New York is coming back to life, and a number of exciting restaurant openings are fueling the city’s resurgence.
From Midtown’s latest Italian spot Fasano, to Chelsea’s authentic Spanish eatery El Quijote, Manhattan is bursting with mouth-watering menus to try out, all amid Gotham’s swirling reborn energy. Have are five must-try new restaurants.
The best new Italian food in town is from Brazil. Plush and pretty Fasano is this year’s Le Pavillon — an unabashedly luxurious fine dining venue braving the uncertain Midtown winds. But unlike Daniel Boulud’s taste-making French place, it’s traditional Milanese by way of Sao Paolo, where the Fasano hotel and restaurant empire was launched four generations ago.
Open less than a month ago, this is the first US location for the company, and it’s already Park Avenue’s hottest power lunch and dinner spot. A steady stream of boldface diners have included Leo DiCaprio, Woody Allen, Maria Sharapova, filmmaker and gallery owner Fabiola Beracasa, real estate mogul Steven Roth, entrepreneur Lauren Santo Domingo and nearby bankers too shy to be named.
Fasano is nothing like the dull, short-lived Four Seasons reboot it replaced. Designer Isay Weinfeld has separated tables and booths with low partitions that make for both privacy and good people-watching. The sexy decadence extends to walls of rich wood, deep carpeting, white tablecloths and lighting that’s bright enough for business but mellow enough for romance.
The menu from Florence-born chef Nicola Fedeli makes the northern Italian playbook seem new again. A Jurassic-sized Milanese veal chop is a lot more fun than its plain appearance suggests. The sourdough breading crackles while the Padano cheese within lends a luscious complexity. Pasta and risotto classics are gloriously realized. But my favorite dish was baked black cod with tomato sauce and creamy white polenta — a feast for eyes and palate. The sauce lends a pleasantly sweet dimension to the buttery fish and gives it a much-needed break from the miso-glaze treatment it’s getting in many a restaurant around town.
There’s also a gleaming bar/lounge with a shorter menu displayed on blackboards. But the dining room’s the place to be — a stroke of faith in Midtown’s heart where a new JP Morgan Chase skyscraper is rising across the street.
280 Park Ave. (enter on East 49th Street); (646) 869-5400, reservations on Resy.com
The former digs of Les Halles are just romantic enough for a first (or third) date. It looks little like Anthony Bourdain’s old haunt that closed five years ago. Burgundy booths could belong to many a bistro, but cookware king Francis Staub’s new place has far better traditional French food than I remember getting from the setting of Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential.” Executive chef Jaime Loja previously ran the kitchen at the sadly closed Brasserie Ruhlmann. I enjoyed the best duck and bacon terrine I’ve had in ages, along with an Arctic char with brown butter sauce that’s worthy of the best seafood kitchens.
411 Park Avenue South; (212) 567-8282, LaBrasserieNYC.com
Everyone’s always loved the atmosphere — red, Cervantes-inspired murals and chandeliers — at this nearly century-old spot in the Hotel Chelsea. The food, not so much: It used to have a sprawling, cheap menu with a “paella” that tasted like plain boiled rice. That’s been remedied with Brooklyn-based Sunday Hospitality group taking over and offering a more focused — and far more delicious lineup served only in the original main room. (The side rooms will be used for a different restaurant). Madrid-trained chef de cuisine Byron Hogan is whipping up slightly modernized takes on Spanish classics: marvelous paella with shellfish and rabbit; fideua de setas, heads-on gambas al ajillo and the best ham croquettes outside Barcelona.
226 W. 23rd St.; (212) 518-1843, ElQuijoteNYC.com
The far West Side needed a colorful, jumbo Asian-esque party setting where chefs bellow “Irasshaimase!” (“welcome”) to surprised customers. Colossal Katsuya, which features 305 seats indoors plus a 100-seat rooftop terrace, is part of a growing national upscale chain first launched in Los Angeles in 2006. On paper, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about chef Katsuya Uechi’s modern Japanese menu — but the difference is in the tasting. Familiar-sounding, “signature” spicy tuna crispy rice, rock shrimp tempura, miso-glazed black cod and tomahawk short rib in Yakiniku BBQ sauce whips the seaweed off competitors thanks to strong ingredients and precise execution.
398 10th Ave. (in the Citizens complex at Manhattan West); (212) 920-6816, KatsuyaRestaurant.com
The original Café China a few blocks away spearheaded the Szechuanese revival when it launched 11 years ago. It closed seven months ago, but this transplanted, three-story reboot from owners Xian Zhang and Yiming Wang retains the original’s fiery spirit and romance with moody lighting from 1930s Shanghai-style fixtures. Cantonese classics such as tea-smoked duck are fine, but hotter dishes shine. Among the best: ultra-tender Szechuan-style braised pork belly and a sizzling fish stew with a vivid red broth thick with chili peppers. It’s as satisfyingly scorching as it looks, but they will adjust the heat on request.
59 W. 37th St.; (212) 213-2810, CafeChinaNYC.com