There’s no shortage of good restaurants on the Upper West Side. Really.
You want endless, expensive tasting menus, boozy crowds and loud music? Go across the water to Williamsburg.
The two of us live on the Upper West Side and like to eat there too, north of 79th Street (and increasingly north of 96th Street, thus avoiding the Lincoln Center mobs).
We like quiet places with modest prices, especially for moules frites, roast chicken and pasta.
Here’s a list, starting with our favorite, Gastronomia Culinaria, the star addition to the scrappy, evolving neighborhood of Manhattan Valley. (A local liquor store still dispenses from behind a bullet-proof counter).
Chef/owner Vincenzo Pezzilli hails from Rome and when the tonnarelli ($12) arrive, nice and fat, and laced with pecorino and cracked black pepper, you will not want to share.
Wife Dianne takes your orders, which should also include pappardelle with a ragu of lamb and black olives ($14) or seared skirt steak with roasted potatoes ($22). Pizza has recently been added to the menu.
Finish your meal with a panna cotta. The wines by the glass are all inexpensive and good. A favorite vintage Montepulciano -- Cave Canem DOC 2011 -- is a bargain at $7 a glass.
Gastronomia Culinaria is at 53 W. 106th St. +1-212-663-1040.
Move west a block and try The Ellington, a gastro-pub named for jazz great Duke Ellington, a long-time resident of 106th Street. Understandably it’s a bit higher on the decibel counter we travel with.
Start off with the spinach and artichoke dip served with pita chips to scoop it up ($9). Burgers come with thick cut fries ($12). Don’t miss ordering bangers and mash. The Cumberland sausage ($15), surrounded on the plate by braised red cabbage and a topping of onion gravy, is from Myers of Keswick, the British grocery store on Hudson Street. A splat of Colman’s English mustard gives the sausage a bit of heat.
The scene is friendly and the bartender draws a perfect pint. Lots of eccentrics with unusual dogs encourage outdoor sitting.
The Ellington is at 936 Amsterdam Avenue near W. 106th St. +1-212-222-4050.
Cavernous Henry’s is a local joint with a streaming cast of regulars. The mood is casual and homey.
The same can be said for the food, which, while tasty, does little to distinguish itself. But no one goes to a neighborhood restaurant for culinary tricks. They go for a reliable menu, including garden burgers ($14). The sweet potato fries ($7) are great.
Henry’s is at 2745 Broadway and W. 105 St. +1-212-866-0600.
Located near the Columbia campus, Vareli is known for its Mediterranean-inspired dishes. Avoid the crowd in the noisy main-floor dining room and roost on the second level.
Service is attentive and extra plates appear on the table with all main dishes to encourage sharing. Try the truffle chicken grilled cheese ($14), mussels in white wine with chipotle ($14), and char-grilled octopus with fennel and tomato-caper vinaigrette ($16).
Vareli is at 2869 Broadway and 111th St. +1-212-678-8585.
Cafe Du Soleil
The walls glow burnished umber, reflected in large mirrors theatrically arranged around this welcoming dining room. Start with the superb escargots blanketed in a garlicky herb sauce ($9).
The properly seared sirloin steak comes with a mountain of French fries ($29), and the half roast chicken ($20) has a side of mixed veggies. The moules here are fat and tender in an aromatic broth of white wine, garlic and shallots ($20).
Finish with a plate of macaroons and an espresso.
(Warning: The music got loud during one visit until one of us rose up in a threatening way, we guess.)
Cafe Du Soleil is at 2723 Broadway and W. 104th St. +1-212-316-5000.
Elizabeth’s Neighborhood Table
Owner Liz O. Milner keeps us locals very happy with her emphasis on organic food and good servers. The whimsical cottage-style setting is a mood lifter too.
Start with vegetable tempura ($9) or steamed mussels ($14) and move on to the pan-seared boneless half chicken ($19) or one of the many burgers.
There’s a swing for kids and almost invariably tubby adults, but the volume is always bearable.
Elizabeth’s is at 680 Columbus, corner of 93rd Street. +1-212-280-6500.
Freshness abounds at peaceful Mana, a quirky favorite of vegetarians. Try the “high-protein burger” of red rice and mung beans ($12.50), penne pesto with potatoes and string beans ($14) or the reliable “simple plate” of rice, black beans and steamed organic vegetables ($12).
Lemon poppy seed cake ($8) is among the delicious homemade desserts of the day, and wild salmon’s an option when veggies alone won’t do.
Mana is at 646 Amsterdam Avenue near W. 91st St. +1-212-787-1110.
Candle Cafe West
The vegan Candle Cafe West splits the difference between the Upper East Side’s casual Candle Cafe and snazzier Candle 79.
The avocado-quinoa salad includes black beans and pumpkin seeds ($16) and the market plate allows you to create a customized healthful meal by choosing four side dishes ($18). There is, of course, a kale salad ($16).
The young wait staff’s tattoos and piercings will make you forget you’re in stroller-land, and the space that once housed the much-missed Docks.
Candle Cafe West is at 2427 Broadway near W. 89th St. +1-212-769-8900.
B. Cafe West
How can we not love a place that serves Bitterballen? A dish of tiny beef croquettes ($7) makes for a good appetizer at this small Belgian restaurant. The calamari ($12) are also good.
But you’re here for the moules frites ($22), so go for the Hoegaarden beer and garlic version or the aromatic Malay Laksa prepared with red curry, coconut and lemongrass. More beer, please.
It’s healthy to get away from our vats of Chardonnay and try the draft brews and ales. We liked the peppery Chimay Blue ($15) and the hearty St. Bernardus Abt ($13).
B. Cafe West is at 566 Amsterdam Avenue near W. 87th St. +1-212-873-4700.
The restaurant has a richly decorated room of burgundy and gold with Renaissance-style murals and custom-carved tables and chairs evoking the era of “The Prince.”
There is a comfortable lounge area with upholstered sofas and a grand piano for the trattoria’s clever music program, which ranges from opera to Broadway and jazz.
It’s the perfect place for a weekend brunch -- try the creamy polenta parmigiano ($9) -- or a cocktail and antipasti ($10-$15) at the bar.
Machiavelli is at 519 Columbus Avenue, corner of W. 85th St. +1-212-724-2658.
Good Enough to Eat
Along with the white picket fence, the much-loved farm cows have moved from their long-time home on Amsterdam Avenue to new pastures on Columbus (in the former A.G. Bistro, which didn’t last very long).
And the devoted lines of brunchers have followed, willing to suffer endless waits with screaming children for bacon waffles ($11) or the Upper West Side omelet with smoked salmon and dill ($11.25).
Dinner features comfort food like meatloaf ($18.50), three bean vegetarian chili ($15.50) and mac and cheese ($7.50).
Good Enough to Eat is at 520 Columbus Avenue near W. 85th St. +1-212-496-0163.
A popular local favorite, Citron features a Belle-Epoque-style bar and spacious booths, with a large blackboard menu of the plats du jour, such as coq au vin ($24), spring lamb stew ($25), and a bouillabaisse served on Friday. Citron serves one of the best onion soups ($9) in New York. Crocks of house-made pate are complimentary.
Moules frites are served in both full and half-portions ($19/11), with a variety of broths, from a classic mariniere to a Pernod-laced cream sauce. The French rolls quickly reappear on your plate for the mopping ritual.
Bistro Citron is 473 Columbus Avenue at W. 83 St. +1-212-400-9401.
(Manuela Hoelterhoff is executive editor of Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Daniel Billy is a Muse editor. The opinions expressed are their own.)
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