Why Not Go for Lunch in New York?

September 16, 2009 § Leave a comment

No plans for a beautiful Saturday in Manhattan?  Still can’t get a dinner reservation at the restaurant you’ve been dying to go to?  Would dinner at the new hot spot break the bank?  Need a place to stop into while sightseeing or shopping?  Or on your own for the day?

Why not go for lunch?  I stumbled upon the idea after trying forever to secure a dinner reservation at a reasonable hour (read: not 5:30 or 9:30) at Lupa.  Finally, one sunny Saturday afternoon with not much to do I decided to walk to  Greenwich Village and see, as they say, what all the fuss was about.  I arrived solo and “reservation-less,” and, while there was a wait for tables, I was promptly seated at the bar.   It did not take long to see why reservations are hard to come by.  Yes, my meal was that good – see below – and the bar service was excellent.   A few weeks later,  I was able to book a weekend lunch reservation for two at a very acceptable 1:00 P.M.   My friend enjoyed it as much as I did.  I decided I was onto something.  If there was a high end restaurant I wanted to sample, I went at lunch.

Lunch in the city: there is typically much better availability at in-demand restaurants, and it tends to be less expensive than dinner.  And there’s always the bar…

When I have errands to run in a certain part of town and want a good meal, I go to a nearby spot and grab a seat at the bar.  Being a compulsive reader, I don’t go anywhere without a book in my bag, an easy way to keep occupied (and an excellent conversation-starter).

If you’re on your own, or even if you’re not, many restaurants have bars that serve their full menu, but don’t require a reservation.  Should you be out and looking for a place to eat, or want to take a long walk and end up somewhere delicious, a long lunch could be the way to go.  And, sitting at the bar, you never know who you might meet?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Balthazar Opened by Keith McNally in 1997, Balthazar is a  Soho institution.  It is always busy.  But they have a great, long bar, and the bartenders are fabulous.  This is a French bistro, so think Salade Nicoise with fresh seared tuna, or Grilled Brook Trout served over a warm spinach, walnut, and lentil salad.  Or, if you seriously craving seafood, opt for one of their Plateaux de Fruits de Mer (a tower of delicacies in shells – yum!).  Oh, and order an Oyster Mary (on the list of Hangover Drinks on the weekend Brunch menu) … you won’t be disappointed.
  • Boom Also in Soho, this wine bar cum restaurant is a little gem that’s been around for twelve years.   Italian fare, reasonable prices, accessible at lunch.  A desirable spot to rest your feet in between stores.
  • Cafe Cluny This is the perfect West Village bistro.  The decor is warm and simple, the food is excellent, and the service attentive.  And, yes, it too is always busy.  Lunch is served Monday – Friday, and Brunch on Saturday and Sunday.  Weekends are busy.   If you are without a reservation, the bar will be your best bet.  As for the food, I have been tempted more than once by the Cluny Burger with cheese (and fries).  On a healthier note, the Baby Beet Salad is scrumptious and you can’t go wrong with the Organic Three Egg Omelette.  Either option is perfect with one of their Bloody Marys (my review: two thumbs up!).
  • Cafe Luxembourg If you’re uptown, the Upper West Side has its own neighborhood brasserie.   Opened in 1983, Cafe Luxembourg has had a loyal following ever since.  Lunch is served Monday thru Friday and Brunch on the weekend.  Billed as French American cuisine the menu does change to some degree with the seasons.  For lunch you can’t go wrong with a Baby Beet or Country Salad followed by Chicken Paillard or the Maryland Crab Cake.  Save room for dessert!  They offer a $25 Prix Fixe lunch Monday-Friday, and there is a full-service bar.
  • dell’Anima Means “of the soul.”  The food is simple and delicious at this West Village favorite.  Sit at the bar.  The menu is seasonal, so if they’re still available, order Charred octopus with rice beans, chorizo and chicory, or Argula with lemon and shaved parmigiano reggiano to start, and Garganelli with funghi trifolati, lemon and parsely for a main.
  • Good Enough to Eat This Upper West Side eatery has been serving some of the best comfort food in Manhattan since 1981.  They don’t take reservations and weekend Brunch lines can be long, but it’s  absolutely worth the wait.  If you’re alone, go for the small bar, where seating turns over quickly.  I ate the Upper West Side Omelette, but the Pumpkin French Toast is supposed to be superb.  No doubt, there’s something for everyone.
  • Lupa Osteria Romana “Roman trattoria fare of the highest quality at a moderate price.”  The place that started me on my lunch quest.  Once you’ve been seated, the dilemma becomes what to order … everything sounds good, looks good, smells good.  There is a fantastic selection of Anipasti e Salumi to start.  I tried, and fell in love with, one of their Insalate – Escarole, Walnuts, Red Onion, and Pecorino.  For a main, I like the Bucatini All’ Amatriciana and the Bavette Cacio e Pepe.   On my second visit, I managed to save room for dessert.  The Lupa Tartufo was a good ending.  If you are making a reservation, there are two “rooms”  in the trattoria:  the front, where the bar is, tends to be a bit louder and more lively than the back which is quieter and more intimate.  You can try to request your preference.
  • Mary’s Fish Camp Does not take reservations!  A tiny, homey spot in the West Village, the fish is so good, there is always a queue outside.  There are tables, but ask to be seated at the bar – the best spot.  Weekdays are a little less busy than the weekend, even at lunch.  Again, once you’re in, the next challenge is deciding just what to eat.  MFC is known for their Lobster Roll, which the web site notes is in “Limited Supply.”  Beyond that, you really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu …  honestly.
  • TAO New York The city’s largest Asian restaurant is also its most popular … yes, a dinner reservation can be a bit difficult.  Lunch is a good option.  If you want to eat in the main dining room beneath the 16-foot tall Buddha, then secure a reservation.  If you are open to the bar which is studded with low, Asian-style tables, then you should be in luck without one.  Monday – Friday, TAO offers a $24.07 Prix Fixe Lunch Menu with a surprisingly wide variety of choices.  If you’re shopping 5th Avenue, this is the place to go.
  • The Noho Star It’s late on Sunday morning and you’re hungry, but you’re not sure for what.  Head to this Noho restaurant, where you can choose from eggs done any way, omelettes, burgers, salads, sandwiches, you name it.  When you do decide what to order, leave room (seriously) for Noho’s Pint Size Bloody Mary.  With Aged Balsamic Vinegar and Jalapenos (not to mention a full serving of chopped vegetables) it will last your entire meal.  Wait in the bar for your table, or eat there.  Your  choice.

Buon Appetito!

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