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December 26th, 2009

Eating at the APA

I’m sorry the APA is in New York, because it means it is insanely expensive for everyone visiting, especially poor students. If it is going to be in New York, I wish it were in a nicer and cheaper part of town – though I’m not sure how many convention sized hotels there are elsewhere. Still, since it will be in New York, we should talk about where to eat while folks are visiting. I’ve got a lot of suggestions below the fold, and anyone with more suggestions is encouraged to pipe up in comments.

It’s a little tricky because Times Square is just about the worst dining area in New York City. I’m told there are neighbourhoods in Staten Island where there are fewer appealing food options, but I’ll believe it when I see it. I kinda suspect I’ll catch subways anywhere I want to go to eat, but maybe there are decent things to do in Times Square. I like the scotch list at St Andrews. And ESPN Zone has OK TV screens and games to go along with mediocre food and overpriced drinks. Apart from that, it gets tough.

The best bet for lunches is to keep track of which food carts are in Midtown and go to one of the good looking ones. Even the generic Halal trucks are better than almost all the sit-down restaurant options (and all of the brick-and-morter fast food options), so if I’m stuck in Midtown at lunch, I’ll eat at them.

If you walk a couple of blocks west of Times Square, there are some decent places in Hell’s Kitchen. I don’t spend much time there, but I’ve heard from some people (primarily Andy Egan) good things about Hell’s Kitchen, Amy’s Bread (especially for sandwiches), Xie Xie, Rice N Beans and Wondee Siam. I sometimes eat at the Ethiopian restaurants over in Hell’s Kitchen, namely Queen of Sheba and Meskerem. I prefer Meskerem of the two. But the best Ethiopian in the city, and probably the single best value restaurant in the city, is Zoma in Harlem. That’s only a couple of stops on the 2/3 away from Times Square, and well worth the trip.

A little closer, and cheaper, Flor de Mayo is a good cheap Peruvian restaurant. The ambience, service etc isn’t the best, but for cheap Peruvian food, I’ve never found better.

If you can get a reservation, and don’t mind a medium length walk, Amma on the East side is a fantastic pan-Indian restaurant. I recommend the seafood and/or the tasting menu. It isn’t cheap – $50 per person for either the veg or non-veg tasting menus – but easily worth it.

I’m not vegetarian, so I don’t know the best vegetarian places in the city. (Though I do know that Amma has a very good tasting menu.) I’ve heard good things (primarily from Thony Gillies) about Gobo, Candle 79 and Counter.

I generally work by the principle that one shouldn’t go north of Canal Street if it can be avoided, and most of the rest of these suggestions will keep to that advice.

It’s always fun to eat in Chinatown. I had my Christmas dim sum at Dim Sum Go-Go, which has very good dumplings and even better dipping sauces. Several of the dumplings are vegetarian, though I’m pretty sure the dipping sauces aren’t. My favourite cheap Chinese restaurant is New Wonton Garden, especially for the fish balls.

I’m very fond of Les Halles. I don’t think the meat dishes that it primarily promotes are that great. But the appetisers (snails, French onion soup etc) are just about perfect, the wine list is superbly chosen and, at least at the downtown location, the room is exactly how I think a New York French bistro should feel. Every time I go there I’m amazed that I can enjoy a restaurant so much without being thrilled by the main course, but it turns out that if a restaurant does everything else right, the main course doesn’t need to be great.

I also like Petite Abeille, in part for the great Moulles Frites, in part for the Belgian beer list, and in part for the super specials they have. The downtown location has very cheap lobster on Thursdays, and half price drinks specials earlier in the week.

I haven’t got caught up in the fried chicken craze as much as I might have expected, but I did trek out to Carroll Gardens to eat at Buttermilk Channel, and it was well and truly worth it. And the decor of the room reminded me of inner city Melbourne restaurants, which was nice. It’s a bit of a walk from a subway, especially if you easily get lost, so that might be a little bit of work in the cold, but worth it for the fried chicken.

If you can get a reservation, Corton is a phenomenal experience. The attention to detail throughout the whole meal is like nothing I’ve experienced elsewhere. It’s a little pricey (over $300 for 2 including wine + tip) but well and truly worth it.

Obviously there are a lot of places on the web you can look for advice about food, including Urban Spoon, CitySearch, ChowHound, MenuPages and Yelp. Chowhound is the best known, though I’ve had mixed results following their advice, while CitySearch has been particularly unreliable. And there are professional food critics, the best of whom right now seems to be Adam Platt. Here’s a strategy I’ve followed a lot that has never yet led me wrong. Only go to places that are recommended by 2 fairly distinct kinds of sites, e.g. Urban Spoon and the NY Times, or ChowHound and MenuPages. Lots of websites give bad advice. But I’ve not known the bad advice to overlap much between the different sites, so the ‘two sources’ rule sends you reliably to good places.

Finally, I wish I had better advice to give on coffee shops, but I don’t really. I think while there are a lot of good coffee shops in NYC, there are a lot of pretty bad ones too. The only neighbourhood I’ve been consistently happy with the coffee shops so far has been Dumbo, though I think there are parts of the Lower East Side where the ratio of good to bad coffee shops is acceptably high too. As for coffee in midtown, I think in general you may as well brew your own. But any suggestions for anything worthwhile around Times Square would be gratefully appreciated!

What other suggestions do New York residents have for our visiting friends?

Posted by Brian Weatherson in Uncategorized

2 Comments »

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2 Responses to “Eating at the APA”

  1. D Star says:

    For anyone who might be looking for high quality espresso (or espresso based drinks) near Times Square, I recommend the Culture Espresso Bar at 72 W 38th St, just off 6th Ave. This is a wonderful new cafe recently started by a friendly Australian who knows how to make very good coffee. Since Brian reasonably suggests you should never trust just one source, I should add that Yelp gives it the highest rating of any espresso bar uptown (4.5 stars).

  2. Kevin.Selhi says:

    Hey Brian,

    Here are a few addition places you and other APAers might also like:

    For vegetarians or even adventurous omnivores, Saravana Bhavan/Saravanaas has really great dosas and isn’t too far from midtown
    http://www.yelp.com/biz/saravana-bhavan-saravanaas-new-york

    There’s good sushi in Hell’s Kitchen at West Side Sushi http://www.yelp.com/biz/west-side-sushi-new-york

    Both are pretty affordable.

    I know of a Chinese place almost as good as China Road, but unfortunately I can’t remember its name or exact location.

    Outside of Midtown, there is a really great and affordable wine bar in Ft. Greene, Brooklyn called Stonehome: http://www.yelp.com/biz/stonehome-wine-bar-brooklyn

    Hope you’ve been well in the decade since I last saw you in the ‘Cuse.

    Best,

    Kevin

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