New York is known as the city that never sleeps, but it could just as well be branded ‘the city that’s never hungry’. This is a place where for plenty of people, ‘the kitchen’ is something they try and bag a table near at the hottest new opening. I have a friend who lives in a studio in Manhattan. She uses her oven as a storage cupboard, her cooker top is an extra surface for her (largely decorative) crockery.
As well as the limitations of small apartments, this everyday approach to dining out is driven by the fact that New Yorkers are utterly spoiled when it comes to restaurants with diners, street vendors, cafes or delis offering disparate cuisines from every corner of the globe, all around the clock. They throng to the hottest new spot, perusing Twitter, blogs, restaurant gossip sites like Eater and Grub Street; and they’re a fickle lot – one minute swarming for the stickiest steamed Korean bun, the next fixated by the way a certain chef grills their romanesco to a perfect nutty char. Restaurants here have to keep on top of their game to stay memorable, which makes things all the better for the likes of you and me, who are just visiting.
Let’s start in Brooklyn, which has, in the past few years, soared to the top of any passing sybarite’s hitlist.
The rise of the borough as a drinking and dining district has been rapid and widely documented, and, as well as a delicious smorgasbord of informal, vibrant restaurants touting everything from proper Southern barbecue (fettesaubbq.com) to chicken and waffles (sweetchicknyc.com), there are now several – albeit charismatically maverick – haute cuisine restaurants where you can sample some of America’s most exceptional cooking.
Some of them, like Blanca (Blancanyc.com), which received a Michelin star in 2014’s guide, are rather more difficult to find than others. The restaurant is incongruously set in the basement of a building only accessible via sister restaurant and hipster favourite, Roberta’s (robertaspizza.com), a kinetic pizza joint in the stark, industrial neighbourhood Bushwick. If (and it is a big ‘if’, though the restaurant is now taking online reservations via SeatMe.com) you manage to reserve a seat at the counter of this chef’s table restaurant, you’ll have to make your way past the superb seasonal pizzas in this fairy light-lit former garage before sampling rather more delicate delights like nduja ravioli topped with anise hyssop. These come courtesy of self-taught chef Carlo Mirarchi, who crafts twenty-eight small, immaculate and delicious courses during the sitting.
If you’re more of a bruncher than a multi-course supper sinker, get yourself to Diner (dinernyc.com) in Williamsburg early on a weekend and bag a seat at the bar of this former 1920s Pullman dining carriage. Opened by local mega restaurateur Andrew Tarlow 15 years ago, this place has been instrumental in shaping the much-mimicked sparse, scruffy Brooklyn aesthetic which is shared by restaurants all over the world – and by his more recent projects like the Reynard restaurant at the trendy Wythe hotel (wythehotel.com). With its characterful, decrepit tiles, marble bar and tightly packed tables, this original is an atmospheric place to unwind, observe hip Williamsburgers in their natural habitat, enjoy a Silver Lake Sling – a heady blend of gin, Campari, Grapefruit and allspice, and one of its generous plates.
The burger here is famously good, thanks to being made with delicious grassfed beef (all the meat here comes through sister butcher Marlow and Daughters (marlowanddaughters. com) – also part of the Tarlow empire) and crispy, skin-on shoestring fries. But you would do just as well to order one of the daily-changing brunch plates which like the fabulous biscuits with sausage, gravy and poached eggs – comes highly recommended.
For the best of the city’s street food, head down the road to 80 North 5th Street (at Wythe Ave) for Smorgasburg (smorgasburg.com) at the Brooklyn Flea and food market, which runs here over winter on a Saturday and Sunday until March. In this sprawling warehouse you’ll find seventy-five unique food vendors selling everything from Asian fusion hotdogs to handmade granola – and you might just pick up some cute vintage kitchenware from one of the retro stalls in the process. From April, the flea market moves to Fort Greene Flea on Saturdays, with Smorgasburg moving to Brooklyn Bridge Park on Sundays.
And then there are the places that you might just happen upon, as we did with Maison Premiere (maisonpremiere.com). Tucked behind an unremarkable awning on bustling Bedford Avenue, this place reveals an invitingly New Orleansian interior of whirring ceiling fans, glowing lighting and a large marble bar. Drip absinthe paraphernalia twinkles from the middle of the bar, where dapper barmen perfectly mix their concoctions. This is the sort of place you can get lost for hours, slurping local oysters – at around $2 a pop they’re some of the best value in the area – and carefully made cocktails. We tried delicious oysters from Maine and New York State, and supped perky, hoppy local craft beer from mason jars followed by the odd absinthe cocktail.