New Year's Eve: Eats

Old stand-bys and some new kids on the block

David Chang
The first time I ate at one of David Chang’s restaurants, I found 50 bucks in the street, reconciled with my mother, and invented a car that runs on expletives and children’s laughter. To say it was a day filled with light, love, and joy would be an epic understatement on my part. Chang knows what tastes good, and I don’t need James Beard or a bunch of Michelin stars to tell me what I already know. Most of his joints close at 10 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, so get out of the house while the sun is still high and grab a table at any one of his five establishments; only Momofuku Ko requires a reservation, but if you land one, you’ll feast like an ancient pagan warrior god on 10 divinely conceived courses. Hey, David, I’ve got a sister you should meet. Various locations, momofuku.com

Sylvia’s
“Put a Little South in Your Mouth!” That would be my slogan if I owned a soul food restaurant in Harlem. (It would have a big flashing red-and-green neon sign out front with a pinup girl slaughtering a pig. I’d call it “Trickster’s House of Swine.”) But I don’t. I’m just a writer that eats at Sylvia’s whenever he misses overly polite waitresses and lethargic living. But this uptown soul food palace is no Waffle House. The regular menu here is so down-home that you might call home collect at 2 a.m. crying. This year, Sylvia’s has a little party planned late-night. With a buffet, Bronx dancehall by DJ Jaime Hype, and a champagne toast, 318 Lenox Avenue, 212-996-0660, sylviasrestaurant.com, $25

Keens Steakhouse
With only 22.7 square miles of Manhattan to share between us, it’s important to make room for new culinary ideas—just don’t forget about the great ideas that still endure. Keens, once a haunt of Herald Square performers and local literati alike, has seen its fair share of New Year’s cheer. Its history-laden walls serve as a reminder that the bad times leave just as fast as they arrived. So chill out and order the mutton chops. They’re legendary. Low-key, regular menu, champagne at midnight. 72 West 36th Street, 212-947-3636, keens.com

Sugar Café
Sugar is the Lower East Side’s solution to a long night of drinking. Open 24/7, this place is a brightly lit corner oasis of cheeseburgers, shakes, pies, and pancakes, but don’t let its diner-esque décor fool you. Aside from the cases of desserts and pastries in front, the kitchen here is far superior to that greasy spoon you and your friends loitered at in high school (yes, you can sit down and order—they have waiters). The best part: They serve breakfast all day and night, and everyone knows that nothing soaks up vodka better than maple syrup. If you wander in lost come New Year’s morning, don’t worry: They have great coffee, too. And if you leave a mess, leave a tip. It’s the decent thing to do. 200 Allen Street at the corner of Houston, 212-260-1122, sugarcafenyc.com

Docks
If you’re looking for the best shellfish in town before hoofing it over to Times Square to bask in the masses, you can’t do much better than this East Side pillar. Docks has been serving superb seafood to the discerning for a while now—27 years, to be exact. Fresh lobsters, oysters, and a first-rate wine list are the secrets to their success. Also, the bar is open until 2 a.m., and their 10-ounce martinis are great for keeping out the cold. It’ll be a long walk across town, so you better get a drink. Reservations are recommended for their special late-night New Year’s Eve bar menu and the live jazz. 633 Third Avenue, 212-986-8080, docksoysterbar.com

Otto Enoteca Pizzeria
At first glance, Otto’s looks like Manhattan’s take on Olive Garden with its packed, standing-room-only bar/waiting area and mechanical reservation board flashing the names of those who filed in ahead of you. But once you eat here, you know that nothing could be further from the truth. An invention of Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, this fair-priced West Village eatery offers creative Italian fare with fantastic pairing suggestions and a generous selection of wines. Cured meats and spicy-honey-flavored dips are fantastic company while you wait for a table. After you’ve finished an amazing translation of what Batali deems pizza, ask for the Olive Oil Coppetta for dessert and you’ll know you’re starting the year off right. The kitchen closes at midnight, so get there early if you want to see the ball drop. One Fifth Avenue, 212-995-9559, ottopizzeria.com

La Esquina
This place may possibly be the worst-kept secret in Soho. On any given weekend, hordes of chic-looking fabulous types crowd around a taco stand shooting dirty looks at a door marked “No Admittance.” The smart ones just order from the counter and chow down before heading off into the night to live it up. If you actually have a reservation and sail past this scene into the basement, you’ll enjoy some amazing ambience and great ceviche. Their list of top-shelf tequila would turn a border-roaming Minuteman into a Pancho Villa–praising pistolero. On New Year’s Eve, they offer a prix-fixe dinner with complimentary champagne and tequila shots throughout the night till 3 a.m. for $105. If DJs and mariachi aren’t your thing, dinner is at six for $75. 114 Kenmare Street, 646-613-7100, esquinanyc.com, $75–$105

Shun Lee
To say that the Chinese are kicking ass these days is an understatement. When Beijing isn’t busy spanking Kim Jong-Il over its knee or withholding the exportation of rare minerals from the rest of the industrialized world, it’s cooking up something mean in the kitchen. Only in New York could this tradition flourish into what it has become at Shun Lee. For the past 30 years, this culinary gem has been successfully evolving, serving its unique approach to multi-regional dishes for loyal patrons and newcomers alike. Anyone who has had the Grand Marnier prawns with honey walnuts knows there is something divine about this Upper West Side establishment—intricate décor and flavor combine in ways you find yourself dreaming about later. And the best part about dining here on New Year’s Eve: The menu is the same as always. If you want funny glasses and noise makers, go somewhere else. These guys aren’t partying for another month. 43 West 65th Street, 212-595-8895, shunleewest.com

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