In summer, you want to sit in a place with bright colors and big open windows, or out on a terrace in the sun with a white-wine spritzer and a big salad or sandwich. But you’ll never make it through a harsh winter on a diet like that. Nor do you want to be reminded of the punishing winds and freezing precipitation outside by looking at it through big picture windows. Instead, you want a place that’s dark and cozy, maybe with a fireplace, and with food that plays to the hearty eater in you.
We have just such a place—in fact, we have 13 of them. So shake the snow off your coat, leave your rubber boots by the door, and sit down for a fine winter meal.
The Spanish tapas and casserole café A Casa Fox (173 Orchard Street, 212-253-1900) has only one squarish dining room, but the focus is a roaring fire in a hearth that looks like it might have been ripped from an estate somewhere up in Connecticut. Despite the New England–y appearance, the food is resolutely Spanish, with mushroom-and-smoked-cheese empanadas, oven-roasted fish in a banana leaf, and, for bigger appetites, such “clay pot dinners” as costillas de cerdo (marinated and braised pork ribs) and pollo machado (shredded-chicken and vegetable stew).
What could be more charming and convivial in winter than a Scottish pub? Handy to Times Square, and hence all sorts of subway lines, St. Andrews (140 West 46th Street, 212-840-8413) is named after the place where golf was invented. The menu includes all the rib-sticking Hibernian comfort food—shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash, and even haggis, the national dish of oatmeal and organ meats inside a sheep’s bladder. Primmer fare like baked salmon, barbecued ribs, and hot roast-beef sandwiches also beckon.
If Times Square is a place you instinctively avoid, there’s a more obscure Scottish gastropub in the West Village. Highlands (150 West 10th Street, 212-229-2670) does St. Andrews one better by offering a vegetarian version of haggis—and, believe me, you won’t miss the organs. There’s a convivial barroom and a much more secluded dining chamber off to one side, where you can enjoy such wintry fare as beef Wellington (baked tenderloin in pastry), a splendid roast chicken, or mussels in curry sauce.
Speaking of curry sauce, Indian food is a great choice for winter dining, since it’s often very rich—even the vegetarian dishes. Mid-Queens stalwart Jackson Diner (3747 74th Street, Queens, 718-672-1232) mounts the city’s best Indian buffet in a comfortable room in the middle of a fascinating South Asian shopping district. Savory lamb stews are not omitted—as they are on many Indian buffets—and neither are stuffed breads and biryanis. You can eat an amazing amount and no one will look at you funny. The selection runs to dozens of dishes, with soupy rice pudding for dessert.
To me, nothing is more charming than the barrooms of Portuguese restaurants, which are much more entertaining than the staid dining rooms in the same establishments—where waiters wear starched shirts and somber vests and refuse to crack a smile. At Seabra’s Marisqueira in Newark (87 Madison Street, 973-465-1250), in the neighborhood known as the Ironbound (only a few blocks from the PATH station), the specialty is seafood. The rollicking barroom—which also offers table seating—has a choice list of seasonal catches at discounted prices. Salt-cod bake-ups, grilled sardines, steamed lobsters, and the Portuguese sausage flamed tableside in a ceramic pig are particular favorites.
While there are no great Portuguese restaurants in Manhattan, there is a very nice and cozy one between downtown Jamaica and Kennedy Airport, a perfect side trip if you’re on the way to somewhere else. O Lavrador (“O Farmer,” 138-40 101st Avenue, Queens, 718-526-1526) is ancient, outfitted in dark woods and so deep that you can’t see the rear of the establishment as you enter. Cod fritters and other bar snacks are delicious, but look at the chalkboard for the meat and fish specials (including seafood stews called caldeiras), and get yourself a bucket of Portuguese Sagres beer to wash it all down.
Nothing says winter like one of the city’s older steakhouses, cobbled together of many rickety rooms, where the ghosts of the long-dead creak the floorboards as you dine. One of the fustiest is Keen’s Steakhouse (72 West 36th Street, 212-947-3636), formerly known as Keen’s Chophouse. The dining rooms are maze-like and engagingly dark (with fireplaces scattered here and there), and white clay pipes hang from the ceiling as a reminder that this region was once Dutch. Tuck in to the formerly eponymous mutton chop, a cut of meat so large and dangerous that if you hid it about your person you might be arrested for having a concealed weapon.
If you want something new and modern, but still cozy, hit up Applewood (501 11th Street, Brooklyn, 718-788-1014), a restaurant in Park Slope with all sorts of locavoric notions—and a fireplace, too. Its counterpart in Fort Greene, also with a fireplace, is Ici (246 Dekalb Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-789-2778), which adds a bit of Frenchness to the fare. Though it doesn’t have a fireplace, the atmosphere is warm and intimate at Brooklyn Heights’ Henry’s End (44 Henry Street, Brooklyn, 718-834-1776), which has a special wild-game menu during winter months—so you can pretend you’ve just returned from a hunting expedition.
If your idea of winter-cozy is a red-checked tablecloth, straw-wrapped Chianti bottle, and big plate of red-sauced pasta, F & J Pine Tavern (1913 Bronxdale Avenue, Bronx, 718-792-5956) might be your sort of thing. The Calabrian fare often has a touch of chile heat to it, too, and anything involving clams, eggplant, or baked pasta is highly recommended. If a flickering pizza oven is an able substitute for a fireplace, check out Testaccio (47-30 Vernon Boulevard, Queens, 718-937-2900), a modern Roman trattoria in Long Island City. Not only are the pizzas above par, the list of Roman comfort foods runs to tripe with mint, oxtail stew, and the spinach and egg-drop soup called strachiatella.
Finally, nothing warms you up faster after spending time outside than do-it-yourself barbecue at one of New York’s Korean restaurants. My favorite, because they feed the grill with real charcoal, is Kom Tang Soot Bul Kal Bi (32 West 32nd Street, 212-947-8482) in Manhattan’s Koreatown. Tender marinated rib is a favorite, but if you want lots of fat, pick pork belly, which is rendered in front of your eyes into rich crusty morsels. Warming yourself with chilies is also an easy proposition—just get one of the kimchee-laced pancakes.
There’s something about a hearty meal in cozy surroundings that makes winter seem entirely endurable—so put your galoshes back on, and plunge back into the blizzard.