Bistro Ten 18 | 1018 Amsterdam Avenue New York, NY 10025, (212) 662-7600
For… Macaroni and Cheese
I’m so excited that this is the first place I get to write about, because honestly, the Macaroni and Cheese here changed my life. I have no idea why Bistro Ten 18 is hidden away on 110th and Amsterdam and not down in the Village where it belongs, because between the cozy but classy décor, the socially-minded ingredients (local, organic, etc.) and the innovative but intelligent cuisine, this restaurant represents everything that is right with the New York City food scene right now. I recommend everything I’ve tried, especially the Fresh Made Fettuccine with Chorizo and Shellfish Beurre, which is succulent and absolutely addictive. But the Macaroni, made with Scallions, Shallots, Parmesan, Cheddar and Gruyere, is undeniably their most perfect food. Creamy and super flavorful, it actually made me gasp the first time I tried it. And it takes a lot for that to happen.
Grom | 2165 Broadway, New York, NY (212) 362-1837 /1796 Broadway, New York, NY (212) 974-3444
For… Crema Come Una Volta Gelato
I hate to put Grom on this list, because it’s just too expensive. But for a birthday celebration, special occasion or spontaneous splurge, their gelato really is out of this world. If you’re hell-bent on emptying your wallet, I recommend the Crema Come Una Volta (cream as it once was) because it’s kind of their mission statement in frozen form. Stripped bare of the Mananara Madagascan Vanilla and Ocumare Venezuelan Chocolate, you can perfectly taste the fresh cream and eggs, the lack of emulsifiers and seaweed fillers, and the tears of joy cried by the world’s white-people population as they take in the guiltless ingredient list in conjunction with the store’s brilliantly beautiful branding. And honestly, their intentions may be dubious, but their eggs really are from free-range, organic chickens, which is a very, very good thing. So there you go. It’s good enough to make the list, so that should tell you a lot. Because seriously, it’s way too expensive.
Kitchenette | 1272 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, NY 10027 (212) 531-7600
For… Macaroni and Cheese, Brownie Milkshake, Catfish Sandwich, and most everything on the menu
It would appear that there’s a Mac n’ Cheese renaissance going on in Morningside Heights right now, because while Kitchenette’s Macaroni is very different from Bistro Ten 18’s, I would say it’s about exactly as good. It’s impossible to choose between them based on taste (Bistro Ten 18’s is smooth, Kitchenette’s is smoky) so you have to choose based on if you’re in the mood for, respectively, wine bottles on the walls, huge windows and a beautiful view of St. John the Divine, or tables made out of doors and jam jars for glasses. You seriously can’t go wrong, it’s a matter of personal preference. If you want to do things right at Kitchenette (and I’m assuming you do) go for a late lunch or early dinner (so you won’t have to share a table) and get the Catfish Sandwich with Avocado, share a side of Macaroni with whoever you go with, and finish with (your own) brownie milkshake. Even though it’s all the way up on 123rd street, this place is very popular, and very impressive. It’s also worth noting that Kitchenette also serves the only brunch in the city that would be worth waiting if brunch were worth waiting for.
For… Banana Pudding. Not really cupcakes.
I have a lot of friends who are going to absolutely smite me for saying this, but Magnolia’s cupcakes are really overrated. I guess in contrast to Crumbs (too sweet) and Baked by Melissa (sickening) they’re ok, but I’ve always found them to be over-frosted and kind of dry. Their banana pudding, on the other hand, stands as a testimony to what absolute wonders can be created when you combine Nilla Wafers and Jell-O Vanilla Pudding Mix. Now I know this is an old Southern classic, but I didn’t have anything in Tennessee, Mississippi or Alabama that even came close to this… I think it’s the sweetened condensed milk, but it’s hard to say. Maybe they just proportion things right, refrigerate it for long enough and serve it up with a heaping scoop of love. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. All I know is that one time, I ate a whole large serving (which is very big) by myself, and then came home and had a half a small. And I didn’t even feel bad about it, until the next day when I only had half a small to eat. I’ve talked with many of their employees and we are all in agreement: the banana pudding is probably the best thing that ever happened to New York.
Pommes Frites | 123 2nd Ave New York, NY 10003, (212) 674-1234
For… French Fries, Eggplant Dipping Sauce, Rosemary Aioli, Chili Sauce
Pommes Frites is tiny, simple and wonderful. Every business should learn from then – take what you do best and do it to the max. I’ve only been here in person once, but I have also had their French fries refrigerated and cold, and if you can believe it, they were still amazing – crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside. Everything a fry should be. When you go, get a lot of dipping sauces, and then save the inevitable leftovers to spread on sandwiches.
Red Rooster Harlem | 10 Lenox Avenue, Harlem, NY 10027, (212) 792-9001
For… Catfish, Fried Chicken, Peanut Soup, Pecan Pie with Bourbon Ice Cream, Apple Pie with Buttermilk Ice Cream, Sweet Potato Donuts or in simpler terms, everything I’ve had so far
I have to admit we were all a bit skeptical when The New York Times’ Sam Sifton named Red Rooster Harlem one of his top 10 restaurants of 2011. First because soul food with Swedish influence sounded a bit gimmicky, and second because New Yorkers tend to be enthusiastic about anything that sounds yuppie and is located in Harlem. But I was totally humbled. The Catfish was the sweetest I’ve ever had, and the Fried Chicken was the only one I’ve had outside the South/not made by my mother that I felt was worth eating. The Peanut Soup was like anything I’d ever tasted (in a good way), and the Pies were both absolutely perfect, especially in conjunction with their respective ice creams. But if I had to pick one thing that absolutely puts this place over the edge (other than the restaurant itself, which, with its double sided bar, open kitchen, and faux-blackboard back wall is breathtakingly beautiful) it would have to be the Sweet Potato Donuts. They’re super puffy, not too sweet and incredibly flavorful. They’re filled with an irresistible Sweet Potato cream, coated with cinnamon sugar, and served with a side of whipped cream to dip in. If I had any criticism of this restaurant, it would be that the whole Swedish influence thing was totally lost on all of us (except that they do have Swedish Meatballs on the menu). But whatever. Nobody cares. This was the place that inspired me to create a restaurant review section. I’m so happy we were wrong about it.
Serendipity III | 225 East 60th Street New York, NY 10022, (212) 838-3531
For… Frozen Hot Chocolate and a Foot Long Hot Dog
If you’re going to wait on line for hours for a New York Tourist Trap, this is the one to wait for. The Internet has about 150% more than enough reviews of this place without mine, so I’m just going to keep it simple. Order the classics (see above, they’re really good), share the hot chocolate, and don’t bribe the seating host(ess) – man up and wait on line.
Sigmund’s | 29 Avenue B New York, NY 10009, (646) 410-0333
For… Truffle-Cheddar Pretzels
I don’t have much to say about Sigmund’s because I’ve never actually been there and I don’t know much about it. But I had one of their Truffle-Cheddar Pretzels, (chewy, salty, cracked-black-pepper-y, buttery and explosively truffle-y) the Union Square Holiday Market, and I know for a fact that I would walk 500 miles, and probably 500 more just to get another one.
For… The Throwdown Wafel, Spekuloos Ice Cream
I love these guys so much, it’s hard for me to believe they’re not from the New Haven Farmer’s Market. Everybody who works for Wafels and Dinges has an amazing sense of humor, and it just so happens that they have the best waffles in America. And also they always make sure to spell your name right, which is really cool. They’ve been featured on several TV shows, and they even make good pulled pork, but what you really want from them is the Throwdown Wafel. This is made with the Lièges, their slightly sweeter, vastly superior, yeast-leavened waffle, and topped with Spekuloos (a Belgian gingerbread-cookie spread) and Whipped Cream. Poor Bobby Flay didn’t stand a chance. I also recommend coming by in the summer for their Spekuloos Ice Cream in a Wafel Cone. I know, I don’t like gingerbread cookies either, but this is different. You just have to take my word.
Wu Liang Ye | 36 W 48th St # 1, New York, NY 10036, (212) 398-2308
For… Fried Dumplings, Cellophane Noodles with Minced Pork, Shredded Pork with Beijing Plum Sauce and everything else
I have spent several trips and many hours exploring Flushing Chinatown, with great success. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the names of any of the places I went in Flushing (and also I got pretty bad food poisoning), but as luck would have it, my favorite Chinese place in the world just so happened to turn up, of all places, in Midtown Manhattan, several blocks from Rockefeller Center. It’s a little expensive, but the portions are big, so you can get a few things to share. The fried dumplings here are addictive, and the cellophane noodles with minced pork are addictive, and the shredded pork with Beijing plum sauce is addictive, and really you should try very hard not to over order because everything here is addictive and you will eat everything they bring you whether you want to or not, and then you may never walk again. I hate to be a walking cliché, but almost everybody who eats here really is Chinese, and this is some of the best food I’ve ever had. Make a reservation, but if you can’t, and there’s a wait, stick it out. It’s absolutely worth it.
Trattoria Zero Otto Nove | 2357 Arthur Avenue, New York, NY, (718) 220-1027
For… Chicken with Pesto and Tomatoes and Mozzarella, Butternut Squash Pizza with Pancetta, Profiteroles, Bread
As excited as I was to begin this list with Bistro Ten 18, I am at least ten times more excited to end it with Zero Otto Nove. Certainly New York’s best kept secret, and worth any trip to the Bronx, this may well be my favorite restaurant in the city. Mom and I discovered this place on the recommendation of an admissions officer at Fordham, and in the countless times we’ve been there we’ve never once been disappointed. Arthur Avenue is everything Little Italy should be, and this place is really its crowning jewel. I’m not ashamed to say it inspired me to take Italian my senior year of high school. You begin your Zero Otto Nove experience by walking down a long hallway, to a beautiful room that looks like a courtyard anywhere in Italy (not that I’ve been, but mom has, and she confirmed). Everything down the exceptionally creamy butter they serve with their bread is impeccable. When we go, we tend to order the same things with minor variations, because we’re addicted to their Chicken Cutlet with Diced Tomatoes and Mozzarella, Butternut Squash Pizza with Pancetta, and Arugula Salad with Pear and Goat Cheese. There’s not much room for experimentation. We also love their Pizza with Sopresatta, their other Butternut Squash Pizza with Truffle Oil and… who am I kidding, we love everything we’ve ever had. Finish the meal with heavenly Profiteroles, and then go to the zoo to walk off the calories. You’ll thank me/that Heaven-sent admissions officer a million times over. Please, please go here. It will change your life. (Note – I think they may have recently opened a Manhattan location, but I have yet to try it).