24 Fifth Avenue, 212-529-1700.
Shea Gallante’s adventurous menu pairs skate with guanciale, roasted foie gras with black-truffle sorbet, Mediterranean shrimp with trumpet mushrooms, and duck breast with chestnut puree—food doesn’t get more elegant or intelligent at any price at this successor to Washington Park in the heart of Greenwich Village, with a wine cellar featuring a jaw-dropping 65,000 bottles. After a bottle or two, you may look out the window and see Henry James cavorting around his old neighborhood.
PAYARD PATISSERIE & BISTRO
1032 Lexington Avenue, 212-717-5252.
Upstairs (dark) or downstairs (bright) is the only dilemma you have to worry about at this textbook bistro from celebrated pastry chef François Payard. His double-baked cheese soufflé, bathed in a parmesan cream sauce, is lighter than helium. His bouillabaisse is accompanied by toasts and a firkin of the yellowest, most pungent aioli you’ve ever tasted, and it’s easily the best bouillabaisse we’ll get in our lifetimes. And for dessert? Pick one of the pastries named after a French landmark from the glass cases of the elegant teahouse up front.
240 Central Park South, 212-265-5959.
This Italian dowager held down the southwest corner of the park way before the Time Warner Center appeared to stink up the neighborhood. With decor from the era of Mary Tyler Moore, the dining room is serene and comforting, and the view through the window scrim, with its passing carriages, only heightens the sense of retrograde pleasures. The food via chef Odette Fada is rich and restrained, including a giant ravioli that looks like a pale fried egg. Cut into it, and out spills orange yolk from an actual egg inside. The bitter chocolate mousse in a viscous eggnog lake is similarly amazing.
21 West 17th Street, 3rd floor, 212-691-8888.
Laurent Tourondel is the anti-Vongerichten, a talented chef who really cares about his reputation, and is not prone to spin off branches without assuring that they live up to his level of quality. Upstairs at Tourondel’s BLT Fish, all eyes are on the open kitchen, from which sail perfectly cooked fish in either fillet or whole form, with a wonderful wine list, as long on great French and Austrian whites as you might expect. No Chinese restaurant in town can produce a Cantonese-style red snapper the equal of his, heaped with shredded aromatic vegetables and washed in a light soy-flavored sauce, and the range of delicious sides like pommes soufflé, parmesan-heaped gnocchi, and smoky grilled asparagus is unsurpassed.
GOTHAM BAR AND GRILL
12 East 12th Street, 212-620-0181.
When it opened in 1984, founded by former sanitation commissioner Jerry Kretchmer, Gotham was the ne plus ultra of fine dining, midtown luxury with a downtown face. Rather than chasing multiple venues and TV fame, chef Alfred Portale has continued to preside over fare of the highest distinction—from truffle-crusted halibut to herb-fragrant lamb chops—and perfect unobtrusive service.
JACK’S LUXURY OYSTER BAR
246 East 5th Street, 212-673-0338.
While many upscale restaurants are intent on supersizing, Jack’s chooses an alternate path, locating itself in a narrow carriage house that seats only 12 on each of two floors. But the cramped quarters merely increase your pleasure at the attentive service, as you gobble your way through the prix fixe’s mini-courses, from the welcoming pickled quail egg to the slam-dunk risotto that’s sometimes one of the entrée choices. As the name suggests, most of the fare is seafood oriented, and the raw bar is one of Jack’s greatest strengths. Barbecued lobster rules!