A Staycation, As Dictated By Your Stomach: NYC
Bored, broke, or beset by FOMO: time to shake up your city routine.
September 9, 2017
By Michelle Matvey | Images via iStock
If you don't build your vacations around meals, then we don't know what to say.
Is there any better way? What else are you supposed to do with your time?
For those of us who haven’t skipped town in the past few months and don’t plan on doing so in the near future—seeing as, you know, it's basically Thanksgiving and Grandma locked you down months ago—it may be time to re-peruse your same old streets and dip into them with one last gasp of summer gusto. Cities are strange, exhilarating beasts in the summertime, and whether graced with a single, precious day off or a wide-open weekend, there's plenty of ways to experience something new on your home turf.
First up? New York City, currently going through its graceful, yearly dovetail into autumn. Here's a slew of chef picks near all the top attractions—you know, the ones you always mean to visit but then...don't.
First, do what the usual Big Apple tourist would do: Central Park, then the Met. Once your legs are tingling and you've had your fill of Culture, you have some choices to make on the Upper East Side. Here's how we'd do it: a half sandwich of beef tongue and matzo ball soup at 2nd Ave Deli, which Chef Jonathan Benno says is "the best representation of a New York classic.” Then grab a quick shot of the purported "best espresso in NYC" at Joe The Art of Coffee, before you go really high-brow and hit up Maison Ladurée for their venerated macarons. “The macarons from Maison Ladurée changed my life, no matter which flavor you get," says Chef Takashi Inoue. "Perfect sweetness, texture, and flavor.”
Then again, just a step away from the Met, you'll find Chef Geoffrey Zakarian's favorite veal sandwich at Sant Ambroeus. “Pounded thin, breaded, and served with a touch of Dijon," it's basically perfect, he says. If veal's not your thing, but crab is, guess what, Zakarian's got you covered. Cafe Sabarsky's crab meat salad is a delicate balancing act, and "makes for a perfect lunch in a distinct setting." Pro-tip: follow it up with one of their authentic Viennese pastries. Double lunch?
Midtown makes us feel many things, and "enticed" is not typically one of them. With Times Square and uh, Forever 21 as points of interest, this particularly crowded and fragrant stretch of the city doesn’t quite beg to be explored, BUT: there are diamonds in the rough, if our chefs are to be believed. According to Chef Mario Batali, the pro-move is the fragrant ginger barbecue brisket bánh mì at the Battery Park location of Num Pang Sandwich Shop. Batali finds it flavorful and surprisingly light—and the pickled red cabbage it comes with is a perfect foil to the rich meat of the sando. Then, as day turns to night and you seek an escape from the flashing lights of a million billboards, it's time for Sushi Zen, which Chef Craig Koketsu calls "an unforgettable experience," thanks to Chef Suzuki San's "manipulation of local and seasonal ingredients, paired with the stellar Japanese products he sources." The best part about staycation is you don't have to get up for work in the morning—so use your newfound night hours to hit up Sake Bar Hagi, the perfect late night dive. The dumplings are Chef Colt Taylor's favorite street food in NYC. Like, of all time. NO SMALL FEAT. (Also: go to Gray's Papaya. Just do it, for old time's sake.)
Should you be inclined to take in the Highline, stop into the revamped Whitney Museum in Chelsea. The next logical step here is the stalls at Chelsea Market, but don't get distracted: make a beeline for Chelsea Thai's pad thai if you know what's good for you. "I have had hundreds if not thousands of versions in this town," says Chef Marco Canora, "and this is the one that I continue to go back to. They nail the ratios— it's all about the ratios.” For sit-down lunch seekers, Chef Jeff Mcinnis digs the seasonal offerings at Cookshop. "The kitchen is run by a bunch of talented chefs who source from some of the best local farms in New England,” he says. If it was up to Chef Joey Campanaro, of course, he'd tell you to get thee to The Red Cat for the quick sauté of zucchini with toasted almonds and Pecorino. "It's four ingredients that love to be together on the plate.” Then—In what qualifies as "self-care" in this business—Chef Alexandra Guarnaschelli would make sure you grab at least one pain au chocolat at La Bergamote: “When I close my eyes and bite into one of these, it's like taking a trip to Paris," she says. "Do not share—go alone. So good."
Greenwich Village, beloved by sightseers for its quaint, picturesque side streets is also home to Washington Square Park, where you should probably kill a few hours catching up on the stack of novels you've been meaning to read. To reward yourself, grab an afternoon gelato at Amorino. Per Chef Eddie Huang: “The gelato here is stupid... less clinical and precise, but richer, more robust, and flavorful.”
If you stick around for lunch or dinner, you could probably blindfold yourself and easily walk into something incredible, but Chef Alex Stupak casts a vote for Babbo’s black spaghetti. “Jet-black spaghetti, rock shrimp, soppressata, and jalapeño pesto," he says. "Brutal.” Or, if you're in the market for a very Serious Salad, Carbone's version set the bar for Chef Matt Davidson. “From the mushrooms to the roasted tomatoes and bitter greens... this is a salad,” he says.
The best tacos "this side of Mexico City" are nearby too, at Dos Toros Taqueria. Tacos with slow-roasted Berkshire pork butt, pickled red onions, and roasted chile de árbol keep Chef Michael Lomonaco coming back—though it's a close race between that and the pescado tacos with crispy yellowfin tuna. "Equally impressive and soul-pleasing," he says, plus: don't miss the house salsas. Finally, we don't want to start any pizza wars—especially in this town—but Chef Bruce Bromberg tells us he's found the promised land at Arturo's. "The pepperoni is amazingly good and the cheese is perfection," he says. "To me, it’s the perfect pie.”