By: Anthony Arnone (pictures taken by him as well)
From great new restaurants to compelling cinema and plays, 2016 has been an excellent year for food and culture in New York. Here is a list of my personal favorites.
Best New Restaurant:
Farm-to-table New American Restaurants are a cliché in the dining world at this point now that there are more of these types of restaurants in New York than late-night diners. And after living in San Francisco for five years where the same is true, I vowed not to eat at any restaurant I thought to be in this category—until I went to Olmsted. Ex-Alinea Chef Greg Baxtrom (see Chef’s Table, season 2, episode 1 on Netflix) and farm-owner Ian Rothman claim to “offer a seasonal, ingredient-driven menu”; this is exactly what they do, but with the creativity of a Shakespeare or Milton—all create masterpieces within conventional forms. Their menu is simple with only ten items and a handful of “snacks” for starters, and the names of the dishes sound simple as well (cauliflower, trout, scallops, crab rangoon, tagliatelle), but the dishes’ flavor is far from simple and contains a depth and complexity of flavor that rivals the best Michelin-starred restaurants in the city (but at a tenth of the price of most of those Michelin-starred restaurants). They also have what I vote to be the best dessert of the year: frozen yogurt with whipped cream, lavender honey and lavender flowers. And after dinner you can go outside to the heated garden to roast marshmallows for your s’mores and sip on a hot toddy, all of which is presided over by their resident quail. Favorite dishes: Gobi Pakora Cauliflower, Tiny Tartare Tacos, Garden Kale Crab Rangoon, Carrot Crepe with Little Neck Clams, Dave’s Trout, Frozen Yogurt, S’mores. Favorite Cocktail: Bell Pepper.
Best Cheap Food: Mamoun’s, Crif Dog, Faicco’s, Whitman’s, Just Salad, Beyond Sushi (vegetarian sushi), Coppelia, Dim Sum Go Go, Somtum Der Thai Food
Best Burger: Shake Shack (SmokeShack)
Best Ice Cream: Morgenstern’s
Best Pizza: Keste (Margherita Pizza)
Best Liquor Stores: Sakaya (Sake), Terry’s (Wine), Good Beer (Beer)
Best Bars: Sake Bar Decibel, Mace, The Dead Rabbit, Attaboy, Employee’s Only, PDT, The Up & Up, The Narrows, The Nomad Bar, Maison Premiere, Dante
Best Thai Food: Uncle Boons
Best Korean Food: Jungsik
Best Jamaican Food: Miss Lily’s 7A
Best Indian Food: Paowalla and Babu Ji (tied)
Best Polish Food: Dziupla
Best Italian Food: Babbo Ristorante, Lilia, and Carbone (tied)
Best Southern-style Soul Food: Mitchell’s Soul Food and Root & Bone (tied)
Best Ramen: Nakamura and Yuji Ramen (tied)
Best Pho: Momofuku Noodle Bar
Most Underrated Restaurant: Piora
My favorite food in the world is sushi. I have tried countless sushi places in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles,
and the best sushi master in the United States is Eiji Ichimura (yes, his sushi is better than Masa, Soto, and Ginza Onodera). I will go so far to say that dining at Ichimura is the best dining experience in all New York. His restaurant consists of an eight-seat sushi bar and he serves an Omakase-style dinner, which means everything you eat is decided by chef Ichimura. Even though it may seem like sushi is just raw fish and therefore will be good anywhere you go, it is the one food on which it is truly worth spending money because it takes a true master to make great sushi. A bad sushi experience can scar you for life. But great sushi is like an enchanting dream. And Ichimura is the epitome of pristine sushi. I have talked to many younger sushi chefs who have told me that there is nothing even in Tokyo that rivals Ichimura (Jiro and Saito included). Ichimura meticulously cures each fish he serves in a special way so he can have more control over his personal style and accentuate it for his customers. During the entire meal, while watching him work his magic, Edith Piaf, Billy Holliday, and Ella Fitzgerald play on a speaker in the background; it is like a symphony or jazz concert. However, Ichimura just moved from his beautiful location inside David Bouley’s restaurant Brushstroke and will be opening his own restaurant in Tribeca in February. Favorite pieces of Nigiri: Horse Mackerel, three layers of fatty tuna, lean tuna, squid fin, uni, salmon roe, and really everything.
Honorable Mentions: Shuko (owners Jimmy and Nick are really fun to talk to and make great sushi), Masa (eating at Masa is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and if you go, don’t forget to request that Chef Masa serve your sushi when you make a reservation), Sushi Azabu, 1 or 8, Sushi Yasuda, Sushi Nakazawa
Best Restaurants: Estela, Pasquale Jones, Cosme, OIJI, Wildair
Best High-End Tasting-Menu Only Restaurants:
- Eleven Madison Park
Eleven Madison Park is currently ranked by the famous San Pellegrino list of the world’s top 50 restaurants as #3 in the world and #1 in the U.S. Although it is pricey, it costs no more than a Broadway musical, and I believe it is better than any show on Broadway I have seen this year. The restaurant, housed in the famous Metropolitan Life building
next to Madison Square Park, is beautiful; the high-ceilings and spacious dining room, along with huge windows overlooking Madison Park, make for a perfect setting for one of the more theatrical dining experiences in New York. I never had a truly amazing caviar dish until I tried some of their methods of serving caviar, particularly the caviar eggs benedict and the caviar picnic basket with canned vegetables and tomato champagne. If I had to choose a single dish that defined New York fine-dining, it would be that caviar eggs benedict (with their black and white cookie made with cheddar shortbread, white butter, and black vegetable ash as a close second). But the star of the meal for me is always the lavender and honey duck, which is far and away the best duck dish in existence. From the many inventive takes on classic New York dishes, to the intermezzo course prepared in front of you in the kitchen and eaten there to the game of “guess that type of Mast Brothers Chocolate” followed by chocolate pretzels and an entire bottle of Apple Brandy left at the table by the waiter. Also, their wine-pairing is the best in the city. If you think that isn’t enough, EMP designates certain employees (disguised as waiters) as “dream-weavers” whose job is to fulfill each diner’s dream. The last time I dined at EMP I was arguing with my friend about the merits of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, and, sure enough, my dessert was delivered to me in a perfectly made replica of a Mendl’s Chocolate Box from the movie. Favorite dishes: Caviar Eggs Benedict, Lavender and Honey Glazed Duck, Pan-Seared Fois Gras, the appetizer octagon, Baked Alaska.
- Blue Hill at Stone Barns
Chef Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns (made famous on season 1, episode 2 of Chef’s Table on Netflix) is a four-season working farm in Pocantico Hills, which is just a short (and beautiful) train ride up the Hudson. It is a farm-to-table restaurant in the truest sense. There is no set menu because it is constantly changing (even in one night, no table will have the same courses); they just label the dining experience “grazing, pecking, rooting” and feature whatever is freshest on the farm that day. The first 15 courses (of about 50) consist of raw vegetables that were grown with experimental methods to enhance flavor. The next set of courses are cooked variations of the raw vegetables you have just eaten (like tomato nigiri that looks and tastes just like tuna)—all amazing. This is then followed by cooked meat, fish dishes, and dessert. Stone Barns has one of the most beautiful dining rooms of any restaurant, but throughout your meal you can walk around and have courses in different locations on the farm such as the bread-oven room, a patio that has a great view of the farm fields, or the greenhouse. I have been to tasting menus that drag out eight courses for four hours, and Blue Hill’s tasting menu lasts about five and a half hours; but that five and a half hours feels like an hour because you constantly have about five different foods on your table and the same number of wines. If you ever want to get away from the city for a bit, and have the tasting meal of a lifetime, go to Stone Barnes. There is Blue Hill at Washington Square Park and Blue Hill at Stone Barns; both are great, but in my opinion you should save your money for the latter.
- Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare
Chef Ramirez has a reputation for sternness; at his twelve-seat chef’s table-style restaurant there are no pictures allowed. When I first walked in and was seated right next to were he stands, unsmiling behind his horn-rimmed glasses, I’ll admit that I was conscious of every move I made. And then a bite-sized piece of bread with a glistening piece of soy-glazed uni topped with a fat black truffle was placed in front of me. I ate it, melted, and promptly told Chef Ramirez that it was totally amazing. He gave me an austere nod and went back to work. Then I had the butter-poached langoustine topped with a paper-thin turnip; I again impulsively heaped praise on Chef Ramirez and got a muted response from him. Then a perfect piece of Mackerel (my favorite fish) was place in front of me and before I ate it I excitedly asked him what his inspirations and favorite restaurants were. This began a long and wonderful conversation with one of the nicest, humblest chefs I have met. His knowledge of food and art was awesome; he has been around the world and eaten just about every type of food, from haute-cuisine to street food. In our conversation I got to see how he understood cooking as the most expressive art form and how he loves teaching young cooks to share his appreciation. Brooklyn Fare is indeed one of the best restaurants in New York.
(Honorable Mentions: Le Bernardin, Blanca, Ko, Atera, Jean Georges)
Most Fun Dining Experience in New York: Mamma Guidara’s
Every Sunday night the Eleven Madison Park team (Will Guidara and Daniel Humm) turn the bar area of their
restaurant The Nomad into an old-school Italian-American red-sauce joint (modeled after the famous and now closed Mamma Leone’s that Guidara’s father used to manage)—complete with red and white checkered table cloths, Sinatra and Billy Joel Music, candles in used Chianti bottles, chicken parm (which is bigger and better than any chicken parm I’ve ever had), antipasti plates, caesar salad, fried calamari, cannoli and Tiramisu, all the staples of Italian-American
food. This is the food I grew up eating and Mamma Guidara’s not only cooks it to perfection but creates the most romantic and fun atmosphere of any restaurant in New York. Oh, and you are almost certain to see a celebrity there—last time Leonardo Di Caprio was at the table next to me, and Jerry Seinfeld and Tom Hanks were walking out as I entered. This is a must-try dining experience in New York.
Top Ten Films of 2016: 1. Yourself and Yours (Hong Sang-Soo) 2. The Thought That Once We Had (Thom Andersen) 3. Wiener Dog (Todd Solondz) 4. Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman) 5. The Arbalest (Alex Pinney) 6. Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford) 7. Sieranevada (Cristi Puiu) 8. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade) 9. A Bigger Splash (Luca Guadagnino) 10. Cosmos (Andrzrej Zulawski)
Best Independent Theaters (based mainly on film curation): 1. The Metrograph (best theater I have ever been to in
every way) 2. Walter Reade Theater 3. Film Forum (the student membership is a great deal) 4. Landmark Sunshine 5.
Angelika Film Center (it’s charming to hear the subway underneath your feet during the quiet parts of the movies) 6. IFC Center 7. Nitehawk Cinema 8. Alamo Drafthouse (great theater but I dislike that they serve food during the movie, which is disruptive) 8. Anthology Film Archives (great for experimental films)
Best Independent Theater (for plays): Barrow St. Theatre
Best Broadway Play: Oh, Hello (Honorable Mentions: The Encounter, Fun Home)
Most Anticipated Play: The Antipodes
Best Comedy Club: EastVille