May 12, 2009

My NYC Restaurants

It was always my dream to spend several weeks vacation in New York City with my wife and three kids. Find a loft in the Village or Soho. Keep the itinerary open while keeping a hit list of must see friends and restaurants. My family used to spend a week over the holidays when my sister and I were in college. Haj, my younger sister, and I, spent the days exploring the seedy Times Square area, checking out bookstores in the Village, eating oversized NYC pizza at every corner and participating in the make-shift card trick table with the goal of outsmarting the dealer and his friends. At night, we returned to the comforts of the Waldorf=Astoria, indulge in room service while falling asleep to the humming of the TV (no 24 hour channels then). On one trip, Haj and I got our first fake driver's licenses in a video game room in Times Square and actually had the privilege of using the ID's in the college bars in Georgetown in DC. Those were the best of days.

Last night, I spoke to my good friends from the Philippines, Leo and Michelline Suarez, who are actually renting a flat  in NYC with their five kids - the stunning Alex, who recently graduated from college, my gorgeous goddaughter, Sam, who will be a college freshman, Marco and Coby, their charming and comedic teens, and the star of the family,Vito, the ten month old addition to the Suarez clan. They are in NYC for three weeks to celebrate Sam's high school graduation and 18th birthday. Yes, very nice parents. 

The kids were pretty much free to roam the city, just as my sister and I did in the eighties. This time, though, they are only a text away from Leo and Michelline. Our main topic of conversation last evening, which I admit is a very typical topic for traveling Filipinos, are the best places to eat in the city. The conversation led to the idea of posting my recommendations on my blog. 

Before you foodie snobs get your undies in a knot for not including the latest "in" spots in NYC, just chill because I am not a food critic nor do I profess to be an expert in the NYC dining scene. However, I am very confident that my choices are undeniably stellar, and best of all, places my friends would truly enjoy.

Babbo - This is my favorite restaurant in NYC. I happen to be standing in front of the hostess when a customer cancelled their reservation. I jumped on that opportunity and booked a table. My younger brother, Brian, who lives in the city and my culinary confidant in NYC, joined me for the memorable dinner. Highlights - everything! The grilled octopus appetizer and the osso bucco were outstanding. But it was the Bucatiniall' Amatriciana with guanciale, hot pepper and pecorino that stole the show.

Gramercy Tavern - I was treated by my contacts at Gourmet Magazine, including Chef Sara Moulton, to a chef's table here. A true culinary institution without the pomp.

The Grocery - A hidden gem in Brooklyn. This tiny restaurant explodes with flavors. The roasted beets and the slow rendered duck breast are top notch.

The Burger Joint - Amidst the glitz of the Le Parker Meridien lies this burger joint with the famous neon light sign and the motto of "if you don't see it (on the menu board), we don't have it." This is the equivalent of Chicago's Billy Goat Tavern. Cheeeeseburger, cheeeeseburger.

Joe's Shanghai - I don't like to eat at "fancy" Chinese restaurants with its gold wallpaper and oversized red lanterns. These places remind me of going to weddings in the Philippines when I was a child where I had to suffer through the endless formalities while my legs endured the torture of wearing gabardine pants. That's why Joe's Shanghai fits the bill. It's very casual, yet it's not a dive. The food is incredibly authentic. The homestyle bean curd is the best I've ever tasted. 

Marlow and Sons - This is another one of my brother's excellent recommendations. A small neighborhood deli graces the front of the building, while the restaurant, with its wooden picnic tables and small stools, occupy the back of the building. Simple, yet tasteful menu. Any restaurant with "Brick Chicken" on the menu deserves my nod. Just over the bridge in Brooklyn.

Elephant & Castle - My family stumbled across this restaurant in the Village during the launch of my brother's book, Full Moon, in 2002.  Locals flock this place. Extensive comfort food menu with the best neighborhood brunch in the city.

Cendrillon - I am so bummed that Cendrillon closed its Greenwich Village location this year to make way for Purple Yam restaurant in Brooklyn. I just loved the fact that I could take my friends to an excellent Filipino restaurant with a sexy address in the city. Owners and cookbook authors, Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan, exemplify the best in Filipino culinary writing and cooking. 

The Mandarin Oriental Lobby Lounge - the place for cocktails with million dollar views of Central Park.

The Roof at The Soho House - find a member and hangout at the best people watching digs in NYC. 

And best of all, NYC offers the best in Street Cart Food options.

(Above photo taken at a 2008 dinner party with friends at the Suarez residence in Alabang, Muntinlupa, Philippines)


Michelline said...

Hi George! thanks for the kind words and the NY restaurant advice. We did Joe's Shanghai today and everyone loved the Xiao Long Bao. Burger Joint was so good we are going back for seconds before we leave. We'll have to save some of your must-eats for when Leo and I come back without the kids...unless we can convince them to have pizza delivered while we dine at Babbo! ;-P

George Aquino said...

Glad you loved Joe's Shanghai. We'll just have to plan an adult reunion in the near future. Though I would love to see the kids. Have that last sunset toast at the Mandarin Lobby Lounge!