(Pictured: The warm, fresh-from-the-hearth, bread at Ciano. More on that later.)
New York tests you in the winter, particularly January through March. The snow falls, the radiator hisses and everyone (not just Parker Lee) has a mini nervous breakdown. Too much forced time indoors thinking, drinking and watching H&R Block commercials would send any one to Bellevue.
But instead of checking into the East Side loony bin, I propose something different. Pick up your phone and make a reservation. Swaddle yourself in woolen layers. Brace yourself against the chill and slush for however long it takes you to hail a cab. Open the door to anyone of my top 5 restaurants and breathe a sigh of relief. Shimmy up to the fire with a good glass of red and remember what these cold months are for–eating and drinking with friends (…and maybe wishing you had invented the Bundt Cake or Facebook and then you’d have enough money for a pj and a holiday home in Martinique)
Manhattan’s 5 Hottest Restaurants to Fight the Cold
Fedora (W. 4th Street @ W. 10th; 646.449.9336)– Gabriel Stulman is the mini restaurateur Superman of the West Village. He flies in with his hipster cape and skull cap, accompanied by a crack team of architects, designers and chefs that always. get. it. right. He transformed one street corner with Joseph Leonard and then another with Jeffrey’s. Instantly, he’s a neighborhood darling. Fedora seems to be the jewel of his crown with its coveted W. 4th Street location, the restaurant’s historic bones and it’s very, very good-looking, well-heeled crowd. I went last week (a week after it opened) and fell in love with the 1920’s vibe-long, polished bar, white tin ceiling and a bartender who knows what he’s shakin’ up. My one critique: 3 bar stools became available and the girls and I moved to make ourselves more comfortable and settle in for a bite and another glass of wine. That’s when Kristin, the hostess, unceremoniously walked over, said “No, no, no ladies–you can’t sit here. These are reserved.” No, no, no, Kristin. That’s not the way it works, honey–and neither does your attitude. But for the chef’s menu and for Gabriel, I’ll be back.
Plates to try: Giant Oysters Rockefeller; Crispy Pig’s Head with Greens and Gribiche; Sweetbreads and Octopus; Crisped Duck Leg with Dates and Herb Salad; Big Pork Chop for 2 with Scallion Pancakes; Pickled Vegetables and Spiced Meatballs
Lyon (118 Greenwich Avenue @ W. 13th St; 212.242.5966)- Before I decided to go piggy-bank-belly-up and book a girls trip to Paris, I satisfied myself with Lyon. In what was once the Bruxelles restaurant space, Lyon is a refurbished showstopper (think Catherine Deneuve, not Cher) that bats her eyes and winks at you, quietly begging you to come in on a whim. That’s exactly what I did late one Saturday afternoon in December. The next time, I planned my evening out and went with a girlfriend to check out the stunning, caramel-colored, oak-paneled bar and dining rooms and sample some of the classic Lyonnaise fare. The steak frites and thick cut french fries were as good–or better–than Balthazar’s (no easy feat, mind you) and our Salad Lyonnaise was smoky from the lardon and pitch-perfect with just the right amount of vinaigrette. We didn’t try much else–certainly not the “flabby steak” that Sam Sifton complained about in the Times–because this was a girls night. You know what I mean. We sip, we sip some more, we nibble on a few, choice plates and then we catch up on life, men and the January sales. For this, Lyone was perfect–just what I wanted. She was a Parisian beauty who kept us company, poured us good wine and made us promise we’d come back for more. Don’t listen to ol’ Sam.
Plates to try: Steak Tartare et Frites; Salad Lyonnaise; copious amounts of Cote-du-Rhone
Osteria Morini (218 Lafayette Street; 212.965.8777)- Osteria Morini is the middle class girl’s answer to Marea. When I cooked with star chef Michael White at the James Beard House when I hosted ABC’s Eat & Greet, I didn’t know who he was. Certainly he’s no culinary genius, I thought. He’s way too lovable and down-to-earth—the warm, big-bellied chef uncle I never had. Then, of course, I tried one of his pasta dishes (pictured here) and then another and then another. Ma scherzi, Zio Michaele! (You’re joking, Uncle Michael!) Each and every one was brilliant–Mario Batali-over-the-top brilliant. Think garganelli with cream, truffle butter and prosciutto; tortellini in a duck liver cream sauce; braised beef ravioli braised beef sauce and fossa cheese… Skip that next trip to Italy and Emilia-Romagna, hop the ‘6’ -train to Lafayette Street and sit at the altar of Michael White’s genius. Once you get your tax return, you can go to Marea.
Plates to try: Any carb on the menu
Maialino (2 Lexington Avenue; 212.777.2410)- I’m taking my childhood best friend, Lang, to Maialino for her birthday dinner. Lang might make her paychecks as a producer for The Onion but she’s a professional foodie and Maialino is where she wants to go. Who am I to argue? But just to check out Danny Meyer’s latest venture, make sure it’s up to snuff, the baby and I did a drive-by (not in a convertible sports car–but with our stroller, top down) and checked out the scene. On the first floor of the Gramercy Park Hotel, with a killer view of the park’s restrained beauty, Maialino looks to be “All Things Danny”–warm, accessible, well-executed, delicious. The golden tones of the bar and dining room, the rough hewn wood tables, the stacks and stacks of freshy baked ciabatte and focaccia and the pork-centric menu make me think that we’re in for a bella serata.
Plates to try (according to reviews): Carciofi fritti; Bucatini all’amatriciana; any cut of pig, prepared any which way (sounds like Jamie and I are coming here next!)
Ciano (44 E. 22nd Street @ Park Ave South; 212.982.8422)- Jamie has a chef crush on Shea Gallante. (Had to tell everyone–sorry, honey!) When Chef Gallante was heading the kitchen at Cru, near us in the Village, Jamie would have made a dinnertime pilgrimage every week if our newlywed bank account would have allowed him. His food is thoughtful, ambitious and technically perfect (that’s the part that Jamie loves). So when Shea left behind the confines of an expensive French restaurant for a rustic Italian trattoria (the big, crackling fireplace and the breads that it turns out, say it all) we were excited to see what what luscious morsels he’d create. Monday night, we called in the troops (a babysitter) and set out for Ciano. From the brilliance of the wine list–you can order half bottles of anything–to the luscious bread basket served with both a fruity olive oil and truffle butter to the inventive pastas, we were impressed. Capital “I.” My fresh sheets of pasta, casarecce, with spicy octopus was the most satisfying prima that I’ve ever eaten outside of Italy. Jamie went crazy for the tortellini stuffed with braised veal and sweetbreads and fontina cheese fonduta. The roasted veal meatballs with creamy white polenta and truffle pecorino might just be our collective “last supper” dish. Sigh. Oh, Shea, we love you.