As a whole and natural foods chef, I do have my favorite restaurants, because I know they work closely with local farms, and local purveyors for sourcing, but my circle of “like” continues to broaden, as more and more restaurants are sourcing locally whenever they can. In looking over all of the participating restaurants in this Restaurant Week, I spied a few of my favorites: Craftbar; Cesca; Quality Meats; EN; Butter, and a few of my favorites that were missing: Txikito; Union Square Cafe, Telepan, Hearth, but there are still plenty of excellent options to savor, and talk about. As I perused each amazing menu, I pondered my choices, were I dining at that moment.
If you’re like me, and you over-estimate how much you can eat, compared with what you want to eat (I am 5’5″, 110 lbs.) you may have a hard time choosing from a content rich menu, such as the one at Craftbar. That is why I love Chef Garcia’s Restaurant Week menu at, Cesca; it’s simple, and to the point. For the appetizer, I have to say, I would choose, the Wood Over Roasted Thanksgiving Farm Egg Over Asparagus with Parmigiano Reggiano and Black Truffle Oil. This dish is a favorite of mine wherever it’s offered on the menu. For the entrée, although I like Artic Char, I enjoy seeing how a chef marinates and prepares a Skirt or Hangar Steak. In a fine restaurant such as Cesca, I am sure I would not be disappointed.
I could not talk about a fine dining experience in New York, without mentioning, Quality Meats, which happens to have a lunch menu offering for Restaurant Week.
We all have our favorite steak houses, but Quality Meats is more than a steak house – it is an homage to, quality meats; hence the name. Their lunch menu for this week has a Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Croutons. It reminds me of when I was young. My mother used to make (Campbell’s) tomato soup, using milk instead of water. She would pour it over a homemade grilled cheese sandwich in a bowl. Not to die for, but to live for. Naturally, Quality Meats’ entree choices have three delicious meat items, and lighter fare for those who either don’t eat meat, or prefer not to, at lunch. Here, I would choose the Bandt Beef Skirt Steak Frites, and if I were a dessert person after a big lunch like this, I would go for the Orange Creamsicle. (Note: Quality Meats sources their meat from two purveyors: Milton Abeles and Strassburger Meats, both known for their impeccably high quality meat; however, I am not sure if their beef is grass-fed. For some of the best grass-fed beef, try Grazin Angus Acres. You can find them on Friday and Saturdays at the Union Square Farmer’s Market, and on Sundays at the Carroll Gardens Farmer’s Market, or you can order directly from them.)
Then, there is EN, on Hudson Street in the West Village. If you have not yet been to EN, you must try it, soon. EN is what is known as a higher-end Izakaya. An izakaya (居酒屋?) is a type of Japanese drinking establishment which also serves food to accompany the drinks. They are popular, casual places for after-work drinking. EN is a more modern version of this concept, and is known for its sake selection. Maybe I am partial to EN, because I lived and worked in Japan for so many years, but I also think it’s because I enjoy the warmth and comfort, yet clean feeling of eating traditional Japanese food.
For Restaurant Week, EN has a lunch and dinner menu to offer, and for each, a sake flight: unpasteuraized junmai; ginjo; nigori. Like, Cesca, their menus are minimal, making choices easier. I am enthralled by the appetizer of Homemade Tofu with Wari Joyu – a slightly sweet mix of soy sauce and fish broth. (Note: Not all tofu is created equal, and it’s important to know the source and preparation of all soy based products. To read more about soy, please click this link to earlier blog articles under, Say It Isn’t Soy). For the entrée selection, I would choose, the Lobster No Uni Miso Yaki, which is grilled lobster with uni miso. I have not had this dish before, but it seems they must mix the uni (sea urchin) with the miso, for the sauce. All of the other options are equally as appealing, and because it is an Izakaya, while you dine, you will hear the chefs, who reside in an open kitchen, calling out your order, as it is placed by the server. I highly recommend EN at any time., and the interior decor is also quite stunning.
Also, downtown, but more east, is, Butter, at 415 Lafayette Street. With Chef Alexandra Guarnaschelli at the helm. Known for her attention to using local and seasonal ingredients, this restaurant would be one of my top picks. I love the menu, although it seems a bit meat-heavy, for a summer in New York with 90-100 degree temperatures. Nonetheless, I know the Mixed Homemade Charcuterie Plate with All Natural Chicken Sausage and Garlic Mustard, is a must try, and what also caught my eye, were the Duck Rillettes with Pickled Cherries and Veal Terrine with Toasted Pistachios. For the entrée selection, again, I would have to go with one of the two meat dishes she offers: Barbecued Short Ribs with Smoked White Beans, Garlic Cream and Scallions; or, Grilled Pork Tenderloin with Warm Potato Salad and Grainy Mustard. I love the side orders: Chilled Beets with Greek Yogurt; and, Fried Green Tomatoes. The beets, of course, would be refreshing in this heat, as would the Chilled Watermelon and Lemon Sorbet with Crushed Mint, for dessert.
Lastly, but certainly not ‘leastly,’ I need to give a nod to two of my favorite, more established places in New York: The Russian Tea Room and Petrossian for their blinis and caviar (The Russian Tea Room also has an amazing salad on their Restaurant Week menu: Shaved Jerusalem artichokes, Grana Padano cheese, pears and a tarragon vinaigrette), and a nod also goes to Rosa Mexicano and Dos Caminos, for some of the most rocking, homemade guacamole on the planet.
If you are not able to make it to any of these fine restaurants, during Restaurant Week, not to worry – their wonderful food will still await you, for when you do have a chance. That’s the beauty of New York!
Sharon McGrail, The Eco Chef