Everyone is always talking about dinner, but when you are wandering the city, lunch becomes the pinnacle meal of the day. Not every restaurant serves a midday nosh, though. And you don’t want to be stuck munching on a sad slice of pizza or dirty water dog, either. Luckily, we mapped out seven key neighborhoods and the awesome places to eat the next time you find yourself hungry there in the early afternoon.
Sure you can sample fresh produce, some apple cider donuts and, maybe, a vegan pastry at the Union Square Monday Greenmarket, but for an elegant and tasty afternoon adventure, head to the recently opened Venetian restaurant All’onda. Run by restaurateur Chris Cannon and chef Chris Jaeckle, the inspired menu at this bi-level eatery will make you want to order a meal as grand as you would at dinnertime. As you bask in the sunlit dining room, start with ricotta and cumin-laced carrots and a plate of wasabi-spiced tuna tartare. Follow the appetizers with a glorious bowl of bucatini with smoked uni or the lumache with aged duck ragu, Treviso and — surprise! — chocolate. Don’t worry, it’s not sweet, which means you still have an excuse for dessert, that is, if you can fit any more fare in your tummy.
Upper East Side
For those traipsing through Central Park in need of a long, luxurious break, head over to Forbes Travel Guide Forbes-Recommended The Mark Restaurant by Jean-Georges, located in Four-Star The Mark hotel. On the eclectic menu you will find delicate plates of sushi, a super fresh market salad with feta and olives, black truffle pizza and freshly made angel hair pasta livened with a house pesto. Whether you make a reservation or walk in, expect to be seated in a cushy, roomy chair at a linen-covered table underneath the gentle glow of a skylight. Of course, the vibrant setting is only one part of the experience at an establishment where the service is graceful and the food is probably some of the best you’ll have in the city. But then again, that’s Jean-Georges Vongerichten for you.
If you forget to make a reservation for dinner at Gramercy Tavern, or if you happen to merely be roaming the neighborhood, there’s still a good chance you can find a seat at this tony seasonal eatery. At this Four-Star stunner that also features a first-come, first-serve area, chef Michael Anthony pays special attention to what’s fresh to the market, and that means the menu is ever changing. On any given day you will find dishes such as beet salad with quinoa, summer berries and pistachios, smoked arctic char with corn and potato salad, a selection of Farmstead cheeses and, for dessert, Gramercy Tavern’s signature cookie plate. Indulge in a glass of wine, too; the list is epic and someone is always on hand to help you decide what bottle will go best with your meal.
Take a look at chef Jesse Schenker’s The Gander, a new American restaurant that opened this past spring. The space is polished without being pompous, so it’s perfect for a leisurely business lunch or midday stopover as you explore Madison Square Park. The menu features whimsical takes on classics. For example, instead of a regular Caesar or wedge salad, Schenker combines the two by serving his hunk of romaine with bacon, anchovy dressing and a Parmesan crust. The brisket tater tots also showcase innovative thinking in the kitchen by taking a lowbrow dish and elevating it into a sophisticated starter. For a main course, try the superior dry-aged cheeseburger or get the soon-to-be-a-classic roast beef and sauerkraut sandwich, both served with perfectly crisp skinny fries.
Lower East Side
Not every meal needs to be four courses and fancy, and the latter definitely doesn’t pertain to Boulton & Watt on Avenue A. At this steampunk-styled bar, perfectly composed plates of gastropub food, all fresh and made in house, are always on the menu. One of the specialties here is the pickle menu, a list that includes jars of fennel with grapefruit, pineapple with habanero, mint and basil, and Brussels sprouts with mustard seeds and garlic. Get these to begin your lunch or make them part of a larger, picnic-like spread that can include tasty options such as fried green tomato caprese salad, cast iron-roasted chicken paillard with a fresh baby arugula salad, and a fascinating take on a pig-in-the-blanket that uses Boulton & Watt’s own sausage. Sure, by the end of the meal, you will be satisfied, but since the space is so open and inviting, you might as well kick back with a Mexican Revolver (jalapeño tequila, lime, agave and Prosecco) and allow your food to fully digest.
Headed by celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian, Four-Star The Lambs Club has two things going for it at lunchtime: 1) You get a much-needed break from the bustle of Times Square; 2) You have the option of taking in afternoon tea. If you choose tea at The Chatwal, A Luxury Collection Hotel’s signature restaurant, be prepared to feast on a selection of treats that range from smoked salmon buckwheat blinis with caviar, yellowfin tuna tartare, and honey cinnamon scones with clotted cream and housemade jams. On top of that, you also experience a refined tea blend from Palais des Thés. If you go the lunch menu route, choose from items including a succulent house-smoked pastrami sandwich, raw oysters with cucumber, fennel and chili mignonette, and a Nova Scotia-style lobster roll stuffed with more than a pound of the tender crustacean.
For an Asian twist to lunch while you trek around downtown, try the Four-Star Brushstroke, a delicious venture between chef David Bouley and the Tsuji Culinary Institute, one of Japan’s top culinary school’s. Order your meal à la carte or try the three-course tasting menu, which includes a rotating list of items from Japanese snapper sashimi, to uni with summer herbs, to golden crab chawan mushi or lobster with chive buds. The premise of the bright restaurant with earthy accents is to base its meals on Kaiseki, a tradition that builds entrées around specific high-end seasonal ingredients. It’s a unique outing, for sure, and well worth a prolonged lunch date.