that every year has a trend and that being a restaurant opening within that trend is a dangerous business. I’ve learned that behind every bustling restaurant is a very talented and exhausted publicist. I’ve learned that loyalty and neighborhood community is still very much a vital thing, even in Gotham. I’ve learned that like love is only a good start in a relationship, heart and talent aren’t always enough. It’s often about timing, and it’s always about money. And I’ve learned that New Yorkers, no matter the economic or political climate — or even the actual, literal climate — eternally love and will forever go out to eat.
When I sit down to write our Table Stakes series each month, I’m always alarmed at the sheer volume of restaurants throwing their toque in the ring. They all must be aware of the reality of all the shuttered doors around them … and yet, the industry thrives.
While this is a year-end guide for eaters in this fair(ish) city and a pseudo-kudos to the restaurateurs responsible for the establishments that made the list, I want to say, simply, “Way to fucking go!,” to every single chef, staff and institution that has tried (successfully or otherwise) over the past year or five years to make it in NYC. As they say in motorsports, there’s no dishonor in losing, there’s only dishonor in being so scared of losing that you don’t saddle up, strap in and race.
So without further ado, here are the 10 best new restaurants we ate at in the last 365 days. But an honorable mention goes out to each and every other opening that didn’t make the list. We salute you and wish you all the best in the new year.
Dine on and drink well, people.
Anything but shy, this eatery took NYC by storm. Besides despising surge prices and SantaCon, it may very well be the on thing most New Yorkers can agree on. Because telling me that you’re opening yet another “contemporary American” eatery is on par with my 40-year-old friend telling me he’s finally going to get his first tattoo. In the FiDi, no less. With heavy-hitter institutions like Eleven Madison Park and American Cut stealing every client dinner hittin’ the books, you’d think a newbie would get lost in the noise. Think again. It’s contempo-polished. While the servers don sneakers, the charred octopus accompanied by fiery jus, chorizo and ramps (a seasonal dish) is tuxedo-worthy fare. Each menu item is affordable (most are under $20) and there’s a subtle twist to each to boot. Not an Agatha Christie twist where you don’t know which way is up — just a little something to warrant the dish being a point of conversation.
Truth be told, I’d lost my faith in Jean-Georges. And to be clear, this is a man I used to work for and still have the utmost respect for. I thought he went the way of Geoffrey Zakarian — all performance, no panache — slapping his name on anything that would stick. I was wrong. And I love being wrong. The Fulton serves some of the best seafood you will find in NYC, hands down. It’s already the second time I’m mentioning excellent octopus in this article … and I don’t even dig octopus that much. Go. Get it. See also: scallops bordering on perfection. Way to get your groove back, JG. Cheers!
There’s this unwritten rule when it comes to most asian food in NYC. Wherever you order from … never go check out the physical locale. It’s oft times a scary shoebox and no one wants to see how the sausage is made. And then there’s Hutong. It’s posh, it’s fancy, it has high ceilings and creative lighting. It occupies the former Le Cirque space. Nine times out of 10, I would lay my money down on whatever line is marked “serves lackluster, expensive fare.” Again … wrong. Because while there are heaps of fusions which go awry, here they went all sorts of right. From a hot take on pork dumplings to fried lobster nuggets to sweet, sweet Peking duck, it’s new era of Sichuan done beautifully. Still expensive? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.
More fusion done right. The sister restaurant to Williamsburg’s impressive Llama Inn, Llama San plates Japanese-meets-Peruvian cuisine. It’s an eatery that encompasses the reasons we live in NYC and tolerate absurd rent prices and taxes instead of laying down roots in Higginsport, Ohio. Meek creatures of comfort or weak palates might be inclined to shy away. Don’t. You’re in for a real treat when beef heart and chunky lobster saturated in chili sauce hit your tongue and send you into sensory overload. It’s imaginative. It’s magic. And it works. Make a reservation and impress someone already.
Red Hook Tavern
Red Hook, Brooklyn
I’ve hosted and responded to countless emails since the opening of this Tavern asking if one should believe the hype. My response time and time again has been, “Good things come to those who wait.” Because there is a wait. But what I wanted to say was, “Go find out for your damn self. I don’t know what your tastes are, dude.” What I do know is that a Peter Luger-inspired eight-ounce patty nestled in a golden crisp bun dripping with cheese and tinged with crispy onion had my eyes rolling back in my head. I know that some of the best chefs I’ve ever had the honor of dining with define themselves by their burger. And the definition of this burger is, “The gauntlet has been thrown down.”
A victim of their own success. For this delight, you’re going to need to make a reservation. And … you should … a month in advance. To even my dearest friends, don’t email me. I can’t help you get in. Should you have the patience that this excellence demands, you’re in for some of the finest Northern Italian cuisine to descend upon NYC. Expect heritage-bred pasta (we recommend the $90 tasting) so tasty you might need a restraining order to stay away once you’ve sampled it. Though the servings are smaller than one might expect for Italian fare, that just means you’ll have room for the full adventure. To hell with the Olive Garden mentality.
I wouldn’t have expected a Hudson Yards — or as I like to call it, Little Dubai — restaurant to sneak into this year’s Top 10, but here we are. David Chang, from myself and every other chef/purveyor in the world, could you kindly lower the bar already? Everything you touch is gold and this locale is undeniably no exception. Here’s what it tastes like: Imagine you went out all night to a club — let’s even say Baddies or Le Souk.. After which, you went to David Chang’s grandmother’s house. This is the hifalutin execution that Chang and Korean cuisine as a whole deserve. 건배!
Gotham Bar & Grill
Again, imagine. Imagine your favorite bodega cat is reincarnated as a world-renown chef. While Gotham’s timeworn black cod and cheese ravioli has, thankfully, been updated with hits like yellowtail with smoked avocado or Wagyu glazed with veal jus, you can still see the glimmer of your time-honored companion in every dish’s eyes. Victoria Blamey, you rule.
Prospect Heights, Brooklyn
If you told me that a French-slash-Japanese hotspot could be playful, I’d call your bluff. But, for Maison Yaki, Greg Baxtrom (of Olmsted) loosened his tie a bit and delivered in droves. For starters, they allow walk-ins. Second, it’s — for the most part — affordable. Learn how to use chopsticks before snagging a seat. If you haven’t tried frog legs before, grow up and give ‘em a go. Now is the time. And do hydrate yourself in preparation, because a killer roster of French wine paired with sake is a doozy.
Fourteen seats. Nine courses. $200 a pop. The chef used to run Kajitsu, a notorious vegan institution. What I can tell you about vegan chefs is they know how to spice anything to mind-boggling perfection. This iteration is neither vegan nor vegetarian. But to my point, you won’t find over-the-top dishes. You’re in store for Wagyu ribeye and live snow crab. What you will find, however, is asking yourself how simplicity can taste so complex.
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