Best of NYC®

Best Of 2015

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Best Of :: Food & Drink

Best Mexican Restaurant
Fonda

With a large, constantly changing menu and an array of limited-time offers, Fonda rewards repeat customers. Do you miss the beet salad? The ensalada de aguacate y zanahorias (avocado and carrot salad) will make you forget all about it. Heirloom corn tortillas and Oaxacan black mole enchiladas prove that chef Roberto Santibañez can do Mexican as well as anyone, but his willingness to put a colorful twist on standard dishes is what really makes Fonda stand out. Guacamole with peaches and grapes not doing it for you? How about some avocado soup with mangoes and strawberries? Speaking of color, the aforementioned black mole, creamy tomato, pesto, and habanero sauces accent dishes that range from dark and rich to vibrant and colorful, so you'll be hard-pressed to find a more Instagram-friendly meal. The enchiladas are renowned, but if you're willing to spend a few extra bucks, callos y camarones (pan-seared diver scallops and shrimp) is an even better dish — either one will make your week. And don't sleep on the Fonda margarita: Its selection may well be the best in the city. First, try the "Cadillac," whose reposado tequila lays the groundwork for a smooth, almost creamy mouthfeel elevated even further by a splash of Grand Marnier. Other must-try options include the signature hibiscus-infused margarita (the "Rosalita"), which is available both frozen and on the rocks, as well as a revolving lineup of seasonal versions such as the "Spicy Pineapple" (with chipotle-infused tequila) and the citrus-and-tamarind autumn standout, the "Tamarindo." 3 area locations, including: 434 Seventh Avenue, Brooklyn 11215, 718-369-3144, fondarestaurant.com

434 Seventh Ave., Brooklyn, 11215
MAP
718-369-3144
Best-Kept Secret (Restaurant Division)

With its generic name and standard gastropub interior (brick, reclaimed wood), it's easy to see how The Grand Bar and Grill has stayed somewhat under wraps since opening in 2013. But in a neighborhood dominated by exotic ingredients and $17 small-plate dining, the Grand stands out for its flawlessly prepared classic fare from executive chef Wes Davis, modestly priced and served by the most affable staff in the area. Shishito peppers, lightly breaded and drizzled in citrus oil, put every other restaurant's version of this ubiquitous dish to shame, and the fluffy handmade pierogi (served with habanero jam and sour cream) have silenced the most skeptical Polish dining companions. The short-rib-and-brisket-blend cheeseburger has, for one neighborhood resident, turned the Grand into "a real problem. I've started coming here like three times a week, not even counting Seamless." With comfortable booths and a vast communal table in back, it's perfect for large parties; alternately, you could post up at the restored 1870s bar with a classic cocktail and a pile of organic wings. If you're tired of forking over $20 for a single jewel-like local beet, check out the Grand before it turns into Roberta's. 647 Grand Street, Brooklyn 11211, 718-782-4726, thegrandbarandgrill.com

Best Chef

Six months into her tenure as executive chef, Emma Bengtsson clinched a second Michelin star for the once trailblazing Aquavit — Håkan Swahn's polished Swedish restaurant that put Marcus Samuelsson on the map. The 33-year-old Falkenberg native was running the bread and pastry programs when management asked her to take over the whole operation after Samuelsson's successor departed. Within months, she breathed new life into the stalwart paean to Scandinavian cuisine, filling the smartly decorated dining room with her intricate, focused cooking style via three-, five-, and eight-course tastings. She has honored the humble crayfish with its own seasonal peel-and-eat "festival" lunch menu, and layers nubbins of the crustacean in elegant fashion with Norwegian cod, salty sea beans, and heirloom tomatoes. Contrary to the stark plating favored at many of the city's New Nordic outfits, Bengtsson's compositions are vibrant and cleverly playful, pairing fatty mackerel with tart gooseberries and topping coffee-scented dry-cured gravlax with sea urchin and dill. Lest you doubt her pastry prowess in the face of these new responsibilities, know that she's crafting high-concept desserts, like goat cheese "eggs" filled with an orange, astringent sea buckthorn "yolk" cradled by a nest of tuile ribbons. 65 East 55th Street, Manhattan 10022, 212-307-7311, aquavit.org

Best Pastry Chef

Jesus Perea's affinity for the pastry station blossomed under Michael Laiskonis at Le Bernardin. That passion eventually led the Bronx-raised chef to Mexico City and Enrique Olvera, a pioneer of modern Mexican cooking, who opened Cosme last year in the Flatiron. Perea's stunning dessert there, a charred corn husk meringue, became an instant classic when it debuted. The dish takes inspiration from a confection that Olvera and chef de cuisine Daniela Soto-Innes both enjoyed growing up, and it never fails to astound with its ashy, slightly savory shell juxtaposed against sweet corn mousse. Perea's non-Instagram-famous compositions are equally delightful, likewise illuminating traditional Mexican flavors through a creative prism: He's been known to top white-peach raspado (similar to granita) with a scoop of ice cream made from eggnog-like rompope, and once delivered a take on Bubu Lubu, a Mexican chocolate bar filled with marshmallow and strawberry jelly, but with cherries lending their fruity tang. Enjoyed after a memorable feast from Olvera and Soto-Innes, Perea's sweets leave strong impressions of their own. 35 East 21st Street, Manhattan 10010, 212-913-9659, cosmenyc.com

Best Dessert

When pot brownies have lost their luster (or better yet, if they haven't), head to Dominique Ansel Kitchen, where the pastry superstar and Cronut kingpin presents a chocolate-chip-spiked fatty, the moist and tubular brownie pressed with sage leaves and rolled up in a thin sheet of cedar. The kitchen torches the aromatic spliff right before serving. Its rich, woodsy scent adds a profound depth of flavor to the melty chocolate confection, with herbaceous notes from the sage. As much as Ansel gets playful at his mobbed bakery, here his sophisticated takes on relatable classics pack their own charming punch. He turns burrata cheese into soft-serve ice cream and fortifies brown rice with stout beer in a pudding studded with speculoos cookies. Many of the desserts are made à la minute, like a lemon-yuzu tart whose recipe is 50 percent butter and beignets dusted with both milk powder and slightly bitter matcha green-tea powder in a twist on the sugar-coated New Orleans treat. 137 Seventh Avenue South, Manhattan 10014, 212-242-5111, dominiqueanselkitchen.com

Best New Restaurant

Sure, the handbag stands are a bit precious (at least they're not pedestals), but Gabriel Kreuther — set within the ground floor of the W.R. Grace building across from Bryant Park — marks a triumphant return for one of our city's most treasured European chefs, last seen mesmerizing midtown diners at the Modern. His new powerhouse of a restaurant hit the ground running. From deep within an elegant and cavernous space decorated with wood beams and stork motifs, Kreuther oversees the execution of some 40 dishes between the dining room and lounge. Bookended by a procession of amuses, bread courses, and petits fours, the standard $98 four-course dinner feels like actual value for the Benjamin you'll throw down — especially when paired with pastry chef Marc Aumont's stunning desserts and beverage suggestions from sommelier Emilie Perrier. We won't call this a comeback: This is Kreuther, having finally struck out on his own, realizing his dreams. After eating there, you're likely to have some nice ones of your own. 41 West 42nd Street, Manhattan 10036, 212-257-5826, gknyc.com

41 W. 42nd St., Manhattan, 10036
MAP
212-257-5826
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Best Mexican Restaurant: Fonda

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