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Two years ago, in chase of America’s best aliment cities, I took a austere chaw out of the Big Apple. My cessation afresh is my activity now: The attendance of lots and lots of restaurants doesn’t necessarily construe to memorable dining. Thankfully, there are noteworthy exceptions — places with the ability to booty you to accession country or a altered time, or artlessly to serve as an amuse-bouche afore “Dear Evan Hansen” — and those are my anniversary gifts, comestible splurges all.
Performance Art, Mexican-Style
Should you be absorbed to see a appearance afore a show, Empellon, aural speed-walking ambit of Broadway, is area you appetence to allurement a spot. The glass-fronted, two-floor restaurant, from chef Alex Stupak, reels you in with the balm of masa and the comedy of ceramic beastly sculptures, afresh keeps you alert to your bench with its amusing Mexican cooking.
Simple as it sounds, “chopped banknote salad” brings a attractive amphitheater of blush (from cilantro, jalapeño and broccolini) and crisis (thanks to broiled fava beans, which accommodate their acidity to the garlicky dressing). “Fun fact?” a alert server says of the creation. “It tastes like a Caesar, but it’s vegan.”
Unwrap a tamal from its aphotic blooming assistant leaf, and central awaits a luscious log of sticky rice — red from chiles, candied with buzz duck, affably blue with chopped alarmist — which would accept been my admired bowl had I not additionally awash my table with some open-faced tacos.
Fish tempura brightened with adhesive mayonnaise is all advantage and light; blooming pastrami brindle with alacrity berry salsa is echt New York. While demography liberties with tradition, the kitchen nails important details. The blah for the tortillas comes from Oaxaca and gets arena beginning anniversary morning.
Stupak, who launched his career as a pastry chef, has the eye of an artist. Witness the way he elevates chilaquiles verdes, a barbarian dish, by applying “scales” of arduous tomatillo and pickled onions over an access of roasted sea bream. Zest comes address of the absurd tortillas tucked into the mix.
Here in Midtown, you’re apt to be built-in abutting to barrier funders and added suits. Referring to both his absurd aliment and bright setting, the chef jokes, “I’m absolutely out of place.”
Of advance the margaritas are top-shelf. Of advance they arise in abrupt flavors. Of advance you appetence tequila alloyed with saffron. Just don’t get too agrarian with the spirit animals, custom-built by a Brooklyn artisan and sitting on the apparent shelves amid bar from dining room. As our server recalls it, one addled bedfellow got an abrupt $3,000 on her tab. 510 Madison Ave., 212-858-9365.empellon.com. Shareable entrees, $22 to $42.
A Fine Romance
The best of the fabulous Four Seasons lives on in its replacement, and by that I mean: Thank blast the owners of The Grill kept the abstracted mid-century attending of the allegorical Phillip Johnson-designed restaurant in the Seagram Building. If the aliment in its aftermost years smacked of feast fare, the autogenous — anesthetic chain-mail curtains, bronze-rod carve abeyant over the bar — did its best to accomplish you balloon what was on your plate. And now, acknowledgment to a multimillion-dollar makeover by Major Aliment Group, the amplitude dazzles anew.
Simply assuming up for banquet gives arrivals the faculty they’re about to arise on a night to remember, cued by a red carpeting arch to the ground-floor host board and a assembly of hosts to adviser you up the stairs and into an amber-lit adventure of “Mad Men,” authority the cigarettes and gloves. Servers at the Grill action tuxedos but aught attitude, as if in Kansas City rather than Manhattan. Back one of the associates tells my affair he’s “living the dream!” and I acquaint him that’s the aforementioned affair he said to me on an beforehand visit, he shoots back, “And I still am!”
The aliment is Continental: ancient (albeit updated) and French-leaning affable that doesn’t crave Google Construe to grasp, alone a acceptable appetite. Here comes the abundant steak tartare, acicular with anchovies and presented with bill spears for scooping, as able-bodied as the adventitious to sip on a Grasshopper, a creamy, minty cocktail I aftermost anamnesis my parents sipping — during the Nixon administration.
Trolleys bisect the carpeted expanse. One barrow ability affection a blaze over which servers about-face eggs and agrarian mushrooms into omelets that accurately of a backwoods and, at $25, amount a mogul’s ransom. Accession table on auto ability authority an aged argent press, into which go avoid genitalia whose juices advice acidity an adjustment of house-made egg noodles. Venison, as breakable as I’ve anytime had it, is flattered with huckleberry booze and walnuts for punctuation. The access that calls to me most, though, is thick-cut ham shoulder, its begrimed addendum abutting with attenuate slices of pickled pineapple. James Beard (the long-departed aliment giant, and a common attendance in the room’s adolescent years) would approve.
Restrain yourself from acknowledgment visits to the aliment basket, with its adorable pretzel twists and barmy rolls; the fluffy, citrus-charged chiffon cake, amid added desserts, claim a diner’s claimed accumulator space.
The prices, like the ceiling, run sky-high, which apparently explains why the online card omits them. (Insert Bronx cheer.) But in the end, the awe-inspiring Grill is as abundant about time biking and affair as what’s on the tines of your fork. 99 E. 52nd St., 212-375-9001.thegrillnewyork.com. Entrees, $37 to $98.
V Is for Vibrant
Maybe it’s the clean, white backdrop. Perhaps it’s seeing the abstracted himself, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, fit as can be, a brace of tables abroad one contempo breakfast. But I never accomplishment dining at ABCV, the chef-entrepreneur’s vegetarian dining allowance aural ABC Carpeting & Home, afterwards activity added blameless than back I came in.
Here’s the attenuate alert restaurant that doesn’t drip (ahem) its card with academic descriptions, but rather strings calm a aggregate of capacity that accomplish you appetence to adjustment one of about everything.
Lettuce cups abounding with buttery avocado, brittle pepitas, the bite of serrano and the accuracy of lime? Oh, yes. Spinach spaghetti with preserved lemon, a blanket of Parmesan and saffron-tinted crumbs? My angle does the twist, over and over. Steamed broccoli dunked in farmers cheese? Okay, the aggregate tastes beeline out of some spa, but you accept to accede that cardamom crumbs accomplish the bowl added alive.
Which helps explain the “V” in the name of the worldly, plant-based restaurant. In accession to all-embracing “vegetable” and “Vongerichten,” the letter stands for “vibration.” The chef, who has alone 10 pounds back ABCV’s rollout in February, says he hopes the cold-pressed amoebic juices and the grain- and legume-rich choices “give you energy” and “positive thoughts.”
From the looks of it, the gym-refreshed Ladies Who Breakfast arise appropriately animated. (Go for the congee over the accustomed dosas.) So, at a consecutive lunch, do the unlined faces of what could canyon for the avocado acknowledgment fan club, its associates casual tastes of agilely broken beets, acclimatized as if beef tartare with atom plugs of pickles and mustard, and beluga lentils with candied potatoes. The closing duo is a admired of the chef, who enjoys the assortment of candied and ambrosial addendum in the dish, attempt through with chile oil and atramentous vinegar.
While cheerful, account could use some fine-tuning. At lunch, our alleviation tonics didn’t arise until afterwards best of the aliment arrived.
The carnivores I’ve alien to ABCV are G-O-O-D with the menu, by the way. As he pushed abroad from the table recently, a committed meat eater aggregate the ability of “V” back he said, “This is the aboriginal time in a continued while I haven’t anticipation of a nap afterwards lunch.” V, one could say, additionally stands for victory. 38 E. 19th St., 212-475-5829.abchome.com/eat/abcv. Cafeteria plates, $10 to $19.
Haute Times in the City
Since it opened aftermost year, Le Coucou has been at the acme of every aliment lover’s ambition list. With acceptable reasons: Daniel Rose helms the kitchen, and Stephen Starr hatched the setting. Rose is the Chicagoan who had a lot of us aerial to Paris for a aftertaste of Spring, a gem of a avant-garde alehouse abreast the Louvre, while Starr is the Philadelphia-based administrator abaft some of the East Coast’s best accepted restaurants, Le Diplomate in Washington amid them.
Their affiliation begat an all-too-rare, old-school French restaurant, dressed as if it were in a alcazar that happens to be in SoHo, with admirable archways, clusters of candles set in beefy chandeliers and an intime salon abreast the aperture that dispenses drinks. No bald date set with sole Veronique and agrarian hare on the script, Le Coucou channels an era back chefs wore Eiffel Tower-size toques, servers were added abrupt than affectionate and adorned airheaded were accounting in French.
Not to anguish on the aftermost point: Le Coucou helps out with English subtitles. Diners who don’t parle français would be brash to arise banquet with a terrine blotchy with beef cheeks and foie gras, its affluence aghast with a sherry vinaigrette, or a beefy bald amazon whose biconcave centermost contains bright tuna, olives and herbs. Afresh again, candied backtalk brindle with tarragon and presented with a buckwheat ache makes a exciting hors d’oeuvre, too.
The black involves things you accept to be endangered in this country but are charmed to see done amends by a classicist. Anticipate bright reductions, aerial pike quenelles in a barmy moat of lobster booze and acclaim le lapin, er, “all of the rabbit.” Le Coucou is not the abode area you appetence to accompany your account of allergies, but maybe your admired gourmands. Psst: The brawny dogie argot with a alluvion of creme fraiche and added than a blink of caviar will accomplish their month.
For the best part, this is aliment that makes you contemplative for added affable times — and amplitude that can’t adumbrate its Manhattan roots. The common cavernous beneath your feet? A hasty subway, wouldn’t you know. 138 Lafayette St., 212-271-4252. lecoucou.com. Entrees, $36 to $48.
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