Pricey Carbone Tops 2013 List of New York’s Best New Restaurants

Tap for Slideshow
Photographer: Philip Lewis/Bloomberg

Lobster Fra Diavolo is served at Carbone restaurant in New York City.

Close
Photographer: Philip Lewis/Bloomberg

Lobster Fra Diavolo is served at Carbone restaurant in New York City. Close

Lobster Fra Diavolo is served at Carbone restaurant in New York City.

Photographer: Philip Lewis/Bloomberg

The components of a tableside Caesar salad at Carbone in Manhattan. Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone's downtown hotspot is the restaurant of the year. Close

The components of a tableside Caesar salad at Carbone in Manhattan. Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone's downtown hotspot... Read More

Photographer: Ryan Sutton/Bloomberg

Nigiri sushi at New York Sushi Ko. The venue is one of the city's best new restaurants of 2013. Close

Nigiri sushi at New York Sushi Ko. The venue is one of the city's best new restaurants of 2013.

Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

A sign at Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York. Cronuts are a trademarked croissant-doughnut hybrid. Close

A sign at Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York. Cronuts are a trademarked croissant-doughnut hybrid.

Review by Ryan Sutton

Dec. 18 (Bloomberg) –- Before discussing the year’s best new restaurants, we need to take a look at a restaurant that isn’t new. In fact, it’s not even a restaurant. It’s a bakery.

We need to consider the case of chef Dominique Ansel, who has become, for many tourists and out-of-towners, the friendly face of fancy food in New York.

In fact, I’ll go even further. Ansel has become one of the best ambassadors for New York’s culinary scene, period.

Walk over to his Soho bakery at 7 a.m. and you’ll see hundreds queuing up. They wait for hours to buy a cream-filled pastry that is meant to be consumed in about three minutes flat.

Some are shivering from the cold. Others will be late for work. Ansel, who wakes up around 4 a.m., will greet these acolytes himself and his staffers will pass out madeleines or hot chocolate to help the wait go by more quickly. And when the bakery opens at 8 a.m. (9 on Sundays), many will wait another half hour before reaching the register, where they’ll buy something called a Cronut, a trademarked croissant-donut hybrid that didn’t even exist before this spring.

Price: $5 each. That’s over four times spendier than a glazed treat from Dunkin’ Donuts, where half a dozen will run you $5.49, and where there’s almost never a line.

Yet tens of thousands prefer to wait for the cronut instead. There’s a good reason for that. The cronut is better.

It’s chewy, flaky, creamy and dense. Except if you’re a normal person with a job, you probably only have the time or energy to get one about once every few months. This isn’t a junk-food doughnut. This is a special-occasion doughnut.

Cronut Lesson

Sure, it would be easy to dismiss this all as media hype or mob mentality. But I like to think the long lines aren’t all that different from what’s going on at Carbone, a red-sauce joint where you make reservations a month out. And charging $5 for a Cronut isn’t too dissimilar from Carbone’s $46 price for a shrimp scampi appetizer, a dish that usually costs less than half that and is rarely served by restaurants not called Red Lobster.

Carbone, like Ansel, is proof that if the food and service are good enough, restaurants can make consumers wait longer for snacks they used to expect quickly, and command top dollar for dishes that society has arbitrarily deemed cheap.

So I like to think that if oodles of folks are willing to pay $5 for a labor-intensive pastry like a Cronut (it takes three days to make), the more likely we are to have restaurants like Khe-Yo, an excellent Laotian spot where the pho is $23.

Spendy Soup

That price might raise eyebrows out West. Last week, Ba Bar in Seattle publicly defended its pho after fielding complaints over charging people $10 for a bowl of soup.

As others have suggested, it’s one of the great ironies of the food world that a $20 bowl of pasta Bolognese is considered reasonable, while a $20 bowl of, say, ramen is “expensive.”

I like to hope that mentality is changing; a Khe-Yo spokesperson tells me there’s no pushback yet about the $23 pho. New York has always been among the world’s most diverse cities, so it’s heartwarming to see that diversity finally manifest itself at the more expensive end of the culinary spectrum.

I could go on, so let me leave you with my list of the year’s best new restaurants. While I don’t include Ansel’s bakery, as it opened in 2011, let’s agree that this was his year.

12. Montmartre (under Tien Ho): The chef has left and the menu has changed, but it’s worth remembering the sharp Vietnamese-French flavors that Tien brought to Gabriel Stulman’s cozy Chelsea spot. In a city teeming with interchangeable bistros serving the same exact duck confit, Tien, with his Sichuan peppercorn blood sausage and $44 pho for two, made Montmartre, under his short tenure, an essential restaurant.

11. Pearl & Ash: This eclectic Bowery spot is a study in what New York wants -- food that tastes more expensive than it costs. Almost all of Richard Kuo’s elegant small plates are $18 or less. His bonito-topped meatballs are addictive umami bombs best consumed with sherry, which wine director Patrick Cappiello will get you hooked on even if you thought you hated it.

10. Lafayette (tie): Andrew Carmellini’s massive brasserie and bakery is your Balthazar alternative. It’s an all-day spot with a killer rotisserie chicken from chef Damon Wise ($50), and stellar sweets from Jen Yee, one of our city’s finest pastry chefs. Find me at the bar: I’m already a regular.

10. The Marrow (tie): This is where Harold Dieterle, a Long Island guy who won the first season of Bravo TV’s “Top Chef,” serves duck schnitzel ($32), which is like veal schnitzel, but with twice the flavor. Rating: Strong Buy.

9. Hanjan: Chef Hooni Kim tells me his fine Korean fare, made with ethically sourced meats, draws complaints because of his higher-than-Koreatown prices. I’m sure Hooni can handle those criticisms because Hanjan is packed. Rightly so.

8. ZZ’s Clam Bar: This is where Thomas Waugh makes New York’s best cocktails. They cost $20 each. The food is even more expensive. Tuna and foie gras carpaccio tastes better than the original version at Le Bernardin. At $56, it had better.

7. Alder: The endlessly inventive Wylie Dufresne, who sells avant-garde tastings at WD-50 for $155, reinvents American pub grub at this great East Village spot. Chef Jon Bignelli makes oyster crackers with real oysters, adding a mineral tang to what could be the best New England clam chowder on earth.

6. Piora: Chef Chris Cipollone is of Italian descent. Owner Simon Kim hails from Korea. And the result is wildly delicious cross-cultural dishes like kimchi apples with lichen, or squid ink bucatini with black garlic, chili and scallions. Boom.

5. Aska: Because where else can you get $79-$125 Nordic tasting menus in North Williamsburg? It’s another sign that you can’t afford the rent in this neighborhood. But you’ll eat well.

4. Khe-Yo: I’m all about paying more for food but Khe-Yo serves free rice and it’s awesome. Dunk the sticky grains in a “bang bang” dip of lime, fish sauce and chile. So much flavor, so much pain.

3. New York Sushi Ko & Sushi Nakazawa (Tie): I’ll review Nakazawa next year, but my recent meal there suggests it’s already at the top of its game. Expect 20 or so pieces of nigiri by Daisuke Nakazawa, who achieved fame as one of the hardworking disciples in the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” Dinner costs $120-$150 and reservations are nearly impossible. That’s is why you’ll find me at Sushi Ko, where the nigiri is just as good and where dinner starts at $65.

2. The Elm: Paul Liebrandt, one of New York’s fanciest, fussiest chefs, proves that he’s fully capable of producing fancy, fussy food you want to eat (and can afford to eat) every day. The Elm’s beets are an effective argument for eating more vegetables, perhaps because they’re sitting atop bacon XO sauce.

1. Carbone: The restaurant of the year. Chef Mario Carbone has taken the cheap red-sauce fare we grew up eating on Long Island and imbued it with the same quality (and price) as dinner at New York’s best French or Japanese spots. It’s a good lesson: If we want Italian-American and ethnic cuisines to move forward, we’ll have to pay more for what we eat.

(Ryan Sutton reviews restaurants for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Bloomberg reserves the right to remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.