I’ve been meaning to write this post for a few months now. Back around Labor Day, I celebrated my 20 year anniversary in New York City. I moved here for college, and though I thought I’d leave after my four years of school, I found I couldn’t possibly live anywhere else.
A big part of my growing up here includes my culinary maturation. I spent most of the first decade here subsisting on bagels and pizza slices, but fortunately, my food-loving parents and high earning siblings lived nearby. Combine that with corporate jobs with expense accounts, and I got to start eating at world-class restaurants on a semi-regular basis in my early 20s. I developed a habit, which I’m only now starting to break from.
In this trip down memory lane, I thought I’d write up some of my most memorable New York dining experiences. This is not going to be a shocker. Anyone who has been living here for the past 15-20 years can easily predict the dining highlights, but they still mean a lot to me and were important in shaping my culinary worldview.
This list does not include meals outside of New York. Certainly, I’ve had many wonderful and memorable dining experiences outside of this city (16 courses at The French Laundry, live octopus in Cheju Island, Okabe in Tokyo, the cooking of our own meal with white truffles we had hunted for the day before in Tuscany), but this post is about my home.
There were really two meals that opened my eyes to fine dining in NYC:
Gramercy Tavern. I ate here with my family back in the Tom Colicchio and Claudia Fleming era. That one could have a high quality meal in a casual environment, with attentive service that was also laid back was a completely new idea for all of us. This environment soon became the norm for us, and we rarely ate our special occasion meals in midtown or the Upper East Side again. I still think fondly of the cheese board with its collection of 20 or so choices.
Babbo. My first experience of doing a tasting menu with a wine pairing, and a first for my whole family. Our minds were blown. I still count mint love letters, beef cheek ravioli and goose liver agnolotti as some of my favorite dishes of all time, even though it’s been years since I’ve eaten at Babbo.
Other meals I won’t forget:
Momofuku Ko. Shaved foie gras. Enough said.
Per Se‘s White truffle risotto.
Daniel. I went here on a closing dinner at my first job out of school. I had a consomme that was poured out of a copper kettle over little cubes of foie gras. Amazing. I also had a fruit soup there that I will never forget.
Il Mulino. My old friend Eric O. invited me to a closing dinner back when he was an analyst at an investment bank (I think at Lazard Freres). We were there with an Italian couple at this very Italian American place. I loved that the staff brought everything out to show it to us before carving it up and serving it to us. Whole Fish! Rack of Lamb! Contorni! This place is still a classic.
Chanterelle had the most beautiful room in NYC. I was sorry to see it go.
And of course, there was last year’s Pig Dinner at Cafe Boulud with Chef Gavin. Unforgettable.
I’ve cut back on the fine dining over the last few years. There are so many great choices at the low end and in the middle in this city, and I’ve come to favor places where I know people over super fancy dining rooms. Plus, my own kitchen has become a more pleasurable place to spend an evening in many cases. That said, I still enjoy a fancy meal, even if it only comes a couple of times a year.
Here’s to the next 20 years.