Yellow cabs: check. Water towers: check. Sirens: check. Fire hydrants: check. Steam coming out of holes in the ground: check. Rats on the subway tracks: check, check, and check. More than any other city, New York delivers on its reputation. No matter how much New Yorkness you soak up in the virtual world, the real thing still manages to overdeliver. It's big, it's dense, it's loud, it's exciting and, apart from money and power, two of the things it does best are culture and food.
Finding good - or at least interesting - art in New York isn't all that challenging, so not much help is needed there. But the number of players in the food scene is large enough to warrant a bit of research, even if you only concern yourself with the new, and the newly exciting. You want a game plan. First we should flag some local customs. Very fancy and very expensive restaurants here do spectacle very well, but they serve less-than-great food with surprising frequency. Should you wish to spend large amounts of money in a restaurant, you'll get much more bang for your buck in France, Spain and Japan right now. The key exceptions here are Blanca, the fancy bit out the back of Roberta's, everyone's favourite pizza and wine revival tent in Brooklyn; the newly relocated Momofuku Ko, which has upped its food while shedding a lot of its attitude; and Stone Barns - more on that later.
New Yorkers are deeply invested in the theory and practice of brunch. To people from the rest of the world, where it's clearly understood that breakfast and lunch are separate meals, superior to any misbegotten hybrids, this attitude remains something of an enigma, but just read it as New Yorkers' way of making plans for lunch on the weekend (or a legitimate means to drink before noon) that are more casual than actual lunch plans and roll with it.
While we're on the topic of sustenance before lunch, coffee has improved markedly. Truly great espresso is still something you'll have to veer a long way out of your way for, but it's now in the realm of the attainable, if distantly so. Little Collins shores up the idea that Australians are making the world a better place one flat white at a time, while Supercrown, a roaster in Brooklyn, is worth a trip to Bushwick in and of itself.
There are the places that keep on keeping on. Pizza and wine at Roberta's is always a good idea (and the aforementioned fine-dining bit out the back, Blanca, is superb). Brunch at Prune. Danny Bowien's outrageously flavoursome Chinese-ish eats and the party atmosphere at Mission Chinese Food. The Oyster Bar at Grand Central. A steak at Peter Luger. Some old favourites are on-song once again, too. Cocktails at Angel's Share, say, and sushi at Yasuda.
But back to the newness, the hotness and the nowness. Here's where you oughta be spending your New York minute.
Estella's ricotta dumplings with mushrooms.**
Ricotta dumplings with mushrooms and Sardinian pecorino. Fried black rice with squid and salsa romesco. Grilled cuttlefish with daikon. Estela, an intimate space upstairs on Houston, is dark, loud and more than a little raunchy, but the flavour dial is turned up so high that the food has no trouble standing out. The dishes may seem plain-spoken on the menu, but on the plate they're layered with intensity: mussels on toast, for instance, are lightly pickled as an escabeche, dressed with a coriander sauce, then set on well-charred bread that's brushed with aïoli. Uruguayan-born Ignacio Mattos worked with an unusual mix of chefs before opening Estela (Argentina's god of fire Francis Mallmann and Chez Panisse's Alice Waters among them), and has a gift for bringing power to his compositions without making them seem busy or unbalanced. 47 East Houston St, New York, +1 212 219 7693, estelanyc.com
Café Altro Paradiso
Café Altro Paradiso.
Where Estela's big flavours are drawn from a variety of cultures, and Flora Bar, the team's new venue at the Met Breuer museum, focuses on seafood, Altro Paradiso, the eatery opened in February by Ignacio Mattos and his Estela business partner, wine guy Thomas Carter, is all about Italy. And just as there's nothing hokey or moustache-twirly about the look of the place, which is filled with sunshine by day, and has a spare, Deco feel to its timber and brass fittings, there's nothing extraneous on the plates. At brunch, for instance, uova fritta translates to fried egg with bottarga, capers and parsley, while salted anchovies, plump raisins and fresh oregano make a luxury of fillets of roasted red pepper. It's cooking that is clean, confident and - because this is Ignacio Mattos - full of flavour regardless of the seeming simplicity of the plating. 234 Spring St, New York, +1 646 952 0828, altroparadiso.com
Blue Hill at Stone Barns
Sardine cream and smoked roe at Blue Hill Stone Barns. (Photo by Andre Baranowski)**
When the World's 50 Best Restaurants awards descended on Manhattan in June, it wasn't uncommon to hear the chefs present trading one hot tip in particular: if you eat one fancy meal in New York state this year, the word went, make it Stone Barns. The property is a working farm and not-for-profit food-education facility created by the Rockefeller family, and you'll find few more committed or vocal proponents of its mission to promote sustainable agriculture and local, community-supported food systems than Dan Barber. As you drive an hour or so upstate from New York City to Pocantico Hills, musing over that back-story might put you in mind of a pleasant stroll around the world's nicest farm (definitely make it lunch rather than dinner, not least so you can book a tour of the property) followed by a good, Alice Waters-ish, wholesome and occasionally delicious meal. That's a frame of mind that'll leave you utterly unprepared for the elegance, power and theatre of the Stone Barns experience, and for the revelatory quality of the cooking.
The farm offers unique and deeply flavoursome produce and a remarkable setting, but also a narrative thread that ties it all together, even in the smallest of details. Three different "single-udder butters" highlight the difference in milk from different cows, and in just one of a million touches typical of the disarmingly knowledgeable service on show, the staff can tell you the cows' names - Orca, Daffodil and Jazz - without dropping a beat.
Far from stiff, a meal at Stone Barns might rove from the sublime dining room to the terrace for a barbecue (hot dogs with sausages stained purple by beetroot) to an outbuilding in which the heat from a compost heap is harnessed to gently poach root vegetables. The wine list is likewise anything but ordinary, right down to the last drop. Will you take things exotic and close your meal with a Rosso del Contadino grappa made on Etna by cult producer Frank Cornelissen or go (expensively) down-home with a Van Winkle Family "reserve red-wax bottling" Kentucky bourbon from 1974? 630 Bedford Rd, Pocantico Hills, NY, +1 914 366 9600, bluehillfarm.com
Cosme's husk meringue witrh corn mousse.**
Enrique Olvera has managed a trick that has eluded many a celebrated peer: he has translated the success he won in the wider world to acclaim in New York. Alain Ducasse and Gordon Ramsay were savaged by New York critics, while Joël Robuchon closed his Midtown branch of L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon in 2012. But Olvera did his homework, and didn't ride into town guns blazing with a replica of Pujol, his Mexico City flagship. Instead he played a longer game, creating a restaurant with New Yorkers in mind from the ground up. Not for Cosme the tasting-menu approach. Its buzzy dining room caters as readily for the cocktail and power-lunch crowd as it does destination-diners, while the menu explodes Mexican-food clichés in a series of brightly flavoured dishes that sing with colour and freshness. The kitchen's handling of seafood is particularly noteworthy, whether it's oysters "poisoned" with hot sauce and prickly pear vinegar, sliced raw fish and creamy avocado crisply accented with poblano chilli, Buddha's hand and black lime, or tongues of sea urchin set with bone marrow salsa on crunchy tostadas. The meringue with corn mousse - possibly New York's most Instagrammed dessert of 2016 - is like an inspired Mesoaerican pavlova, the meringues flavoured with burnt corn husks. 35 East 21st St, New York, +1 212 913 9659, cosmenyc.com
A visit to the Big City demands a Big City restaurant. And in terms of grandeur and service, New York still delivers. The team led by the ineffably brilliant Will Guidara at Eleven Madison Park, the sweep of the staircase at Del Posto, the scent of money in the air at Daniel - these things offer the razzle and the dazzle both. Though it's only months old, Le Coucou has all the lustre of these gilt-edged names, with some interesting twists. Its chef is an import from France, of sorts - Daniel Rose is that rare beast, an American chef who made his name in Paris first. Where Spring, in its first incarnation in the 9th arrondissement, sat only 16 diners and had no written menu, Le Coucou is a lavish affair hung with custom-wrought chandeliers and acres of damask, and is served by a small battalion of very polished waiters. Rose says it's a tribute of sorts to Lutèce and Manhattan's great French restaurants of old, and his dishes follow suit. Whether it's a dip into the classics with a poached egg and an artichoke base swaddled in smoked salmon, beautifully textured ike quenelles in lobster sauce, or such elegant riffs as the sole with chanterelles and a foamy sauce of gr en tomato juice or the salad of peas and tomatoes refreshed with the addition of strawberry and pistachio, savvy, deftly executed cooking rules the day. 138 Lafayette St, New York, +1 212 271 4252, lecoucou.com
Le Coucou's Dover sole.
Los Tacos No 1
There is perhaps no better indicator of the state of Mexican food in a given locality than the quality of the tacos, and the tacos at this glammed-up stall in the shiny and air-conditioned Chelsea Market are very good indeed - quite possibly the best in the city. The fillings - beef, chicken, pork and cactus in carne asada, pollo asado, adobada and nopal guises respectively - are unimpeachable, but the tortillas are the thing, rich with the stony scent of traditionally handled masa cornmeal, shaped by hand, pressed and slapped onto the grill to order. Grab a cup of tamarind agua fresca, throw some radish and charred green onion around and don't spare the lime. Chelsea Market, 75 9th Ave, New York, +1 212 256 0343, lostacos1.com
Russ & Daughters Café
Russ & Daughters Café's "the classic" board with smoked salmon, capers, tomato, onion, a bagel and cream cheese.
This splendid, bustling, full-service restaurant version of the old-school Jewish deli landmark doesn't miss a trick. The café boldly delves into such innovations as chairs and tables without surrendering an iota of the century-old original storefront's charm. The New York deli classics are rendered here with the right mix of fidelity and flair - house-made rye and beautiful bagels anchor boards of smoked salmon or sturgeon with tomato, onion and capers, while caviar is offered with blini in a tasting flight, or on soft scrambled eggs. The atmosphere is deli-brisk, but pleasantly so, all framed with nice touches such as a short, smart drinks list (replete with a Bloody Mary made with caraway vodka, pickles and rye croûtons) and a dessert offer that runs to blintzes, challah bread pudding and babka French toast. Ess gezinter hayt, urges the Yiddish saying on the menu: eat in good health. 127 Orchard St, New York, +1 212 475 4881, russanddaughterscafe.com
The Four Horsemen
Nick Curtola and Randy Moon of The Four Horsemen.
If you've been drinking wine of late in the bars of Sydney or Melbourne, never mind Paris or London, New York's forays into the more artisanal aspect of the grape might seem almost tame. Not so The Four Horsemen, however. Along with Wildair, a like-minded venture in the Lower East Side, this small, friendly eatery-drinkery is all about advancing the cause of drinking outside the lines. Heroes of the natural-wine movement are here in force - L'Anglore from Tavel, Fanta-orange Friulano from Dario Prinčič, transmissions from the frontiers of American winemaking by Scholium Project - but sommelier Randy Moon buys for his palate rather than by the numbers, while Nick Curtola knocks out the flavourforward likes of toasted farro with squash, mint and cipollini onions at brunch, and dinner is a concisely edited affair comprising good cheeses and charcuterie plenty of raw stuff (mackerel with spring onion juice and sesame oil, say), a few grills and "plates" in the vein of gnocchi enriched with fontina and fried shalots. James Murphy, the musician best known for his work under the LCD Soundsystem umbrella, is a founder, so happily the tunes are as well considered as every other aspect of the business. 295 Grand St, Brooklyn, +1 718 599 4900
Maison Premiere's Barber of Seville cocktail.
First, a word of caution: happy hour at this most merry of Williamsburg bars is very happy indeed. It runs from four till seven weeknights, and from 11am to one in the afternoon weekends, during which time its oysters, in a range of 20 or more varieties, are available for a buck a bivalve. Things quite understandably get a bit crushy in these hours, but then the narrative (and decorative) thread here is old New Orleans, so barely bridled conviviality is entirely apt. Visit later in the evening to make the most of its bartenders' gifts; they manage impressive attention to detail without losing sight of the fact that cocktails are, after all, supposed to be fun. The Barber of Seville is the perfect case in point - a julep given a sultry Andalusian twist with dry sherry, a drop of orange blossom and a voluptuous garnish of orange zest and crushed Marcona almonds - and a cocktail parasol to boot. 298 Bedford Ave, Brooklyn, +1 347 335 0446, maisonpremiere.com
You should also check out:
A tiny, cute-as-a button cult Japanese diner in Brooklyn best liked for its breakfast sets and passion for eschewing waste. 150 Ainslie St, Brooklyn, +1 718 302 0598, okonomibk.com
"Vegan burger shop"? Sounds about as much fun as bedbugs at a slumber party. But this tight shopfront from former Del Posto pastry chef (and punk-rocker) Brooks Headley proves the naysayers wrong. 430 East 9th St, New York, +1 212 256 1192, superiorityburger.com
A very impressive Nordic-themed food hall in the very impressive Grand Central Station by Danish food entrepreneur and Noma co-founder Claus Meyer. The open-faced sandwiches are tiny works of art, while Agern, the fancy Icelandic restaurant out the back, is no slouch in either the food or design departments. 89 East 42nd St, New York, greatnorthernfood.com
Ivan Orkin made his name serving New York-influenced ramen at his celebrated noodle shop in Tokyo. Now he's giving back to his hometown the best way he knows how.
25 Clinton St, New York, +1 646 678 3859, ivanramen.com
The reputation of this wine-bar offshoot of cult chefs' chef restaurant Contra might've even outgrown its parent eatery. Good, noisy fun and a killer natural list. 142 Orchard Street, New York, +1 646 964 5624, wildair.nyc
Any cocktail bar associated with gun drinkslinger Richard Boccato is worth a look-in, and his latest is no exception. Of particular interest are the low-alcohol cocktails - a clever and popular alternative to no-alcohol drinks. 161 Grand St, Brooklyn, +1 718 599 7888, freshkillsbar.com
The most high-end of the Momofuku restaurants dropped a bit of its attitude but gaineda lot of polish in the move to its new address. Its wine list is outstanding, the clarity on the plate almost startling. The more interesting face of New York fine dining.
8 Extra Pl, New York, +1 212 203 8095, ko.momofuku.com
Best coffee in town? This Bushwick micro-roaster would be a good place to start the conversation. 8 Wilson Ave, Brooklyn, +1 347 295 3161, supercrown.coffee