My folks came to town last weekend for the Mother’s Day holiday and just to get a dose of the Big Apple. They hadn’t been up here for a while so it was great to spend time with them and to run around the city doing different activities. The great thing about when they come to visit is that we generally eat very well; it’s sort of a common, shared hobby, this interest in food.
In fact, the trips of anyone in my family are usually planned around when and where to eat, and even though we didn’t go to anyplace entirely new this visit, we did get to do the rounds of some great standbys. We also got to check out the changes that had taken place at a couple of places that we’d been to before. These are each, in their own way, some of my favorite places to eat in the city.
There’s just one big caveat to these listings. You’ll notice that I didn’t take any pictures of the dishes that we ate. There’s been some chatter on the blogs about whether or not it is appropriate to take photos in restaurants, with quite a few votes on the nay side. While food doesn’t generally fidget around like squirmy children, it can be just as difficult to get the right, publishing-worthy shot with the lighting and shadows, and constant flashes can annoy other customers. I’ve decided that, henceforth, I will not be taking pictures in restaurants unless I really feel that it would not be a detriment to others’ enjoyment of their meals or the setting is conducive to it. Instead, I invite you to try these places so that you can see their wares yourself.
Arrival – Dinner
Avra Estiatorio (141 East 48th Street btwn Lexington and 3rd Avenues; www.avrany.com)
The first evening they were in town, I met my parents at a restaurant near my office. My mom gets the credit for finding this place. I’d probably walked by it a dozen or more times and had pretty much written it off as a typical Midtown business-lunch joint, most likely Italian. I was completely wrong; it’s Greek.
This has become one of my new, all-time favorites at anytime. I think the only meal I haven’t eaten here is breakfast, and that’s because they don’t serve it. This time, my dad and I had the lamb chops. My mom took advantage of a seasonal specialty and had the langoustines, which are one of those rarely-found delicacies. She had a bit of a struggle with her choice, as they were also offering soft-shell crabs that evening.
I’ve found that it’s generally pretty hard to go wrong with any of the choices on their menu. The fresh fish (on display in the back of the restaurant), cooked simply with just an extra drizzle of olive oil is delicate and sweet; the green beans cooked in tomatoes are meaty and tangy; and their dips with bread can make (and have made) a meal in and of themselves. They have a selection of Greek wines as well which pair nicely with their food offerings.
Day 1 – Dinner
(East River at 44th Drive, Long Island City, NY; www.watersedgenyc.com)
It’s hard to believe, but, yes, we did travel to another borough for dinner. A friend of mine and I had been here during Restaurant Week a few years ago. My mom was in town at the time and joined us. The decor is a little on the kitschy, overstuffed side for my tastes (lots of pastels and florals), but, when the sun goes down and the lights go on across the river in Manhattan, the view is splendid and makes the trip across the river completely worth it.
The food is quite good and the chef creates some intriguing combinations. This type I had a great yellowfin tuna tartare with crème fraîche and a touch of caviar. For dinner, I had pink snapper and spinach wrapped in puff pastry and service with a chunky lobster sauce. My folks started their evening with a savory strudel of hearts of palm with proscuitto. They also had the duck legs served with a swiss chard tart. On a previous trip, I’d had a wonderful dish of grilled scallops with a truffle foam that was just amazing.
The menu has changed somewhat from our previous trips and gone from being ala carte to prix fixe. There was a change of chef recently, and I guess it makes it somewhat easier for to plan his selections, but it was a bit of a shock, as we’d not been there in a while and didn’t know this. The service was the same as it has been on our earlier trips and the view was still as spectacular as ever. The website gives the details of the free ferry service that the restaurant runs from 34th Street in Manhattan for restaurant patrons.
Day 2 – Breakfast
(1295 Madison Avenue btwn 92nd and 93rd Streets; www.sarabeth.com)
My parents, especially my dad, don’t mess around getting out of bed in the morning. Brunch doesn’t normally start until about 11:00 a.m. most places. They’d been to a neighborhood joint for breakfast the day before, while I was a work, but I knew from past experience, that that restaurant wouldn’t be open early enough for us.
Once place they’d considered but decided to pass on the day before was a pretty famous brunch locale in this city: Sarabeth’s. Noted for its long lines for weekend meals, I had a good feeling that we’d be able to beat the rush as I was running around with the early-riser crew. I wasn’t wrong.
The food is well-done, large-portioned brunch standards. This time around I had the salmon eggs benedict and my favorite, their 4 Flowers Juice. My dad had their potato waffles with chicken sausage, served with sour cream and apple sauce. It looked great. I can’t remember what my mom had but she asked for the pumpkin muffin with it, which looked delicious. On a previous trip, I had their omelette with red peppers, tomatoes and cheese, which I’d really enjoyed.
With locations on the Upper East Side, Upper West Side, Central Park South, and at the Whitney, Sarabeth’s has itself in great locations for the traveler looking to get a hearty breakfast with enough fuel to tackle both shopping and sightseeing. The link above will give you the exact address of each location as well as their hours of operation. You can also check them out for tea and dinner as well.
Day 2 – Lunch
Markt (676 6th Avenue at 21st Street; www.marktrestaurant.com)
A recent survivor of Meatpacking District upscalization (i.e., land under restaurant sold to make way for condo building which doesn’t want food retail in it), which also took with it the strangest grocery store in the city – Western Beef (“The Meat Supermarket”), this Belgian bistro had moved several blocks uptown, after one failed attempt to relocate elsewhere in the neighborhood. I’d been waiting for weeks to try its new location. My parents and I had eaten at their previous address on 14th Street so we were interested to see how it had held up with the move.
Not much has changed, it was literally the exact same menu. I guess they haven’t had time to get new ones printed yet, but that didn’t matter, the food was the same as well, which was the important thing. We went for mussels and salads. My mom had the garlic and cream version, really delicious, and my dad and I went for the ones steamed in beer on the theory that we’d never had them before, and, well, anything cooked in beer can’t be all bad (the same principle applies to things cooked in bacon, too, by the way). If you go, try the grilled lobster cooked in Hoegaarten cream sauce – so fantastic, but I think I might have scared my date the night I had that by my enthusiasm for ripping into the lusciously-cooked crustacean.
This light lunch was definitely enough food for all of us, especially as our mussels also came with frites. Wonderful, golden, crunchy fries served with great mayonnaise and dijon-style mustard, the latter upon request. A sliced baguette was also available on the table to use to soak up all the flavorful juices from the shellfish. It was a relief and a pleasure to see that even with the smaller size of the restaurant (my mom estimated that the new space is about a third of their former location), one of my favorite places is back in business.
Day 2 – Dinner
(50 East 86th Street btwn Park and Madison Avenues; www.demarchelierrestaurant.com)
When I first moved to the city, I was introduced to this French-style restaurant that attracts a mostly neighborhood crowd by a friend who lived around the corner from it. It makes a perfect place to meet someone to grab a glass of wine, eat a simple salad with goat’s cheese toasts, or even to see the pure specimen of the Upper East Sider. I’ve eaten many a prix fixe menu here and enjoyed the comfort of just having reliable, standard, bistro cuisine.
I opted for the paté, as I was actually still full from lunch, and a green salad. My mom went with the Dover sole, which was simple and light. On a previous trip, my mom had had kidneys in some type of cream sauce and had thoroughly enjoyed it. What my father had to eat that night slips my mind, but he seemed to enjoy it quite a bit. For dessert, I went with the Crêpes Suzette, something I really should learn how to make at home as they are so simple and delicious.
Day 3 – Breakfast
Gourmet Garage (1245 Park Avenue at 96th Street; www.gourmetgarage.com)
The one perk of staying with me when they come to New York, is that it gives us the option not to eat out. So, this isn’t technically a restaurant, but it does fit in the category of our food excursions on this trip. The previous day, one of our stops had been to grab some treats for breakfast at this higher-end grocery store.
It has several locations around town, the one in my neighborhood being the newest. The nice thing about that, is that it makes it easier to get my hands on those sometimes difficult-to-locate gourmet items without having to deviate too far from my normal path between the office and home, not that I’m lazy or anything like that. They carry a great selection of fresh produce, quite a few imported cheeses, good quality pastas and sauces, and even green cleaning products.
Day 3 – Lunch
Kings’ Carriage House
(251 East 82nd Street btwn 2nd and 3rd Avenues; www.kingscarriagehouse.com)
To celebrate Mother’s Day, I’d been searching for a place where we could have a lovely meal and still get my parents to Penn Station in time to make their train. While walking home from church the previous week, I passed this cozy little restaurant that, from the window, looks like it could be your grandmother’s parlor (well, if she had a bar to one side of it opposite the sofa and chairs). I’d eaten here before a couple of years ago and had really enjoyed the atmosphere. Once I read the menu that they had available for the next Sunday’s lunch, I knew I’d found the place we should go.
My mom and I decided to start off with their smoked salmon tartare served over a potato cake, with crème fraîche and trout caviar for garnish. My father opted not to have an appetizer and instead saved himself for the roasted rack of lamb which had a Barolo demi-glace. He gave it a positive review. I went with the roasted chicken breast, mostly because it came with an asparagus risotto.
I could have eaten just a bowl of the risotto it was so lovely, rich and creamy. The asparagus were cooked perfectly and the soft-cooked grape tomatoes added a nice sweet counterpoint. I think my mom came out the winner, though, which was appropriate as it was her day, after all. She had the filet mignon with balsamic glaze, but the real highlight was the perfectly cooked, rosemary-fragranced polenta. It was probably the best polenta I’ve ever eaten and I would have taken two bowls of that over dessert, even though those were good too.
The desserts were the perfect end to a relaxing Sunday meal in their back room. My father and I had the dark Belgian chocolate truffle cake with pistachio sauce. My mom had the strawberry shortcake. Both were sweet, but not too heavy, which was a great way to end my parents’ trip to New York for this round.