In a little over a week, 2013 will be history, left for archivists to dust off their microscopes and ponder the ramifications of Cronut Fever. But for now, we’re approaching something I like to call the holiday sweet spot — that magical week between Christmas and New Year’s where all bets are off, dietarily speaking. Provided you still have some hard-earned dough left over from gift shopping, this is the week to knock a few extraordinary NYC dining experiences off your bucket list. To be clear: a “blowout meal” for our purposes doesn’t necessarily command an exorbitant price. The following feasts span brows high and low, their only common denominator being that they provide an overwhelming bang for your dearly departed bucks. Here are our picks.
10. Pocha 32, 15 West 32nd Street, 212-279-1876
Trek up the stairs to this nautical-themed K-Town party palace and order yourself a massive frothy soju punch served in a hollowed out watermelon. Dishes are also perfect for sharing, with cauldrons of the spam and hot dog noodle soup buddae jiggae and scallion pancakes that flop over their plate edges.
9. Casa Adela, 66 Avenue C, 212-473-1882
Adela Fargas offers a slice of San Juan with a decidedly Losaida feel at this no-nonsense paean to Puerto Rican cuisine in Alphabet City. Burnished, heavily-seasoned rotisserie chicken is the must-order, but Fargas’ tender pernil is no slouch, either. With a whole bird costing under $10, there’s no reason not to order a fresh fruit shake and some fried sweet or green plantains.
8. Sammy’s Roumanian Steakhouse, 157 Chrystie Street, 212-673-0330
A taste of the schmaltzy good old days makes it nearly impossible to leave this raucous Lower East Side subterranean haunt without a smile on your face. The mood is infectious, with live music and plenty of flowing booze — most notably bottles of Ketel One frozen into blocks of ice. Our perfect meal consists of chopped chicken liver mixed table-side with caramelized onions and plenty of schmaltz, garlicky skirt steak, and golden brown potato latkes.
7. Peking Duck Window at Corner 28 / Crushing Flushing, 4028 Main Street, Queens, 718-886-6628
Do you have $20? Head to Flushing and get yourself 20 peking duck buns, sliced to order at a small stall adjacent to Corner 28 Restaurant. It’s one of the better cheap eats in town, with crisp-skinned duck, snappy lengths of scallion slicked with hoisin and stuffed into a puffy bao bun. But then again, you’re in Flushing. Better not to limit yourself to just duck buns, as good as they may be. The neighborhood is brimming with diverse cuisines and inexpensive options. You’d do well to hit up White Bear for dumplings and the Golden Shopping Mall for hand-pulled noodles.
6. Alta, 64 West 10th Street, 212-505-7777
With over 40 inventive small plates on Harrison Mosher’s extensive menu, it’s all but impossible to try every dish in a single visit. Thankfully, the restaurant offers a truly epic display called The Whole Shebang, which gets you one of each item for $490. Avoid the initial sticker shock and consider splitting it with 8-9 of your closest friends. Suddenly you’re eating a 40-course tasting menu for $49 per person.
5. The NoMad, 1170 Broadway, 212-796-1500
The roast chicken for two at this smartly-appointed hotel restaurant and lounge is well-traversed territory, but there are few dishes that make a diner feel as special as Daniel Humm’s fancy fowl. Carted out and put on display like a prize catch, the brioche, truffle and foie gras-stuffed bird is carved and plated with a tureen of savory sabayon-laced dark meat. Whatever misgivings you may have about blowing $80 on chicken should be assuaged by the handsome surroundings, pitch-perfect service, and some of the most creative bread service in the city
4. Blue Hill at Stone Barns, 630 Bedford Road, Pocantico Hills, 914-366-9600
A trip to Dan Barber’s bucolic locavore paradise isn’t complete without a traipse around the stunning grounds, which house livestock, greenhouses, and other agricultural attractions. On the forefront of the vegetable-centric movement, you might find yourself trimming leaves from a kale stalk with tiny shears or digging into a roasted parsnip “steak”, carved table side and served with creamed spinach. If you’ve got money to burn, there’s hardly a more beautiful place to set it ablaze.
3. Clemente’s Maryland Crab House, 3939 Emmons Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-646-7373
Sheepshead Bay is home to a number of storied seafood restaurants, each with their own area of expertise. Clemente’s has the blue crab market cornered, with an all-you-can-eat deal for $32.95 that boasts particularly bulky specimens. The crustaceans come seasoned with Old Bay or a proprietary garlic blend; both are superb.
2. Pork Slope, 247 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-768-7675
The humble deep fryer gets top billing at Dale Talde’s rowdy Brooklyn watering hole, which batters and crisps up everything from Buffalo shrimp to crunchy fried chicken and even the occasional chicken fried steak. Don’t expect any light offerings — even the kale salad comes with bacon, cheddar cheese and potato chips. For a true blowout dish, look no further than the ‘Mother Porker’, the restaurant’s sweet pork sausage patty melt topped with pickled jalapeños and a fried egg.
1. Shopsin’s, 120 Essex Street, 212-924-5160
Eating at this Essex Market menagerie is fraught with potential impediments, many of which stem from the possibility of inadvertently pissing off cantankerous owner Kenny Shopsin, but once you’ve been granted access to a table the experience is like a gustatory free-for-all. Hundreds of items span the cluttered menu, each with their own following. We’re particular to the Pig Newton, a massive sandwich platter of eggs, grits, roast pork, and fig gravy. The restaurant is only open until 3pm on weekdays and 2pm on Saturday, making this the perfect place to put yourself into a food coma before a midday holiday nap.