Going out to dinner in New York City can be an expensive endeavor, with entrée prices clocking in at $30. But you can eat four-star food at a fraction of the price: Cook it yourself using the restaurant’s cookbook. Now, cookbook love is like any other type of love — wildly subjective. Yet some of the aspects that make a cookbook great include a good story with a narrative all the way through, beautiful photographs, and delicious-tasting recipes. Behold Our 10 Best New York City Restaurant Cookbooks — tomes that not only reflect outstanding chefs and dining establishments, but also represent excellent literature. For our purposes, we have only included books of restaurants you can still visit, and we’ve excluded books that focus more on a chef’s overall career (Anita Lo’s Cooking Without Borders or Adam Perry Lang’s BBQ 25, for example) or on home-cooking techniques (think Karen DeMasco’s excellent The Craft of Baking). Whether you have eaten at the restaurants or not, these are the books that illustrate why New York remains the greatest city for eating in the world.
10. Junior’s Cheesecake Cookbook: 50 To-Die-For Recipes for New York-Style Cheesecake (Taunton Press, 2007): Junior’s is synonymous with cheesecake, and is a true New York City icon. The cheesecake at the stalwart is pretty damn delicious, but we’ve gotta say that the versions we’ve made from scratch using the Junior’s cookbook (written by co-owner Alan Rosen, the grandson of Junior’s founder, Harry Rosen) are even better. So when you can’t trek out to Brooklyn, make sure this is on your shelf.
9. Neue Cuisine: The Elegant Tastes of Vienna: Recipes From Wallsé, Café Sabarsky, and Blaue Gans (Rizzoli, 2011): OK, so this isn’t a single restaurant, but three. Yet Café Sabarsky, Wallsé, and Blaue Gans all reflect chef Kurt Gutenbrunner’s signature Austrian cuisine, only at different price points. What makes this book unique, though (besides its being one of the better Austrian cookbooks on the market), is that it’s not just a reflection of Viennese food culture throughout the ages; it’s also a portrait of the Neue Galerie museum and the art inside. Curator Janis Staggs has written a great overview of the art scene in Vienna at the turn of the 20th century, and the book features many reproductions from the museum. A little food for thought, if you will.
8. The Asian Flavors of Jean-Georges (Clarkson Potter, 2007): As with Neue Cuisine, this book curates recipes from more than one New York City restaurant: Spice Market, Vong, and 66. While the last two are out of business and Spice Market arguably isn’t what it used to be, this book illustrates a moment in time when fusion cuisine was just getting off the ground. But what’s more important, the recipes — dishes like charred lamb salad, ribbons of tuna with ginger marinade, and a lovely chocolate and Vietnamese coffee tart — are excellent, if laborious.
7. The Union Square Cafe Cookbook (Ecco, 1994): It’s hard to believe this cookbook was published nearly two decades ago because the recipes are as contemporary as ever. Which clearly says a lot about the beloved Union Square Cafe and its fresh seasonal menus. While many restaurant cookbooks can be utterly complex, this one uses easy-to-find ingredients and has clear instructions. You will be guaranteed to love dishes like the creamless mushroom soup, fried calamari with spicy anchovy mayonnaise, hashed brussels sprouts, and black bean soup.
6. The Babbo Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, 2002): In many respects, the ideal restaurant cookbook reflects the idea of the restaurant in a way that still works for the home cook. The recipes in this book from Mario Batali’s flagship are easy to follow and very flavorful, if not exact replicas of how they taste at Babbo. Still, dishes like pappardelle Bolognese, two-minute calamari Sicilian-lifeguard-style, and tilefish in a Sungold tomato and cool cucumber gazpacho have become staples in our kitchen.
5. Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin (Knopf, 2008): There’s no real substitution for a visit to Shopsin’s, the eccentric restaurant once located in the West Village and now in the Essex Market. Where else in the world will you encounter a ridiculously long menu with hundreds of disjointed menu options, possibly denied service, get yelled at by the chef or told you’ve ordered wrong? Shopsin is an enigma, and this cookbook gives you a look into the mind of one of New York’s most vibrant culinary icons. Still, truth be told, the recipes we’ve made from this book — mostly the egg dishes and pancakes — have been better than those at the restaurant.
4. Momofuku (Clarkson Potter, 2009): David Chang is a man with a vision, and the story of his success shines throughout this cookbook (ditto with pastry chef Christina Tosi’s Momofuku Milk Bar). Again, this is more of a chef’s cookbook, since most recipes from Momofuku Noodle Bar, Momofuku Ssäm Bar, and Momofuku Ko require several steps and many esoteric ingredients, but it’s a great portrait of a culinary artist coming into his own and developing his distinct, innovative viewpoint.
3. The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual (Artisan 2010): New Yorkers love Frankies Spuntino for the simple yet delicious Italian food. And that’s just what you’ll find in the restaurant’s cookbook. Many of the recipes are beyond simple — a roasted cauliflower dish whose only ingredients are cauliflower, olive oil, and salt and pepper — but the recipes themselves are so detailed as to leave nothing to chance. The illustrations of kitchen tools and the photos of the Franks in action also make this book a quirky keeper.
2. Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook (Little, Brown and Company, 2011): A visit to Eleven Madison Park is a trip for the senses. The food is visually stunning and utterly delicious. And reading through the recipes in the restaurant’s cookbook, you’ll understand why. A hell of a lot of work goes into preparing each dish. This is not an easy book for the novice cook. We’ve only attempted two full recipes — the caviar with potato ice cream and crème fraîche (yum) and the asparagus and crab canapé — and modified the slow-cooked langoustine with cauliflower, raisins, and green almonds with shrimp, but this book is as much a coffee-table tome as it is a set of recipes. The photographs are beyond beautiful, and the behind-the-scenes insights (an hour-by-hour timeline of a day at EMP, a glossary of every profession there, plus essays from general manager Will Guidara) give a complete portrait of one of New York’s best restaurants.
1. Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook: Strategies, Recipes, and Techniques of Classic Bistro Cooking (Bloomsbury, 2004): Tony Bourdain will always be the original kitchen badass, and this book is basically the CliffsNotes for Kitchen Confidential. He adopts a jocular conversational tone that’s now become commonplace and says, “This is not a cookbook. Not really. It will not teach you how to cook. The recipes, for the most part, are old standards, versions of which you can find in scores of other books. What’s different about this volume is that the recipes are from Les Halles, the New York City restaurant where I have been, since 1998, the executive chef. Which is to say that they are the official recipes from the best goddamn brasserie/bistro in the country.” It’s true. While the recipes like steak au poivre and mussels are fairly standard, the book’s outstanding because it was one of the first to show kitchen life behind the scenes and Bourdain’s voice rings loud and clear in each recipe instruction.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 24, 2012