Saturday, May 31, 2008


I think that it is about time for me to share reviews of places I have been to in the last few months and hopefully provide further valuable insights on where to go in New York on a night out. Again, I am only reviewing places that I particularly like, as I have been to well over 150 restaurants and bars since I've been here. I know that because I keep a list - very anally retentive of me, I know.

* Mercer Kitchen - 147 Mercer Street, corner of Prince Street
I was a little wary about going to Mercer Kitchen the first time. It is the restaurant of the Mercer Hotel, right in the heart of Soho, and as such the venue of choice for celebrities and models. Lindsay Lohan famously trashed a suite once and Kate Moss always stays there when she is in town. Going to this kind of places usually mean seeing no celebrities (not that I would really want to anyway) but instead being faced by a room full of poseurs and wannabees - incredibly stylish but hopelessly snooty and boring. But I like Mercer Kitchen - an underground brick walled space, quietly luxurious and bathed in candle light. The food is wonderful as well, my favourites being the steamed shrimp salad with avocado, mushrooms and tomato in a champagne vinaigrette, as well as the sea scallops with french lentils, crisp pancetta and lemon creme fraiche.

* MercBar - 151 Mercer Street, between Prince Street and West Houston
MercBar is the bar next door to the Mercer Hotel and part of the stable. It's my favourite bar on week nights, as it becomes too loud and busy at the weekends. The decor is similar to Mercer Kitchen, and again there is an understated luxurious feel to it, along with a smooth, chilled out atmosphere - enhanced by the fantastic "Hotel Coste" compilations softly playing in the background. In addition to the exposed brick walls, seats are covered in cowhide, deer horns hang on the walls and a suspended canoe glows above the bar - giving the place a very distinctive feel. They also make the most perfect Sour Apple Martinis.

* Tomoe Sushi - 172 Thompson Street, corner of West Houston
Upon learning that my friend Joe is not only as much of a sushi fanatic as I am, but also makes regular trips to Japan, I asked him what his favourite Japanese restaurant in the City was and Tomoe was his answer. We've been there together a few times and, as he is the expert, I always insist that he chooses our food.
The restaurant itself is nothing to rave about - probably about 12 white formica tables crammed in a small space, specials scribbled on pieces of paper stuck to the wood-paneled walls. It is a cash only restaurant, usually indicative of cheap food, although I have never spent less than $100 per person there.
But the queues, which start forming outside the tiny venue at around 7pm, speak for themselves. The sushi there is simple but incredibly fresh, in a melt in the mouth kind of way. I also tasted more unusual japanese dishes there, such as Ankimo (monkfish liver pate) and small fried fish that you eat whole... both surprisingly delicious.

* Ocean Grill - 384 Columbus Avenue, between 79th & 80th Street
On the few occasions that I stay in my neighbourhood to have brunch - usually when I have people staying with me - Ocean Grill is my first choice for brunch. It is located in one of my favourite corners of the Upper West Side, 79th & Columbus, opposite the Natural History Museum. I love the building itself, surrounded by old trees and a lovely arts and crafts market at the weekends, and as such always buzzing with people.
I never eat in the main dining area, which I find too formal for brunch, and instead always head to the banquettes in the bar area, with large windows looking onto the museum.
The atmosphere at the weekends is very relaxed, the bar populated by an incredible variety of people - from elderly couples, to families and young professionals. I usually order one of the few versions of Eggs Benedict they have on offer, tuck into the bottomless coffee and enjoy the soft jazz music and the company of the friends I am with.

* Barneys Greengrass - 541 Amsterdam Avenue, at 86th Street
I read about Barneys Greengrass before I actually experienced it. It is one of the most famous and oldest Jewish delis in the City and happens to be about 2 minutes walk from where I live. There is nothing fancy about the place but there is something very old-fashioned and endearing about it ... from the formica tables, to the muddy beige walls adorned with rather average murals.
The service can be either incredibly friendly or rather rude, depending on the mood of the waiters. But the atmosphere never changes: hot, almost smoky (from the kitchen) with barely any tourists - a primarily Jewish neighbourhood crowd . They, and I, come here for the amazing bagels accompanied by the simple, but tasty, eggs scrambled with lox (cured salmon).

* Lure - 142 Mercer Street, corner of Prince Street
I fell with love with Lure the first time I went there in January this year. Whenever I describe the place to friends in an attempt to convince them to go there, they look at me with disblelief - it is meant to look like the inside of a yatch, which smacks of a theme restaurant. But it really isn't.
Yes, it does feel like you are on a boat but not in a cheesy way. The sushi there is very inventive and probably my favourite thing to order in the evening, along with some of their more conventional, french-inspired, fish or seafood dishes.
The bar area, which I sometimes go to on weekend afternoons, offers delicious cocktails - my favourite being the Blueberry Gin.
My only criticism of the place is the music. They play an endless selection of Eighties songs, a little too loud for my liking, and oddly jarring with the atmosphere of the place.

* Per Se - 10 Columbus Circle
I literally fantasized about going to a Thomas Keller restaurant since reading Anthony Bourdain's "A cook's tour" a few years back, where he documents his most memorable meals around the world. Keller's most famous restaurant is located in the Napa Valley ("The French Laundry") but his New York outpost is "Per Se", in the swanky Time Warner building at Columbus Circle. Both are notoriously impossible to get into (they only accept reservations 2 months in advance of the dinner date and telephone lines are notoriously jammed) so I had lost all hope that I would ever experience his legendary art ... until the Washington Post Online invited me to an industry dinner that was taking place there.
Per Se was hands down the best restaurant I have ever been to in my entire life, with the most attentive, yet friendly service. As we were sipping champagne before sitting at our tables, smiling waiters offered us a selection of canapes - salmon tartare with red onion creme fraiche in a light as air crispy cone, foie gras mousse on tiny croutons and cheese feuillete.
Our main meal consisted of 7 courses, all paired with a different wine. We started with hot smoked sturgeon, served with picked apple slices, horseradish cream and dill infused olive oil. This was followed by caramelized endives, roasted beetroots and steamed small onions. The mains were seabass (the best I've ever tasted) with globe artichokes and then ribeye beef with fingerling potatoes and chanterelle mushrooms. The beef was much rarer than I would usually have it but simply sublime. We then had a very light salad with beans and rocket, before finally finishing off with desert: apricot sorbet - which reminded me of my mum's apricot jam with melancholy - and petits fours.
Everything was so simple and yet refined and executed to perfection. As they poured us a delicious 20 years old port at the end of the meal, along with amazing American cheeses (3 words I never thought I would put together), I literally thought I had died and gone to heaven.
I feel guilty about recommending this place as it is so hard to get into. But if you know you are going to visit New York in the next 2 months, make sure you at least try to get a table there. I promise that you will be blown away.

* Salt - 58 MacDougal Street, between Prince & West Houston
I have a special fondness for Salt. Not only because I wish my flat looked like the restaurant - exposed bricks, long white tables adorned with bouquets of roses, white bookshelves on the walls filled with quirky ornaments but with a very homely, lived in feel. But also because it's tucked away in an odd corner of MacDougal Street and almost difficult to find.
The menu is short, making food decisions much quicker. The quirk is that you can choose from a list of sides and a list of proteins and combine the two together to your own taste. The food is amazing - clean, fresh, tasty and very good value.

Amazingly, the City still holds an endless supply of restaurants for me to try - and I have the very hard task of sampling as many of them as I can ...

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