NYC Midtown Must-East Dining Destination – Fasano’s Baretto
Midtown. Just the word can make a New Yorker’s skin start to crawl—their mind immediately going to the chaos that is Times Square, its American chain restaurants, and hordes of tourists. If your office is located there, you’ll know that workers rush in at 9 and leave promptly at 5 to escape to more resident-friendly, and frankly cooler, parts of town. But perhaps New Yorkers could learn a thing or two from tourists because, after all, when one thinks of the Big Apple, it’s the historic skyscrapers, bright lights, and storied restaurants like Patsy’s (where Frank Sinatra had a secret entrance) and the King Cole Bar (which saw the likes of Salvador Dalí and Marilyn Monroe) that come to mind. And, for most of us, that’s what brought us here in the first place.
The neighborhood’s dining scene has both shaped—and been shaped—by its changing fortunes. First with the completion of Grand Central Station in the early 20th century, quickly making the area the new center of American capitalism, and bringing with it some of the most opulent dining establishments in the years to come (some of which are still around). Then, in the 80s, 90s, and early aughts, when expense-account lunches and dinners prevailed, and those in the C-suite would charge obscene amounts to impress their clients, allowing chic spots north of 34th street to set sky’s-the-limit prices—because at that time, to land a deal was to splurge. Expense-account spots were starting to fizzle out anyway, but the pandemic completely obliterated the neighborhood’s reliance on office workers. Some staples were able to cling to life: Le Bernardin; Smith & Wollensky; Marea; Jean-Georges. But Midtown was hit harder than any other neighborhood in the city.
Post-pandemic Midtown has an almost, “if we build it, they will come” mentality. At least that’s what it looks like on the outside. In reality, a lot of these establishments have been in the works for a long time, but what has changed the most is the caliber of chefs that are signing on—chefs that would normally be seen investing in lower Manhattan are heading uptown to make a fresh mark. And, if you know where to look, the timeless spirit of New York, New York can be found in these new classics.
Here, after months of tasting, are the most exciting new additions to the ‘hood—all of which are worth traveling for, whether that entails a subway ride or a long-haul flight.
From the chefs behind downtown favorite Frenchette, Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr are once again putting their twist on French classics. When the food hits the table, even the masterfully choreographed waitstaff and elevated Art Deco design elements by Brooklyn-based Workstead fall to the background. Two must-orders: the leeks vinaigrette that unwrap like a present, and the escargots bourguignons so perfect that I practically mourned when the last garlic-y, buttery mollusk was plucked out of its individual ramekin. But it’s the bison au poivre that will keep you coming back time and again.
Chef John Fraser places the cuisine of the Aegean on display at the chicly decorated Iris, stepping away slightly from the vegetable cuisine which he is best known for. But don’t worry, there’s enough vegetarian fare that remains, like the garlic tahini roasted carrots and a grilled eggplant moussaka torched table-side. But where Iris stands apart is in its protein: There’s a whole-roasted quail that swims in a decadent sage and black-pepper butter sauce and finger-licking mastic-marinated lamb chops with black sesame. Do what I did and end the meal with a perfect martini and some Turkish delight from the desert cart.
Modern, elegant, and downright delicious, 53 offers a large Asian-inspired menu full of playful dim sum like truffled egg and foie gras dumplings and claypots—but don’t leave without ordering the black cod with jalapeño miso and coriander. Ahmass Fakahany, founder & CEO of the Altamarea Group, brought on Singaporean chef Akmal Anuar and design firm ICRAVE to create a cohesive spirit between the food and design, which is a colorful celebration in a minimalistic style. Inspired by its upstairs neighbor, MoMA, the restaurant has partnered with the Friedrich Petzel Gallery to curate rotating installations.
Take the elevator up from Fasano, which the New York Times refers to as “expense-account Northern Italian”—proving that the clientele is still out there—to the Brazilian outpost Baretto. A lounge, designed by renowned architect Isay Weinfeld, that plays jazz and bossa nova on the weekends while serving the chicest, in-the-know New Yorkers expertly crafted cocktails and rich, handmade pastas from the brand’s namesake restaurant below.
The late travel legend, television host, and chef Anthony Bourdain, loved the UNESCO-certified Hawker Centers in Singapore. Prior to his passing (which we all still feel like a knife to the heart), Bourdain was working to bring a proper Singapore-style street food market to New York. Taking the reigns is his business partner for the project, KF Seetoh, who as of September, has successfully brought eleven renowned Singapore hawker vendors to the streets of Midtown—serving up iconic Singaporean delights like Hainanese chicken and chili crab. Alongside are stateside favorites like New York-based Lady Wong’s Calamansi cakes.
The Lambs Club
Located in the Chatwal, the top New York hotel in this year’s Readers’ Choice Awards, the historic establishment underwent a top-to-bottom refit and is now helmed by chef Michael White (former Head Chef and Owner of the Altamarea Group, which operates the aforementioned Marea) with backing from restaurateur David Rabin (Veranda SoHo) and Grand Tour Hospitality (American Bar and Saint Theo’s). With industry giants such as these, you’d expect this revival to be a walk in the nearby Central Park, but drawing diners to a restaurant in the heart of Times Square with no exterior access proved to be a new challenge. Even so, the history of the restaurant, with bright-red pops by Thierry Despont, tugged at the group’s heartstrings. And they’ve pulled it off. When I dined next to the stone fireplace, I could feel the history not just in its walls, reminders of which line the wainscoting, but the history in the making at every corner booth. Expect an elegant twist on American classics such as crab cakes with black truffle, orecchiette with blue crab and calabrian chili, and of course, a New York strip.
Okay, this one, at the Ace Hotel, is a couple of streets out of bounds, but an extremely playful menu combining contemporary French techniques with Viennese tradition is among friends on this list. James Beard award-winning Chef Markus Glocker prepares a delightful, buttery menu ripe with familiar dishes with surprising flavors. Start with the gougère and the three-tiered “boeuf,” which tiers hand-cut tenderloin tartare with a shower of fresh horseradish, oxtail in a hazelnut brioche crust, and Veritable Lucullus de Valenciennes (beef tongue foie gras), all in the style of a seafood tower. Other amusing twists include lobster sliders and a roasted beet salad that references Linzer pastry. But really the star of the show is the salmon en croûte using salt-cured salmon with a scallop and parsley mousse.
Across the street from the Saturday Night Live studios is a four-story townhouse that Pete Davidson, Justin Theroux, Mark Ronson, and Nicholas Braun have turned what once was a celebrity hangout in the days of David Letterman to a celebrity hangout, reborn. But behind its doors lies a spot worth considering beyond its Hollywood gleam. It offers a cool, down-to-earth vibe with high-end touches like a seriously impressive seafood tower and a wagyu tartare topped with a generous portion of Kaluga Caviar. But the real reason to add this to your Midtown list is its inventive bar menu filled with classics that have been turned on their heads.
Source: Conde Nast Traveler / Writer: Scott Bay / Photo Credit: Fernando Guerra
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