New York restaurant critics – no doubt chagrined by Zuma’s belated opening in New York after successful outposts in Dubai, Miami, Istanbul and Hong Kong after the original London location – weren’t kind to the brand when it came to the city. Why should NYC be last on the list, why such an afterthought? After all, the super-rich haven’t stopped parking their money here. It might be easier to ignore such relics of the early-naughties, themselves far too close to the eighties’ slick and flashy izakaya abominations; for Zuma is definitely big and brash and pricey. Delusionaryculinary visited the Knightsbridge location in 2004 and again in 2014, but lunch in this midtown location on a hot summer’s day will be most memorable for the lamb chops, thick cut and marinated in miso, then seared over the robata grill until dark and sticky outside, and pink inside. Their version of a Chawan Mushi, remixed for dessert but less egg custard and more fruity-foam, was unbeatable. The $25 restaurant week lunch deal was in effect, and made it so much more accessible, but prices hover around the $21-23 mark for most dishes, which for such splendid fusion Japanese fare is really rather reasonable. Ignore the peacocks, get the lamb chops.
Subway: Grand Central – 42nd st
The most famous barbecue joint in Brooklyn had waiting times of up to an hour on some nights, though thankfully the buzz has died down; if there’s a group of you there can be a delegation of duties – those that get the drinks from the bar and those that get a table, with others holding their place in the line. The bar is not that well-stocked on spirits but has a sufficient choice of draft beers and a good range of flights. The food is reliably smoky, high-quality meat such as Black Angus beef brisket, Duroc pork belly, ribs and lamb bacon. Order these by the pound – a half for the hungry or quarter pound for the sensible should be more than enough per couple. Prices vary, but tend to be high: most choices were around $25/lb. Sides are excellent too: the garlicky broccoli and burnt-end beans ($3) were particular favourites – the sauerkraut was bland and pointless though. Try the hot sauce, which blends hickory and chipotle flavours, and the slider bread rolls are perfect to dip in the meat-grease. Nothing of interest here for vegetarians.
Subway: Lorimer st.
Not quite an izakaya as the Gothamist wrongly labelled it, but a modern fusion okonomiyaki restaurant specializing in the truckers’ favourite belly-filler: noodle pancakes. It’s so new (one week old when we were there on a Saturday night) that it’s overwhelmed with Bushwick gourmands, and servers are struggling to keep up; so let’s concentrate on the food. Delusionaryculinary fell hard for these cheap creations when he lived in Shiga-ken for a year in 2001, so brought a keen critical eye to proceedings. We sat at the bar and chatted to the grillmaster, Lawrence, who led us through some of the different combos available, and they all sounded mouth-watering. The Classic ($9) topped with pork belly, otafuku sauce and kewpie mayo was great but we still chose to add some octopus to that. Mexican Osaka ($12), with chorizo, avocado, cilantro, chipotle and crema, another with pulled pork and BBQ sauce and a third topped with crispy ramen noodles, means that there’s more choice for the fusion-hungry. Besides the pancakes, the kitchen does a good range of mini-bitings and snacks, mixing up Wasabi Guacamole ($7) with gyoza chips, a Daikon Vichyssoise ($5) that subs in radish for chilled potato, and also Takoyaki ($7), the beloved street food balls stuffed with octopus. Cheese nori and shrimp tempura were tasty beer snacks. Decor is kitsch Japanese posters, skateboards and tchotchkes, and the bathrooms are plastered with nihongo magazines and newspapers. A few lesser-known beers are on the menu such as Okinawa’s Orion, while Ozeki One Cup ($7) sake and Sapporo draft are also available. The Wasabi Beer from Niigata ($13), light but flavourful, is an experience that must be had. Make the trip to Bushwick: it’s all happening here now.
Subway: Morgan Ave (L)
With several locations in Manhattan alone, Bareburger is really making its mark, and we can see why: a wide array of burgers, sides and drinks in a most agreeable atmosphere make this a great spot to throw some cash at different meats and starches. The Fire Quacker is tremendous, a duck breast with pepper jack cheese and spinach in a brioche roll, while El Matador (bison, guac, queso fresco & jalapeños) is a heartier affair. The platter of rings & sweet fries is accompanied by a trio of excellent sauces: smoke sauce, habanero mayo and curry ginger ketchup. There are great salad choices and even a kids menu too. Bareburger has hit upon a recipe for success, and I hope it thrives in the mid-high range of burger bars.
We came here for the Pollo alla Diavola and ended up discovering much more. This Roman trattoria, with its ‘Italian soul food’ (the Tonnarelli a Cacio e Pepe – pasta with Pecorini and black pepper – is a big hit here) and its menu of highlights and big-hitters has made it one of the best, more upscale, hotel restaurants in the city. We tried the Fritto Misto of soft-shell crab, sweetbread, octopus & mussel aioli ($22), a Mediterranean treat, fried in just the right oil with light seasoning which was great to share for two, not so much for three. The Angello lamb saddle ($32) was predictably heavy, and maybe the wrong choice for a spring-to-summer transition evening. Many dishes are eggy, but not smothered with thick tomato ragus like many rural recipes instruct; restauranteur Danny Meyer has got Nick Anderer in the kitchen, who definitely knows his way around the Italian ingredients. The peppery Diablo chicken half-breast can’t be missed, nor can a walk around the restaurant and bar area a few times. Service is sprightly and unpretentious, while the decor manages to be hip, swanky and cosy all at once.
Subway: 23rd St
This is one of the small handful of classic hotel restaurants that I’ve been to in Manhattan, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint; reliably high-quality American fare here with few frills, but with no shortcuts either. The Crab Cake ($16 for one – just ONE!) is a thing of beauty, rich and fluffy, and the lamb burger ($21) is intensely textured and satisfyingly meaty and proportioned. Cocktails are small twists on classics, but on the whole veer on the side of traditional East Coast favourites. Always bustling, and very hands-off with its service.
Subway: Bryant Park
Exotic toppings and vegan choices, along with late-night opening hours on weekends and a decent range of soft drinks (even two different types of root beer) make Vinnie’s a neighborhood winner for the rushed diner on a budget. The avocado & black bean slice was the only dull choice we tried; ground beef with ranch sauce was meat-feasty, and the mac’n’cheese slice was better than average. These gourmet options are $4.50 each but their fantastic simple cheese slices are $2.75. Try the beef patty too – it’s not as greasy as others I’ve tried, and packs a spicy punch. Sure, the servers could do with smiling more, but this is reliably good fast food.
Subway: Bedford ave.