Park Avenue (Winter)

When I initially wrote this review roughly two years ago, I found Park Avenue Winter to be one of the best NYC Restaurant Week deals available. After looking at their 2017 restaurant week menu I am confident that that will again be the case this year (note: it runs from January 23 to February 10).

I say that because a) I already know that the food at Park Ave is quality and would, if not for Restaurant Week, be more expensive, and b) their 2017 menu does not commit the two most aggravating Restaurant Week sins: extremely restricted menu choices and ubiquitous supplemental charges. To read my rant on Restaurant Week sins, you can do so here. Thankfully, Park Avenue Winter does not commit any of them.

The AvroKo designed decor is clever and constantly changing, as the restaurant is transformed according to the current season along with the name of the restaurant (i.e. Park Avenue Winter/Spring/Summer/Autumn). Thus, the seasonally-adapted interior allows you to return to a refreshed dining experience every few months. The bar area is just the right size and has just the right feel, and the friendly bartender served me his take on a Manhattan. Service in the dining room was also excellent.

Some of the dishes at Park Ave were more “good” than “great” (e.g. Seared Scallop Sandwich and Pistachio Sundae), but as I look at the 2017 menu it appears these have been removed anyway. I enjoyed the Short Rib and Winter White Sundae, and would be excited to return back and sample other dishes, including the wild Broccoli & Cheetos combination.

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The National Bar & Dining Rooms

When we needed a last minute brunch reservation in midtown for a party of six, The National was able to squeeze us in. I’ve read mixed reviews about Geoffrey Zakarian‘s version of a Euro-American “Grand Cafe”, but actually had a relatively nice experience.

The decor of the restaurant is upscale but playful; evidenced by the quaint, old bicycle perched by the door as you enter the restaurant. The place was fairly empty around noon on a Saturday – never a good sign – but it worked out for us because the servers were extremely attentive and diligent about refilling much-needed water glasses after what had been a long night.

I had read the Ugly Burger was a safe (and hearty) choice, and went with that, which turned out to be a good decision. The burger was cooked exactly to medium rare and crammed with an array of tasty toppings, including pickled onions and jalapenos, and the fries didn’t disappoint either. I also love that they serve Sir Kensington’s ketchup; that stuff is great. Nevertheless, the consensus around the table was that the rest of the more traditional brunch dishes – an omelette, eggs benedict, etc. – were uninspiring. No one had a bad meal, but no one was impressed either.

The National didn’t blow me away for brunch, but it seems like a reliable option in midtown, which I don’t find myself saying often. I’ll give their dinner service a try the next time I’m searching for a bite in the area.

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Murray’s Cheese Bar

I love Murray’s Cheese Shop and had very high expectations for Murray’s Cheese Bar but was disappointed with both the quality of the meal and the service.

While our server was very friendly and extremely polite (especially considering the majority of my party showed up late), he encouraged us to over-order. We all ordered brunch entrees and wanted to start with the Cheesemonger’s Choice board with five cheeses, but he persuaded us to go with eight cheeses even though we voiced reservations it may be too much food. My friends and I are not dainty eaters, but we couldn’t finish it all. We were also frustrated that the cheese was brought at the same time as our entrees, even though it was intended to be an appetizer. Furthermore, several entrees arrived lukewarm, so we hurried to eat them before they got cold, and then finished our meal with the cheese board instead. I was not a big fan of my Alpine Eggs, as they were meant to be poached but were cooked through and the muffin underneath was very soggy; I’m sure the dish would have been tastier had it been executed better.

The Cheesemonger’s Choice was delicious, but Murray’s Cheese Bar has room to improve as a restaurant. I’ll likely stick to Murray’s Cheese Shop in the future, and go elsewhere when dining out.

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Craftbar

Craftbar nails casual fine dining: high-end food with more accessible pricing and a more laid-back atmosphere than pricier restaurants such as Craftbar’s sister restaurant in the Tom Colicchio Crafted Hospitality empire, Craft. There is creativity in the menu, but it doesn’t feel overdone, and the comfort dishes, such as the house-smoked kielbasa, don’t seem out of place. The service was excellent, an it was a nice touch when they printed a personal happy birthday message on each of the paper menus for our party, and rolled one up for the birthday boy to take home at the end of the meal.

As many restaurants as there are in New York, few attempt and succeed at casual fine dining as well as Craftbar. I’ve found restaurants with comparable menus tend to add white table cloths and pricey tableware as an excuse to charge more, with no other incremental changes. It’s refreshing to be able to go somewhere for a quality meal without exorbitant prices. We liked the ricotta agnolotti and lamb neck osso buco, which, at $22 and $27, respectively, aren’t cheap, but I’ve seen similar dishes at other estalishments priced at least 10-20% higher simply because the ambience was a tad more formal.

Give me the wood tables and chairs and the more affordable bill for a great relaxed dining experience, and I’m happy at Craftbar. There are plenty of other places in New York I can go to for the white table cloth experience.

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Del Posto

Del Posto offers delicious Italian fare that dabbles in gastronomy (moreso than other Batali & Bastianich restaurants) but the menu still retains the mark of a more traditional Italian restaurant. The hearty tasting menu will not leave you disappointed (or hungry). I was sad to read that Chef Mark Ladner will be leaving to focus on his fast casual concept, Pasta Flyer, but I have high hopes for his replacement, Melissa Rodriguez, and her new menu.

Lasagna inspired this blog, and the 100 Layer Lasagna Ladner popularized at Del Posto is a great place to start for my first posted review. That dish, as well as the Orecchiette with Lamb Neck Ragu and Orange Carrots were my two favorite pastas, but the entire menu was excellent.

Arguably the most impressive aspect of Del Posto, though, is the service and welcoming atmosphere. Many high-end restaurants give off a pretentious air, whereas Del Posto manages to make you feel appreciated whether you’ve dined at Michelin-quality restaurants your entire life or if it’s your first time. Furthermore, at a recent dinner celebrating my father’s birthday, no less than six or seven different members of the staff wished him a happy birthday (including the host almost as soon as we walked in the door). The restaurant was also able to accommodate us by seating us at one of the banquettes I requested, and topped off the meal with a complimentary dessert complete with candle and “Happy Birthday” chocolate garnish. The cordial members of the Del Posto team made us feel as though we had been dining there for years.

Del Posto won’t be in the discussion as a pioneer of molecular gastronomy, but the comfortable balance struck between familiar Italian recipes and calculated modern twists is delightful, and, when combined with the almost unparalleled service, led to a phenomenal dining experience and one I would highly recommend to others, especially for celebrations. Perhaps it is a bit grandiose for everyday dining needs, but when the occasion calls for it, look no further than Del Posto.

Summary:

  • Rating: 5/5 Stars
  • Pricing: $$$$ (Zagat)
  • Food: Italian
  • Dress Code: Business Casual / Elegant Casual
  • Neighborhood: Chelsea
  • Website: www.delposto.com
  • Instagram: @delposto

Alexander Sonageri – Another Millennial Food Blogger Based in NYC

I’m sure you’ve seen thousands of us by now: millennials convinced that, because we’ve dined at a few nice restaurants, have seen every episode of Top Chef, and managed to get a lot of likes on a carefully curated Instagram food post, we are qualified to present our own official “restaurant reviews.” Nonetheless, I enjoy writing and I (really) enjoy food, so I’ve decided to add myself to the fray as another self-proclaimed foodie.

I come from a predominantly Italian American background, so the bulk of my food knowledge revolves around pasta varietals, cured meats, and the like, but I have a penchant for trying new foods and have begun, and intend to continue, broadening my understanding of other cultures and cuisines with which I am a bit less familiar. I currently live in New York City so most of my “reviews” will be restaurants from the city, but I do enjoy traveling and hope to sprinkle in writing from other destinations as well.

One of my dreams is to visit Modena, Italy and dine at Massimo Bottura‘s internationally acclaimed Osteria Francescana (in the photo above I am on the left and Massimo is on the right). I first learned of Massimo through his famous “The Crunchy Part of the Lasagna” recipe, which I am dying to taste. When I do, though, I will still be obligated to refer to it as the second best lasagna I have ever eaten, surpassed by my wonderful mother’s version, of course.

While I have always enjoyed food and trying new restaurants, I was energized after attending a speaker series held at the 92nd Street Y for Massimo’s 2014 book tour for “Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef“, which is a brilliantly fascinating and saliva-inducing read. The book is less a cookbook than it is a summary of the inspiration behind many of Massimo’s most notable dishes, and in hearing him speak to the evolution of thought that preceded each dish, I was left in wonderment. Massimo was joined onstage by American molecular gastronomy pioneer Wylie Dufresne, and I left the auditorium thinking that the two of them were artists as much as they were chefs, as corny as that may sound. I’ve been on a mission to try as many great restaurants as I can ever since, and hope to share some of my thoughts along the way. I will leave the lengthy, formal approach to reviewing restaurants to the professionals, and instead will  share short blurbs accompanied by a couple of my favorite (or least favorite) dishes and perhaps a photo.  I hope you enjoy.

Oh, and my favorite food Instagrams are @illhavethe and @nycdining.