Since we’re in the planning stages of our trip to New York next month, it occurred me that I never shared some NYC restaurant recs from our previous visit. Maybe this delay is in part due to the bittersweet process of facing the high highs and low lows of experiencing NYC life with two tots in tow. And just to think, we used to feel so constricted with just one kid. (Notice I don’t use the word “vacation.” Going to New York can feel like work, even if it’s not for business per se.) This last time around, we managed to hit a few longstanding faves along with some new places.
Following are highlights of the few civilized meals we had — some just me and the boys, others with friends and extended family — when we weren’t dipping into bins of yogurt on the floor or eating out of take out containers. Two of the mediocre Chinese places we went have closed since, which strikes me as utterly bizarre because much like, say, bodegas and corner delis, they appear to be unassailable, essential parts of neighborhood life, regardless of quality. (But at least this development helps deflate those tiresome complaints from NY transplants about the paucity of “good” Chinese food “like what you get in New York” in L.A.) Our choices were obviously Upper West Side based, with little below 14th Street, because that’s how we double-stroller-roll now. I’ll be sure to poke around new online resources for finding kid-friendly restaurants in New York, including the Kids Welcome series at Serious Eats, and MiniMunchers.
Leave it to Danny Meyer to create a perfect museum restaurant mix. No more tuna salad and stale sandwiches under fluorescent lights, waiting to be claimed in a cafeteria line. Instead it’s a new era at Café 2. Upscale Mediterranean dishes that are heavy on the Spanish and Italian influences with seasonal market ingredients, bold red and black color scheme, communal tables, a rainbow selection of Stokke Tripp Trapps (if it’s not already, this item should be included in the MoMA design collection), and a stroller parking area make this genius place one of Midtown’s best options, period. Unfortunately the baby rejected a $5 sliver of cheese, leaving me with few options. Pieces of soft, lovely rosemary-speckled focaccia saved the day.
But no matter. I got to quickly check out the kitchen exhibition before a fussing session set it, thinking gratefully back to the time when we spent a Friday evening in the Modern Bar Room during our pre-kid life. It’ll be a while before that happens again.
11 West 53 Street, Midtown; (212) 708-9400
In the New Yorker profile of chef April Bloomfield, Spotted Pig/Breslin/John Dory co-owner Ken Friedman says “only half-jokingly, ‘We don’t allow kids.'” Oops. Too bad I read this article after we’d been to the Breslin in the Ace Hotel for a late morning winter breakfast. But it was a good thing we’d already had a bite to eat earlier. Even if we were seated in a comfy corner booth in a one-quarter full restaurant, the wait for our food in that dark clubby, hunters’ lodge-vibe dining room was long and service was indifferent, hewing closely to the Ace’s rep and cultural cliches (no need to go into all that here). Families obviously aren’t the target audience, and that’s completely their prerogative.
Despite shunning the all-ages market (but would it seriously kill them to put a changing table in the public HOTEL bathroom?), the four-year-old chowed down on the rich, pork-tastic “Full” English breakfast with fried egg, bacon, luscious pork sausage, roasted mushrooms and tomato ($21), which was more than enough to share. Butter-soaked wholegrain toast was almost a complete meal itself. We passed around plates of a substantial fritatta with ricotta ($15), and yogurt served with macerated fruit, NY state honey and pistachio praline ($9). All these complexly fashioned yet soul-satisfying simple pleasures come at NYC prices, of course. Breakfast for two kids and two adults added up to over $90. As much as I enjoyed this meal, our days typically started with eggs at an Upper West Side diner (rarely super cheap either) or baked goods bought at Joe.
16 West 29th Street, Flatiron/Midtown West/Garment District border; (212) 679-1939
Just because I used to be a vegetarian with a reactionary post-recovery period doesn’t mean that I’ve turned my back on all-veg restaurants. Quite the contrary. When prepared well, vegetarian/vegan joints don’t have to be self-serious objects of ridicule, even if they wear their bleeding hearts on their sleeves. And I can go for a good fake meat dish every now and then, like the seitan marsala ($21) at Blossom on Columbus (there’s also a location in Chelsea). Sautéed kale, roasted fennel, mashed Yukon golds, mushrooms and convincingly meaty pan sauce brought me back from the brink on a rainy day and long afternoon at Natural History.
Blossom’s menu includes other er, creative entrees, plus sandwiches, fresh juices, rice, and outstanding French fries (!), all served in a Zen calm that’s practical for families. The setting artfully integrates stereotypically “California” food with a Manhattan vibe. We left feeling psyched and sated.
466 Columbus Avenue, Upper West Side; 212-875-2600
Because my brother- and sister-in-law live around the corner from Cafe Luxembourg, they’re regulars with their daughter, so I knew this was a safe bet. Not the smartest move to show up on a Sunday morning without a reservation, but the staff kindly squeezed us into a table next to the bar. (It helped to be sans stroller and just a party of one adult and two small kids.) Much has changed with the Keith McNally empire since Luxembourg opened almost thirty years ago, and the retro Frenchy bistro trappings seem doubly retro in and of themselves. But given the neighborhood, they know how to feed and serve families. With some books and crayons courtesy of the restaurant, the quick delivery of fresh OJ, eggs, yogurt, hashed browns, bacon, and eggs Florentine got us in and out in a jiff. Previous meals with my kid at Odeon and Pastis reminded me how these restaurants have adapted to — and reciprocally contributed to — a vastly changed New York.
200 W. 70th Street, Upper West; (212) 873-7411
For better or for worse, I’ve probably had more meals at the Shake Shack over the past three years than any other restaurant in New York. And logged more than a few hours in that infamous line when our Manhattan home base was on 29th Street. While I like the compact size and overall components of the Shake Shack burger, it doesn’t do much to add to the burger canon the way say, Umami or Comme Ca have in L.A. Whatever. It’s excellent quality food available in one of our favorite parks and across the street from an important site that contains thousands of children on any given day. And an insane pumpkin pie concrete special was on the menu last winter, too! The crinkle cut fries provide good West Coast/East Coast rivalry material, since crinkles in L.A. is all about Langer’s.
366 Columbus Avenue, Upper West; (646) 747-8770 and other locations.
The Holiday Train Show is a must-see if you’re around for it. The Garden Café with food by Abigail Kirsch catering is quite good for basic American museum/cultural institution fare, and kid’s meals are available. (Yes, we totally caved and bought chicken fingers, thanks to family/peer pressure.) Love, LOVE this place. We also lucked out with a holiday ginger cookie decorating workshop that day.
This event was a particularly lucky score, but the education department always has something else creative stewing in the kids’ garden area.
200th Street and Kazimiroff Boulevard, The Bronx; (718) 817-8700
A plate of cookies and sweets does not a full meal make. Except for the times when it most certainly does, and One Girl Cookies in Cobble Hill is an excellent place to let that happen. Yes, here’s proof we did make it to Brooklyn, where half of our friends live. But the main reason for crossing the East River on a Sunday afternoon? The Transit Museum. Again. We walked over to One Girl after much romping through the historic subway cars and tunnels, then sat a table in the charming converted garage space and fought over plates of assorted cookies, whoopie pies and other treats.
And some day I WILL make it to the Clover Club around the corner, dammit.
68 Dean St., Brooklyn; (212) 675-4996