Because every New Yorker loves to eat, whether it's food truck or fine dining, we bring you Table Stakes: a series that answers man’s eternally recurring question (“Uh, what’s new?”), and recurs once every lunar cycle or so. Bon appétit.
That’s the number of restaurants we hit this year for Table Stakes.
Conclusions: good year for Italian, Brooklyn and leaving the dress code at the door. Bad year for our waistbands.
From a delicate lamb saddle to an applause-worthy truffle carbonara to a burger hiding a deep, dark secret, here are the best highlights from a year’s worth of Table Stakes.
Dine on and drink well, fellas.
We'll never get enough pizza. Thankfully, former BLT helmsman Laurent Tourondel threw his proverbial hat into NY’s pie tossing ring with L’Amico. Verdict: delectable. It's soft, it's rustic, it's the product of five years spent perfecting the dough. The entire restaurant is designed around the copper-clad brick pizza ovens and ample lighting lends the place a warm, welcoming ambience. American in concept, Italian in taste.
Chef Michael White crossed his favored Italian border with Vaucluse, an elevated Brasserie-style French boîte. The 12,000-square-foot space is elegant yet approachable, the kind of place that comes to mind for a lovely weeknight on the town. Of note: truffles in spades and a fontina cheeseburger. The nostalgic classics are accounted for as well — read: Boeuf Bourguignon and Blanquette de Veau — along with a playful dessert menu and more wine than you can shake an oak barrel at.
A more casual bistro than sister restaurant Contra, Wildair still managed to create quite the stir. It's simple and succulent, lending itself to a relaxed chat and lots of wine. On the little bite side, there's Potato Darphin with Sea Urchin or Radishes with Seaweed Butter, and on the heftier, heartier side, look to the Skate with Morels or Steak for Two.
The anti-Tex-Mex, '70s-style Tiki den that won our hearts this year. From the fried chicken aficionados that brought Brooklyn the Commodore, El Cortez is equally cool and colorful in both fare and character. The Mission-style burritos, mountain of nachos and low-brow libations are worth the trek out to Bushwick (it's safe, we promise).
Admittedly our heads are spinning with this one. It's no secret that we're meat-and-potatoes people, but one of our the best grub-n-go meals we had this year was a veggie burger. Yes, a veggie burger. A departure from white tablecloths and minding your elbows, SB is a laid-back, friendly environs for sitting down to a Sloppy Dave and a glass of Superiority Water — aka NYC tap water with lemon (free of charge).
Hands down the restaurant we find ourselves recommending the most this jam-packed year. A market-driven American and Mediterranean outpost run by a ragtag cast of Per Se, Momofuku and the world-renowned elBulli alums, along with cocktails from a Lamb’s Club vet, wine from a former Aquavit sommelier and a pastry chef hailing from Eleven Madison Park. Top that. And never have we seen an atmosphere so deftly reflect its cuisine. That is: it’s impressive. All of it. Even the waiters' aprons are shipshape. Absolute musts include the charred octopus, the steak with sunchoke and the mackerel with black lime.
If a restaurant were your wildcard best friend who grew up in N'awlins. The backdrop is inviting (don't miss the for-sale terraria on the back deck), the menu wildly inventive. We're talking Red Snapper Ramen Burritos, Blackened Catfish and Oysters Bloomberg (rather than Rockefeller, hardy har). It quickly became a neighborhood hotspot thanks to live music and good-lookin' ladies, and it 100% merits the trip across the bridge. Sports an equally imaginative drink menu as well, with selects like the Hurry-cane and the Bamboo Sazerac that'll transport you to a dizzying night on Bourbon Street among all the BK savoir faire.