There were 23,499 restaurants in New York when the city checked last year. I visited about 30 on a recent 10-day visit.
The best were superb. Others -- Dawat and Post House spring to mind -- were disappointing. I had great coffee at Stumptown, cocktails at the Mandarin Oriental Lobby Lounge, views at Ink48 hotel’s Press Lounge and cognac at the Brandy Library.
Most chefs knew I was coming, so these are not full-fledged reviews. Here are my Top 10 restaurants of the trip:
Le Bernardin: Chef Eric Ripert prepared a tasting menu of such outstanding quality that I’d travel to New York to repeat the experience. Each dish -- from a starter of yellowfin tuna with spiced dashi gelee and green peppercorn-Iberico chutney to a dessert of milk-chocolate pot de creme, caramel foam, maple syrup, Maldon sea syrup -- was inspired in its conception and faultless in execution. I met Ripert afterwards: He speaks with quiet confidence and is thoughtful and engaging. The hushed restaurant reflects his style of understated originality.
155 W 51st Street, Midtown, NY 10019. Information: +1-212-554-1515 or http://www.le-bernardin.com/.
The Breslin: This bar and dining room is as noisy as Le Bernardin is hushed and doesn’t sit easily in a list of fancy restaurants. Yet British chef April Bloomfield stands out in the New York culinary world because of her full-on flavors. She can stop you in mid-conversation with punchy herbed Caesar salad with anchovy croutons. Char-grilled lamb burger with feta, cumin mayo and thrice-cooked chips is probably her best-known dish.
20 W 29th Street, Ace Hotel, NY 10001. Information: +1-212-679-1939 or http://thebreslin.com/.
Brushstroke: Chef David Bouley, best known for his Tribeca restaurant Bouley, opened this Japanese establishment to spread his love of the kaiseki cuisine of Kyoto. If you’ve never tried kaiseki, a meal consists of multiple courses, each with different ingredients, engineered to create a harmony of tastes, textures and temperatures. This is serious cooking -- in association with the Tsuji Cooking Academy of Osaka -- and Brushstroke isn’t a sushi restaurant.
30 Hudson Street, Tribeca, NY 10013. Information: +1-212-791-3771 or http://www.davidbouley.com/.
Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare: This restaurant is housed next door to a local supermarket in Brooklyn. There are no tablecloths, you bring your own wine and it’s only open for dinner. Yet Chef’s Table was awarded three Michelin stars this year and diners from across the world travel to eat here. Chef Cesar Ramirez prepares multiple small dishes of Japanese-French cuisine, most centered on seafood and with minimal ingredients.
200 Schermerhorn Street, NY 11201. Information: +1-718-243-0050 or http://bit.ly/eh1abx.
Corton: This Tribeca restaurant belongs to Drew Nieporent (co-owner of Nobu) and to Paul Liebrandt, who is on the hunt for a third Michelin star. Liebrandt trained in the U.K. with Marco Pierre White and Raymond Blanc before moving to Paris and Pierre Gagnaire. His seasonal cooking reflects this experience: It’s ambitious and challenging, with unusual flavor combinations such as partridge with pumpkin, coffee and Meyer lemon. The service is professional without being stuffy and there’s no music to distract you.
239 W Broadway, Tribeca, NY 10013. Information: +1-212-219-2777 or http://www.cortonnyc.com/.
Eleven Madison Park: Chef Daniel Humm and General Manager Will Guidara completed their purchase of this restaurant (from Danny Meyer) on the day I visited and it was the best meal of my trip. The menu is unusual in that you just pick from a choice of main ingredients and Humm creates dishes for you. He’s a superb chef, his plates of food are unfussy with clean flavors and clear focus. Service is first class. If you are lucky, you may be invited into the kitchen for one course.
11 Madison Avenue, NY 10010. Information: +1-212-889-0905 or http://www.elevenmadisonpark.com/.
Gramercy Tavern: If you are looking for a contemporary restaurant that exudes old-fashioned hospitality, you might do a lot worse than eat at Gramercy Tavern. Owner Danny Meyer is an inspiration for restaurateurs around the world. He respects tradition, something he seeks to build on rather than hide behind. From Shake Shack to the Modern, he delivers. At Gramercy Tavern, Mike Anthony’s cooking is unpretentious: It’s about adding value to classic dishes that already are deserving of respect.
42 E 20th Street, NY 10003. Information: +1-212-477-0777 or http://www.gramercytavern.com/.
Momofuku Ko: The entrance to Momofuku Ko is unprepossessing. The window was barred and a dog was tethered outside when I arrived. Chef David Chang was in Sydney. You step inside and it’s not a lot fancier. There’s no menu. You just sit at a counter and dishes arrive. His food isn’t just adventurous: It tastes great.
163 First Avenue, NY 10003. Information: +1-212-777-7773 or http://www.momofuku.com/restaurants/ko/.
Monkey Bar: I didn’t just get to eat in the Monkey Bar one afternoon with chef Damon Wise, I got to meet owner Graydon Carter in his office at Vanity Fair to hear about it. I wonder who wouldn’t enjoy dishes such as Peekytoe crab, mizuna, grapefruit or sweet ricotta ravioli, field mushrooms, Parmesan. Even though I was privileged to be eating with the chef, I’m happy to find I’m not alone in loving the restaurant -- with its Ed Sorel Jazz Age mural -- and Wise’s menu. The dining room is my favorite in New York.
60 E 54th Street, Elysee Hotel, NY, 10022. Information: +1-212-308-2950 or http://www.elyseehotel.com/.
Per Se: You may wait months for a table at Per Se and it would be worth it. The food and service are faultless, the tables so generously spaced that you might plot a bid for the presidency without being overheard. Chef Thomas Keller is among the world’s finest for dishes such as Oysters and Pearls: a sabayon of pearl tapioca with oyster juice served with oysters and caviar.
10 Columbus Circle, Time Warner Center, NY 10019. Information: +1-212-823-9335 or http://www.perseny.com/.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards.)