Handcraft Kitchen. 367 3rd Ave. New York

Mother’s Day Brunch here (moms eat for free!) was a treat: Eggs Benny Ranchero ($16) with pulled pork, polenta, guac, pico de gallo and chipotle hollandaise was delicious, and the French Toast ($15) made with a bourbon maple glaze and berry compote was one of the best I’ve had in the city. Great service and many cocktails to choose from, featuring mezcal, vodka, and gin, make this an attractive venue in one of the city’s quieter neighborhoods.

Subway: 28th St (6), E 23rd St. (R, W)

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The 40/40 Club. W 25th St. New York

I have now been to this branch of Jay-Z’s sports bar chain almost a dozen times, and though it may lack diners’n’drinkers on weeknights, the food is always good; not great, nor inventive, but solidly good. The crab cakes ($15) are rich, with a creamy jalapeño ranch to add to the weight of it all, and the shrimp, artichoke and spinach dip ($15) is definitely for sharing. The Wilted Kale Salad ($13) is a punchy combo of fruits and walnuts, with a red wine reduction that adds real depth. The Braised Beef Short Rib ($23) is the best entrée, with whipped potatoes, black truffle salsa and a veg of the day, though special mention must be made of the Colossal Shrimp ($26), served over angel-hair pasta in a white wine reduction.

Drinks are awful though, unless you get one of the Martinis (the Dragonfly is decent but sweet). D’Ussé cognac (also Jay-z’s brand) is used in many of the more attractive mixes, including a ‘Bold’n’ Stormy which just doesn’t hit the mark.

Service is uneven, and though they take great pride in the place and the clientele that came here in the late aughts, it just ain’t what a lot of people expect; glamorous it certainly isn’t, especially when it’s often so empty.

$$$

Subway: E 23rd St. (R,W)

Rahi. 60 Greenwich Ave. NYC

Artisanal Indian food comes and goes in NYC, but we haven’t tasted anything this good since Indian Accent last year, and Rahi beats it in every category: much better value for money, funkier, and healthier. Chintan Pandya, formerly of Michelin-starred Junoon, has created an eclectic menu spanning many regions with appetizers (the jhat se, or in-a-NY-minute category) such as Chilli Cheese toast ($14), Nargisi Kofta Dhokli (chicken keema, egg yolk & ricotta ravioli, $16), Keema Pao (ground lamb, milk bread, boiled egg, andhra chilli oil, $16) and Chettinad Octopus (with coconut-turmeric mousse and lime gremolata, $21). Entrees, or the aaram se (leisurely) category impressed us too, with the Wild Mushroom & Truffle Khichdi ($24) and Banana Leaf Chicken (in a Kerala coconut curry, $25) being the real crowd-pleasers. We found the Kashmiri Lamb Ribs exceedingly fatty, but when we sent them back we got a very understandable explanation for why they seemed so: the recipe can over-accentuate the heritage meat’s natural fat layer and bring it to the fore. We also had a great chat with the affable entrepreneur Roni Mazumdar, CEO of the operation (and of Tapestry before in the very same space), and stellar service from the staff. The atmosphere is bustling and the drinks selection is extensive. So needless to say, this is my new favorite Indian restaurant.

$$$$

Subway: 9th St (PATH) & 14th (1,2,3)

 

Studio Restaurant at Freehand Hotel. 23 Lexington Ave. NYC

We love this popular lunch spot next to Curry Hill, mostly for its breezy atmosphere, lack of pretension, and delicious North African-accented food. The new venture from Gregory Stulman’s Happy Cooking Hospitality group is a hit with the young Desi crowd and the number of fresh-faced gay couples is noticeable too; furni and colors, service and music are all laid-back and pleasant, and at times you can feel like you’re in a modest Brooklyn joint rather than a Flatiron hotel. We had the baked eggs with curried tomato, brik-style eggs (both $15) Simit bagels with lox and a side of tasty chicken sausage. Heavy on the Mediterranean flavors, ingredients are fresh and simple menu descriptions give way to more complex flavors of za’atar and harissa.  Later in the day, there are more small plates like Turkish beef dumplings and pungent purees such as taramasalata. Wait times can be high, so time it right.

 

$$

Subway: 23rd St (6)

 

 

Gaonnuri. 1250 Broadway. NYC

Overlooking Koreatown and Herald Square, this 39th floor restaurant has great views and a definite sense of occasion. Sleek, spacious and atmospheric, our only qualm here was with portion size and prices: we spent $60 each excluding drinks/desserts and left with partially-full stomachs. Service was excellent, and the Haemul Pajun (tiny scallion & seafood pancake, $15) Bossam (pork belly, octopus & oyster kimchi, $18) and Octopus Bokkeum ($22) were tasty appetizers. The Black Cod Gui ($42) is like a Vietnamese claypot fish, caramelized and soft, and the high-quality Bulgogi ($32) was cooked at the table unobtrusively. Drinks selection was great, with wine, cocktails and even some craft beers; we just wish there had been double the amount of food.

$$$

Subway: 34th St/Herald Square


The Lobster Club. 98 E 53rd St. NYC

There were premonitions of a very similar restaurant in London before I entered The Lobster Club on a Tuesday night recently, and I was right; in decor, service and Japanese-inspired menu, this was just like Sexy Fish. It is also frightfully expensive and ultimately a little disappointing.

Major Food Group’s new venture in the Seagram’s building (under where the Four Seasons restaurant used to be and those red-black Rothko murals were meant to hang) has no soup, tofu or noodles, but plenty of Asian fusion and crudo fish dishes. The Wok Lobster was a sweet-chilli delight and the Yuzu Black Bass was light and citrusy, with no flourishes. The Curry Chicken Wings, however, were curry powder-coated and lacking any other flavor, almost like a British coronation chicken salad. The octopus was only saved by its herby lemon cream sauce that we eventually used to dip other items into. The Ume Rice is delicious, filled with fragrant notes and fluffy in texture; if only there was more of it.

Dessert was recommended to us as the diners’ favorite: soft, black-sugar Okinawa cake which was basically a sticky toffee pudding of which we had to get a second serving.

The wine list is extensive and the sommelier we had recommended a sensational Burgundy; however, service is generally unremarkable (at times nonexistent) and the lurid furni colors, flashy clientele and Richard Prince paintings may not cater to everyone’s tastes. There are other Japanese-fusion joints with far better food, so spend your money at Zuma instead.

$$$$

Subway: Lexington Ave/53rd St.