Restaurant Reviews

I created this page as a favor to my childhood friend Mike, who lives in Seattle and visited New York in the summer of 2003. It's an occupational hazard in financial journalism that you go out to eat a lot, so I know many restaurants in Manhattan. I will post reviews of places that I have visited at least four times and at least once after the start of 2003. The prices are estimates for two people ordering one or two appetizers, two main courses, one or two desserts, a reasonably good bottle (sometimes half bottle) of wine, and leaving a respectable tip. You won't find any pans here, these are restaurants I like enough to visit repeatedly.

The Facts The Opinion
2 Park Avenue
(but the entrance is on 32nd Street)
New York, NY, 10016

212 725 8585 

Cuisine: French Bistro (but really, you go for the cheese)

Price: $175 (assuming you are having a full dinner and not just a cheese tasting). Get a small affinity-program credit by booking through Open Table.

Last visit 9/2005

Other comments:
City Search
New York Metro
Village Voice
J. Walman

New York is probably the best place in America for people who like cheese. Where other cities might have a cheese shop or two with a few dozen imports, we have Fairway and Zabars and Citarella. Fairway has almost as many cheeses as a well-stocked Parisian fromagerie, and I am comparing it to Alleosse, where I used to shop. Unlike most of the rest of America, we do not shy from raw-milk cheeses, which have the advantage of flavor over many of the more processed variety.

It stands to reason that we would have a cheese restaurant.

Surprisingly, this is a relatively new development, Artisanal opened in the late 1990s (early 2000s?). Before that, if you wanted cheeses like this in a restaurant, you would have to go to its parent, Picholine, a great Lincoln-center area spot, but one that will set you back about $300 a couple. Although they were said to be sympathetic to people who just wanted cheese,  if you were going to make a reservation for a place that is excruciatingly black tie, then you might just want to have a full-course sit-down dinner.

So Picholine begat Artisanal, home to 250  cheeses.

Cheese tastes best if it is served at the correct temperature. This varies with the cheese, but it is never as cold as a refrigerator makes it. There is also the issue of when you serve a cheese: like a wine, it can be too young and short on flavor, and like any dairy product, it can be too old, and you can figure out what that means. Just having a restaurant that pays attention to these things means your cheese course is likely to be better than average, even before you get to the question of selection.

When you find yourself at Artisanal, the first question you have to ask is whether you are going to only have a dinner of only cheese, have a regular dinner, or have cheese with less than a full meal.  I think you should opt for #3. For one thing, an entire dinner of cheese would probably be too much cheese. 

Even if think you can cure something with an overdose of cheese, there are two big drawbacks to Artisanal: noise and service.  While this is a big, attractive, room, it is a big room with tile floors, hard walls, and about 200 seats. During prime time, it is hard to hear the other people at your table without shouting . 

Then there is the service: mediocre at best (and, admittedly, at worst). The waiters have service areas that are too big for the amount of work they do. The number of tables might be comparable to similarly priced eateries elsewhere, but orders here tend to be complicated. The result is that your waiter(ess) is often not around when you need help. Also, for a cheese restaurant, the bread basket is often dissapointing. On a recent trip, we got one peasant white bread, one fruit-and-nut breat, both quite possibly stale and rarely sufficient for the cheese order. Sure, you could ask for more, but then you'd have to find somebody to ask. Also, your reservation, which must be confirmed within 24 hours of dining, seems to be taken as a starting point for negotiations rather than the contract for a time slot.

One way to dodge these bullets is to come at off hours. There is a light bar menu available at the 20-seat bar at all times and in the dining room after 9:30 p.m. 

If you want to come just for cheese, and you think your arteries are up for it, you could try a fondue or a raclette (the latter refers to a specific kind of Alpine cheese as well as  the way it is served: melted on cold cuts, potatoes, gerkins and cocktail onions).  But my advice is to have a light meal, followed by four or five or six different cheeses. Despite the otherwise off-hand service, there is always a cheese specialist on hand, and the thing to do is grab (by which I mean run after, catch up with and wrestle to the ground) your waiter(ess) and insist on a consultation. The cheese person will look at your leftover wine, ask a few questions, and eventually there will appear on your table a sampler compiled to your specifications. You get a card that identifies each one, but the inventory changes so you should probably just let your cheesemonger be your guide.

For the main meal, my one concession to cheese is the puff ball called gougere. These are deceptively light and salty enough to have you reaching for the wine early and often. Otherwise, the tuna carpaccio is a calorically correct way to begin.

I've only ever had two entrees here, neither of which have anything to do with cheese and both of which are worthy of a visit, cheese nothwithstanding. One is an Etruscan-style chicken served under a brick, juicy and nicely served on a light potato puree, the other a sea skate served with blood oranges. 

For all I know, they have good desserts here. But you would have to be very skinny or very fat to try one.

Bull & Bear
570 Lexington Avenue
(at 49th Street, in the Waldorf-Astoria hotel)
New York, NY 10022

212 872 4900

Cuisine: Steakhouse with a touch of New American and Continental

Price: $200

Book with Open Table


Last visit 10/2005

Other comments:

This is as good a steakhouse as you can find in New York, the only drawback being the Waldorf Tower-high prices.

But perhaps you have an expense account, and this is an expense-account-y kind of place. If you can, sit in the large bar area, where you can watch affluent midtowners after work mingling with bewildered tourists from around the world. The restaurant is more sedate, but the menu and service is the same and the seats are insanely comfortable wherever you end up. The two are separated only by a glass divider.

You get what you pay for here.  The seafood appetizers provide you with satisfying amounts of crabmeat or shrimp, and there is a lobster-and-mango salad that you can have for your main course and vaguely feel as if you have be calorically responsible..

But for your main course, why not have a steak? This is the only restuarant on the Eastern Seaboard that sells the prime grade of Angus beef. There might be a better kind of steak, but then again, there might not. For even more cholesterol, try the tournedos of beef, served under Stilton and with two sauces: red wine and bernaise.  Believe it or not, this is the budget dish on the steak menu. 

If you don't order too many side dishes and split or forgo the appetizer (portions here are big but not necessarily of doggie-bag dimensions), you might have room for the transcendental cheesecake as you dawdle over a latte. You may as well spend some time here watching the scene around the huge rectangular bar. 

To keep the costs in check, try the sommelier's suggested merlot, courtesey of Baron de Rothschild at $39. Or spring for the $62 1990 Chateau Simard Bourdeaux.

Other benefits: the service ranges from efficient to obsequious. It isn't particularly fast, but this isn't a diner. As the crow flies, the Waldorf is fairly close to La Guardia, so if you are having a business dinner after which somebody needs to get to the airport, start early and have the traveller depart after rush hour. There is a Bull & Bear ale, brewed specially for the bar. The bread basket is nearly irresistable, even though you know what lies ahead.

I discovered the restaurant in a serendipitous way. I had a couple of work-related interviews scheduled one day,  the second with a colleague who was visiting from out of town. The Waldorf, site of many takeover press conferences, was right around the corner from my office, and I knew the bar pretty well. So I scheduled by two interviews there, and when they were done, my colleague and I started discussing where we might have dinner as we sat at one of the tables at the periphery of the bar. A waiter overheard us and said, "Why not have dinner here? We serve the menu from the restaurant." So we decided to give it a try, and the next thing we knew a white tablecloth magically appeared in front of us, followed by place settings and then those expense-account steaks.

Cafe Luxembourg
200 West 70th Street
(near Amsterdam)
New York, NY 10023

212 873 7411


Price: $60-$120
(There is an inexpensive
brasserie menu)

Book with Open Table

Last visit 11/2005

Other comments:

New York Metro
New York Times
A  comparison with Compass, the restaurant next door, by the same NYT writer (who undertakes literary contortionism to show his dislke for Cafe L)

This is the lower-key uptown version of Odeon, the prototypical French bistro in New York. It is located on a quiet street just steps away from the noisy intersection of Broadway and Amsterdam Avenues.

The entryway brings you to the end of the zinc bar, which, like any Parisian brasserie, has boiled eggs on racks. In theory, you take one whenever you want, shell it on the bar, and chomp away. The walls are tiled, and the decor is a pleasant deco.

Cafe Luxembourg is often crowded, with a daytime contingent of West Side work-at-home artistes and ladies who lunch, and a nighttime complement of theatergoers (it's just five blocks from Lincoln Center), artsy types ("I got so tired of working on big-budget films"), and executives who live nearby. Your server is likely to be waiting for that next acting gig. Although the service can sometimes be slow, it is always a comfortable and cozy place, good for resolving crises or rekindling romance. 

The cooked oysters are good, and usually they have the raw kind too, delivered on the the kind of high circular wire frame that you see in Paris. Steaks are reliable and the duck dishes often are sublime. There is a rolling special of the night (pork chops on Wednesday are juicy) as well as special specials. For Thanksgiving 2005, they had the regular menu plus holiday specials -- everything was over-the-top excellent, and I was glad to be with a Canadian who didn't feel obliged to order turkey -- the baked ham was great.

One of the few Californian wines that I know and like is the half bottle of red from the Mount Veeder winery that they have on the menu.

A nice thing about Cafe Luxembourg is that it opens daily for breakfast at 8 a.m. (it runs until noon on weekdays, starts at 9 and spills into brunch on weekends). A not-so-nice thing is that if you go between 3 and 5:30 on a weekday afternoon, they have a limited brasserie menu only.

Empire Diner
210 10th Ave
New York, NY 10011

212 924 0011
212 924 0012 fax

Cuisine: American diner, Mexican, etc.

Price: $35 - with soft drinks.
(They have a bar, but you will probably want coffee or one of the milkshakes.) 

Last visit 3/2003

Other comments:
Wookie Hut
Wookie Hut (a different review)

The Empire Diner is eternal. Not only is it open 24/7, but it is purposely a bit of 1950ish kitsch, frozen in time for your retro pleasure.

You could, as it happens, say much the same thing about the gas station across 10th Avenue. So what's the diff?

Well, the service personnel at the Empire are probably cleaner.  The food is probably better too, but that isn't the main reason you go to the Empire. You go because it's there. New Yorkers love 24-hour convenience, and we have an affinity for coffee and snacks. When you don't want to go to a coffee shop or when one person in a group is looking for something light and another wants to pig out, especially when this is happening at 2 a.m., the Empire is the place for you.

There are three distinct parts to the diner. The main section is in the stainless-steel, black-and-chrome diner, which has about a dozen four-person booths and a traditional lunch counter. An overflow room in the building to which it attached has several tables. Finally, there are about 20 patio tables on the sidewalk, when weather permits. There are drawbacks to each: a pianist is liable to start banging away at almost any time in the main room; the staff sometimes forgets about you in the back room; the traffic on 10th Avenue can be annoying.

You want to stick to the basics here. The blue cheeseburger is satisfying, as are the omelets. There is a breakfast special on weekdays in the early morning hours, otherwise, it costs about as much as anything else, but the ability to have breakfast whenever you want it should not be underappreciated.  Enjoyable snacks include the quesadillas and pigs in blankets, which don't have the chemically taste that you sometimes get.

The service is variable, very much depending on who your waitperson is and what else is going on.

Because everybody knows about this place, it is crowded at prime times, especially if the outside tables are unavailable. Late at night, it is reputed to be a good choice for celebrity sightings. 

As at La Luncheonette, a few blocks to the south, when it is time to leave, you just step into 10th Avenue and flag a cab.

165 West 72nd Street 
New York, NY, 10023 

212 580 5900 


Price: $50 (with some 

Last visit: 2/2003

Other comments:
Menu Pages

There are a lot of Japanese restaurants on the Upper West Side. So, why visit this one? Well, the sushi is good, they have a fairly wide selection on the menu, and the prices are not bad. But you could say the same about a dozen other places.

What you can't say about the other places is that they have a $19.95 all-you-can-eat sushi special. Now, I'm not really a fan of all-you-can-eat sushi. You shouldn't eat all the sushi you can eat, because by the time the stomach has sent a message to the brain that it has had enough, and by the time the brain figures that out, and because you are supposed to eat everything that you ordered, and because sushi comes on oh-so-absorbent rice, it is a really bad idea to stuff yourself on sushi. Besides, it is a dainty Japanese thing, if you want to stuff your face, run across the street to Gray's Papaya and have 19 hot dogs.

What you should do at Kinoko is order the splendid mushroom soup, which has a nice assortment of fungi swimming in a delicious clear broth, then have some sushi or sashimi a la carte, maybe 8 pieces, then have the red bea ice cream with red bean sauce for dessert, and wash it all down with a couple of bottles of sake. But I can tell that you aren't really listening to me, and you're going to have the sushi special (which comes with a soup and salad).

La Luncheonette 
130 10th Avenue 
(corner of 18th Street) 
New York, NY 10011 

212 675 0342 

Cuisine: French (kinda) 

Price: $120 

Last Visit: 3/2005

A great restaurant where you least expect it, at the far western fringe of Chelsea, surrounded by  vestiges of the heavy transportation industries that served the commercial waterfront. The name refers to a previous location, which was on the site of a luncheonette.

Here you walk in (on 18th Street) and confront the kitchen, separated only by a low counter that displays the sexy tarte tatins and other desserts. The smoking area is on the right, the more crowded main room on the left. There is a standing printed menu and a blackboard menu with specials, although these are mostly seasonal dishes that repeat from year to year. A standout is the venison served with foie gras and quinces; the trick is to eat a small piece of each with the meat. Also good (on the regular menu) are the lamb sausages, chicken in mustard sauce and the skate. Dishes are accompanied by creamed potatoes and green beans. The Rubenesque tarte tatin is the way to go for dessert, and there is a half bottle of burgundy (Bouchard Pere & Fils, Volnay Premieur Cru, 1998) that is good enough to order twice.

On Sunday nights, there is a French accordionist. She plays and sings bistro music, often wearing a bathing cap. Not usually my cup of creme de menthe, but it works.

Departure is best effected by flagging a taxi on 10th Avenue, especially if you are going uptown. The walk back along 18th Street takes you through a housing project.

P.D. O'Hurley's 
Bar & Grill 
174 West 72nd Street 
New York, NY, 10023 

212 873 1900 

bar food (upscale) 

Price: $40 (with beer or 
shots of whiskey. They 
have wine, but you 
probably don't).


Last visit: 12/2005

Other comments:

But it's just a pub, you say. On first glance, that is what it is. Yet, not exactly. For one thing, it is bigger than your average pub, and there is a comfortable-looking restaurant area in the back. For another thing, there is an ambitious menu, and the kitchen stays open until 2 a.m. seven nights a week. Yes, there are frat boys hanging out in the bar area, but, come to think of it, why? The nearest school is the Manhattan branch of Fordham University, whose Greek population does not rival that of Athens. These beefy gentlemen came here from somewhere else -- it's a destination.

Although it is unmistakeably an Irish pub, O'Hurleys functions like an English pub. Sitting here is like sitting in an extension of your living room (in my case, almost literally, since I live two doors down.) You sit, you drink, you eat the burgers or the bar snacks, you chat, you watch TV, you hang out.

The service is friendly though sometimes inefficient, and if it seems a little slow, that is because they cook to order. People who have been here once seem not to mind traveling to get here again. It is a convenient spot for mass transportation, with the 1, 2, 3, and 9 trains about 100 paces away (leading to easy connections for Penn Station and Times Square and anywhere on the West Side). The B and C trains also are nearby, although by the time you leave, the B has probably stopped running.

The Old Homestead 
56 Ninth Avenue 
(Just north of the 
point where Ninth, 
Hudson, and 14th 
Street converge) 
New York, NY 10011 

212 242 9040 

Cuisine: Steakhouse 

Price: $170


Last Visit: 2/2003

Other comments:

Steak is the word. This is an old-fashioned New York steakhouse, right across the street from the soon-to-be former meatpacking district. Other than the decor, it has not changed much since I first went there in the 1960s, and there isn't any reason why it should. Don't go if you don't want steak, and don't order too much else: split an appetizer and get a side of creamed spinach or mashed potatoes, but even at that you probably won't want dessert and you probably will want a doggy bag.

There is a free garlic-bread-in-cream sauce appetizer that will get you started, and on my most recent visit we split an excellent crabcake.

Even if you don't usually like wine, you might want to try a bottle of red here. There is a serviceable gigondas on the list -- Chateau Montmirail 1997 -- that won't set you back much more than a steak.

If it is a weeknight and you are early, you can drop in at Hogs & Heifers, an infamous red-neck kind of bar squarely inside the meatpacking district (859 Washington Street (near 13th), New York, NY 10014, 212 929 0655). Note to the curious: No she didn't (and for those in the know: yes, she was. Go figure).

Here's an old Old Homestead story, told to me by a former Columbia University administrator: He took these two visiting Texans, also administrators, to the Old Homestead, and they asked to see their steaks before they were cooked.  (I wondered aloud if they wanted ketchup -- they did, but that turned out not to be the point of the story). "Make sure you put it through the grinder twice," one of the Texans said. The waiter asked him to repeat the request, and he did. Turned out they wanted their fancy steaks made into hamburgers.

325 West 51st Street
New York, NY 10019

212 399 9291

Cuisine: Northern Italian

Price: $200


Last visit 9/2005

Other comments:
Citysearch (essay)


You probably haven't heard of  ViceVersa, a low-profile, minimalist gem in the theater district. The restaurant does not seem to do a lot of promotion, nor does it need to. It's usually packed; your best bet is to call for a reservation a few days in advance if you want to go during prime time. You might sneak in at the long, steel-topped bar though.

The decor is striking: minimalist but not austere. This is a comfortable place despite the white walls, dark wood floors and smallish tables. The waiters and a large portion of the clientele seem like they would be more at home in the West Village or Chelsea, but you get the impression that the diners come this far uptown for the food not the scene. 

Whatever they do in the off hours, the staff makes you feel welcome. Order the lobster/cherry tomator/green bean salad for an appetizer split among two, and they'll bring it on separate plates.  The whisky sours are made from scratch, not mix.

For the main course, the sesame-coated salmon with horseradish sour cream is a tasty option that is light enough to leave room for dessert. The strip steak served with what they call a balsamic reduction (but it seems like there is some olive oil in there) is heartier, but not outrageously so; it's a moderate-sized Black Angus. The quails with polenta are succulent.

For wine, it's hard not to go with an Italian, which forms the bulk of the reasonably priced list. The 1998 Marcarini Barolo at $80 is a fine choice that stands up to the steak and goes nicely  with fish as well. 

All of the desserts sound good; the warm chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream will have you scraping the plate. You may want to split the dessert, there are cookies and truffles that come with the coffee.


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